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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“Consider Your Ways”

As a young person I have sat in numerous churches and looked around wondering, “where are all my peers?” Sometimes going to church and spotting another person my age is like a real life game of “Where’s Waldo.”

There is a plethora of articles online about how the millennial generation has turned their backs on church and are “unreachable” or rebellious. This is not another one of those articles.

But… according to a Barna study on church growth and church attendance amongst millennials (22-35 year olds) given in in 2016 church attendance and impressions of the church are the lowest in recent history.

  • Only 2 in 10 Americans under 30 believe attending a church is important or worthwhile (an all-time low).
  • 59 percent of millennials raised in a church have dropped out.
  • 35 percent of millennials have an anti-church stance, believing the church does more harm than good.
  • Millennials are the least likely age group of anyone to attend church (by far).

These numbers are staggering! What is going on! Where have we as a church fallen short and failed to reach, disciple, and keep young people in our congregations?

Haggai 1:1-11 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. “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord. You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.”

What do we know about the Jewish people discussed in Haggai?

  • Years earlier they had been conquered and exiled from their land and homes.
  • They had been taken to a foreign land to serve under a foreign king.
  • They were brought out of exile and returned to their ruined land and homes.

The prophet Haggai recorded his messages to the Jewish people of Jerusalem in 520 BC, eighteen years after their return from exile in Babylon (538 BC). Haggai’s prophecy came at a time when the people of Judah were extremely vulnerable. They had been humbled by their exile to Babylon, given hope in their return to their Promised Land, and then discouraged by the reality of what they found.

You might be asking… what does this have to do with college students and young adults? And to that I would respond with, “everything.” Who else is at a more vulnerable time of their life than a teenager transitioning out into adulthood? Who else struggles with schedules, priorities, and agendas more than someone who has just spent the last 18 years of their life being told what to do and when to do it? Who steps out into the world “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” only to be crushed by the reality of life that is ahead of them?

In a lot of ways our young generations are like those Jews returning from their exile in Babylon.

The book of Haggai records the prophet expressing God’s opinion of the people’s negligence in building his house. In verse 5 he calls them to,

“Consider your ways!”

Don’t get me wrong they were working hard, busy with life and commerce, but they were lacking something… neglecting something… missing the point. They were earning money and resources for themselves and their own agendas and houses and neglecting the house of the Lord and the Kingdom of God as a whole. Think about the relation to our younger generations… these Jews were trying to create “something” from “nothing!” They had been in exile for years and were starting over… the same way our younger generations have to “jumpstart” their lives when entering into adulthood.

But… why were they lacking? Well quite simply they had neglected the divine agenda of “building up” the Lord’s house. The people of Judah had simply neglected what was of first importance and God frustrated their labors. Verse 9 says,

You look for much, but behold it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why?’ Declares the LORD of hosts, ‘because of my house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house.

We have in the days of Haggai a very similar scenario to what we face today. People are busy. Through the day-to-day life filled with the day-to-day tasks and agendas often the pursuit of personal advancement is promoted to a position of preeminence. And as a result the agenda of God and His will for his people gets sacrificed on the altar of personal pursuits.

This is where we the people of God come in… the church.

After thousands of years, the book of Haggai remains unique among the books of Old Testament prophets for one key reason: the people of Judah actually listened! Haggai’s message to rebuild the temple was passionate, simple, and straightforward. No one could mistake whether or not his direction had been followed because the results would be evident for all the people to see. Through the physical act of rebuilding the temple, the people began to indicate a shift in their spiritual lives: from devotion to self toward devotion to God.

Haggai had an important message for the Jews who had recently returned from exile. They had forgotten their God, choosing instead to focus on their own interests, so it was time for them to “consider their ways.” Nothing was more important for the Jews than to show that the Lord was at the center of their thoughts and actions, so Haggai directed them to finish rebuilding God’s temple.

However, rather than leaving them alone with the task of rebuilding, Haggai continued to preach to the Jews, encouraging them with the hope of future glory in the temple and a victory to come over the enemies of God’s people (seen in Haggai 2:7–9, 21–22). According to Haggai’s message, if the people would place God at the center of their lives, they would realize the future blessings that God had in store for His people.

How can we as the church draw our youth back? How can we be like the Prophet Haggai?

So many times we say that we are too busy…too busy for people, too busy for ministry, too busy for personal Bible reading/devotion, too busy to pray, too busy to meditate, too busy to whatever…to this God says, “Consider your ways!”

 

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.”

A Wealth of Resources

What is your dream team? For a basketball coach it might be a star guard who is good at feeding a wide-bodied seven footer. Maybe like Kobe and Shaq? For a bank robber it might be made up of someone who is the brains, someone who is the brawn, and a wheelman? For a Navy Seal unit it might contain a comms guy, a sniper, an ordinance expert, and a squad leader? What makes all of the team makeups similar?

A good team draws from a wealth of resources from people with different gifts and specialties.

Are any of these specialties, gifts, or resources more important than the other? Well no… they work in tandem to accomplish a goal. Community allows us to put together our team and function towards a goal together. It widens our abilities and opens us up to new resources.

1 Corinthians 12:14-26 says,

Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.

We have been talking for the past several weeks about the importance of having a faith community. We have determined that a Spiritual community is key for us to grow and persevere in the Christian faith, and we have also established that we are safer when we are operating together… meaning that we have the confidence and support to defeat sin and live a God-honoring life. This week we are going to talk about the wealth of resources available to us when we choose to life in Christian community.


