God still Speaks… are you Listening?

How many of you, if you were sitting at breakfast tomorrow morning, laying in bed, or sitting in your cubicle and all of a sudden there was a lot of shaking, the wind started blowing, a bright light like fire appeared before your eyes and you could literally see the clouds and they started rolling up like a scroll and during all of that a voice told you to go do something would do what that voice said?

I would!

I can imagine it now… buy that stock! Drive to California and await further instruction! Call your mom… ehhh for some of us that might cause some hesitation.

How many of you would hesitate during all of that to decide whether or not you should listen to and do what that voice said to do? Wouldn’t you all immediately be in? If you literally heard God tell you to do something, you would do it pretty much no questions asked. So, I gotta ask: Do you believe God still speaks?

Well… if He is speaking why is there so little doing? So I guess the question is… Are you listening?

Check out this passage and I want you to look for what God says and how his people respond to hearing from God.

Haggai 1:1-6 (ESV) says,

In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of    the Lord.” Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.

Haggai 1:12-14 (ESV) says,

Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord. Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke to the people with the Lord’s message, “I am with you, declares the Lord.” And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God.

What did the people do regarding the voice of the Lord in this story?

They heard from God and they obeyed!

But wait… let me provide some context for this story for a minute. It’s not so simple… it wasn’t always like that!

The context for this story is that God’s people had been exiled for decades. They had been deprived of the temple and it was killing some of them. So much so that when Emperor Cyrus said they can go back to their homes, they start the trek home and begin building walls and the temple. But then guess what… life.

Life got in the way!

Sure, some of it was hostile neighbors, but it was more just everyday busy-ness.

You know what I’m talking about! There were kids to take to ballet, tee ball, booster club, grocery shopping, grass to mow! Think about it! There are always doctors appointments to schedule, that concert you really want to see, vacation, and … well, life.

So let me ask again… Do you believe God still speaks? Are you listening? Or is there too much other stuff competing for your attention, dedication, and time?

In his book Directions, author James Hamilton shares this insight about listening to God:

Before refrigerators, people used icehouses to preserve their food. Icehouses had thick walls, no windows and a tightly fitted door. In winter, when streams and lakes were frozen, large blocks of ice were cut, hauled to the icehouses and covered with sawdust. Often the ice would last well into the summer.

One man lost a valuable watch while working in an icehouse. He searched diligently for it, carefully raking through the sawdust, but didn’t find it. His fellow workers also looked, but their efforts, too, proved futile. A small boy who heard about the fruitless search slipped into the icehouse during the noon hour and soon emerged with the watch. Amazed, the men asked him how he found it.

I closed the door,” the boy replied, “lay down in the sawdust, and kept very still. Soon I heard the watch ticking.”

Often the question is not whether God is speaking, but whether we are being still enough and quiet enough to hear. Yes, Jesus assures us that our heavenly Father always listens to us, but do we really listen to God? Do we follow the instructions of Psalm 46 where it says, “Be still, and know that I am God”?

Are you listening? Or is the pattern of life not allowing you the opportunity to hear?

My first point is:


WE MUST HEAR THE VOICE OF THE LORD

Luke 15:11-24 is a story we’ve all heard. It was a parable of Jesus that I think many of us can relate to. It goes like this,

And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

Let’s take look at this story for a moment. In these times the younger son was ritually entitled to 1/3 of the inheritance of his father after his father’s death. This son wanted it before. He was inpatient. He “knew” better than his father about what to do with the inheritance he was promised. Despite the breathtaking audacity of the younger son’s request, the father grants it!

Is that not amazing!

This reflects the amazing indulgence that God shows toward us. Even when we are acting as selfishly as the prodigal son, God indulges us. He yields what is His and allows us to misuse it out of respect for the freedom that He has given us.

After the son gets 1/3rd of his father’s estate, he takes everything he has and goes “into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living” (v. 13).

In context, this means that he abandoned the Holy Land to go, voluntarily, into exile and into a pagan country where he could live recklessly without being under his father’s hand. He wanted to get out of God’s land so that he could live in sin and fund his sinful lifestyle by what he took from his father.

Do we do that? Do we misuse what God has blessed us with? I did! I do! Think about what God has given you… and think about how you are using it.

But what happens in this story? The money runs out. The good times ended. The consequences of a reckless lifestyle caught up to him. The resources he had were exhausted. In this hard time the son recalled how his father treated even his hired servants better than his current reality. Verse 17 says,

How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!

The son plans to return to his father and say three things:

1) “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you” (v. 18),

2) “I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (v. 19a),

3) “treat me as one of your hired servants” (v. 19b).

Even being treated as one of his father’s hired servants would be better than the treatment he was receiving in the world. The son had ventured from where he belonged. He ventured out from under the care of his loving Dad.

The father wanted the best for his son. Sound familiar? He had laid up an inheritance for him. He had indulged his ridiculous request for 1/3 of what was rightfully his. While the son was away what do you think the father did?

I’m not a parent yet… but I can imagine what it must be like to sit up and wait for a kid who is running late for curfew. Sitting up with a single light on going from window to window waiting for that car to come down the driveway, the knob to turn, and the child to slide in hoping not to get noticed.

I believe the father in this story did exactly that. I believe he looked down the road for his son! Surely he called out his son’s name… but the son just wasn’t listening. The son had wandered off to a far away place. There are some of us, at this very moment, that are in far away places. How many of us have wandered at times? We all do it! We pursue life. We pursue dreams. We pursue success, happiness, education, financial security and stability, self-satisfaction, acceptance from our peers, family, and co-workers.

Hear me now. It’s not that the Lord, our Father, has not stopped calling or stopped speaking. The real issue is that we have stopped listening.

Like the son in the story, the farther we get from the Father’s loving care, the worse off we will be, and our best course is to return to God and His forgiveness. He’s there waiting. He’s there calling. We just have to listen for Him!

But what happens to the son in the story? He grows tired of his sin… he grows tired of his situation and where he’s at. So what does he do? He heads back! He returns to his father… to his home. He opens his ears and follows the voice of his loving dad all the way home!

The part that astounds me is that when the prodigal son returns to his father, something significant takes place. While he is still at a distance, the father sees him, has compassion upon him, runs to him, hugs him, and kisses him.

How do you think the son felt? He must have been astonished!

The son begins to recite his pre-scripted speech to his father. You know… the script we all have rehearsed over and over again in our heads when we know we are going to get busted. Being the older of two boys I always had a story and a built in excuse. “He did it! He broke it! He ate it!” He manages to get the first two parts of it out. He says:

1) “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you” (v. 21a),

2) “I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (v. 21b).

But before he can say the third part, before he can ask to be treated merely as a servant, the father interrupts things and takes the conversation in a very different direction. Rather than treating his younger son as a mere servant, he turns to the actual servants and orders a celebration.

Hear this point… when we begin to hear and sit under the voice of the Lord we get to take on our identity as a son or daughter of the most high God.

You see as we head to this next point we need to understand that hearing the voice of God is only half of the equation. We have to come back from that far away place and submit ourselves to God. We have to sit under that voice. We have to hear it, And we have to do what it says.


