11 June 2008

06 February 2008

Changing blog sites...

Okay, so I'm making the switch over to WordPress. I have held back from making the switch, thinking that Blogger would step it up, but it never happened. Here's the new address:

http://codythomas.wordpress.com/

So make sure to change your bookmark links or subscribe to the feed by clicking on the link on the new blog.

By the way... Benji, I'm sorry that I picked the same template as you. I looked at all of them and just didn't like any of the other ones as much.

30 January 2008

Optimism despite circumstances

First off, this weekend was great. I spent the weekend in Birmingham, Alabama with Ashley and her worship team at her church, Brookview Wesleyan Church. Kindel and Thom came down with me to help out. It was a great time of both work and play. I was introduced to some good Greek food (although it didn't settle well in my stomach for some reason). I watched a couple good movies (especially Freedom Writers). Most of Saturday was spent working with the praise team. I walked them through a few particular songs with the goal of learning the songs, but also (and more importantly) the goal of teaching them how to take a modern worship song, tear it apart, be creative and innovative for your own setting, and implement it in practice. I hope I did my part to teach them those things. This was my first time doing something like this, so it was frustrating at times trying to verbalize or teach some things. The worship team was great though. They were awesome people and I was glad to be able to spend most of Saturday and Sunday with them. They really have a TON of potential to become a wonderful team of lead worshipers for that church. I'm praying the best for them!

Now I'm back here...poor...unemployed...and somewhat bored. Yet, despite my situation, I am still quite optimistic about where life is going. I don't know what God's next step for me might be, but I'm learning to get out of the way and be patient as He reveals it. I'm not sitting idle waiting for God to throw something in my lap. I believe that God moves with us and brings us to the right paths as we are walking, not as we are sitting on our hands. However, it is also easy for me to ask God to follow me as I embark down paths, attempting to make things happen for me. Neither is good and I'm learning the balance in that.

My hopes are up. My trust is in God. He is coming through for me. He always has. He always will.

25 January 2008

Sweet home Alabama

Well, it will be home at least for the weekend. Later today, I will pick up Kindel and Thom and will be heading down to Birmingham, Alabama for my first ever "worship workshop." Ashley Joiner is the worship leader at her home church down there and asked me a few months ago if I could come down sometime to spend a Saturday working with their band. Although I've had a lot of eclectic worship experiences and positions in the past, this still isn't the type of thing that I feel completely equipped to do, but I'm doing it anyways. We're driving down this afternoon and spending the night having some fun and free time. Then, from 9am to 3pm on Saturday, I will be working with their band, leading a practice through some new songs, teaching some creative aspects to the songs, and advising them on how to be more productive with their particular situation of how much time and talent they have to pour into leading worship. Then, Sunday morning I will probably lead worship with them.

If you remember, please pray for us as we travel. Pray for our safety, for no car trouble, and I also can't afford a speeding ticket. So pray that my foot doesn't fill up with lead...

Also, pray for me and the band. Pray that we will instantly bond and will spend a productive day together but also a fun day together.

Be back Sunday night!

22 January 2008

The Church is...

The Church is...
  1. The continual movement of Jesus
  2. The one and only bride of Jesus
  3. Always changing
  4. Focused on bringing people close to God
  5. Focused on transforming lives
  6. Powerful
  7. Mighty
  8. Able to completely change the culture around her
  9. Meeting people where they are
  10. Fighting with all it has to advance the Gospel
  11. Abundantly giving of its time and resources
  12. Meeting the physical needs of people
  13. Showing love to each person that it can reach, inside and outside of its building's walls
  14. Showing the world who Jesus is and why He should be followed
  15. "Jesus with skin on," He still moves and works mighty things through His Church
  16. A community passionately desiring to give everything in order to see people meet Jesus
  17. Made of people who compassionately love
  18. Made of people who generously and dangerously give
  19. Made of people who sacrificially serve
  20. Made of people who make the movement of Jesus advance
  21. Loving even after it hurts
  22. Giving even after it hurts
  23. Serving even after it hurts
  24. Aiming for excellence in everything
  25. A community of faith, hope, and love
  26. A movement of redemption, transformation, and devotion
  27. Made of committed followers of Jesus who are ready to love, give, and serve until there is nothing left
  28. Undivided and unwavering worshipers of God

The Church is not...