Gifts

I like tools. For some reason there is nothing more satisfying than having the right tool for the job and being able to solve a problem yourself. When I first moved out on my own I started to put together a tool box. I’ve got a hammer, a variety of screw-drivers, assorted wrenches, needle-nose pliers, channel-locks, socket sets, files and rasps, wire strippers, a drill, nails, screws, etc…

Most of these tools came from necessary purchases. What I mean is there came a point in a task where I realized I was not equipped for the job. I had to go get the right equipment. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are God’s tool kit. To keep us spiritually healthy, God gives various members of the body specific tools, specific gifts. There are times we just can’t fix ourselves. We need someone whom God has specially equipped.

When we’ve hit bottom, we need a listening ear, a word of loving counsel, a friend who will affirm God’s forgiveness. These are the spiritual gifts of mercy, exhortation, a word of wisdom. When our faith is ebbing, we need someone who possesses a gift of faith to pray for us. When we are confused, we need the gifts of a teacher or a Pastor.

These gifts seldom operate in isolation. The fellowship of believers is the context where the gifts flourish. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:11,

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

In a Christian fellowship we equip ourselves with the tools necessary to build our Christian lives.


Role Models

Who has impacted your life the most? Your parent(s), a friend, a mentor? How did they do it? When thinking about these questions we will most likely all have something in common… the people who have and are impacting our lives the most do so on a personal level. We all have celebrity role models, whether they are movie stars, rock stars, or celebrity pastors/ authors is irrelevant, because these people can only do so much… they can instruct from a distance on an impersonal level but that is their limitation. What about the average blue collar guy who lives life beside us and speaks wisdom into our heads and hearts everyday.

What makes him special?

The thing that sets the important people around us apart from others is the personal interactions we share with them. They live life beside us… they are in the trenches beside us everyday. We know that when the going gets tough that they are the ones who will stand strong beside us through it all. They truly care.

I remember the first time I met my friend Zach. His big smile, loud laugh, and the way he bounces around and lights up a room can’t be missed. His genuine interest and care for people is apparent and I have seen him go way out of his way to help myself and others out. Ever since, I’ve wanted to care and serve others like he does.

When we’re around people who clearly portray Christ’s character we are stimulated to grow. When we see the fruit of the Spirit fleshed out before us we are eager to try it out ourselves. Hebrews 13:7 urges us,

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

Being around Zach inspires me to emulate his strengths. Being part of a whole body of Believers keeps me balanced. In a Christian community you will discover a well-balanced menu of role models who will protect you from developing flat spots in your character.

Emulation changes lives and congregations. Look at the chain reaction at Thessalonica. 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7 says,

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.

Fellowship gives us exemplars in the faith to spur us to growth.


Sidekicks

Did any of you ever grow up watching wrestling? I always liked the tag team matches. It’s where a 2-man team squares off with another 2-man team… but only one person can be in the ring from each team at a time. In order to get your break… your backup… you had to slap your partner’s hand and “tag” them into the ring. So as the match went on inevitably one partner would get his tail whipped. He would start to crawl towards the ropes and his partner’s outstretched hand, and the other fighter would do everything in his power to drag him as far away from his teammate as possible. You see… his help was dangerous and just needed a simple slap of the hand to turn loose!

There are plenty of famous 2 man teams that we can all think about. Batman and Robin. Abbott and Costello. The Lone Ranger and Tonto. A good team has to include more than one person! Who is walking beside you? Who is gonna reach out and allow you to tag them in when you’ve just about had enough.

It’s easier to face down your problems when you know you have an army behind you. The fellowship of a church at its best is people watching out for people, not in criticism but with love. We help one another through the unpredictable turns of life. When we are down and out and getting our tail whipped we all need a community of partners reaching out their hands waiting to be “tagged” in.

In Galatians 6:1 Paul writes,

Brethren, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

When you get sick, your community rallies behind you. When you fall into depression, your brothers don’t let you lose touch. We are all needy at times. You’ve been lonely, discouraged, or depressed. There are times you’ve longed for somebody to show he or she cared. In Luke 6:31 Jesus said,

Do to others as you would have them do to you.

The help we give to members of His body is, after all, given to Jesus Himself.

Matthew 25:40 says,

Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.

In the fellowship of Christians we work out Jesus’ command to love one another.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says,

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

The Christian fellowship is a mutual aid society of believers pledged to build each other up, to watch out for each other’s good. The fellowship is even designed to help the hapless and the careless.

Paul urges in Romans 15:1,

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.


Yes, Christian fellowship is indispensable. The community reinforces our faith. Its spiritual gifts heal and build us. The body’s godly members serve as role models. And our Christian family supports us in time of need.

Believers can curl up and die without fellowship. At best they become stunted, never growing to full, healthy adulthood. But it’s amazing what can happen when we reach out and touch someone.

Get in fellowship. Join a community. One cannot stand alone.

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.

Need Inspiration?

Do you ever feel like you need to be inspired. Like life is going by at 100 miles per hour and you are being left behind?

We have all felt that way at one point or another. I know I personally go through seasons of inspiration with writing. Sometimes it seems like every thought that comes to my mind is a start to a blog or even a song… and other times I have to struggle to squeeze out even the worst idea to write or sing about. I also go through the same cycles in the gym. Sometimes I just HAVE to go every day, and other times I dread the thought of leaving the couch and getting sweaty.

