Receiving a Gift that you Didn’t ask for or Want

Most of us have probably witnessed and kid opening a gift that they didn’t care for. It’s hilarious and mortifying all at the same time. It’s like an accident that you can’t seem to peel your eyes off of. I’m sure that many of you with kids try to condition or prep them beforehand by reminding them not to say that they don’t like the present or that it isn’t something that they wanted or need.

In fact, many of us have received presents from well intentioned loved ones that we do not want or need… but the gifts God gives us are different. They are just what we need! Some of his gifts we acknowledge right away and thank him for it. Whether it’s the good news about a expected child, a job promotion, or a beautiful sunset, we respond with joy and gratitude. Yet there are other gifts He gives that we don’t recognize as good gifts. They don’t come wrapped exquisitely, or even at a time we expect. In fact, we might not realize that God is the sender of the gift at all.

These are gifts that only over time do we look back and see them for what they are.

When I first unwrapped the gift of anxiety in my life, I was not thrilled… I was not grateful. I did not smile and say, “Alright! Just what I’ve always wanted!” But like Joseph, looking back, I can see how God has used something that people see as bad for my ultimate good and development. We see this idea demonstrated in the life of Joseph. Joseph went from beloved son, to slave, to royalty, all for God’s glory and purpose! Genesis 50:20 says,

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

Though there is nothing good about anxiety, God had used it for my good. He had used it to draw me deeper into his grace, He used it to strip me of self-reliance and self-righteousness, He has humbled me through it, He used it to show me my great need for Jesus and to turn me toward him, He has used it to show me I am not in control, He has used it to show me the true source of my peace and joy.

The Apostle Paul wrote about suffering as being a gift in his letter to the Philippians. In Philippians 1:29 he wrote,

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.

The word “granted” here means “gifted.” It has been gifted to us to not only believe but to also suffer. We’ll take the gift of salvation any day, but the gift of suffering, that’s another matter. That might be a gift we don’t want and definitely didn’t ask for! That’s the kind of gift that is certainly not received with open arms.

But as James, Paul, and Peter point out, suffering is a gift that is intended for our good. Though the particular trial we experience is not good in and of itself, it is used by God for his glory and our ultimate spiritual good. Because it is in our trials that we are transformed into the likeness of Christ. James 1:2-4 says,

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If you never knew or experienced darkness, you would not know how to appreciate the light.

Suffering is to be expected in the life of a Christ follower, therefor we should not be surprised by it. When we suffer, in whatever form it takes, we are following in the steps of Christ. 1 Peter 2:21 says,

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.

But we have the hope that joy lies on the other side of suffering! Eternity with Christ awaits us. And what we experience now can’t even be compared with what is to come. Romans 8:18 says,

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

If we are in Christ, may we accept all God’s gifts with open hands, whether they are what we asked for or not. And in due time, as we look back and see what God has done, may we return thanks to him, rejoicing in his work of sanctification as he prepares us for that wondrous day when faith will be sight and all our hopes will be revealed.

Romans 5:1-5 says,

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Leading or Telling?

How many of us have ever had to speak to a travel agent to get some information on an upcoming trip? You sit in their office, they tell you about places they themselves haven’t been, they show you a bunch of brochures, and they describe the wonderful packages they could put together and how much they would cost you.

One time while on vacation in Arizona with my family we took a guided jeep tour. Our guide met us with the jeep, gave us useful information about the area, and then drove us through the streets, back roads, and mountains of beautiful Sedona. He didn’t just sit in an office and describe the scenery; he drove us through to see the scenery himself!

Travel agents give us information. Tour guides lead us to a destination.

Spiritually speaking, which of those two has helped you grow the most? The agent who tells you what to do, or the guide who shows you what to do? As a pastor, one of my main concerns is that I tell people how to grow spiritually more than show them how to grow spiritually, and I believe many Christians sit back and do the same.

In your Christian life, you can be a spiritual travel agent or a spiritual tour guide. Travel agents sit in climate-controlled buildings and tell people where to go, how to get there, and what to do when they arrive. It’s comfortable. It’s safe. Doesn’t that sound a whole lot like the modern way we do church? Tour guides lace up their shoes and trek alongside you. It’s definitely not always comfortable. It can be risky and messy, but ultimately very rewarding.

Heather Zempel author of Big Change Small Groups puts it this way,

We can’t just talk about prayer . . . we’ve got to do it with people. We can’t just complete a workbook on serving our community; we’ve got to get out there and do it. We can’t just explain to someone, we’ve got to do it alongside them.