The Church is NOT...
  1. A social club
  2. An institution
  3. A business
  4. A building
  5. Mediocre
  6. Complacent
  7. Closed to anyone
  8. Only for followers of Jesus
  9. Satisfied with little passion
  10. A museum of ancient rituals and songs
  11. A rock concert
  12. Static
  13. Stagnant
  14. Sitting on its hands, doing nothing
  15. An add-on to the leftovers of your life
  16. Made of people who join but don't serve and give to the movement of Jesus
  17. Aiming for average
  18. Loving only when it's completely necessary
  19. Giving only when it's available
  20. Serving only when it's convenient
  21. Reaching the world halfway
  22. An arena for political gain or agenda
  23. Made of people who treasure security and comfort over risk
  24. Looking for the easiest way to do ministry
  25. Desiring little to no commitment

19 January 2008

Smaller church is better church...?

Many people don't like the megachurch movement for various reasons. Many of these reasons have begun a philosophy of ministry that can be summed up in "The Smaller, The Better." I find this to be a bad philosophy to fall under. Also, many who believe this are only attempting to justify the not-so-productive state of their own church instead of truly searching for the truth of what church can look like. This post is a list of only a few of those myths about how smaller churches are better than megachurches.

Myths of the "The Smaller, The Better" Ministry Philosophy:
  1. Smaller churches have better quality (or deeper) teaching. This is not true! I have been in churches of all sizes. I grew up in churches from 100 to 1000. During my college years, I attended churches that ranged from 50 to 9000! During my first semester of graduate school, I chose to regularly attend a church of about 8000. (I chose to go there because of the hard-hitting and powerful messages!) I've spent time learning under many different pastors of different church sizes, denominations, and preaching styles. My experience has shown that the pastors at the larger churches fed me more and gave me a better "punch in the face" to live like Jesus than I ever got in the smaller churches. I'm NOT saying that you can't get that in smaller churches. I'm only saying that I, personally, rarely received that sort of life teaching in smaller churches. However, bigger doesn't always mean better teaching either (take a look at my posts on Joel Osteen). All I know is that, in my experience, Perry Noble and Jon Weece taught me far more about following Jesus than any other senior pastor from which I've learned.
  2. Smaller churches truly worship God while bigger churches just entertain and put on a show. Before I get into anything, I just want to say that you can not judge the hearts of those present in ANY worship service, no matter the church size. Also, I hate to break the news, but there are most likely people in ANY worship service (of ALL church sizes) that don't genuinely worship God when they come to church. IN FACT, I would dare say that this is happening A LOT in most of the small churches throughout the southeast US. I say this because many people here in the south go to church because that is the "social expectation," not because they want to thank God for being their Lord and Savior. They go to church to show their face, making their appearance so that people will think they are good Christians and so they can feel good about themselves even if they don't live like a Jesus-follower through the week. Most of them are still going to the small, dying church for no other reason than "My great-grandaddy went to this church and all of my family has gone here since." This is the unfortunate church culture of the south. I despise it. It makes Jesus some social club, like joining the Kiwanis or something. NOW, back to my point. SAYING THAT BIG CHURCHES ENTERTAIN PEOPLE INSTEAD OF WORSHIP GOD IS ONLY A BAD EXCUSE FOR HORRIBLE MUSIC QUALITY IN SMALL CHURCHES. I'm sorry, but it's usually true. This excuse is used a lot to negate the spirituality behind the great quality music of larger churches. A small church can't have that sort of quality, is quite jealous of it, and so finds something that "must" be wrong with the larger church's worship. How dare us. Let's face it. Typically, smaller churches have poor quality music because there are little resources to pull from in a small church, while a large church has tons of resources to pull from (musicians, full time worship pastor, on-staff video/media directors, great sound systems, etc.). That's simply the truth. HOWEVER, just because the larger churches have these resources DOES NOT MEAN IT IS ANY LESS SPIRITUAL OR ANY LESS AUTHENTIC WORSHIP!!!! (Sidenote: Who is utilizing their resources better to give God the best worship service they can give: the larger church who gives intense detail to have the best quality possible in every minute of their service or the smaller church who throws a service together and writes a sermon on Saturday night and everything looks sloppy, struggling, and shoddy on Sunday morning? I've been in both and I know what my answer is. Lack of resources is no excuse for a sloppy service. I've led worship in a small church for years. I know firsthand! Everyone needs to step it up and put together all your resources to worship God best you can, no matter size...without bashing other churches' attempts at doing the same thing!)