Maybe you are like me and go through seasons of easy inspiration and seasons of having to fight for purpose and motivation? Maybe you have lost motivation and inspiration at work, or in a relationship, or maybe in your faith?

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said,

If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.

Do you want to be more? Do you want motivation and inspiration to drive your purpose? Is it possible to cultivate inspiration?

Yes, I do believe we can. Let’s think together.


  • Listen

Have you ever been speaking to someone and come to the realization that they aren’t hearing a word of what you are saying?

Has a parent or teacher ever look at you and said, “Are you listening?” I’m sure my mom can think back to times in my childhood where she told me to do things and I turned my “selective hearing” on and didn’t hear a word that she said. I’m sure she knew that my hearing was fine, but that the problem was I wasn’t motivated to actually listen to what she said.

David Mathis on DesiringGod.com said,

Listening is one of the easiest things you’ll ever do, and one of the hardest.

In a sense, listening is easy — or hearing is easy. It doesn’t demand the initiative and energy required in speaking. That’s why “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The point is that hearing is easy, and faith is not an expression of our activity, but our receiving the activity of another. It is “hearing with faith” (Galatians 3:2, 5) that accents the achievements of Christ and thus is the channel of grace that starts and sustains the Christian life.

But despite this ease — or perhaps precisely because of it — we often fight against it. In our sin, we’d rather trust in ourselves than another, amass our own righteousness than receive another’s, speak our thoughts than listen to someone else. True, sustained, active listening is a great act of faith, and a great means of grace, both for ourselves and for others in the fellowship.

Listening to God is like listening to anyone else, before we can hear Him, we must be ready to listen. Just as in a conversation, we cannot hear the other person if we are talking or if our mind is distracted. So it is with God! If we want to hear Him speak, we must be quiet and we must be focused on what He is saying. Regular conversation with God can transform your life! Think about a close friend, family member, or spouse and how you can almost finish their sentences. That didn’t happen immediately… it happened through a relationship grown by listening to them and understanding what they were saying. We must continually listen to God and we will begin to not only hear His voice… but also to know His heart.

We don’t consciously and deliberately disobey God… we simply don’t listen to Him.

Some of us prefer to hear the Lord’s voice only when we are in need of an answer or response. But a disciple trains to listen all the time. A consistent, daily prayer life and Bible intake are of paramount importance in this regard. So is learning to be comfortable with silence. The more we learn to listen, the more we will hear God and recognize His voice. Listening to God requires a deliberate choice to shut out the chaos around us and focus on Him and His Word. We live in a world of noise. Almost everywhere we go, we find sounds competing with our minds, keeping us from letting our thoughts get below the surface level. Hearing God’s voice means not listening to the noise of the world around us. It’s not easy, but it can be done.

Do you want to hear God speak to you? Listening to God requires regular Bible reading, since the Bible is the Word of God.

A WORD OF CAUTION: Sometimes Christians will use phrases like “God told me…” or “God inspired me to…” haphazardly. Everything out of their mouths seems, to them, to be personal, direct revelations of what God has supposedly told them. I don’t doubt for a minute that God speaks to us… but just be careful. Before you say, “God told me…” you’d better be sure, because if you’re claiming God said something when He didn’t, you are speaking untruth about Him. This underscores the importance of thinking carefully about how to listen for and discern God’s voice.


  • Yield

We all have seen those pesky yield signs along the roadway… and we have all seen people that have no clue what they mean! When we yield in our cars we stop or slow down in order to allow another “driving force” to overtake us.

Like yielding to other vehicles is the mark of a good and safe driver, the mark of a born-again Christian is measured in their yielding to the will of God and allowing it to “overtake” their lives. Obedience to God is required for all Christians, and the mark of obedience is yielding.

Yield in the Greek means to persuade; to make friends of, to win one’s favor, gain one’s good will, or to seek to win one, strive to please one; to be persuaded, to allow one’s self to be persuaded; to believe; to listen to, obey, yield to, comply with; to trust, have confidence, be confident.

In fact “yielding” is a verb, it is an action word and as such, when we yield, it is a conscious choice we make; whether it is a free choice or a choice we have forced upon us. But…we must be clear that God is not in the business of forcing His will upon us. Instead He makes His will known to us, and allows us the opportunity and choice to follow Him. God allows us the opportunity to yield to Him in obedience, or to reject Him.

We all yield to something. It might be a habit, and addiction, a person, rules, etc… if you are a Believer then you have to an extent yielded to God.

Romans 6:13 tells us,

Do not yield your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but yield yourselves to God, as one alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.

Romans 6:16 says,

Do you not know that to whom you yield yourselves as slaves for obedience, you are slaves to him whom you obey; whether it is of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness.”

When we yield to something, we will soon realize the tremendous control it has over us. Even though we might say, “Oh, I can give up that habit whenever I like,” we will ultimately know that we can’t. We will find that the habit absolutely dominates us because at some point we willingly yielded to it.

The first thing we must be willing to admit when we begin to examine what controls and dominates us is that we are the ones responsible for having yielded ourselves to whatever it may be. If we are slaves to our desires, and ourselves then we are to blame because somewhere in the past we yielded to ourselves. Likewise, if we obey God we do so because at some point in our lives we yielded ourselves to Him.