In 1 Corinthians 11:1 the Apostle Paul wrote,

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

Do you live your life in such a way that you want others to follow? Are you committed to following Christ, so that others can follow you?

The way I learned how to ride a bike was my dad showing me. The way I learned how to pray was by my parents modeling it for me. The way I learned to preach was not just by reading books on homiletics but by actually preaching and having teachers help guide me.

Don’t be a travel agent Christian who just sits in a church building and tells people what to do. Be a tour-guide Christian who walks with others and shows people what to do!

Let’s follow the lead of the greatest Tour Guide who ever lived when he said in John 13:15,

I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

Lets get up off the pew, exit the building, and get to guiding!

All Glitter is not Gold

If you are like me you regularly think about how you can live a better life. How you can be a better person, a better spouse, parent, and friend. I know I want to appear to be kinder and wiser, more disciplined, generous, and thoughtful. I want people to see me as a better man, leader, preacher, and writer.

But am I willing to do the hard work of actually becoming these things?

Theodore Roosevelt once said,

Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.

The easy way, in the long run, is the hard way. The hard way, though beset with effort, pain, and difficulty, leads to long-term ease of a life well lived in progressive maturity and spiritual growth. In Matthew 7:14 Jesus said,

The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few

I wish there was another way! I wish there was a quick fix, or an easy solution! But you and I know that’s not the case, so we set our goals and make our determinations to be different, to make forward progress, and then we hit the proverbial wall and quit. But… don’t stop working and striving to mature or you’re going to wind up joining the masses that have settled for the cycle of mediocrity with the mask of progress.

You see… appearing to be something and actually being something are two different things. Looking good isn’t the same as being good!

Sometimes I wonder if I, and maybe “we,” approach our faith in Jesus the same way we approach the other areas of our life we say we want to improve, only to not put forth the effort to actually do so. We can be very successful at practicing our religion without actually deepening our relationship with God. We can go to church, sing on the worship team, help in children’s ministry, attend a class or even teach a class and simply be engaging in spiritual activities devoid of the depth of relationship.

The same goes for me as a preacher. I can hone the skill of public speaking, know how to engage people with smiles, listening eyes, and firm handshakes. I can craft my prayers to fit any and every situation. I can exegete a text, apply sound hermeneutics, and use smart-sounding words to convince others that I know what I’m talking about. I can do all these and more and still be far from God. Religious knowledge and activities do not necessarily produce a Christ-like life.

Now, I’m not against knowledge and activities. And I’m not suggesting you should not go to church or sing on the worship team or help in children’s ministry. But what I am suggesting is that you ask yourself the same question I am asking myself: Am I actually becoming more like Jesus or am I merely appearing to be more like Jesus? 

I guess there are worse things for us to appear to be, but faking it never works in the long run. I’ve heard it said before, “All glitter is not gold.” What one appears to be and who one truly is may be two different things.

One of my goals is to stop trying to appear to be someone I think would gain the approval of others, and simply be someone who aspires to follow and become more like, Jesus.

Will you join me in this?

A Bridge to Nowhere

What do you do with a bridge when the river moves and it is no longer effective?

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a photo of a bridge in Honduras. The bridge spanned the Choluteca River. The new Choluteca Bridge, also known as the Bridge of Rising Sun, was built by Hazama Ando Corporation between 1996 to 1998 and became the largest bridge constructed by a Japanese company in Latin America. This bridge, which was a gift from Japan to the people of Honduras, was constructed of concrete and steel using modern engineering and construction. It was built to last, and a lot of money was invested in the project.

In late October 1998, the same year the bridge was completed and commissioned for use, Hurricane Mitch struck Central America leaving more than 11,000 people dead, destroying hundreds of thousands of homes and causing more than $5 billion in damages. It was the deadliest hurricane to hit the Western Hemisphere in more than 200 years.

Hurricane Mitch began as a tropical depression on October 22, and by October 26 had intensified into a Category 5 hurricane. Sustained winds reached 180 mph, while gusts were more than 200 mph. After making landfall in Honduras on October 29, Hurricane Mitch moved through Central America before reaching Florida as a tropical storm on November 4th, 1998.

