Tag Archives: Christianity

Be Astonished and Afraid

Jesus wasn’t looking for fan, he was inviting followers. We have spent the last 6 weeks examining this from many angles, however in a congregation our size it seems there are always some who hold on to the idea that being a fan of Jesus is what we do here. We are really missing something if we get from scripture that we are merely to believe or behave.   Jesus’ disciples certainly did believe and behave, but that isn’t what made them disciples.  They followed!

What’s the difference? At what point does believing or behaving become following? That’s a fantastic question and I’m really glad you asked it. The answer is much too long for a little column like this one, so I would suggest that you go back and listen to Joe’s messages on the church website.  Get a copy of the book “Not a Fan” by Kyle Idleman and read it. Most of all, pray. Examine your life and ask God, “When I did this thing today (be specific) was that the actions of a follower or a fan?”

Let me offer this for you to think about: in Mark 10:32 Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem.  This takes place just before Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.

“They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished and those who follower were afraid.”  NIV

When you follow Jesus daily you will certainly have many moments were you are astonished at what he is doing in your life. You will also find yourself afraid, not the kind of fear that reveals a lack of trust but instead the kind of fear that leaves you no other choice but to fully trust in Jesus.  Jesus will often lead you to places that will make you uncomfortable – places you would not go on your own.

Please, please, please don’t let this series fade into a distant memory as a nice sermon series that meets your expectations for a quality worship service and message. Make a conscious examination of yourself through the lens of scripture, narrated by the Holy Spirit.  Determine to be a follower and put away the selfish ways of religious fandom.


A Great Time To Be a Fan – A Critical Time To Be a Follower

I’m writing this blog post on Thursday but it will post on Saturday. As of now the KC Royals are playing every game hoping that the next victory will help them squeeze their way into the post-season.  The Chiefs are off to their best start in recent memory with a great chance to knock out their new coach’s former team.  It’s a great time to be a fan of KC sports.

I suppose it’s a great time to be a fan of Jesus as well.  After all, He conquered the greatest enemy of all – death!  And while we may “share” in the Royals’ or Chiefs’ victory through the window of our televisions, we can only share Jesus’ victory if we follow Him.  And following Jesus is hard!  While being a fan of Jesus might be socially acceptable, following Jesus isn’t.  In fact Jesus himself said that if we follow him, the people will despise us.

“And all nations will hate you because you are my followers.  But everyone who endures to the end will be saved.” Matthew 10:22

“Students are to be like their teacher, and slaves are to be like their master.  And since I, the master of the household, have been called the prince of demons, the members of my household will be called by even worse names.” Matthew 10:25

It seems to me that we are in the middle of a message series that approaches those teachings of Jesus which the crowd considered to be too difficult to understand and/or follow.  John records in chapter 6 that many, in fact, turned away.  Remember that these are the same people who ate the miracle fish and bread meal earlier in the chapter.  It very well may be that this series offers a turning point for all of us who listen.  What if we find the cost of being a follower to high?  What if we discover that we prefer what is socially acceptable rather than obedience?

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23


Don’t Forget the Left-Overs

Each year, after thanksgiving meal is over, I’m still excited for the left-overs – a reminder of the wonderful meal, recently enjoyed.  The bounty of food is too much for one sitting, too much even for one day.  It spills over to supper, then to Friday and further.  Back home our tradition is to pour the gravy over a plate filled with cold turkey, stuffing and potatoes and warm it up in the microwave. Best. Left-overs. Ever. I’m going to have to work this off!

The left-overs turn my thoughts toward the twelve baskets left over after Jesus fed the multitude; then to Paul’s reference to spiritual food.  Jesus always fills us to overflowing!  He meets our every need and more.  “Taste and see that the Lord is good!”  When we sit at the feet of our Savior, we are fed the good, spiritual food of the gospel until we are so filled, we cannot take another bite.  We must leave and rest, then work it off before we come back for more.

Here’s my point and my prayer for all of us as we enjoy the spiritual blessings this Christmas season.