  3. Smaller churches do more "discipleship" while megachurches just evangelize. FALSE!!! Typically, it is true that megachurch Sunday worship services are sometimes focused more on reaching the unchurched, I don't see this as a problem. This is a great opportunity to reach tons of people with the Gospel (and in case you haven't noticed, most of America is now unchurched). We have to keep this evangelistic emphasis! Please don't make accusations that bigger churches don't disciple believers. Megachurches usually run on a "small group" model, in which people meet in smaller core groups throughout the week and dig even deeper into God's word and how to follow Jesus. These groups typically range from maybe four to twenty people. They meet together to discuss life, struggles, and look to God's word for instruction in how to live life best in following Jesus daily. These groups are where people get to deal with the "nuts and bolts" of living like Jesus. However, when taking a glance at large churches, a person can't see these life transformations and discipleship taking place because this takes place outside of Sunday morning...during real life.
  4. Smaller churches have better fellowship because you know everybody. First, my experience has been that most "friendly fellowship" in churches is skin-deep...at best. So, no, you can't call the generic "how have you been?" and the "bless you..." as better fellowship. Second, if you think that everyone knowing who you are is better fellowship, then you might think you are more important than you really are. People knowing you is not the point of church, nor the point of fellowship. When in a larger church, I believe that truer fellowship can happen. When a person plugs into a small group that meets regularly and does life together, you actually get to know people on a deep level and also a social level. You also become close to those whom you serve with (because in larger churches, it is quite often a requirement of membership/partnership to serve in some form with the church). [Just a sidenote: Speaking of this requirement of membership, I love that most larger churches are asking this of those who commit to the church. I hate that many people in smaller churches who have been members for years do little to nothing to help the ministry of the church. Smaller churches tend to not push that one must serve. To partner with a church means to serve, not just use its resources.] Anyways, I would rather have 10 people who I deeply know and we deeply care about each other and help each other grow in following Jesus than have 100 people who know my name and ask me on Sundays "Brother, how are you this blessed day?"
  5. Smaller churches teach "doctrine" and "theology," while megachurches only preach practical messages without "true" theology. Look...we have made a bad polarization between doctrine/theology and practical teaching. When did learning how to manage God's financial blessings become a non-theology topic? Last I checked, God is certainly concerned about us doing our best with His money and blessings (just take a look through the Bible, especially Jesus' teachings!). When did learning about relational evangelism in the workplace and coffee shops not become a non-theology topic? Last I checked, Jesus went to Matthew's house to eat with sinners and then "ripped the Pharisees a new one" when they accused him of bad company. We have polarized teachings as either doctrinal or "watered-down." If the preacher doesn't use words with sixteen letters that people don't understand, then it's "watered-down." Yet, in those very messages, some of the deepest doctrinal truths can be expressed and transform lives without ever using "Christianese" words. Again, I have learned more about the real life of following Jesus from teachings at two megachurches I attended than any of the small churches I attended.
  6. Smaller churches are more concerned about real ministry, but megachurches are only concerned about numbers. Again, this is usually a horrible excuse for not reaching people like we are called to. Megachurches are "mega" because THEY ARE REACHING PEOPLE. Numbers don't mean changed lives, but I would bet that there are more changed lives out of the megachurch's 9000 people that they reach out to than out of the 50 that the small church reaches...Numbers matter because numbers translate as people hearing the Gospel and being given the chance to choose to follow Jesus.
This post is far too long and I'm sure I've repeated myself too many times in it. So I'm ending. I'm sorry if my thoughts offend, but I would question why they offend you before writing them off as false. Maybe they offend because we as humans too often go on the defensive without good reason. I feel like I have presented good reason for this defense. I want you to hear me one more time: I am not against small churches. However, my experiences have been far better in the larger churches I've been involved with than the small churches I've been involved with. Also, I'm not even part of a large church now, so please don't think that I am defending them for my own sake.