WE MUST OBEY THE VOICE OF THE LORD

God sent the prophet Haggai to preach to the remnant of Israel to urge them to get on with the work of rebuilding God’s temple. The people had been previously unmotivated to build the temple since, for the last 15 years, they experienced great opposition when trying to rebuild it. The people eventually began to prioritize other things above rebuilding the temple. They began to prioritize, in particular, looking after their own homes.

Haggai, like most prophets, did not mince his words. He didn’t tickle the people’s ears. Haggai’s rebuked the people, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” (1:4).

In modern terms, Haggai essentially told the people, “It’s time for you to stop thinking about yourselves. It’s time to get up off your couch and get on with the work of the Lord.” The amazing thing is that the people did what Haggai told them to do.

After hearing Haggai’s message, the text says in (1:12) that,

Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord.

Haggai told the people to do something and they did it. Trust me, this is a preacher’s dream! One of the great discouragements of ministry is when a minister preaches from the Bible with power and conviction only to be greeted with yawns and looks of indifference.

Keep in mind how many people we are talking about here. It says that “all the remnant of the people” obeyed the words of Haggai. ALL. Nobody was too important. Nobody was too young or too old. ALL took part. Haggai preached a message to 50,000 people and 50,000 people did what he asked of them.

These people did not blindly follow Haggai either as if he was simply some charismatic leader or out of fear or respect for man. The text says that the people not only responded to “the words of Haggai”, but they also “obeyed the voice of the Lord” and the NASB says that they “showed reverence for the Lord” (1:12). I love that translation. In short, you could say that when the people heard Haggai’s message, they responded by honoring God.

So the first thing that happens is Haggai preaches the Word of the Lord, and in response to this preaching, the second thing that happens in this text is that the people begin to honor God. And finally, in response to the people’s decision to honor God, the third thing that happens in this text is that God sends a message back to the people: “I am with you” (1:13).

For the people of Israel, assurance of God’s presence was the pinnacle of encouragement. It’s like the five year-old whose parent walks with them to their first day of school. Suddenly, because mom or dad is there, school doesn’t seem so scary. It’s like us, as adults, when we go to an important doctor’s appointment accompanied by our spouse. Suddenly, our fears are eased by the comfort that we are loved. In the same way, when the people in Haggai’s day were assured that the Lord was with them, the obstacles to building the temple became small.

Hear this: Obedience is an action word.

Hearing the voice of the Lord is merely the starting point! Without action we might as well have heard the voice of the God at all.

Imagine a runner by the name of Joe at the starting line of a big race. He has prepared and trained. He is at the peak of his physicality. All the runners stretch and get down in their blocks. The starter yells, “Runners take your marks, get set!” BOOM… he fires the gun. All the runners take off except Joe! What was the point of all the training if he wasn’t planning on running the race when he heard the gun go off!

Haggai 1:14-15 (NASB) says,

So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of Darius the king.

“Heads up!”

When you hear someone call that out what do you do? You watch your head! Something has caused that person enough concern to cry out so that you don’t get your head smacked by something. Now it’s one thing to hear the warning… it’s another thing altogether to take heed of that warning and prevent yourself from experiencing the very thing they were warning you about.

Let me ask you… what kind of warnings is God giving you currently?

“Heads up!” Change your priorities!

“Heads up!” Don’t make that choice!

“Heads up!” Be patient! Wait on me!

The question is not “is God speaking? Is he warning or guiding you?” The question is… what are you going to do with those warnings? What are you going to do with His guidance?

What is clear in this text is that the people of Israel honored God by obeying what He was telling them to do… His command to rebuild the temple. Our question is, “Are we going to honor God by being obedient to His voice?”

Allow me to provide you with some motivation to accept this challenge. When the people of Haggai’s day accepted the challenge to obey God, God promised them three things. If we choose to honor God with our obedience, these are the three things we can expect to receive:

1) God’s presence

2) God’s provision

3) God’s peace

Before the people began the work on the temple God assured them of His presence, “I am with you” He declared. God’s promise of His presence was enough motivation to get the people started on rebuilding the temple.

It seems, through the story however, that at some point, the people began to get discouraged.

Haggai 2:3-9 says,

‘Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the Lord. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.’”

The people began to wonder how they could build a temple as beautiful as the previous one. You see… some people were around to see the old temple. They remembered how things used to be! Some of us might be in the same boat! We might remember the way our church used to be. We might remember how life used to be. We might remember how this country used to be. We might remember how our culture used to be! Like the remnant of Israel we might look back and impose the way things used to be onto the way things are now and we might get discouraged or give up.

The people wanted immediate results. They had agreed to meet the challenge, but after experiencing initial results that they were less than pleased with, they began to get discouraged.

This is important to note because many churches that strive to honor God will experience initial disappointment. Many Christians who strive to honor God will experience initial disappointment. Think back to the first time you severely messed up after your salvation… did you get mad at yourself or discouraged?

We may experience disappointment if we invest time and money into youth ministry and find ourselves still lacking teenagers. We may experience disappointment if we go to great lengths to evangelize the “unchurched” only to have no one join our church.

But notice how God responds to His people’s discouragement. God doesn’t say to the people of Israel, “Well thanks for trying.” God doesn’t console them by saying, “You did your best.” No, God continues to tell them to press on. He motivates the people to meet the challenge of rebuilding the temple. Haggai 2:4 (NASB) says,

But now take courage, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord, ‘take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ declares the Lord of hosts.”

Not only does God tell the people to “be strong,” but He also orders them back to work (v.4). Why should these people “take courage” Why should they go back to work? The Lord repeats His promise, “(go back to) work; for I am with You… verse 5 continues with:

According to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.

Like the people of Haggai’s day, we must learn to approach our challenge of obeying the voice of God courageously knowing that the “Spirit” of the Lord is in our “midst.”

You see… obeying the voice of the Lord isn’t always about the short term, sometimes it’s about what needs to take place in the long term and where God wants us to land. Where is God’s voice taking you?

We like to be rational. We like to be in control. We like to evaluate our bearings and adjust according to what makes sense to us. What lines up with our goals, our dreams, and our visions. We are experts at being in agreement with God when we agree with His plan. We are even better at “amending” what He says to line up with what we want!

But here is the thing. We aren’t God. We don’t have the heart of God. We don’t have the vision of God. Sometimes His plans for us aren’t about the short term that we can see and understand. Sometimes they are about the long term that we have no way of seeing and understanding because we aren’t Him!

For those of you that don’t know me… I am a competitive shooter. I shoot guns nonstop! Part of that means that I am constantly changing parts and optics. You know the things you look through to line up your target. Sometimes when you mount a scope and it looks right you line up your shot and end up off about an inch at 25 yards. No big deal right? It’s only an inch. Unless you are shooting a very small target you are still going to hit what you want to hit… at 25 yards. But… being off an inch at 25 yards can push your trajectory off 4 inches at 100 and so on and so forth.

What doesn’t mean a lot in the short term can mean everything in the long term. What can be an indirect hit at close ranges can be way off at distance.

Throughout Scripture, God commands us to do many things. He issues us many challenges. But here in Haggai, as well as elsewhere in Scripture, we learn that when the Lord asks you to do something, He helps you do it. I wonder how many churches have failed in ministry by simply neglecting to call on God for help. As the Psalmist has said in Psalm 127:1,

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.