Yielding to Jesus can break every kind of slavery in any person’s life!

When you were saved you told God, in some way or another, that your life is now His to do as He wills. We are yielding ourselves to obedience. Yielding is a continual, daily process of submitting to the Lord. It’s He who forms our heart, transforms our lives, and leads us in ministry. It is so easy to lose sight of this truth, especially when everything around us seems to fall into place. We can be lulled into thinking that we have it all under our control and that we are in charge. That’s why we need to constantly remind ourselves that without the Holy Spirit we are nothing but broken and empty vessels that need to keep turning back to Him.

Psalm 40:8 says,

I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.

If we live each day with the attitude of that Psalm, and the willingness to yield to God in our everyday lives then inspiration from God will be soon to follow!


  • Follow

Sometimes our lack of inspiration comes from our lack of pursuit for the Lord. I’m not saying we have drifted or “fallen away” I’m just saying that if you are like me sometimes you grow complacent and stagnant in whatever place you are. It’s hard to be spiritually inspired when you are spiritually standing still!

We se this cool story begin to unfold in Genesis 12:1 where it says,

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.”

God didn’t give Abram, later called Abraham, a detailed map or even show him the exact final destination. He basically said, “Abram, leave your comfort zone and go where I will show you.” However, God also added that he would bless Abram and his descendants if Abram obeyed him. Abram didn’t know where he would end up, but he knew and trusted God’s character, so he obeyed anyway. Abram’s obedience happened one step at a time. With each step, Abram heard a little more and received inspiration from God.

Have you ever had to walk by faith?

Getting uncomfortable without a backup plan is a scary thing! I personally like routine. I like schedules. Lack of routine and schedules throws me for a loop! But… how is God wrecking your schedule?

We are given a commandment to “go” in the much-quoted Great Commission… but we do a lot of spiritual “standing still.” Abram was able to trust God in the not knowing and the continual going because he believed that God was with him. We also have that assurance. Matthew 28:19-20 says,

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

So what is our excuse?

What if God’s plan isn’t our plan? Or our churches plan? Or the way our family has always believed? Can we change? Can we accept God’s plan if it’s different than what we currently believe? Somehow we must lay aside our preconceived notions and keep an open mind to what God wants for us, regardless of what we think or want.

Napoleon Hill once said,

Do not wait; the time will never be “just right.” Start where you stand.

Want inspiration? Get started! Begin moving and obeying… following God’s voice in your life! God’s not asking you to take a step that is five miles up the road, He is asking you to follow… one step at a time.


Need inspiration in your life? Need motivation to keep pursuing holiness and the things of God? Well begin to listen, yield to what He says, and follow out of obedience.

 

Leaving Hurt Behind.

As a young pastor within a decent sized church, I’ve heard and seen a lot of hurt that people carry around like baggage in an airport, afraid to set down because they have been told that they must keep it in hand.

In fact, some of this pain comes from within the very church itself. Last week we discussed how sometimes the offense we receive from “within the flock” seems far more painful that that which we receive from the world. The pain caused by a church is what I would call a “silent killer.” I would compare this pain to a poison. I say that because the initial blow, public or not, isn’t what often kills you… it is a “silent killer” because of what it does deep in the fabric of the mind, heart, and soul after the fact. If not dealt with, it will destroy future happiness, joy, and well-being. The collateral damage of overall negatively towards people and the church affects the ministry and outreach of the church and the person, and sometimes the situation festers into far more than what it really should have.

The church is the bride of Christ and the body of Christ — a people set apart to declare God’s praises to the nations and called to become more like the people of God we are meant to be. The church is the one place almost everyone agrees should be safe, accepting, forgiving, and free from conflict and pain. Yet pain from within a gathering of sinful people is almost always inevitable. I tried to make it clear last week that not every church hurts people, and not every hurt is the church’s fault. Some people are hurt through their own mistakes, others because of sin committed against them, and still others because of failed leadership at home, at the workplace, or sometimes at church. Not every church hurts people… but most churches have hurt someone at some point in some way.

We shouldn’t be surprised by hurt and pain in the church, because everyone in the church is still sinful. But while saving faith in Christ is not surprised by brokenness, it is never content or negligent with it either. 

So how do we make progress in the midst of our flaws? Last week we discussed what our mindset needs to be after we have been hurt or offended. This week we will continue on that same track except we will discuss some actions we should, and should not, take when we have been hurt or offended. Let’s think together!


Take it to God.

Have you ever seen an ambulance pick up a seriously injured person and then stop to go around a drive-thru? I hope not! When a person is injured they are rushed to get help from a physician… one who can heal their pain.

When we are initially hurt here on this earth the very first action we should take is to rush to the “Healer” in prayer. It does us no good to sit in our pain and offense and wait for the healing to come to us. The hurt we feel is real and pretending like we aren’t hurt and not seeking help ultimately isn’t going to bring healing.

As a young man I like to pretend that I never get seriously injured. I have joked around in games of basketball saying, “no blood… no foul” but simply saying that doesn’t take the pain out of your hips when you get knocked to the floor on a drive to the hoop! You might try to “walk it off” and pretend you aren’t hurt, but in reality you are!