  • Taste and see that the Lord is good. (Come to Christ)
  • Gobble up the spiritual food He brings. (Sit at His feet)
  • Rest in Him – (Enjoy the fellowship of Christ and His church)
  • Work it off – (Serve Christ by serving others)
  • Come back for left-overs – (Remain in his Word and let us not forsake gathering together.)

I Appreciate You!

Many churches across the country designate October as a month to tell their pastor that they appreciate them.  I have experienced this in  each church I have had the privilege to lead as pastor of worship.  It’s difficult to express just how much a word of encouragement from someone within the congregation can lift my spirits.

Somewhere I heard theses  statistics.  Upon receiving good news, a person will tell 3 people but when receiving bad news, the same person will tell 11 people.  I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I think the church as a body can take a different approach.  When someone does something well, we should tell them.  It matters.  It’s encouraging.  It’s instructed by God and recommended by Paul!

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Jesus words) Matthew 7:12

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11

At the top of this blog is a picture of my collection of encouraging cards and letters I have received throughout the years of my ministry.  I keep them all.  During times of discouragement I pull them out to be reminded that I am doing something that really does have a positive effect on the lives of those I’m called to serve and lead.  But it’s not always a Dayspring card coupled with a favorite candy bar.

I also have received my share of criticism and hate mail.  I hope you are not familiar with this style of communication.  It usually looks something like this.  The letter is addressed to you, but your name is spelled incorrectly.  If it comes in the mail, there is no return address.  Most likely it was found by the secretary because it was left on her desk, however, it is more likely that stepped on it Monday morning because it had been slid underneath your office door.  It is not signed.  The subject matter is almost guaranteed to en-capsule an event – which you do not remember – that happened months ago.  The handwriting is barley legible because of the spots where the goading instrument broke its lead or forced the ink through the paper onto the other side. The letter continues with a generalized evaluation of your ineptitude and lack of qualifications and social graces.  Several names for your misguided leadership style are suggested.  It is not signed.  This is where I file these letters.

Thankfully I have not received a letter like this for a long, long time.  If you have a pastor or staff of pastors, it is likely that they have received one or two of these during their tenure.  But this is not a blog about unfair critics and hurtful comments.

Please take the time to encourage your pastors next month.  Ministry can be full of discouragement and it’s easy to become disheartened.  A simple word of encouragement from you can go a long way.  Consistent prayer can go even further.  When both take place consistently, your pastor will begin to feel like he could move mountains!  Based on some of the best encouragers I’ve known over there years, here are a few ideas on how to encourage your pastor(s).

  • Send a card that expresses how much you value the role they have as your pastor. (cards are easier to file than emails)
  • Let them know that they made a difference in growing your love for Jesus. (often times the enemy tries to convince us that we aren’t making a difference)
  • Be specific about something they said or did and how it benefited your relationship with the Lord. (sometimes the deceiver tries to convince the pastor that no one notices)
  • When offering spoken encouragement, look your pastor in the eyes. (it’s a nonverbal way to communicate that you are their friend) (-Pastors sometimes falsely believe that they aren’t allowed to have friends among the people they lead. – I reject this thinking!)

I know that this blog has readers who are in a lot of churches other than mine. So I feel comfortable offering this as a 3rd party intermediary.  Don’t say to your pastor, “hey, I read this blog and it said I should give you this.”  Feel free to leave me out of it and make your encouragement your own.  Be personal.  Be genuine.  And let me know how it goes.  Share here on this blog what you did to encourage your pastor (or what you intend to do since it is not yet officially Pastor appreciation month.)

Bill Hybels has said on many occasions that he believes “the local church is the hope of the world.”  It’s true because the local church – when healthy – carries the light of Jesus.  Healthy churches are led by encouraged pastors.

And to my pastors; Joe and Andy, I love serving with you.  Thank you for being pastors for me and my family.  Know that I’m praying for your leadership and I submit to you as brothers and leaders under Christ (Ephesians 5:21).  May God bless your ministries wholly and completely as He has blessed me through each of you.