Mitch was an especially destructive storm; it slammed into the country of Honduras and ended up dumping over six feet of rain in less than four days. Honduras and Nicaragua were especially hard hit by the hurricane. In Honduras, floods and mudslides brought on by heavy rainfall washed away entire villages, and the majority of the country’s crops and infrastructure were destroyed. The other Central American nations were also affected by Hurricane Mitch, although the death tolls in these locations were significantly lower than Honduras and Nicaragua.

In total, more than 11,000 people (some estimates put the figure as high as 18,000) died because of the hurricane, making Mitch the most deadly storm in the Western Hemisphere since the Great Hurricane of 1780 in the Eastern Caribbean. Additionally, several million people were made homeless or severely impacted by Hurricane Mitch, which is estimated to have caused more than $5 billion in damages.

The Bridge of the Rising Sun spanning the Choluteca managed to survive the devastating destruction of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and the more than six feet of water that it dumped on Honduras as it camped out and intensified over them for several days.

However, the tragic results lie not in the construction of the bridge but in the nature of rivers. Rivers move. Alas, after a deluge of rain and flooding, the river jumped its banks and carved a new channel in which to flow through.

Rivers move… bridges do not.

 

choluteca-bridge.jpg

 

This is especially true of ones built with steel and concrete. In the process, the flood washed away the roads and ramps that connected to the bridge making the once functional bridge into a bridge to nowhere. This edifice of sound engineering found itself no longer over the river. It could no longer serve its original purpose.

What do you do when the river moves?

This story can be used as an illustration for the church today. It is almost like a modern day parable with relevance to our current situation. For many of us… christians, pastors, and churches the river has moved.

As is the case with any successful institution, the church was built with the best social and religious engineering available at the time: as a robust and hardy structure designed to be effective and to last. A lot of time, energy, sweat, and money has been previously invested. In fact, there has been generations of investment, and it has served as a bridge for many to move from death to life. Our design, methods, and ideas have spanned the river… when the river was in the right place.

But… unfortunately society has changed. The result is that what used to be true has jumped the old banks where the church had constructed itself. And now, the church is left with a well-built bridge: a bridge of pews, brick and stone and stained glass; a bridge of doctrine, dress code, residential schools, prayer books, organ music, etc.

And the river is no longer where it should be.

None of our previous methods, techniques, and bridges of the past are bad… they just are no longer spanning the river. Our bridges are ineffective structures. They may be nice to look at, we might have fond memories of how they used to work, but ultimately they are no longer serving the purpose of which they were once intended. This brings up options for how to respond to this new situation.

Can we dredge the river back in place? Can we find enough excavators to dig the river back into its rightful channel? How do we move a river? Maybe it will find its way back under our bridge if we are patient? Or do we find another way?

Might we accept the reality and power of the river? It has moved and it isn’t coming back.

Do we begin to reconsider a new bridge? Can we creatively consider spanning the river with lighter and flexible materials: materials able to be adjusted to moving rivers and changing circumstances?

What do we do when the river starts to move?

Helping Your Congregation Break Out of Its Comfort Zone

I recently watched the NBA finals and in Game 4 Steph Curry stepped up to the free throw line and knocked down 2 shots without batting an eye. He was in his comfort zone! In fact, throughout the finals he made 95% of the free throws he attempted. Steph Curry’s comfort zone is watching the ball go through the hoop.

What’s your comfort zone?

A comfort zone is a psychological state in which things feel familiar to a person and they are at ease and in control of their environment, experiencing low levels of anxiety and stress. In this zone, a steady level of performance is possible.

As a Worship Pastor, comfort zones may be one of the things I wrestle with the most! I take the story of Moses as an example and am encouraged that God is in the business of stretching the comfort zones of His followers. Moses, as most of you know, did not consider himself a great speaker… some would even theorize and say that he might have had a speech impediment, but God called him to go and plead with Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. God called a person who was uncomfortable with their speaking abilities to be the voice of a nation, a voice of reason, and the audible voice of God.

We see a similar charge to Abram, when in Genesis 12 God tells him to “leave his country and Father’s house to a land that he will show you.” Even though it doesn’t say here, I’m sure Abram was hesitant at first. Leaving the land that he had known his whole life for a place that hadn’t even been given to him yet. A land that he didn’t know and couldn’t see!

So, Because of these stories I know that as a Pastor challenging my congregation to step out of their comfort zones is important and Biblical. But how do I do that? It seems every time I start to think on this topic so many more questions come up. What is the current comfort level at? How do we stretch without breaking people? How fast do we move? Am I stepping out of my comfort zone? How do we develop a method? Do we move with our church or as a separate entity?