So the Lord promises us His presence, He promises us His provision, and there is one more thing that He promises us… the Lord promises us His peace. After describing how He would provide for the people of Israel, the Lord concludes His encouragement by stating, “in this place I shall give peace” (v.9 NASB).

I’d like to encourage you by reminding you that while we carry on out of obedience we can count on God’s presence, God’s provision, and God’s peace. Let that motivate you to serve Him more faithfully.


WE MUST HEAD IN GOD’S DIRECTION

I deal with a lot of young adults on a weekly basis. People going to college, people that have recently graduated high school or are preparing to, people heading into the work force for the first time, and people who are making the transition into adulthood.

Often times their main question is, “What is God’s will for my life?”

We all want direction regardless of age. But… some time ago I was told something that revolutionized the way I followed the will of the Lord. Several years ago when I was transitioning between churches I was seeking the will of God and felt like I was coming up dry. Has anyone been there? Anyone there right now? It’s frustrating! During that time a mentor of mine told me that “the will of God for your life isn’t like a tightrope that you have to tiptoe across fearing every step could be the one that throws you off balance and sends you tumbling off the rope. Instead, the will of God for your life more resembles a highway in the direction in which He wants us to go.” Doing the will of the Lord is as simple as this… being submissive to His will each and every day. If you do that He will steer you in the right direction.

Yes the pathway to Jesus is narrow compared to the ways of the world!

Matthew 7:13-14 (ESV) tells us that. It says,

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

In that passage Jesus compares the narrow gate to the “wide gate.” Those pictures stand in contrast to each other! The wide gate, the easy path, leads to destruction and hell, and Jesus says that “many” will be on that path. And by contrast, Jesus says that “small is the gate that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

For a long time I misinterpreted that passage to mean that the will of God for my life was so narrow that it was going to be easy to miss! But what we need to understand is that this passage isn’t about the specific will of God for our lives… it is about His will for your eternity, our salvation! Understand this… Jesus is the Gate! Jesus is the gate through which all must enter eternal life. There is no other way because He alone is “the way, the truth and the life” like we see in John 14:6.

The gate to eternal life is small because it is restricted to just one avenue… Jesus!

Many will attempt to find an alternative route to God. We see it in our culture. They will try to get there through manmade rules and regulations, through false religion, or through self-effort… by being “good” enough. Those who are “many” in this passage will follow the broad road that leads to eternal destruction, while the sheep hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow Him along the narrow way to eternal life

John 10:7-11 (ESV) says,

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Entering the narrow gate is not easy. Jesus made this clear. The instruction for us to enter is a command to repent and go through the gate and not to just stand and look at it, think about it, complain that it’s too small or too difficult or unjustly narrow. We are not to ask why others are not entering; we are not to make excuses or delay. We are not to be concerned with the number who will or will not enter. We are to enter! Then we are to submit to God each and every day.


We are to hear his voice, obey His voice, and head in His direction which is to put His commands into action in our lives.

 

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Heart Check

Recently my wife and I moved to a new house. If you’ve ever experienced the “joy” of moving, you know it can be a long and stressful process. All the boxes, the packing, and the aimless strolling through your home every morning to find the box that contains your socks and underwear… it can add up to pure madness. I know that I personally have doubled the amount of gray hair in my head over the past two months.

Packing up a house can also reveal unwanted surprises. Like when we moved our couch for the first time in two years only to find a variety of bullets in varying calibers (you have to understand my home for this to make sense), a plethora of candy wrappers, and a very questionable half-eaten Chick-fil-A fry. During our move, I constantly was asking myself, “Are we really this messy?”

Then comes the worst part… when everything is out of the house and all that’s left is cleaning up the aftermath. After scrubbing and sweeping with the help of extended family a realization finally set in: with more maintenance, the house would have been in much better condition. Now don’t get me wrong! I’m a tidy person! I like things to be clean and in place… but when you live in a space long enough all of those hard to get places get gross and you even become used to a certain level of mess.

As we transitioned into our new home I immediately felt the urgency (maybe even a little too much) to maintain our home and its cleanliness. I vowed to be intentional on a daily basis to faithfully steward our home, even in the things that aren’t visible. Mowing the grass, sweeping, mopping the floors, and dusting are now a regular thing that I treat as preventive maintenance, so that maybe next time we are moving and things get shuffled around we aren’t left standing in a messy room asking ourselves, “how did things get this bad?”

This same illustration can be applied to the heart of a Christian. Intentionality is important in maintaining the health of your own heart! There’s a reason Jesus stresses the importance of the heart so much in the Scriptures, because it’s the life and breath behind everything you do. Sadly, you may be able to fake things on the outside with the right answers or charisma but I believe that the Christian whose heart is far from God is of no value to the kingdom.

Take a moment to ask yourself a few questions:

  • What is your life like underneath the surface?
  • If you stripped away the surface, would your life reveal a heart that has a zeal and passion for God?

Nothing is more vital for our churches, our families, our spouses, the people we serve, and ourselves than for our hearts to be healthy. Here are four vital practices we must have in order to make sure our hearts are constantly chasing after God. These disciplines may seem simple, but they are crucial if we’re to avoid the pitfall of “talking the talk” without “walking the walk.” Matthew 15:8 puts it this way,

This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.

Let’s think together!


Drink from the Well

Psalm 119:105 says,

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

Be in the Word daily! While this discipline seems to be a no-brainer, it’s often overlooked amongst the many tasks, emails, jobs, and chores we have on our daily plate. In the hustle and bustle of your work life and home life often the importance and value of a daily intake of Scripture is lost.

To have any strength and maturity in your walk with Christ, our days have to start with the self-care of being in the Word. It’s truly that simple. The inspired Word of God is “living and active”

Hebrews 4:12 says,

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Daily Scripture gives us a constant and consistent reminder of who Jesus is, and what He’s done for us. Run to his Word daily, and drink from the well that never runs dry.


Sit at His Feet

When is the last time you stopped and just meditated on the Lord? If you are like me then you might struggle to recall when it last was. Sometimes we can get so caught up in serving the Lord and “working out our salvation” that we lose sight of what it is to be a Child of God all together.

We see a story that portrays this exact thought in Luke.

Luke 10:39 says,

And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.

Most of us know the context of this story of Mary and Martha. Jesus enters the house of Martha and while she is consumed with serving, Mary just wants to sit at Jesus’ feet. It’s a familiar passage to most people but it’s easy to overlook the simple concept that sitting at the feet of Jesus through prayer is everything!

While God certainly calls us to do good works, he wants us to remember that we are his sons and daughters first. He wants us to spend time with him; he wants us to know and rely on him more. One of the ways we can pastor our own hearts away from self-reliance is by spending time with him through his Word and through prayer.


Stop and Listen

Exodus 20:8 says,

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

One of the greatest detriments to our ministries and the people we lead is failing to rest from our work. I remember early in ministry I felt like I needed to be “on” at all times, even the weekends. This drove my wife insane and certainly didn’t help out our relationship or even my relationship with the Lord. Taking a Sabbath day for rest each week is not only a good practice but is a command of Scripture. You must have it… God designed it to be this way!

Use this day of rest to disengage from “work” and to refocus your heart and soul back on the Lord. Take time to stop and listen. This day of rest will recharge you, and remind your heart that whatever ministry tasks you have are under the sovereign hand of God. Pastor your heart well by obeying the regular rhythm to Sabbath.