Sometimes when we get hurt in church folks like to tell us that we have no reason to feel bad and we just need to get over it. I will give them a nod on half of that statement, because we do need to get over it, but it’s not always true that we have no reason to feel bad. If someone is spewing malicious gossip behind your back and you find out about it, it stings. But, no matter what kind of hurt you’re dealing with, don’t rush into a confrontation with the offender. Take it to God in prayer first. Seek His guidance in what direction to take.

Psalm 50:15 says,

Call upon me in the day of trouble.

That “calling upon” works for a troubled soul just as well as it does any other trouble we could think of. Tell God how you feel and ask Him to heal your wounds. It may be that the Lord is going to deal with the offender directly and anything you say would just make matters worse. Or, it could be that the Lord will give you a graceful way to explain why you feel hurt. If you take it to God, He can give you the very words to say to your offender.

Luke 12:12 says,

For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.

And not only can God provide to you the words to say, but He can also bring conviction to that person’s heart when you approach them with a spirit of humility.

John 16:16 says,

And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.

In order to begin the healing we must talk to the Healer.


Seek the Root.

Have you ever gardened? If you have then you have most certainly seen a dead plant. The interesting thing about dead plants are that their signs of death are on the outside where they can be seen…but nearly always the problem is in the root.

When we are hurt or offended it is important that we turn our focus away from the people involved and identify the root cause of our pain. Honestly identify what you are feeling. Find out what is at the core of your hurt. You’d be surprised how often that it is not what someone said or did to you, but something under the surface that is really causing your pain.

When you truly identify the root of your pain, then search the Scriptures to discover what God says about it. In every case God has a balm of wisdom, compassion, and love to heal your wounds. If you call on Him for help, your focus shifts to Him and off of other people and their actions. You will stop rehearsing the event that caused you harm, and begin to allow yourself to heal.

Proverbs 4:23 says,

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

We must work on guarding our hearts by carefully choosing our thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and actions. We can guard our hearts in the midst or hurt by refusing to dwell on what happened, refusing to focus on the people who hurt us, and refusing to belabor the weaknesses of the church and killing the issue at the root. Giving up bitterness takes humility, but Proverbs 3:34 says,

The LORD mocks the mockers but is gracious to the humble.

We must be sure to not blame God for how His children behave. Don’t abandon the church, either. There are many more dedicated, grace-filled, loving, and forgiving people than not in most churches. Seek them out. Spend time with them. Ultimately, we can have hope because our healing comes from the Lord. It is now up to us to do the right thing and turn our focus to the Person who will truly transform our life above and beyond the hurt we may feel.

Jesus promised, in Matthew 11:28-30,

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.


Don’t Retaliate.

If you’ve ever been a child with a sibling then you know what retaliation is. I once had a friend punch his brother only to be nailed in the forehead with a fastball hotwheel car in return… now that is retaliation!

When you are injured in church or by another person whatever you do, do not retaliate. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us to turn the other cheek.

Matthew 5:38-40 says,

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.

We are also told to do something pretty radical. Matthew 43-44 says,

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Man… just the thought of those things makes the prideful parts of my heart shudder with anxiety. If you are like me you may be upset a little bit with the fact that our “get even” mentality is sinful and honestly doesn’t make anything any better. In fact, we are supposed to love and pray for our enemies! And not those prayers of demise either!

With those things in mind, we must make it a point to not go around telling everybody what someone did to hurt our feelings and how we are right and they are wrong. This isn’t a game of flag football… so we don’t have to pick sides! We are all on the same time and we should unite and rally around one cause, the cause of Christ. We must own our feelings because they are our feelings, and look to reconcile them with the person we feel has hurt or wronged us. From experience I know that it’s very possible that your offender has no idea that what they said or did hurt you, and never meant to hurt you in the first place. If you approach them in humility seeing reconciliation, your offender may be quick to apologize.


Let the Lord Work.

Psalm 55:22 says,

Cast your cares on the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken.

I find that it is easy to misread these passages to mean that God is a magic problem-solver, a genie whose main job is to make us happy today. It’s easy to assume that casting our troubles on God means He will take our troubles away. Sometimes, though, He doesn’t.

Many of us have heard the phrase, “let go and let God.” But there are times when we aren’t clear what it is we’re supposed to let go of, and there are other times we want to let go of something, and we try to let it go, and it just doesn’t happen. Why is that

Sometimes there’s a difference in what we want to give up and what we need to release.

It’s never wrong to continue to seek God’s will in an area, but there does come a time when we have to let go of what we think is best and simply trust Him to work.

Don’t grip so tightly to your assumptions about the way you think life “should” be. Often we think things ought to be easier than they really are, and don’t understand when we are held to the fire a little. In those times we can either trust God, or fight what we’re being asked to do and effectively resisting taking up our cross the way Jesus commanded in Matthew 16:24.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Sometimes what we must give up are our preconceived notions of how life is supposed to work.

We need to let go of our own will. We even can witness Jesus doing this before the crucifixion in Luke 22:42 where He prayed,

Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but Yours be done.

It could be that the Lord is working something out in you. Maybe you’re too sensitive, too prideful, too independent, too hardheaded or rebellious? We always need to check our hearts. Is the person who we feel hurt us really being hurtful or offensive are we looking at it through filters of past hurts or rejection or anger that cloud the truth? Ask the Lord, and then trust Him to work it out.


How is your pain and hurt limiting you? Did it leave you bitter? Broken? Reluctant to get close or involved again? We must work together to get up and leave our pain and hurt behind.