All of these questions must be carefully weighed and thought out before deciding what stepping out of a comfort zone looks like for your individual ministry.

I have been on staff as a Worship Pastor at New Hope Community church for three and a half years now. I have learned a lot, and have seen God move in ways I couldn’t ever imagine! How can we come along our congregations and encourage the “fearful” steps out of the comfort zone? Let’s think together!


Find Your DNA

One of the most dangerous things I have seen over and over again with Pastors entering into new “home bases” is imparting their home church, or favorite “model” church, into the direct vision and end goal of the church they are in.

Now don’t hear me say that it is wrong to take things that healthy churches are doing and trying to implement them into the life of your church. That’s not it at all! The problem is when you try to make another church’s DNA your own!

Ministry takes a lot of time to figure out what the church’s “DNA” is. By that I simply mean what is natural and comfortable for them. For me I have to explore and find out if there is there a song that has been the church’s anthem that everyone raises his or her hands to? Is there a mash up that has helped bridge the gap in styles? The DNA is made up of these unwritten rules, and what the church is passionate about as a whole.

I remember the first time I led a song that “flopped.” It was within my first three months here and it was almost as if the other vocalists and I were the only ones singing along with it. I quickly realized that at that current time that song was too far outside of the norm for the church.

So… what did I do? Did I force that song down their throats? No! I stopped singing that song, and songs like it, for a time while I figured out what our DNA was. Interestingly enough, as the church moved and grew and developed a trust in me (we will discuss that shortly) I was able to reintroduce that song with great success!

You have to find what has been done, what has worked, what was forced, and what was taken away that should have remained.

For some churches their DNA is in their direct community; for others it may be younger families, older families, singles, multi-ethnic, middle class, upper class, lower class, etc. Neither is better or worse, it is simply the door God has opened for you and caused your congregation to become passionate about.

Effective ministers find out what the church is passionate about and integrate it into the service and life of the church.


Earn Trust

My wife and I love the outdoors and love adventure even more! We love to hike and climb/ shimmy into places that others might not want to go. Now imagine that you want to do an exploration in a remote and dangerous area. You have money to find a guide and you get several ads and read through them trying to pick your guide. Are you going to choose the “new guy” or the guy that has led numerous successful explorations in the exact area in which you plan to go?

On the other hand, imagine that you need brain surgery. Do you want the surgeon who barely got through med school or do you want the guy who was at the top of his class and has done hundreds of brain surgeries?

Before people are willing to go somewhere new with you they must know that you won’t abuse their willingness and trust. To earn their trust, you must let them know that even in stretching them, they will not be forgotten or misrepresented.

In the story I told about the song that “flopped” why do you think the song went over better the second time a year or so later? Did the musical taste of the entire church change? Probably not. The congregation trusted me more.

How do you earn trust? You do life with the congregation. You get to know their DNA and become part of that DNA. You meet people where they are at, because that is how God treats us.


Go With Them

I remember the first time I went hiking with my wife. If you know Alaina then you know that she is all legs… and that became painfully obvious when we reached our first hill! Now that I have grown accustomed to hiking at her pace we both have to be mindful of our speed when we walk/ hike with others.

As an artist I have to be mindful of the pace of my artistry and creativity. It is so easy for my ministry to seemingly move faster than the rest of the church. I can do this by updating our song selection and modernizing our sound, our stage design or our atmosphere. All of these are valuable tools and should be developed, but if they are leaving the rest of our congregation in the dust what are we gaining?

I like the idea of meeting people at their comfort zones and taking them one step further.

In fact, that is the way Jesus modeled discipleship. Jesus didn’t point people where to go without going with them, or call them from a place far away telling people to find their way to Him. Jesus’ ministry was based around walking with people, teaching as they went.

Jesus led people to places he was going himself or had already been to! As a leader are you trying to lead from afar?


Keep a Clear Focus

Lastly, if we are going to ask and challenge our congregation to take a step with us, we need to be stepping out in ways as well.

Stepping out of your comfort zone demands that you yourself are constantly moving forward in your own walk with Christ. We must be showing the congregation that we are moving forward as well as worshiping in ways that are outside of our preferences or comfort zone.

That comes from being transparent through the process of stepping out of our comfort zones both from the stage and personally in conversations.

Be real with people. If you aren’t a naturally expressive person, show your congregation that you are trying to move outside your comfort zone by raising your hands in worship. If you aren’t comfortable singing, then sing. If you aren’t comfortable with leading a prayer out loud, then pray for all to hear. Show your congregation that you are stepping out with them.