Be in Biblical Community

Galatians 6:2 says,

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

One of the best ways to grow as a believer is by being in a solid Biblical community. This may look different in your context, but you need to surround yourself with people who will walk alongside you in the Christian life. This includes people who you give permission to call out sin in your life and see your blind spots. Being in Biblical community is about being with people who know everything about you… your strengths, weaknesses, sin struggles, and pitfalls. It’s about constantly being “gospeled” by other people so that you’re growing in Christ-likeness. Take care of your heart by surrounding yourself with godly people and living in Biblical community.


While this is not an exhaustive list, these four practices will help to maintain a healthy heart and prevent the cobwebs that apathy and neglect create. Our churches need Christians who are diligent in pastoring their own hearts. May we be Believers who strive toward these disciplines with hearts aimed towards glorifying the risen Christ.

Worship Leaders: Seek Him First

In this season of Thanksgiving and reflection that exists between November and the new year I want to write to all my worship leader friends, creative ministry volunteers, and musical coordinators and say… I appreciate you.

You are one of the most influential people in the life of your church.

Each and every week you are entrusted with the task of standing before your people and leading them into the very presence of God. Your role is to point people to Jesus, not yourself; yet, you do so through an art that is incredibly personal and that you’ve worked tirelessly to perfect. Trust me… I know the challenges, tendencies, and pitfalls! Our roles require us to be a gifted artist continually honing our craft, a theologian, and a leader all rolled up into one. All of those things combined make an arduous task.

The Bible references the predecessors of the modern worship leader in several places, such as the list of people in 1 Chronicles 25:1,

David, together with the commanders of the army, set apart some of the sons of Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun for the ministry of prophesying, accompanied by harps, lyres and cymbals.

The Scriptures are also filled with admonitions to worship, very often including song.

Psalm 150:16 says,

Praise the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.

Hebrews 13:15 says,

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.

Colossians 3:16 says,

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

So the role of a Worship Leader or Pastor is, in my view, a clearly articulated biblical role.

Even so, your responsibility brings with it some pretty big challenges. The sad fact is that we all know that music can easily become one of the more controversial things within the life of the church. Everyone in our church has an opinion, often in direct opposition to another, and each will expect you to satisfy both somehow.

You will need to be more modern and traditional at the same time, louder and softer, and lead for longer but shorter time periods all simultaneously.

As someone who has been there, and who is there, I want to encourage you to feel free to listen to people’s suggestions, but focus on pleasing the Lord in the manner that you and your leadership have prayerfully chosen to affirm, stylistically and culturally. Seek Him first… the details will all shake out!

Matthew 6:33 says,

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Jeremiah 29:13 promises,

You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

And most importantly, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 says,

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.


To all of you serving week after week… I appreciate you. Your churches appreciate you. Keep on fighting the good fight!

 

Where is the light at the end of the tunnel?

Several times in college some friends and I went to explore a nearby train tunnel that was carved through a hill and was a little over a mile long. You have never experienced total darkness until you are half a mile back in a train tunnel and you drop your flashlight into the knee-deep water you are wading through! In times like those the sight of the bit of light poking through the exit of the tunnel in the distance means a whole lot! Not only does it give you hope, but it provides a sense of direction and the ability to persevere just a little longer.

Does your prayer life ever feel like that dark train tunnel? How welcome would just a little light at the end be?

I know some people who have been praying over the same circumstances for extended periods of time. How do they persevere? What about when you have prayed and prayed and just don’t see an answer or end in sight? What do we do? As I pondered this I came up with some thoughts to keep in mind. Let’s think together!


His timing is not ours.

Have you ever felt like something you were believing for and expecting God to do was taking longer than you had hoped for? I don’t think I’m alone for having, at one time or another, thought, “God… this seems like it is taking an awfully long time” or, “Hello? Did you hear me up there?

You know, I used to beat myself up for having those thoughts. Almost punishing myself for “doubting God” or questioning His plan. But… in reality the big question isn’t what you might say, question, or think, but it comes down to “what do you DO when something you are believing for, or expecting, takes longer than you had imagined or planned for?”

In Exodus 32 we get a clear picture from Aaron and the Israelites of what NOT to do in this situation. It says in verse 1,

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”

The Israelites freaked out when Moses didn’t immediately return from the mountain that God had commanded him onto, as if the God who brought them out of Egypt wasn’t strong or good enough to see them through the end and accomplish His purposes! Obviously it wasn’t enough for the Israelites to see and experience the parting of the Red Sea and the miraculous provision of food along their journey, because when they were not experiencing the immediate provision of God, and their leader Moses had gone temporarily absent, they decided to go around God and settle for a counterfeit.

It seems ridiculous now… but how are we like the Israelites in this story out of Exodus?

I wonder how long we are willing to wait on God? Are we willing to trust him in every step of our journey, through the mountaintops and valleys, or are we like the Israelites seeking the instant provision of God in our every need and circumstance? How has God proven Himself faithful to you? What provisions has He provided?

Psalm 37:7 says,

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.

This is not just a good verse to burn into a fancy little board and place on your mantle. It’s not just a catchy phrase or motto to stick on your wall with those fancy interior designer letters. This verse is great advice from David that we can apply to our real life circumstances and everyday prayers! Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him! Don’t go after a counterfeit and miss God’s plan and purpose for your life.

Maybe you’re believing for your lost friends and family to encounter Jesus in a life changing way. You know what I would tell you? Keep praying for them, don’t give up, trust God and… be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.

Maybe there is a job or specific destination that you are believing God for… well trust in His perfect plan and purpose for your life and… be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.

Maybe you’re stuck in a rut and you just can’t seem to achieve breakthrough… well just keep pushing and persevering and above all… be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.

Just like the Israelites, it’s amazing how we want the “now solution” or the “quick fix” and are happy to settle for a counterfeit and even talk ourselves into believing the counterfeit is God’s will for our lives. As far as my life goes… I don’t want to “settle” for the “second best,” because that means that I am missing out! I’ve been walking with the Lord for what seems to be a long time now, and sometimes along the way I have felt like God’s will for my life was on hold, but now I look back and see that God’s “not now’s” were developing maturity and character in me that helped position me and ready me for what I’m doing now. God’s plan, and my waiting for it, has far exceeded what I could have dreamt up in my wildest hopes or dreams.

Don’t settle for second best… God’s timing is greater than yours.


Stay persistent.

“Are we there yet?”

That question plagues the backseat of every summer vacation vehicle in the world! Many of us grow up with a distinct memory of our parents demanding that we stop annoying them, stop pestering them, and stop going on and on about whatever it was that was stuck in our childlike heads. Even now I take a particular type of joy from pestering my wife to see how far I can get before she snaps. It’s like a game of how annoying we can be before the victim reaches a state of annoyance that they just can’t take anymore.

Sometimes I feel like my repeated prayers might annoy God. I can’t be alone here! Do you ask, beg, and plead for the same breakthroughs, provisions, and signs repeatedly? Well… here is a newsflash.

God’s not annoyed when we are persistent with Him.