By the way, I caught some of the new "American Gladiators" on NBC while writing this and they had one of the cheesiest lines ever. One of the gladiators is named "Justice," and when describing him, the commentator said, "Judge...Jury...Ginormous." I just thought that was funny enough to post.

17 January 2008

Marco! ... Polo!

One of the hardest parts of following Jesus is allowing him to take control of my life. As humans, we feel vulnerable and frightened by the idea of not being in control of what happens in life. We want to be the final say in all our decisions. We want our own desires to be the most important factor in making those decisions. We don't want to give up our own desires (no matter how good or bad they might be) for something else that we don't want as much. That is all part of the human nature. We need control over our own lives and, if we will admit it or not, we will fight to the death to keep that control.

This is the problem when we give our lives over to Jesus. By committing to follow Jesus, we are giving back to him the right to be the final say in our lives. We are asking him to lead us where we must go. We are asking him to show us how to live. We are asking him to tell us what to do and what not to do. By following Jesus, we are declaring that Jesus has the best life for us. Not the better life. Not an upgrade in life. The best life. We are saying that following Jesus is the best option for living. I could possibly live a decent life on my own (...maybe...), but following Jesus (as he guides me in life and teaches me how to live and love) is the best possible life I could find.

It's hard to let go of control and to hand that over to someone else. It's hard to give the "ultimate veto" power to someone else when it comes to your life decisions. However, this is the life that is chosen when someone commits to following Jesus. I think that a lot of us who follow Jesus tend to treat him as if he is following us. "Come here, Jesus. Come with me as I go here. Help me out when I need it. Thanks. No, Jesus, don't get ahead of me. Stay behind me and just follow where I go."

Have you ever played Marco Polo in someone's swimming pool? Most of us tend to treat Jesus as if he is the one who is "it." We want Jesus to close his eyes, continually yelling "marco," and we want him to keep following us and our movements as we yell "polo." I shouldn't have to explain why this is not the way it should be. We should be the ones who are "it." We should be the ones whose eyes are closed, not even able to see our next step in life. We should have to yell "MARCO," waiting in full anticipation of hearing a voice call back to us, "Polo," so that we can take a step in the voice's direction.

I write all this to say that I continually see this struggle within my own life. I was pondering why I so often don't completely follow Jesus and continually fall short of his message of loving God and others. Then, this question came to my mind, piercing my heart: If you won't follow Jesus in all areas of your life, in all circumstances, in loving people, in loving God, then do you really trust that Jesus has the best life for you? I hate to even think that, but I think that if each of us who follow Jesus would be honest with ourselves, we would each be shocked with our candid answer. I have to say that I don't always live like I trust Jesus to make the best decisions for me. I don't always live like I trust Jesus to come through for me. This is the struggle inside each of us who follow Jesus. This is the struggle that has to be faced, candidly and honestly, and has to be fought with ferocity and ruthlessness. Otherwise, this struggle will continue to gain ground in our lives.