It is healthy for us to worship in ways we are not comfortable with!

If we practice worshiping in ways we aren’t comfortable with then we will get more comfortable stretching our comfort zones in all aspects of our life.


But change, stepping out of your comfort zone, isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon made up of consistent steps forward.

Meet people at their comfort zone and take them one step further.

Set the Table

A couple of months ago my wife and I got to do a couple of longer hikes in the Rocky Mountains. To save money and time, we decided to pick up Subway sandwiches on our way each day and eat them in the car before hitting the trails. It was so much fun eating sandwiches and other, primarily unhealthy, snacks picnic-style because there was fresh air, a beautiful view, my wife, and no real expectations or civilized rules regarding how or what I ate. I didn’t have to eat my sandwich before my gummy bears, keep my elbows off the table, or use my forks in the correct order… I mean how many forks can a person possibly need to eat a meal?

Another memorable meal was when I was in college. As a Public Relations class heading towards graduation we went to a conference to rub elbows with some possible future employers, and “professionals” in the field. After that conference there was an elaborate meal with waiters, multiple courses, fine dishware, and tons of utensils. The etiquette and expectations were high and completely different than my previous example.

As a kid we didn’t get out the classy dishware often, probably because my mom was afraid we would break it, and we would, or maybe because we didn’t have any? I’m not sure… but both of those examples paint a picture of my point, the way the table is set can determine the expectations for the meal.

Think about it! The dishware is not the reason you sat down at the table… the food was! But the place settings can determine the context and direction the meal will take.

As worship leaders, we set the mood for what is expected for the worship experience for the majority of the congregation. Obviously, there will always be those who are bold or mature in their faith who we don’t need to bring to the throne because they are already there. But for the majority of the church, we set the table and the layout for what is generally expected during a worship service. We can be the examples of what kind of worshipers we are called to be. I know that a meal with fine china versus a picnic will have two different moods… both are fine and enjoyable, but different. In the same way, a small group setting with an acoustic guitar has a much different feel than a Sunday morning service with a full band. Both are great and both can be incredibly powerful times of worship, but they are different styles. The table for each scenario is set differently.

As Pastors and leaders we are called to do the prep work through prayer, devotion, study, and thought to find out what message we want to convey to our congregation, what place setting and context we want to put before them. I once heard a quote that went like this,

Worship ministry is not about telling people where to go, but about leading them as you go there yourself.

Every week I try to encourage this mindset in the way our team leads. Whether the position is deserved or not, if you are onstage or have a role on the worship team, you are seen as a leader. What you do dictates to the majority of the congregation what is acceptable or inappropriate for the service.

However, as worship leaders, we can’t make the congregation do anything they don’t want to do. Just like a table-setter or host of a meal, I can bring you the finest dishes and cups, decorate the table extravagantly with candles, and set out fancy silverware, but I can’t make you eat the food or even like it, and I shouldn’t try to… that is not my job. If our goal is to lead people to worship and we begin to judge our services based on how many people raise their hands, we will become very effective manipulators. If we take a close look at Scripture, however, we can see that isn’t our job. In Psalm 23, God Himself does nothing more than prepare a table for David in the presence of his enemies, and it is David’s choice whether or not he will partake in the “meal.”

That Psalm says,

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

 

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

What good is an elaborate meal with a way to eat it? Table-setting is about giving people the tools to eat the meal. Likewise, it is our job to prepare the setting for worship and then get out of the way.

I imagine that our experiences are often like Moses’s after he came down from Mount Sinai in Exodus 19.

Exodus 19:7-17 says,

So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.  And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.”

 

When Moses told the words of the people to the Lord, the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people; and they washed their garments. And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.”

 

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain.

In Exodus 19 Moses had a literal mountaintop experience with God and was told to go down and tell the people to prepare themselves for worship… to prepare to have an experience with the Almighty God. Then on the third day, he led them up on the mountain so they might worship God.

Do we realize that when we worship we do so standing before an Almighty God?

One time I was exploring an old train tunnel with a buddy and once we got inside we were immersed in total darkness. As we trudged through the mud and water trying to catch a glimpse of the light emerging from the other side time seemed to drag on and on. After an hour or so I asked, “Have you been here before?” My trust had wavered over time and my primary concern was that he was experienced in the path we decided to take.