In fact, persistence is a good thing and it is something many of us aren’t driven enough to do. Sometimes it’s just easier to give up. I recently read a story about a South Korean woman named Cha Sa-soon who lived alone in the tiny mountain village of Sinchon in South Korea. From an early age she wanted to learn to drive, but didn’t begin the process of trying to get a license until she was in her 60’s. Needless to say she was behind the eight ball and the road was going to be difficult… no pun intended. Cha failed the written portion of the drivers test 949 times; the concept of many of the questions was confusing to her, being an elderly woman living in a remote village. Finally, on the 950th attempt she got a passing grade and moved on to the actual driver’s test, which she only failed 4 times before getting passing marks. By this time all of South Korea knew of her persistence and she became a national hero. Upon her passing the exam she was awarded a Kia Soul and even appeared in a Kia commercial!

Persistence is key in both earthly and heavenly things!

Jesus tells a story about a widow lacking justice in her circumstances and illustrated how persistent she was in her faith in Luke 18:8, it says,

I assure you, he will. He will not drag his feet. But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?

Is your faith persistent? Do you keep asking God for His help in every situation? Or have you somehow just traded persistent faith for contentment?


Short Cuts are often Dead Ends.

The back roads of Kentucky are beautiful places to drive and just take in the green grass and rolling hills. What the back roads of Kentucky aren’t good for is… getting anywhere fast! Have you ever taken a short cut or back road in order to save time only to realize later that it’s a dead end?

By attempting a shortcut you have taken longer than you would have by just staying the course!

Anyone who has played Mario Kart understands the inherent risk that comes along with a shortcut. On one of my least favorite levels, Koopa Troopa Beach, there are several opportunities to use a boost and hit a ramp that takes you through a tunnel carved in the side of the mountain instead of having to drive around it. This shortcut has the potential to save TONS of time… but it comes with the high risk of disappointment and, if you are like me, intense rage when you miss the hole of the tunnel and smack into the mountain face immediately going from first place to last!

In Luke we see a story where Jesus was tempted by Satan to take a shortcut. Luke 4:5-8 says,

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

Jesus was tempted to take a short cut here by Satan. In this story Satan said he had the authority of all the kingdoms and he could give it to Jesus in an instant. But this was a dead end and an empty short cut and Jesus knew it!

The Son of God didn’t want the “cheap” option. He didn’t want to settle for a counterfeit by taking the easy way. Jesus was not about to circumnavigate the process of time that He set up for us all in the first place. Jesus waited for His time and didn’t rush it. Jesus was not even willing to take a short cut from pain and suffering. Instead He endured the cross and encourages us to pick up ours and keep walking. Jesus was raised at the proper time and given the name above every name!

Psalm 31:15 says,

My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!

Our time is in God’s hands! 

Our moments, our seasons, our durations are all in the strength of God’s capability to hold all things together, so be careful of short cuts & dead ends!

In 1968 on Yosemite’s El Capitan rock formation Jim Madsen, a veteran and skilled climber, rappelled from the top of the cliff face to rescue some stranded friends. In his haste to reach them, he apparently neglected to check his rope, which just happened to not be knotted at the end. In his hurry to take a shorter route he rappelled right off the end of his own rope falling 2500 feet to his death. He did not take the time to establish a belay, which would have prevented his fall.

Taking shortcuts can lead to trouble. Cutting corners can kill you.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says,

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

We face decisions everyday. In our day we are tempted to make our decisions, to choose our path, based on our own understanding and neglecting the advice of God. How often do we fail to involve or include God? When we do this, we take spiritual shortcuts, and they can lead to dead ends.

Ask yourself… where are you being tempted to take a short cut? What decision are you making? What situation are you facing where you might just cut a corner that could be deadly?

Maybe it’s a career decision? A relationship? A living situation that you know isn’t right? A financial decision or purchase?

If you are making these kinds of decisions without leaning on God, you are liable to take a shortcut that leads to a dead end. Sometimes we just have to know when to turn around. If you find yourself on a dead-end, instead of stubbornly pushing on, you only have to turn around and ask God for directions.


Choose to Rejoice.

Philippians 4:4 says,

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

I’ll be honest… sometimes this verse seems like a joke. When things just aren’t going the way you’ve planned, when the odds are stacked against you, when all your “allies” have fled. How are we supposed to rejoice in that?

Every time I get the opportunity to stand before people and worship I get pumped up! I still can’t fully comprehend that I get to do that everyday and make a living doing so! But… sometimes things just don’t seem to go right. It never fails that whenever we are preparing for a big event anything and everything that can go wrong will go wrong. It always seems like a whole lot of circumstances are working against you… against what God is wanting to do. Now, I know the devil is not too happy about the church gathering and people’s lives being positively changed. And we can get all worked up about what he is trying to do, but I have discovered that the best thing to do is to focus on what God can and is doing; He’s never caught by surprise. He always has a plan and His promise for us is this:

Jeremiah 29:11 says,

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Sometimes we can’t choose the circumstances… but one thing we can do however is choose our attitude and our response to the things that work against us.

We have the choice to stay in faith and make sure that we put our trust in a BIG God who has it all under control. In fact, that God makes a promise in Romans 8:28 that He takes very seriously. That promise says,

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

So, choose to rejoice!

There is a lot about our society that creates circumstantial Christianity. Our beliefs and values get influenced and adjusted depending on how we experience the situations around us. Sometimes we act as if God is good only when good things happen to us. But the reality is sometimes things we don’t like happen, sometimes things just don’t work out, sometimes we don’t get to understand. But… He is still Lord regardless of how the situation pans out… we must worship Him for who He is before we worship Him for what He does.

2 Samuel 22:4 says,

I called to the lord, who is worthy of praise, and have been saved from my enemies.

In this passage Samuel is saying the Lord is worthy of praise regardless of the outcome! Notice that the praise was not dependent on the outcome, which is why the praising is attached to His name and not to the circumstance.

If we only wait for circumstances to go our way before praising our God, we will be in danger of living by sight and not by faith. Don’t attach praise to the situation.


Keep on praying. Live by faith. Take the route before you and trust the navigator… the light is coming.

Diagnosing Spiritual Complacency

One of the terrible diseases of Christianity today is complacency. There is a major complacency epidemic spreading amongst the Kingdom. Are you battling complacency in your ministry?

I certainly believe that Satan is a master deceiver and uses many techniques to disarm and neutralize Believers. I wholeheartedly believe that one of Satan’s strategies is to plant the seed of complacency.

I have a friend who served a tour of duty in Iraq. On that tour of duty he worked many road checkpoints and was issued, along with his other soldiers, some very particular gear. Among that gear was the normal body armor and helmet, but that gear also included padding and armor for their upper arms and thighs, as well as a groin guard. All of this gear had one mission in mind: to keep them alive and protected in the event of an IED explosion. As you can imagine all that gear made the already intense heat nearly unbearable. So for that reason many of the soldiers would remove the gear when officers were not around. One particular day there were no officers on site and a newer enlisted soldier was in the guard tower wearing his helmet causing many of the others to poke fun at him. On that particular day an enemy assailant just so happened to be taking aim with a long-range rifle and shot that soldier in the head. The helmet and his lack of complacency saved his life, whereas many of the other soldiers would have been killed. I say all of that to make this point: in combat complacency kills.

In Amos 6:1 the Lord spoke to the backslidden Israel through His prophet Amos. It says,

Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, you notable men of the foremost nation, to whom the people of Israel come!