Happy Dependence Day

 

Wednesday we will celebrate the anniversary of when the United States first declared its independence from the oppressive empire of Britain.  (This is history, not politics.)  In contrast, every Sunday, as believers we celebrate our dependence on Jesus Christ.  The United States, at its very foundation, gained its freedom by declaring itself sovereign then fighting and winning a war for liberty. As believers, we recognize Christ as our sovereign.  We trust in the battle that Christ won on our behalf; His death on the cross a substitute for our sin, His resurrection from the dead that we might have life.

The slave does not remain in the house forever, the son remains forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:35-36

In this word picture, Jesus explains why He, the Son of God, had to be the One to pay the debt of sin owed by humanity.  We are all slaves to sin because of our sin nature.  We owe a debt that we cannot pay.  As slaves, we do not have authority over sin.  We cannot break its power over us by our mere, limited words.  But Jesus could pay our debt and He did.  And after paying our debt, Jesus as God’s Son, has the authority to declare us free!  And He does, to all who believe in Him and call upon His name!

Christ is the One who has made us free!  Let us celebrate our dependence on Him.

This post originally appeared in “The Connection.”  The Sunday morning publication of First Southern Baptist Church Lawrence.

 


Do I Care What Others Think?

When it comes to corporate worship we can’t escape the fact that we are in the presence of others.  Wherever we sit or stand, we are surrounded by other worshipers. (And non-worshipers) In a world where image is everything, do we concern ourselves too much with what others think, when we should be focusing on God?

“What if they see me crying?”

“If I raise my hands, they will judge me.”

“Remember to turn the offering envelope upside down, so no one sees what I give.”

“Nobody complimented my shoes!”

“If I put the envelope in slowly, everyone can see how much I give.”

With the popularity of social media formats such as facebook, twitter and pintrest, etc… we are more concerned than ever before about maintaining an acceptable image.  Haven’t we taken this image conscious mindset to an unhealthy level?  Social media can be a great place to interact with friends, but in our humanness, we tend to only put forth the image we want others to see and we hide our real selves. I’m sure this isn’t true all of the time, but it’s true enough of the time.

Does this same tendency toward image influence our corporate worship?  Scripture teaches that God is the audience of our worship, not others.  When we make God alone our audience, we will care less about maintaining our image in front of others.  The next time you participate in corporate worship set aside the image you want others to see and lay your life open before God.

When we drop the image facade, our worship can be a testimony.  Let us be Spirit and Truth worshipers who enter His presence without our masks and worship the Savior without pretense.


Evaluating Our Personal Worship

Pastors and Worship leaders evaluate the Sunday morning worship hour each week.  Many times that evaluation is intentional and facilitated by a list of evaluation questions.  Other times the pastor enters his office on Monday, sits behind his desk, buries his face in his hands and mutters, “Well that didn’t go well!”  Clearly, intentional evaluation, done well, can be used to guide leaders to make necessary adjustments and improvements.  Reactionary evaluation, however, offers little or no building blocks for the leader to improve the plan.  There is no opportunity for the evaluated one to discover “a better way.”

I have been a part of many conversations on how to evaluate worship.  All of these discussions have been from the perspective of the ones who plan or lead worship services.  But I have not aware of many conversations which our own personal worship.

Worship leaders can attend conferences, enjoy conversations with fellow worship leaders, participate in webinars on worship leading, all in an effort to be better worship leaders.  But what process is there for disciplining all believers to become better worshipers – the kind of worshipers the Father seeks?  Sometimes I wonder if we just expect that developing and training better worship leaders will automatically translate into having churches full of better worshipers – the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.

If Pastors and worship leaders don’t intentionally guide their evaluations process, the default will takes us to the ABC’s of Sunday morning evaluation.  Attendance, Baptisms, and Cash – though these are important to the church’s ability to continue to grow and function, they are not very good indicators that Spirit and Truth worship has taken place.  So what is?