As many worship leaders, Pastors, or “creatives” do, we put a lot of time, prayer, and effort into our weekly services. We map out the flow of the songs so there aren’t any distractions, and we tie them together with the topic or theme we are trying to convey. As Moses did, we lead people up the mountain. But do you think the Israelites would have trusted Moses and followed him up the mount had he not gone before them already? He was experienced… he had been there before!

I highly doubt that Moses would have held the trust of the Israelites had he not first been to the mountain himself and stood before God. You cannot lead someone where you have not been yourself.

It is easy to gauge a service by how well the band played, how the tech team did, and if the congregation sang loudly or only a few people raised their hands. I fall victim to this mentality quite often, but leading worship is centered around trust in God. Craig Groeschel once said,

If we blame ourselves when things go poorly, then we will be tempted to credit ourselves when things go right.

The act of table-setting can be scary.

But we can do nothing more than that. So as you plan your service this week, think about what table you are trying to set. We lead our congregation to the table, not by pointing a finger, but by saying, “Come alongside me as we go together.”

Lead Worship… Not Songs

I’ve been playing and leading songs for as long as I can remember, whether it was in my bedroom on my first Fender acoustic guitar my Dad bought me, in the basement cranking out old-school Linkin Park tunes with my friends, traveling a large portion of the country playing in venues and at festivals, or standing on the stage in a church or youth room.

I’ve led SO many songs!

Let me ask you, in the songs that you’re leading where are the words pointed?

I would say that many of our song lyrics are more about the attributes of God, or how we relate to God, rather than being songs sung directly to Him filled with truth and praise/ adoration.

I look back and think about some of the first times I sang a song about God and truly felt the Holy Spirit move. I could literally feel something happen both in me, and on me, as I sang the words with purity and belief, and guess what… it didn’t only happen with me, but in the room! The chorus of one of the songs goes like this:

Holy Spirit you are welcome here. Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere. Your glory God is what our hearts long for, to be overcome by Your presence Lord!

Does your heart truly long to give God the glory? Or just to lead another song and have some people sing along?

The acknowledgement of God’s presence in and during our worship leading should do something to us… in us. We aren’t just singing a song to the air. We are singing a song directly to Him!

At the time I didn’t know I could steward a moment like this or have the authority to release the Kingdom and lead emboldened and empowered by the Holy Spirit. I only knew how to be an excellent leader of songs. I had so many good things to discover as I grew from being a song leader to becoming a worship leader.

Who doesn’t love being in a room where a leader humbly, yet boldly, takes us into a place of encounter with Jesus. If you are anything like me, you want to lead with authority and partner with the Holy Spirit every time you worship. And even more importantly, I want to have confidence that it has nothing to do with my natural ability. Why?

Many people have a natural ability to lead people in songs, but it takes supernatural partnership to lead people into encounter.

In John 5:19 Jesus says it like this,

Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.

Even Jesus was dependent to hear from the Father as He ministered to people every day! In the same way, we can do nothing in and of ourselves, it’s in submission to Jesus, in serving with obedience following the sound of His voice and leading that we shift the atmosphere, releasing faith!

You might be reading this and going “Yeah! Yeah! I want that. Where can I get that!” Well here are a few suggestions on places to start.


Worship before you lead.

I found that as I was growing as a Worship Pastor and in hearing God’s voice during worship, He would often speak to me as I would worship through the set at home or at rehearsals.

I often tell people that it is easier and more freeing to worship at rehearsals with my team. We don’t just fly through the songs. We worship as we practice and try to be receptive and obedient to the leading of the Spirit even in those times! Some weeks, I will see certain themes arising as I worship that I didn’t pick up on in all of my hard planning and praying. For example, this past week there was a real freedom in our worship during rehearsal on Friday and the theme of God’s authority and victory He has won for us made itself very clear in the songs we were singing and the way they worked together to usher us into the throne room of God. Maybe it’s salvation, physical/emotional healing, relationships, or even bondage.

I have found that in those times of true submission and freedom God will often give me a chorus (sometimes new), a scripture, or some type of invitation to present or theme to highlight.

Open yourself up to His leading by being “well-seasoned” on worship before you try to put yourself before others to lead.


Create a culture of feedback.

Isn’t this a scary thought?

But hear me out here… invite both your leadership and worship team to give feedback into what they sensed happening throughout worship. This will help you learn when you’re hearing well, as well as what you might be missing.