The Lord was addressing to the people who were self-satisfied and in their comfort zone. They felt self-sufficient and strong enough in their own power. These people had little desire for God, and little hunger for His righteousness. They were self-confident and self-sufficient. Thus the Lord warned them about the impending judgment upon them.

How often do we fall into this exact attitude? We allow ourselves to grow complacent and live a self-satisfied life. Do we truly live dependent on God or do we try to maintain some independence? Remember, complacency makes us to feel secure in our job, safe in our strength, good about our knowledge, protected in our money and possessions, eventually blinding us and leading us to our downfall. Sometime the strike isn’t immediate. Like the enemy assailant in the story above, sometimes the enemy patently takes aim and waits. He allows us to grow comfortable, and complacent all the while he is disarming us without much effort.

A.W. Tozer says,

Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth.

Let’s get one thing straight. Complacency is a killer that can ruin ministry. Are you battling complacency in your ministry?

Revelation 3:14-22 says,

And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

We see above that lukewarmness is a spiritual condition that apparently, Jesus can’t stand. Another name for it might be “complacency.” Complacency is not contentment. Where contentment is finding joy in the blessings of walking with God, complacency is when we have stopped walking.

How do you know that this killer has crept into your ministry? Here are some telltale signs.


  • Lack of Zeal

One of the most obvious and beginning stages of complacency is a diminishing presence or absence of zeal. We all can probably remember a time in our life when we were passionate about something, maybe you are like me and when you find a new interest or hobby you dive in headfirst and it is all consuming? Hopefully we can all think back to a time when we were like that with Jesus. We didn’t need complex theology or big “spiritually correct” words. Yeah… I just went there.

Too many of us have substituted zeal for knowledge!

I honestly am pretty tired of seeing Bible believing friends of mine tearing each other to shreds over theology on Facebook for the whole world to see. I have been there too! At times I myself have replaced my zeal for pursuing Christ and acting like Him for merely knowing more about Him and maybe letting others know about it. Before anyone gets all tore up please understand that I am talking to myself here! Maybe the dissection of the Word down to the last punctuation mark was just a distraction to keep you from understanding it and doing what it says? In actuality Satan, the deceiver, doesn’t care how much you know the Word if you don’t do the Word.

Please read the Word, dissect the Word, understand the Word, memorize the Word… but then go put into practice!

  • Tradition is Doctrine

Tradition entails so much more than what most people typically think of when it is mentioned. Tradition is more than robes, recited prayers, hymns, etc… Tradition is something that can invade and ultimately take over any church, regardless of its denomination, history, or style. Let’s get this straight, when we depend on tradition for our “religious” involvement, relationship, worship, or gatherings we stop depending upon something else… namely the Bible and the Spirit of God. When that happens, we’re on a rapid descent to destruction. In fact, our gatherings become nothing more than scripted ceremonies that we have rehearsed and polished in hopes of gaining something. We might keep ourselves happy, we might grow our church in numbers or financial security, but we aren’t truly pursuing the renewed work of Christ and the Kingdom of God here in our ever-changing ministry field.

There is nothing wrong with tradition itself. But… there is something wrong with depending on tradition!

C.S. Lewis once wrote,

Security is mortals’ greatest enemy.

But what kind of “security” is he talking about? I believe he is talking about the security that comes with comfort. Maybe your comfort looks different than the blanket that Linus drags around everywhere, but it’s still serving the same purpose. Do your traditions make you feel at “home” or secure and comfortable?

Complacency makes us feel secure, but feelings can lie.

Ephesians 5:14-17 says,

This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

How is it that we can be told to make the most of every opportunity and still pass up so many because they didn’t fit into our idea of “church?” Let’s put it out there, we as a whole have become slothful, habitual, uninspired, secure, and complacent, often doing what we do for traditional reasons rather than because it’s best.

Why is it that we, who have had the precious blood of Christ cleanse our sins, now take such a mediocre and habitual approach to those things related to Christ and His cause? From our outreach, in-reach, preaching, worship, programs, aesthetics, etc… in almost every area of corporate church complacency has unfortunately become the norm.

The message is the same, but the messengers and avenues they take change!

The secular world has caught on to this! Look at the music industry. Songs and albums were once put out on vinyl, then tapes, then cd’s, and now everything is digital. The same songs that were once on vinyl can now be downloaded on iTunes for .99 cents! Businesses don’t always change the product or name… they just change the presentation, method of delivery, or audience. Why aren’t we who have the best “offering” putting forth the same effort in our church activities as we do in our personal activities and businesses?

Andrew Grove, a founder of Intel, is famously quoted for saying,

Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure.

If we stay the same, for the sake of staying the same, we get left behind and we do the message an injustice! We must understand that our complacency has eternal implications, and I’m afraid that a culture of mediocrity has now become the new tradition.

  • Tolerance of Sin

Last week I asked you to imagine a trashed house full of garbage and the flies that go along with the garbage. Sometimes our lives look a lot like that house, and the natural tendency is to clear out the flies. Sometimes we are successful and manage to shoo them all away, but as long as the garbage remains we are fighting a losing battle and those flies are inevitably going to return and multiply. So, the solution is to get rid of the garbage in our lives. We need to be concerned with the flies, but we also must work to remove the garbage to keep them out! Every trashcan is going to look different… but we certainly all have one. In his strategy of complacency, Satan watches as we clear our houses of garbage and flies…except for one room. It’s more than likely a hidden room, one we keep to ourselves. That room may be continual sin, it might be a relationship, bitterness, or a wound we haven’t allowed to heal. At times the door to that room full of garbage stays shut for a while and Satan allows us to have successes in other areas all the while the flies are just multiplying and building up in this little room. Then, out of nowhere, the door of the hidden room flies open, freeing thousands upon thousands of flies who have been breeding and waiting for just this moment.

Why does this happen? We get complacent and our complacency leads to tolerance or apathy.

Think it doesn’t happen? Take a moment to consider prominent Christian leaders, celebrities, or politicians whose lives and careers have been ruined when they fell in disgrace from one sin or another. We all know them so there is no need at mentioning names. We might look in from the outside an ask ourselves, “how would they allow that to happen” or, “why would they do that with all the success they have?” Rest assured. That fall wasn’t part of the plan when they began their career. Nobody begins a ministry with the goal to ultimately disgrace themselves and God by being brought to their knees by their own hand. Too often the fall comes from complacency. They believed the lie that they could “get away with it,” or, “it’s not that big of a deal,” and when they seemed to have it all together and under control, they grew complacent in their tolerance of sin.

Sin is sin, and all sin is bad. Don’t tolerate it! The church is to be a place of healing for sinners, but a Holy God doesn’t wink at or bless iniquity. He sent His son to die for and erase that iniquity and sin… not cover it up. The only reason the church welcomes sinners is because by God’s grace, sinners can be reborn with Christ’s righteousness. Do not tolerate sin in your own life! Letting a few “little things” slip leads to bigger slip-ups. I recently watched a video of a poor woman who slipped on an icy sidewalk and every time she would begin to regain her balance and composure she would begin to slide and fall again until ultimately she ended up on the ground. We’ve all been on an icy sidewalk… when you begin to slip it is all over. But… you know how you avoid slipping and falling? Stay off the ice.

  • Lack of Pursuit

What is a pursuit? I would define it as an intense chase of something in order to attain it.