I’m a weird sleeper. I talk, I make noises, and sometimes, on rare occasions, I wander around. Now imagine sleep walking into a dangerous neighborhood, and suddenly waking up and realizing where you were. You would get out of that place as fast as you could! We should react the same way in our spiritual lives when we discover hurt lingering around and festering into bitterness or something else. Our hurt takes us to dangerous places spiritually that we don’t belong in. We must “wake up” spiritually and kick rocks as fast as we can!

The pain of your past is something you don’t have to continue to carry as you walk along in life. Just set it down and move on. Answer the call to leave your hurt behind.

Why Music Speaks.

When Christians get together to worship there’s almost always music. In fact, the very term “worship” often takes a person’s thoughts directly to the musical portion of a church service, or is considered a “genre” of music. There are choruses, psalms, interludes, free-worship, songs, hymns, and spiritual songs that seem to speak right into our heart and soul, and meet us right where we are in any given situation.

Ephesians 5:19-20 even says that we are to sing together! Those verses say,

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

In fact, musical worship is so ubiquitous and feels so “natural” that we need to keep reminding ourselves that worship is more than the congregational singing we do in a church service. So, what is it about our music that makes it so right for worship?

I believe that music, like language, is one of the few universal human cultural activities. It transcends religion, economics, social or economical class, and ethnicity like few other activities can. Think about it… there are very few universal activities! Some sports get close… but in reality they fall far short. Music is found in the most primitive isolated jungle tribes and the most advanced, wealthiest and congested cities. It’s woven into the everyday fabric of life of every human culture throughout history.

Try walking into a shop without hearing some sort of tune playing softly in the background… it is impossible!

Music is popular, but also powerful. Our most important personal, or communal events nearly always employ the power of music. Every wedding, funeral, celebration, or party uses music to evoke certain feelings or actions. Music has and is used in entertainment, sports, war… and in worship.

When I think about it the only thought that comes to my mind is “Why?”

Let’s think about the universality of music, and why music speaks to humans together!


  • Music is Emotional

Martin Luther once said,

Whether you wish to comfort the sad, to terrify the happy, to encourage the despairing, to humble the proud, to calm the passionate, or to appease those full of hate… what more effective means than music could you find?

It’s true that nothing affects us quite like music does. Music is powerful, and obviously when God created music, He knew its power, He called it good, and He instructed us to use it to worship Him. 

First and foremost, music is powerful because it is emotional. This doesn’t mean that music is about emotions, but that it expresses and engages the emotional life. Psychology and neuroscience would agree, with studies showing both creating and listening to music engage the emotional centers of the brain. And it is not that music evokes the emotions it expresses (after all, why would we like sad songs if all they did was make us sad) but that it evokes a heightened emotional state. And as emotional creatures, we like that.

God created us as emotional beings.

In Mark 12:29-30 Jesus says,

The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

After reading the passage out of Mark I would say that part of loving God with our whole heart must include our emotions. Think about it… emotions are the outlet for displaying what the heart feels! We are commanded to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” This is a command to worship God with every human faculty we have, including both our intellect and our emotions! To worship God with our intellect only or our emotions only is to love God with less than all of our faculties. Our intellect and our emotions need to be equally engaged in worship. 

Colossians 1:16 says,

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.

Music is a gift from God that simultaneously engages our intellect and our emotions. Rich lyrics need to be coupled with rich music. When this happens, our worship songs engage all of us and we sense the delight it is to worship God in song. Next time you’re in a worship service, love the Lord your God by singing with as much thought and passion as you can!

  • Music is Physical

In her book, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Anne Lamott wrote,

Music is about as physical as it gets: your essential rhythm is your heartbeat; your essential sound, the breath. We’re walking temples of noise, and when you add tender hearts to this mix, it somehow lets us meet in places we couldn’t get to any other way.

The rhythm of music resonates with the body in spontaneous foot-tapping, finger drumming, clapping and dancing. This reveals a subtle but important link. Music is an auditory experience that the mind seeks to echo and express physically. And it’s not just the rhythm. How many times have you found yourself absolutely shredding a guitar solo on your air guitar or beating your steering wheel to death like a mistreated snare drum? If you are like me then don’t worry about answering!

Music evokes a physical response!

Music can motivate you and make it easier to start moving, walking, dancing, or any other type of exercise that you enjoy. Why do you think everyone jams their favorite songs while at the gym slinging heavy weights around? Music can make exercise feel more like recreation and less like work! Furthermore, music enhances athletic performance.

Musical rhythm has the remarkable ability to move our bodies. Because we are commanded to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” I believe the physical way that music speaks to and moves us is important to note!

Think about the physical responses that worship evokes… hand raising, clapping, jumping, dancing, etc… We even can look in Scripture and find David dancing in worship before the Lord. Music speaks on many levels!

  • Music is Social

Ever wonder why singing is the dominant art form or artistic expression in churches? I believe the answer to that question is simple… singing is social and is the easiest way to unify a large group of people.

People sing together in all kinds of places including church. We sing together in different scenarios and for different purposes… but it always unites a group of people for a sole purpose or with the same words. Singing together binds us together. When we sing corporately it provides a way for numerous people from all races, backgrounds, social and economic classes, and ages to express the same thoughts and passions together.

Music is social!