We won’t get it right 100% of the time. Some days my spiritual “well” is just running low and I have nothing else to give and I might miss a cue. But, these times don’t have to be a complete loss… if we open ourselves up to feedback and real conversations (not just someone telling you everything you did right and what you want to hear) then we can learn form those things and bounce back ready to follow.

Find some people you trust and give them permission to share their perceptions of each service. Trust me, it’s not easy to hear that we talked too much or missed a moment that everyone else sensed was happening. But if we don’t open the door to feedback, we won’t learn. This is where we practice humility. We serve Jesus and our congregation; we don’t serve ourselves.


Be willing to take risks.

There have been many times where God has spoken very specifically to one of my team members and I missed the signal. It’s a constant growth curve for me to be aware of what’s happening in the room and to what God is saying to me as well as checking in with the team. Be sensitive to what other team members might be feeling and when you invite them to take a risk, follow up with them afterwards.

Just this week my keyboard player took a risk and shared with me what she sensed as we ended rehearsal on Sunday morning and it confirmed what I was sensing and prodded me to go down an avenue that I hadn’t planned to right before service!

Don’t skip the view because you are scared of the trail before it! Encourage risk! Risk is faith in action!

The Kingdom of God invading Earth is very real, very powerful, and very tangible. The icing on the cake? God wants to advance the Kingdom through us! I encourage you to ask the Lord how to grow to a new place of trust with Him and a new place of faith in your activity as a worshiper. Maybe you already practice the points I mentioned and, if so, what is the next place of risk for you? How amazing is it that we have the opportunity to partner with the King of the world.


 

Seek Him and His glory first and the other things will fall into place!

How do You Approach the Throne?

It’s easy to get stuck in a spiritual rut. I know, because my entire life as a Believer I’ve either been growing closer to God or slowly fading away. Did you catch that? I truly believe that your faith never just “stalls” out and you maintain the same level. If you aren’t going forward then you’re losing ground. Contentment breeds complacency, and complacency causes us to drift.

Last week my wife and I were in the Rocky Mountains hiking through 40 inches of snow. There was a moment on top of a peak that allowed the scenery to open up in front of you that all I could think about was the fact that a single God created everything. Not only did He create everything we see, know, and believe in… but He created it all with excellence regardless of whether that particular creation would ever be seen or admired. It blows my mind! There isn’t a place on or off Earth that you could go and find a halfway created tree, or a “good enough” rainbow. It’s all magnificent! God doesn’t do anything adequately… only excellently.

IMG_6489

Sometimes, the best way to break out of a rut, whether it’s a spiritual rut or creative rut, is to get out of your comfort zone and explore a new facet of what it means to worship God. We serve a creative God, and He calls us to worship Him with all we are, including the creativity He’s given us.

1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us that,

Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Our connection with God comes not from WHAT we do in worship but rather HOW we do it. We can read 10 chapters of the Bible and our hearts still be far from God, or we can wash our car in the driveway and have a wonderful time of fellowship with Him!

I love this quote about a lifestyle of worship from Martin Luther King Jr. He once said,

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

Whether you sing a hymn or wash dishes is not as important as whether or not your heart is tuned in to the presence of God. As humans, we have the unique privilege to worship God with our entire beings, heart, soul, mind, and strength. Let’s learn to do so well!

If you want to go deeper in your relationship with God perhaps it’s time to explore new ways of worshipping Him, and check your attitude at the door. I’ll say it again… it’s not about what you do, your role, or your position. It’s about HOW you approach the throne.

Are you approaching God with the desire to worship and to worship excellently, or are you approaching to heap your meaningless statements and love songs at the foot of the throne half-heartedly?

Contrary to popular belief, God did not create us all to worship Him the same way. We’re different not just in our physical appearance and spiritual giftedness but also in the way we connect with God. And it’s a beautiful thing. One body, many parts, right? So stop trying to mimic someone else’s spiritual walk and discover the way God created YOU to connect with Him.

Your worship journey will be as rich, deep, and varied as you desire it to be. Start worshipping with the idea of excellence in mind. Worship throughout your lifestyle and your day and see how the rut fades!

Fight or Flight – The Story of Your Life

Psalm 45:1 says,

My heart overflows with a pleasing theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.

What would you like the story of your life to look like? What is the theme of your heart and the story of your tongue?