My parents have a German shepherd by the name of Obi and he is extremely quick. One afternoon while playing and walking Obi his leash fell off of his collar and went limp in my hand. I looked down in shock only to see him looking at me with the same look of shock in his face that I had in mine. At that point the chase was on.

Why did I pursue Obi the dog? I pursued because I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t catch him, of what would happen if I stopped pursuing him!

How many of us have stopped pursuing holiness? Lost interest or will to pursue God and spiritual growth?

Spiritual growth is marked by an aggressive intense pursuit of God. We desire His fellowship, His people, and His word. A life that lacks prayer, Bible intake, and neglects spiritual nourishment is a life that has slipped into complacency and that will see little or no fruit.

Mark 11:12-14 says,

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

When Jesus cursed the fig tree for its failure to produce fruit in the verses above He gives us a sobering lesson. Empty religion, lacking fruit, needs to and ultimately will die. In actuality the parable of the fig tree doesn’t end with Jesus’ withering curse, because the very next verse says,

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.

The spiritual complacency or “religion” of the people had reached the place where they were making a total mockery of the temple and of the message. We may not see our situations as that bleak, but if Jesus walked into our churches what things would he need to overturn or shake up?

  • Inward Focus

One of the surest signs of complacency is a church that is self-absorbed or entirely inwardly focused. You might ask, “Tanner, what does than mean?” Let me begin my answer with another question, what is the mission of the church? That question can evoke many answers like: to provide teaching for Believers, to be a place of fellowship, a place of worship. To all of those I would say yes… but what is the first and foremost mission of the church? In Matthew 28:19 it tells us about that mission. It says,

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The mission of the church is to spread the good news and make disciples. In fact we may have to get out of our comfortable and familiar zone to do it! Acts 1:8 says,

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Is your church inward focused or outward focused? Are you so concerned about not “rocking the boat” that you leave it docked? We see in the book of Acts that in order to achieve our mission we have to wander outside of ourselves! Are we so overly concerned about keeping “our people” happy and content that we miss opportunities to reach those that haven’t yet been reached by Christ or the church? I will step out in an unpopular way and say that when a church is absorbed with just its own activities, its own problems, and its own people, it has become complacent and ineffective at achieving the goal and mission.

The primary challenge, and our primary concern, should be, “how do we reach people who don’t have a relationship with Jesus?” Most inward-focused churches are not sensitive to or even aware of this challenge. We might bank on our “friendliness” or position in the community to cut it… but the numbers show that it doesn’t! We can’t simply pray for a harvest and not plant any seeds or till any ground!

So many of us are so complacent that we fear any change or decision that might push insiders away and, frankly, impact the bottom line. Ironically, any organization, including a church, that doesn’t focus on reaching new people has already started to decline and will eventually die. In the book of Acts, James the brother of Jesus, told the Jewish Christians, who were the insiders of the day, they should not make it difficult for the Gentiles, the outsiders of the day, to turn to God. Why is it that this many years later that problem still exists? Are we making it easy for outsiders to turn to God, or are we stuck in the busy complacent work of keeping insiders happy?

Jeremiah 10:21 says,

For the shepherds have become stupid and have not sought the LORD; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered.

Proverbs 1:32 says,

For the waywardness of the naive will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them.

What is our focus as a church?


Zephaniah 1:12 says,

It will come about at that time That I will search Jerusalem with lamps, And I will punish the men Who are stagnant in spirit, Who say in their hearts, ‘The LORD will not do good or evil!’

Are you complacent? Go to war with the complacency in your life.

 

The Power of Silence

Silence. It’s rare. It can be uncomfortable.

One of the definitions for silence in Merriam-Webster is:

A situation, state, or period of time in which a person does not talk in order that they may hear.

In fact, the word “silent” and the word “listen” have the same letters interchanged. They go hand-in-hand. I like the statement,

When I am silent, then I can listen, when I can listen then I can learn.

Lamentations 3:26 says,

It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

There is nothing worse than being in the very presence of God and having that trampled out by noise. Hear me out… we have all been there, think about a time in church where you were “connected” and pouring your heart out in a song and when it ended the silence was stomped out by awkward applause. I have been there. I have been the culprit.

Sometimes silence is uncomfortable as a Worship Pastor. I have made many a victim to meaningless theological “fluff” off the cuff at the end of a song just to escape the effects of silence.

How does silence play a part in our worship and our communication with God? There is a place for singing and shouting and a place for silence. Why should we seek out silence and participate in it during our worship? Let’s think together below.


  • Silence speaks when we have no words to say.

Revelation 8:1 is a small passage that reveals one of the most powerful moments that will exist in all of creation. That passage says,

When the Lamb ripped off the seventh seal, Heaven fell quiet—complete silence for about half an hour.

All of Heaven fell quiet. Can you imagine that? In that moment of significance there was nothing to say…

Such a small verse that is often read over relays a huge truth: sometimes when we encounter the awesome power of God, all we can do is be silent. Silence is the appropriate response.

This concept of silence isn’t new to us. I believe that everyone has had a moment in their life that has left them speechless. Think about at the end of a powerful film… the movie theatre is silent as the credits roll. What about when you have witnessed an incredibly powerful moment, whether it was an act of compassion or recognition for a humanitarian hero, sometimes applause and cheering isn’t the appropriate or natural response. I even think about when I have encountered someone that I admire or look up to. All I can do is stand in silence and observe.

On the same note, I have been in worship services that have left me at a loss for words… but yet the hardest thing for me to do was just to be silent. Why is it that we always feel the urge to speak? To clap? To cheer and yell?

Victory doesn’t only come in the midst of applause and cheers. In fact, in Psalm 62 David writes,

I wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken.

Sometimes when we are left speechless it is better for us to stay that way than scramble for something “theological” to say. 

Habakkuk 2:20 says,

But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.

Let’s not be so quick to speak “into” a situation that we miss out on experiencing the awesome presence of God.

  • Silence confronts.

Nothing is silent anymore.

Last summer I went on a tour of Mammoth Cave here in Kentucky and at one of the deepest points of the trek the guide turned out all the lights and said that when the cave was empty and dark someone would quickly lose sanity because of the lack of auditory stimulus.

It’s a noisy world we live in! Everything around us makes noise. Think about the evolution of personal music devices. You used to have to have a record player and quite a large setup to listen to music. Over the years the devices have gotten smaller and smaller and now there isn’t a place we can go that is out of reach of our personal listening pleasure.

We now have constant auditory stimuli from our iPods, phone conversations, busy streets, and everyday life. Genuine silence is nearly impossible to come by these days, but yet silence has a power that we should use more often. Silence confronts.

That last statement may have thrown you off…

Let me say it this way… it is easy to ignore what’s going on inside of you when there are so many things demanding your attention. But when left with only silence, we have a much harder time ignoring the things deep down in our souls that we have tucked away for so long. Silence can reveal things that make us uncomfortable and strip away the things we have used to shield us away from facing them. Silence confronts us with ourselves.

Silence also confronts us with God.

God sometimes yells, but more often He whispers. With all the noise around us, sometimes it can be hard to hear and recognize His voice.

Psalm 46:10 provides the antidote to our “hearing” problem. It says,

Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world.