Analyze your life. Analyze your decisions. Think through the areas of your life that don't line up with following Jesus, whatever they may be. Why are we not following Jesus in those areas? Why are we not loving those who get on your nerves? Why are we trying to find "love" or "acceptance" around every corner? Why are we gossiping about others? Why are we trying so hard to find happiness in all the wrong places? Could it be that we have not fully sold out to trusting Jesus? Could it be that we don't completely believe he will come through for us? Or that he holds the best life possible for us?

Live like you trust Jesus has the best life for you.


MARCO!!!!!!!!!!

16 January 2008

Full life update...possible employment!

I guess it's time to give the update about my attempts of finding work. When I moved down here, I knew that is what I needed to do, despite having no clear direction about what I would do for work when I got here. I knew that I finding work that I would really enjoy to do (such as being a worship pastor) would be hard to come by. Honestly, there just aren't many churches that fit my style of worship. Most churches still prefer the Billboard Top 100 from 1770, and even some more have updated to the 1980's now. My preference, as a musician, worshiper, and worship leader, is cutting-edge and modern. I wouldn't use Shakespearean English in my conversation just because it is "more elegant" or "more poetic." I would use the language that allows me to fully express myself to someone else. That is what most conveys my heart. The same exists in worship. I want to worship in a way that fully allows me to express my heart for God. For me, that is usually not found in centuries old language and diction that I sometimes have no clue what is being said (and is typically in the third person, not even addressed from us to God).

I'm way off topic here. I don't mean to get into any of that. I just mean to say that although I find appreciation for the centuries of songs that have allowed people to sing praises about God, I need something that expresses my own praises to God. Now back to my employment...

Knowing that I possibly wouldn't find work in a church around here, I started applying all sorts of places. I applied for tons of bank teller positions, coffee shops, and more. I was getting rejection after rejection. Apparently a college education means less than I thought. I was getting rather discouraged and worried that my savings would soon be gone.

Finally, in the first couple days of the new year, I received a call from Austin Porter, who is the student pastor at Hope Creek Church in Seneca, SC. We graduated together from SWU. He called to let me know that Thad Wood, the worship pastor at HCC, has announced that he will be leaving after being there for 5 years. (Thad graduated from SWU in 2005.) Austin had heard that I was moving back down to the area, and he and Thad put in my name as a candidate to replace Thad. Austin was calling to set up a lunch with him and the lead pastor, Travis Holmes. So, after meeting with them for lunch and at the office a couple times, I went to check out their Sunday morning service. They are completely portable and meet in Seneca High School's auditorium. They have to arrive at 7 am to unload and set up everything, including the sound system, children's areas, etc. So I went to see that whole process as well as the service. After seeing that whole process, the meetings with the staff, a couple lunches with Austin, and lots of prayer and thought, I have felt good about this move and think this is the next step in following God's path for me.

This coming Sunday, I will be leading worship alongside with Thad to give the church leadership a chance to hear me lead worship. As long as all are still peaceful and affirmed in the decision, I will be on staff as a full-time worship pastor soon after that.

Please pray for me as I prepare and lead this Sunday. Pray that God would be there and be glorified through the worship. Pray that each person involved in the decision will be guided by the Spirit to make the right decision. Pray that we will continue to seek God in each step. Pray for the transition for the church and for me as well. This will be my first "real job" as a worship pastor on staff. I'm totally excited but horribly overwhelmed with the thought of it.

In other news, I am going down to Alabama the weekend of Jan. 25-27 to do a worship workshop with a church outside Birmingham. Ashley Joiner (with whom I graduated from SWU) is in charge of worship there. Also, on February 23, I will be leading worship for a regional event called "Pure Focus." It's an all-day youth event promoting sexual purity. My housemate, Jon Brady, is the brains behind the whole thing. So far, youth groups from all over upstate SC and some from NC will be coming. It should be sweet!

That's life. Please pray for me as I look towards the future and what God has for me.

11 January 2008

Huck & Chuck: Hilarious...

Ever wondered how Mike Huckabee plans on securing the U.S. borders? Check out this video to find out.

Also, don't think that I am supporting Huckabee because I posted this video. I am not supporting any particular candidate right now. I've watched some of the debates and done a little research on them, but nothing detailed yet.