I watched a man chiseling on a rock once while I was in college. After a bit he turned and I asked him what he was making. He replied, “The state of Kentucky!” The rock looked nothing like the state of Kentucky… in fact it looked more like a log. He then said something that I have remembered and thought about since. He said, “It may not look like it now, but the state of Kentucky is in there… I just have to get it out!”

What an idea! The artist knew that what he wanted was attainable, but it just was going to take some effort to get it exposed.

I am a perfectionist, which often restricts me as an artist. I get frustrated when what I have on canvas or paper doesn’t match what I had in mind in my head. That frustration restricts my ability to be artistic, whereas I watch my wife work, whether it is drawing or painting, she allows the work to transform throughout the process. Like a sculptor allowing the piece to take form with every hit from the chisel bit. She has a way of allowing a piece to take shape itself, and you are able to watch it take shape and detail as it transforms and evolves throughout the process of her work.

The Psalmist gives a valuable reminder that everyone has a “canvas” on which to “paint” the story of his or her life. If you were to paint yours, what would picture you create? The story of your life is determined by the overflow of your heart. Are you like me as an artist? Do you get frustrated and want to throw in the towel when the story you had in mind from the start isn’t taking shape just right? Or are you like my wife or the sculptor I mentioned above? Do you allow the story and art to unfold and transform as you pour yourself into it and work?

We must remember, transformation is always progressive, always changing and moving forward.

The Apostle Paul knew all about transformation first-hand. From murderer of Christians to Apostle of the Church, the canvas of his life underwent radical change. In Philippians 3:12-14 he admitted,

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul was well aware that he had some changing still to do but he understood that it wasn’t about perfection, qualifications or credentials; it was about Christ’s righteousness. He was committed to pressing toward the goal of transformation into Christ’s image.

Paul didn’t allow the first chapters of the story to determine the ending.

Paul refused to flee from the struggle and suffering involved with change. He was passionate for the Cause of Christ and his passion oftentimes involved pain… sometimes the change doesn’t come naturally but instead it takes work! In fact, the Latin word for passion means pain.

1 Timothy 6:12 says,

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

In our fight for change, we must realize that a certain degree of pain and work is involved. Putting to death the old ways of thinking, feeling and behaving is uncomfortable at best, and often painful! Don’t be passive, but instead be committed to pressing on.

Life is filled with situations where we are faced with a “fight or flight” decision. If you run, you’ll have to face the same fight again. You want to change your life? You have to fight for it. But take heart – you are in good company!

Be like Paul. Be like the sculptor we discussed above. Live righteously and know that what God wants for you is attainable, but it just might take some effort to get it exposed!

Our Challenge to Keep Moving

Matthew 2: 9-10 says,

After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.

Here in this Christmas season we will here this account read many times. Hallelujah! Jesus was born! But… sometimes we focus in the birth and not the story that leads up to it. As I read this account I notice a character that usually doesn’t get much attention… the star that led people to where Jesus was.

The star of Jesus, the beacon of hope, the beacon of grace and change moved until it came and stopped above where Jesus was. The star was not static; it was a moving star. It was not a stagnant star; it was a star that made movements; it was a star that did not remain in the same position; it was a star that was in motion and pursuit of where Jesus was. It kept moving. It was not satisfied to be “near” the Will of God… it wanted to be in the Will of God.

Friends, we are called to be that star… “To go therefore and make disciples.”

As Christians, and leaders, we should strive to be that beacon of hope, that directional sign that eagerly desires to be where Jesus is and to lead others there as well.

Our challenge is forever to be a moving star; be a star that isn’t stagnated; be a star that keeps improving; be a star that gets better and better; be a dynamic star; be a star that won’t be at the same spot and same level from day to day and from year to year. Be a star that shines brighter and brighter each passing day. A star consistently seeking the presence of our Lord.

Jesus’ example is one that has no business with stagnation. If you are stagnant in your work, you are not following Jesus’ example. If you remain on the same level, you’re missing the mark. If people cannot see anything new in you as you grow older, you are walking in stagnation. If where you were yesterday is same as where you are today, stagnation is at your doorstep.

Change looks different for all of us. For some of us it may be a change in physical location, for others it could be in spiritual maturity or leadership, servanthood, attitude, desire, etc.

The movement of Jesus’ star was not hidden. People saw the star moving. If indeed you are moving, your movement should be recognizable. Keep moving; even when you make progress, keep moving; no matter what successes you experience, keep moving. As you move like that star towards the presence of Christ people will follow. Be like that star… lead people to Jesus.

Take advantage of the season and point all that you do to Christ.