Let’s make time in our worship services to be confronted with the voice of God speaking into our souls.

  • Silence allows room for us to hear.

I Kings 19-9-13 says,

There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

It is no coincidence that in 1 Kings 19, when God speaks to Elijah, it is in a “gentle whisper” and not in the fire, the wind or the earthquake like we would expect our all-powerful God to do.

What I have seen displayed in my own life of ministry is that God rarely, if ever has forced His will on me. Instead, He shows me and waits for me to make the move. He speaks and waits for me to listen. He promises and allows me to find Him. Isn’t that how faith works? It would be easy to have follow God if He was always blatantly pointing things out to us and screaming directions into our ears. We would be puppets or marionettes on a string being pulled in whatever direction He willed.

Romans 10:17 says,

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

So… are we hearing?

If God sometimes speaks in whispers then we must create time and space in our lives to hear His whispers and follow His gentle nudging.

Have you ever had a relationship with someone who never hears you because they are always either talking or thinking about how they are going to respond when you are done speaking? I personally catch myself doing that to God. I pray and respond… sometimes I just don’t listen.

If our relationship with God is like that of any other relationship then we know that communication is key. Communication isn’t only talking. Sometimes we need to just shut up and listen.

When we encounter the Spirit of God I believe that we should be quiet and let Him speak, and get out of the way so He can move.

Exodus 14:14 says,

The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”


Let’s commit ourselves to learning when to be silent.

Psalm 62:5 says,

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.

It’s Family Time!

When we gather together as a church “family” is that really what it looks like? From an outsiders perspective what do our Sunday morning experiences exhibit or demonstrate? Do we look and act like a family? Do we operate in unity towards accomplishing the same purpose or goal? Or… are we a bunch of individuals gathered in the same place doing roughly the same thing?

What are our corporate gatherings supposed to look like? What about our corporate worship?

Dr. Ed Steele once said,

Congregational worship is more than just a group of individuals having quiet times in the same place. It is the Body of Christ gathered together in unity and diversity centering adoration on the King of kings and Lord of lords and responding in obedience to Him. The emphasis is not on “my personal experience,” but “our obedient response” to His revealed nature and character.

Ralph Martin further drives home that same thought when saying,

The thought that the Church at worship is an accidental convergence in one place of a number of isolated individuals who practice, in hermetically sealed compartments, their own private devotional exercises, is foreign to the New Testament picture.

In a culture that is completely wrapped up “self,” corporate worship is the black sheep. It isn’t meant to be done alone. Personally I believe that it’s important to remember that worship songs are intended to be sung with others!

When speaking of corporate worship Eric Benoy said,

We gather together for corporate worship, a group of people to do something in one accord. If that is the case, then why do some worship leaders today want to make corporate worship a personal experience? It is oxymoronic in a way. If we have gathered intentionally for corporate worship, then should we not then be striving for a corporate offering of praise, adoration, et al and hear from God as a body of believers? We have come together specifically to be the church gathered; to worship and become equipped to be the church scattered.

If our worship isn’t a time for ourselves… then what is it a time for? Obviously it is a time for praising and worshipping our God, but what purposes does it serve for the body of Christ? Let’s think together below.


  • It’s time to teach.

As humans we are observant people. Often I can learn more from watching a situation or experience unfold than from being told about it after the fact. Think about it… would you rather read the directions or watch the task being done in order to learn how to take part in it or do it?

What would you say if I told you that your worship isn’t just for you and God?

I would dare to say that while your worship is for God, others also can gain from it. The people who worship alongside you can learn in the same way that you can from merely being around each other while you worship. It is a powerful and natural teaching method!

1 Corinthians 14:26 says,

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.

Colossians 3:16 says,

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

What I find encouraging in these passages is that nobody comes to the table with nothing to give!

1 Corinthians clearly says that each person has something to offer and those offerings will by used for teaching and admonishing each other as we are told in Colossians. Continue to seek God in your worship and you will naturally teach and instruct those around you while doing so… even if you don’t feel like you are adequate to instruct or lead.

  • It’s time to learn.

Theodore Roosevelt once said,

You may worship God anywhere, at any time, but the chances are that you will not do so unless you have first learned to worship Him somewhere in some particular place, at some particular time.

As you were growing from childhood to adulthood how did you learn how to handle yourself or behave in public? You observed people all around you doing it… and you were instructed. The same thing can be said about our worship… just like we teach each other (talked about above), we also should be continually learning from each other.

For me it’s not necessarily learning the aesthetics of worship… but rather the heart of worship. By worshipping alongside people you know you learn from their experiences and you share in those things together.

I love the idea that as worshippers we are never not adequate enough to teach through our actions… but also never “advanced” enough to stop learning. Our corporate worship is a give-and-take amongst a community or “body” of believers. We are all learning and all teaching. We are strengthening, up-building, and guiding each other. You worship isn’t just for you, but rather, it serves many purposes.

  • It’s time to encourage.

Have you ever just sat back and watched your local congregation worship?

It’s amazing.

What is amazing isn’t the “professionalism” of the sound… perfect 4 part harmonies with great pitch and tone. It is amazing that worship breaks down the barriers that this world and culture so easily build. People of all races, skin colors, economic classes, social statuses, and backgrounds all come together in the same way before God… unworthy but loved.

If that doesn’t encourage you in your faith then you might want to check your vital signs!

I am encouraged on a weekly basis by the people worshipping around me. I know their stories… their hardships and their victories, and when I see those people humbling themselves before God and crying out in praise to Him I am reminded of how fleeting this life is and how eternal our Savior is. God is bigger than any situation or barrier and congregational worship draws us together to be encouraged by each other in recognizing just how big and great our God truly is.

Don’t deny yourself the opportunity to be encouraged weekly!

  • It’s time to fellowship.

Acts 2:42-47 says,

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

What this passage out of Acts shows me is that corporate worship can help us avoid the “me and mine” mentality and can help us see ourselves as Christ sees us. Being mindful that we are part of the Body can also help us avoid delusions of our own importance before God. Stephen Miller said,

We exchange the glory of the Creator for the created and eventually replace God with ourselves. And as we become the object of our own worship, these subtleties start to creep into our worship services. They creep into our songs and the way we interpret and preach Scripture. They creep in as a consumer mentality that says we must bend over backwards to please the consumer Christians who are attending.

By seeing ourselves as the Body of Christ we are not demeaning our personal experience, but rather we are guarding ourselves against an unintentional shift in focus to “our” personal experience rather than on who Christ is and what He as done. If we are not careful the desire to achieve a “personal” worship experience becomes a goal and we miss the object for which the worship should have been directed.

A consumer mentality in our worship can cause us to desire the “experience” more than the “Savior.”  

Our worship teaches us our place in the Kingdom of God… as the body and the bride. We come together congregationally to live out those designations as the body and to fellowship in that mutual calling and purpose.

We can even see an example of this “fellowship” and unity in the body of Christ in Matthew 6:9-13 where we are given the “model prayer” or the “Lord’s Prayer.” Look below and take note of the congregational wording where I have added emphasis.

This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive usour debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

Worship is personal… but it is also meant to be shared with others in the body.

Ephesians 5:18b-21 lays it out simply by saying,

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, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.


Don’t neglect your church family or congregational worship… but rather delight in it and see it for all that it truly is!