As powerful and as meaningful as all the other aspects of music are to us individually, they are magnified when shared and experienced with others. Shared melodies, lyrics and rhythms have the power to unify a crowd around a deeply felt cultural moment. Think of the national anthem or football songs that fill a stadium. And when that happens, each one of us brings all of our individual experiences of music, merging them together into a captivating corporate experience.

What is more encouraging than standing amongst your peers, your brothers and sisters in Christ, when you are at your highest high or lowest low and hearing them sing praises to God? James 5:13 says,

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.

Not everyone is in the same spiritual, or emotional place on Sunday mornings when we gather… but yet we still do. It is encouraging to sing, and it is encouraging to hear other’s sing to our God. When Paul and Silas were in prison what did they do? They prayed and sang… that should say something.

Acts 16:25,

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.

At a loss for words? Have nothing in common with the person in the pew or seat next to you other than salvation? Good. Sing together.

  • Music is Healing

It’s almost impossible to find someone who doesn’t feel a strong connection to music. Even if you can’t carry a tune or play an instrument, you can probably reel off a list of songs that evoke happy memories and raise your spirits. Surgeons have long played their favorite music to relieve stress in the operating room, and extending music to patients has been linked to improved surgical outcomes. In the past few decades, music therapy has played an increasing role in all facets of healing.

Harvard studies have shown music has healing effects in: easing anxiety and discomfort during procedures, restoring lost speech, restoring memory, reducing side effects of cancer therapy, helping with physical therapy and rehabilitation, aiding in pain relief, and improving quality of life for people with dementia. But those are just the physical healing properties of music. Often in worship we deal with spiritual and emotional healing.

Just yesterday I was speaking to a woman from church about our services on Sunday. She started to explain to me how on Sunday we were singing about the love of God in a semi-spontaneous way, just bouncing around different sections of a song, and how the enemy began to work on her and disrupt her worship with annoyance to the repetition of certain parts and lines. Then suddenly the last time through she had a breakthrough and discovered a whole new meaning or relation to the words we were singing. She was “overwhelmed” with the healing love of Christ that we were singing about.

Music heals. It bandages deep wounds and scars that we have hidden from others. It can uncover and relieve us of baggage from our past. The weight and power of words expressed in song seem to be much heavier and pack a bigger punch than those just spoken.

Allow music to speak to you. Allow it to bring you to the One who can heal you.

  • Musical is Intellectual

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to recall the words of songs you haven’t heard for a numerous amount of years? Some would refer to this as the “Mozart Effect.”

In earlier years it was thought that listening to classical music, particularly Mozart, enhanced performance on cognitive tests. However, there are findings that show that listening to any personally enjoyable music has positive effects on cognition. Basically meaning that music improves memory performance! That’s great news for people like me!

The idea that music makes you smarter received considerable attention from scientists and the media. Listening to music or playing an instrument can actually make you learn better. And research confirms this. Studies show that music has the power to enhance some kinds of higher brain function such as, reading and literacy skills, spatial-temporal reasoning, and mathematical abilities.

The power of music to affect memory is quite interesting to me. Mozart and other music from the Baroque period, with a 60 beats per minute beat pattern, activates the left and right parts of the brain. The simultaneous left and right brain action maximizes learning and retention of information. The information being studied activates the left brain, while the music activates the right brain. Also, activities that engage both sides of the brain at the same time, such as playing an instrument or singing, cause the brain to be more capable of processing information.

Listening to music facilitates the recall of information. Researchers have shown that certain types of music are a great “keys” for recalling memories. Information learned while listening to a particular song can often be recalled simply by “playing” the songs mentally.

We remember songs much better than words alone. In Deuteronomy 31:19-22 we see a particular passage in which God uses music to help his people remember his words. In this passage we see Moses commissioned by the Lord to write a song for the people of Israel so that they can easily remember God’s words.

“Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the people of Israel. For when I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to give to their fathers, and they have eaten and are full and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me and break my covenant. And when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring). For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give.” So Moses wrote this song the same day and taught it to the people of Israel.

It is crazy that even in the Word we can see the fact that music has incredible memorization power for humans acknowledged. Paul says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly…singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” Therefore, we can see that songs whose lyrics expound on the person, work, and glory of Christ tend to stay with us long after we’ve forgotten the main points of a sermon.

Music speaks because it communicates to our brains in a more holistic way than other sources!


All of this all gives us a clue to the connection between music and worship. As believers, we love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. And music uniquely has the power to engage the entirety of who I am in that moment of expressing my devotion to God. When I sing in worship I am engaged emotionally, physically and intellectually. It’s like “all of me” is caught up in one single act of appreciation and love.

It’s music that makes this happen.

In song I am holistically engaged, the words I sing are expressions of all that is in my heart to say, but for which mere spoken words seem insufficient.

But music is even more than all of that! In song it’s not just me who is having the experience. The person next to me is too! And our experiences are in unison! The same words, the same rhythm, the same melody, the same emotions, the same truth, the same everything. We are here together, in one voice, around one cause, focusing all of who we are in a holistic outpouring of affection and devotion to the Faher.

Times of corporate worship are one of those moments when “we” can truly become “one.”

And it’s music that makes that happen. Music speaks.