In our modern church cultural, we tend to ask questions like:

  • “Was there and attitude of excitement?”
  • “Did we enjoy ourselves?”
  • “Did I sing all the notes correctly?”
  • “Did I sing harmony?”
  • “Did the sermon move me?”
  • “Did the prayers motivate me?”
  • “Did the leadership inspire me?”
  • “Was twenty dollars enough? Should I have given more? The usher kinda glared at me.”

I won’t say that I’m a divinity expert, but I don’t think that there is a biblical standard for these kind of questions.  In fact, when I read through them a second time, they seem rather self serving.  These questions, however represent the unwritten worship rules in most church worship services.  Perhaps there’s a good reason they are unwritten.  If we were to examine ourselves using the gift God has given us – His Word – then we would commit to a completely different standard for evaluating our own personal worship.

  • Did I present myself with HUMILITY  -Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.(James 4:10 ESV)
  • What about my worship offering communicated to God that I am COMPLETELY HIS?    -I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.(Romans 12:1 ESV)
  • Did I offer HONEST CONFESSION or try to deny and justify my sin to God?     -Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?  He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. (Psalm 24:1-4 ESV)
  • Does the LOVE I claim to have for God in this moment overflow to the other areas in my life?     –Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV)
  • Are others encouraged and uplifted in Christ, because of my TESTIMONY?       – And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, (Ephesians 5:18-19 ESV)
  • Did I express my THANKFULNESS to God or merely complain about all my misfortunes?     –Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, (Ephesians 5:20 ESV)
  • Do I SUBMIT myself to everyone else within the family of faith?         –Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21 ESV)

What if we began evaluating worship using the second list of questions? What it that became our new normal?  Would it reform the way we think about worship?  Would it bring revival to our own walk with God?


Evaluating The Hour on Sunday (part 1)

Most worship leaders and pastors have a process of evaluating the Sunday morning service.  For some it may be as simple as sitting down Monday morning and reflecting on the events of the previous day.  For others, they have a group of people they trust who will give loving, honest feedback.  These people have a healthy understanding of what the goals are on Sunday morning.  They also have a nurturing and encouraging relationship with the worship leader or pastor.  There are also those worship leaders who have a set list of questions they go over, from time to time, to make sure their worship planning efforts are focused and balance.  As worship pastors, we continually want to make sure that we plan and lead worship from a healthy perspective – one that makes it easy for the church to focus her attention on Christ .

I am fortunate enough to have all three evaluation mechanisms in place. 1) Time on Monday to reflect on Sunday. 2) A team who I trust to give loving and honest feedback. 3) A list of questions to help us evaluate the planning and leading efforts for the hour on Sunday.

My list of questions used for evaluation has two sides; On the left side are questions to evaluate the Plan and on the right side are the questions to evaluate the presentation.  In essence; 1) Was it a good plan and 2) Did we successfully carry out the plan?  Following is the list of questions we have used to evaluate.  We don’t keep the list in front of us like we used to because we have developed the practice of asking ourselves these questions as a part of our evaluation procedure.  It took a few years of evaluating for this list to take shape and all the members of my team contributed, but it  hasn’t changed much over the last five years.

Evaluating the PLAN

MUSIC

  • Were the song lyrics biblical? relevant? appropriate to the sermon topic? encouraging? enriching?
  • Was an appropriate variety of songs utilized? variety in instrumentation? variety of tempos? balance of new and old?
  • Did we rejoice AND adore AND reflect AND commit AND pray?
  • Did we reinforce the essential truths about Jesus AND the cross AND the trinity AND eternity AND our sin?
  • Was the music portion too long? too short?
  • Did the music portion lead to meaningful congregational participation
  • Did the overall service have a logical flow? Did the order in which we progressed make sense?

DRAMA

  • If we used drama, was the message of the drama piece relevant?
  • Did the sketch set up the theme? Was it applicable?
  • Could seekers with the theme and characters?
  • Was the content of the sketch appropriate with the theme and audience? Too juvenile or mature? Too abstract or simplistic?