Also, another piece of advice for people (especially of my generation). It seems to be a considerable trend to quickly "like" Barack Obama because he's relatively young, new, different, a charismatic speaker, and seems to be the candidate most symbolizing change. Don't let that make your decision for you. Most people pick their music choices by what's "hot" that week (and most of it is no-talent pop garbage). Don't pick your candidate by what's "fresh" or "cooler" or what seems to be popular. Dig into their opinions, ideas, vision, and where they fall on the issues.

One more piece of advice. Christians, PLEASE don't vote solely on who is against abortion and same-sex marriages. Those issues are important, but there are far better matters to worry about (like health care reform, our declining economy, and MANY MORE). So, put down the proverbial pitchforks and fight for other causes too!

10 January 2008

On my iPod: Jon Foreman - Fall EP

Jon Foreman has been displaying his thoughts, emotions, doubts, fears, and joys for over a decade as the frontman for Switchfoot. Now, he is once again stretching himself on his first solo work, Fall. On this EP, Foreman is dropping the electric guitar and rock band for an acoustic guitar and folk flavor.

This is the first of four EPs that Foreman plans to release over the next year. Each will thematically correspond with the four seasons, attempting to capture the mood and feel of the season represented. This first attempt certainly did not fall short, consistently conveying a melancholy and pensive mood in both music and lyrics. The songs stay relatively simple, keeping with the typical folk genre, coupling that with contemplative and brutally honest lyrics.

Although folk music is typically a lot simpler by form, Foreman has done a great job of writing a thought-provoking and musically-talented work. In addition to the acoustic guitar, Foreman has a variety of other instruments used on this EP. "The Cure for Pain" uses some keys and brass, bringing more life to the track. "Southbound Train" has its own unique sound with the use of a harmonica and strings, sometimes simulating the sound of a moving locomotive. "The Moon is a Magnet" is a great song, coupling Foreman's voice with a clarinet and bass clarinet. The EP ends with a sensitive piano ballad, "My Love Goes Free." In this heart-wrenching track, Foreman stretches his own voice to its limits, utilitizing his falsetto to wring the heart of the listener.

Released on November 27, 2007, the first of the four EPs is a great work in acoustic folk music. In only six tracks, Foreman has re-sold me onto his bandwagon (leaving the bandwagon after being disappointed by the 2005 release of the Nothing is Sound album by Switchfoot). I will be looking forward to the next three projects. Winter is set to hit the market soon on January 15, 2008, packaged together with Fall EP as a 2-disc set. Spring is projected to come out on April 15, 2008. Summer's date is not announced yet.


Genre/Style: Acoustic/Folk

Discography:
Fall EP, 2007 [Credential]
Winter EP, coming January 15, 2008
[Credential]
Spring EP, projected April 2008
[Credential]
Summer EP,
projected summer 2008 [Credential]

Website:
www.jonforeman.com

What I Like Most:
  • Use of variety of instruments
  • Brutally honest yet cryptic lyrics
  • Unique theme for each EP

The Heels are doing it again!

Tonight, the Carolina Tar Heels finished up their last non-conference game, winning over UNC-Asheville, 93-81. This is the first time they have finished non-conference games undefeated since 1998.

Even the tallest player in college basketball couldn't stop "Psycho T" from scoring 23 points, including a two-handed dunk over UNC-Asheville's 7-foot-7 Kenny George. You can go here to read the whole article.

The Heels have proven themselves once again by their 16-0 record (with 1 win in-conference). Although Clemson stood a good chance of taking the win, the Heels took the lead, with 0.4 seconds left in overtime! It was amazing to see Ellington on fire that game, scoring a career-high 36 points (including the literal last second 3-point shot for the win in overtime). The boys are doing it again and it's quite exciting to watch! I'm hoping that the Clemson game is not a preview of the remaining ACC games. My heart can't take that every game!

Keep it up, Roy's Boys!