VIDEO

  • What was the purpose of the video? Prepare worship? Present the theme? Highlight upcoming event?
  • Were appropriate backgrounds used for songs and theme?  Was background motion too busy? Did theme art help the listener understand what the sermon was about?
  • Was video relevant for the way it was applied?

As stated, all these questions help us evaluate the PLANNING aspect of worship leadership.  I have a separate list of unique questions specifically geared to help us evaluate the PRESENTATION aspect of worship leadership.  I’ll share that list next week.

As a worship leader, do you have a process for evaluating the hour on Sunday?  Worshipers, do you evaluate your personal worship offering or do you expect that since worship was lead well, then you must have worshiped well?  Do you have any questions you would add to evaluate your worship service PLAN?  Please leave a comment.


Let My Words Be Few

Let My Words Be Few

by Matt and Beth Redman

You are God in heaven and here am I on earth
So I’ll let my words be few
Jesus I am so in love with You
And I’ll stand in awe of You
yes I’ll stand in awe of You
and I’ll let my words be few
Jesus I am so in love with You

If you grew up in church you are probably familiar with the story of Job.  Even those outside church life have likely heard a version of Job’s story.  Job was a man who went through great tragedy at the hand of Satan because Satan wanted to prove to God that Job only loved God because God had blessed him greatly.

If God knows our future, then we can assume he had a grasp on Job’s as well.  He allowed the test.  Satan wasted no time.  He hit Job with incredible tragedies.  He takes his property and his children.  Of course, this hit Job hard.  Imagine how you would have reacted.  Job was human just like you and me.  He was devastated, torn-apart.

And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return.  The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. Job 1:21-22

Satan couldn’t believe it.  So he went to God again and suggested that it was Job’s health that kept him from cursing God. Again, God allowed Satan to attack Job, but this time Satan struck Job with sores from the “sole of his foot to the crown of his head.”

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak.  Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. Job 2:9-10

And Job’s story goes forward.  He curses the day he was born. (shades of Jimmy Stewart) His three “good” friends advise him to repent from what ever it is that God is punishing him for. (Job knows in his heart that he has been obedient to God) Job pleas to God. Job blames God. Job hopes in God. Job questions God.   Then finally God answers.

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?  Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Job 38:1-3

After the Lord questions Job, (I hope they were rhetorical questions) Job puts his hand over his mouth.

Then Job answered the Lord and said: “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?  I lay my hand on my mouth.” Job 40:3-4

In our modern English Job was saying this; You are God in heaven and here am I on earth, so I’ll let my words be few.

Father, sometimes we get carried away with ourselves. Too often we speak when we should be listening.  Oh how we cheaply view Your glory when we question your wisdom in our circumstances. You told us that in this world we would have trouble, but You also reminded us that You have overcome the world.  Let us not be surprised at the many trials we face, nor doubt Your presence with us during our trails.  Indeed let our words be few.  We love you, Jesus, amen.

Have you ever had a time in worship where all you could do was stand or sit in silence?  Does this song by Matt and Beth Redman speak to your current experiences in your walk of faith in Jesus?  Let us hear about it in the comment section.


More Christ Please

We all pray for more – more money to get us to the end of the month, more time with our kids, more patience with the people who annoy us, more time in the day to get things done.  In one of the famous prayers in history, St. Patrick prayed for more too.  But unlike most of our ordinary prayers, St. Patrick prayed for more Christ.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

The first time I heard this portion of what has been called St. Patrick’s “Breastplate prayer,” I was in my college Chorale and it was the text of an anthem we were singing.  Since that time, I have remembered this prayer and often come back to it, especially when my prayer life is in a rut and my prayers start to sound selfish.  St. Patrick’s desire to increase the presence of Christ in every nook and cranny of life is something I want for my life too.  And I believe it is what Jesus wants for all of us.

When your prayer life feels dry and you find yourself using the same words and making the same requests, take a cue from St. Patrick and pray for more Christ.  What richness we have in our Savior!  Oh, how Jesus longs to give us more of Himself! We have only to ask.



This article originally appeared in “The Connection,” – the weekly bulletin for FSBC Lawrence.