 

 

Our Focus

Sometimes on Sundays I wonder how people perceive the structure of the services they take part in. There have been times on stage where I think to myself, “I hope this is translating and being understood.” The unfortunate fact is that sometimes it isn’t. I have been in services that seemed to have no distinct structure or coherent theme/ message. Maybe there was one intended and I just didn’t pick up on it… but nonetheless it didn’t come across to me.

The truth is that each and every Sunday should start with a plan… a message, theme, or thought that we are going to expound upon. Obviously our plans are just that… “plans” and we all know that sometimes plans change. A statement I once heard fits that thought perfectly. It goes,

Every battle plan seems perfect until the first bullet flies.

But I personally would rather have a plan and have it altered than not have a plan at all and miss an opportunity. We should understand that we have a great foundation or starting point and that it is demonstrated for us in the Bible. Worship isn’t a new thing! In the Old Testament much of the worship that took place centered upon the Exodus event where God called His people out of slavery in Epypt and delivered them to the Promised Land to be His chosen People.

But… we are new covenant Believers and worshippers. Hebrews 9:15 says,

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

We worship on this side of the cross, so our New Testaments worship is centered on Christ. On this side of the cross God has called us out of our own “Egpyt.” Through Jesus God called us out of slavery to sin and has provided us an avenue to Heaven through the work of Christ. We are His chosen people! 1 Peter 2:9-10 says,

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

So… why should our focus be on Christ? Below we will sift through just a few ideas.


  • Christ is our mediator before the Throne.

I almost feel like that point should have ended with an exclamation point! Take a second and think about that… there is no such thing as unmediated worship! In the Old Testament Christians had to have a priest act as their mediator before God to offer sacrifices to atone for their sin. We no longer have to do that because of the ultimate sacrifice made on our behalf by Jesus… the Son of God!

John 14:6 establishes the route to the Father through Jesus. In that verse Jesus says,

I am the way, the truth, the life, no one comes to the Father but through me.

1 Timothy 2:5 says,

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.

Have you ever bought a product because you had the assurance of a warranty? I believe we all have. More than once I have been on the phone for hours jumping from person to person to arrange an exchange or refund only to be told I wasn’t eligible because of some small print or loophole found somewhere. The good thing for us is that in Christ we have full access to God. No hoops to jump through or loopholes to get caught up in! Ephesians 3:10-13 says,

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

We can be assured as leaders and worshippers that Worship Pastors, bands, environments, atmospheres, specific songs, or creative worship planning cannot bring us any closer to God or provide us a more direct or expedient route than the one Jesus already has established!

  • All of heaven worships the Risen Lamb.

We serve a risen King! What other prophet or “god” has claimed to have been resurrected from the dead? Not only did Jesus defeat death and the grave… but He called His shot!

Hosea 6:2: says,

After two days will He revive us: in the third day He will raise us up.

On October 1, 1932, during Game 3 of the 1932 World Series at Wrigley Field in Chicago New York Yankee Babe Ruth pointed his bat towards the center field bleachers during his at-bat. On the next pitch, Ruth hit a home run to the same spot in center field. Babe Ruth’s called shot is said to be one of the greatest home runs in history. Babe Ruth has been forever concreted on baseball history partially because of this event and story. But… the death and resurrection of Jesus and the prophecies that came before are so much more impressive!

The most significant prophecy in the Bible concerning the resurrection of Jesus is known as “the prophecy of Jonah.” It is a symbolic prophecy represented by the three days and three nights that Jonah spent in the stomach of a great fish as found in Jonah 1:17. Jesus himself explained the prophetic symbolism of this unique event on an occasion when He rebuked the Pharisees for seeking a “sign” from Him. We see this in Matthew 12:38-40 where it says,

For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Jesus clearly and distinctly prophesies here, using the example of Jonah, that He will spend three days and three nights in the tomb before His resurrection will occur. Jesus called His shot! That is worth praising! In fact, we know that here on earth we aren’t the only ones lifting up the name of Christ.

Revelation 5:9-14 shows us a glimpse of this. It says,

And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

We should join in this worship when we gather to worship as His Body on the earth!

  • Focusing on Christ in our worship helps us keep the proper perspective.

The world today is very caught up in itself. What other explanation would we have for the drastic things people do in order to attain a certain “model image” or the attention and affection of others? We as worshippers need to take specific measures and precautions to ensure that we make our worship about God and that our worship times do not become man-centered. We live in a self-centered culture where everything is centered on us… our wants, preferences, opinions, etc. The church is even like this! There is a church for everyone! If you like loud music there is a church for you! If you like soft music there is a church for you! If you want to drink coffee in the sanctuary in a seat that semi-reclines there is a church for you! This may seem ridiculous… but deep down we all know it is true.

Some of us leave a worship service thinking that if we did not get anything out of the service the preacher, worship team, or staff did not “fill our cup” or have somehow let us down. I propose that instead we should be asking ourselves how we did in honoring and serving the Lord in our worship. Is Christ our focus or has our focus shifted to include us?


The Gospel of Jesus Christ should always be at the center of all we do in the church including our worship times. We need to be constantly reminded of the cross of Christ and reminded of what Christ has done for us, but we must move past the cross to the resurrection and the power that it provided us to live and worship as Christ has designed for us to live and worship. Let’s focus on Christ and make Him the direction that our worship points!

 

The Value of Presentation

 


From the onset of this article many of you non-musicians or Pastors may feel a little left out. But… in reality this way of thinking can be applied across the board to ALL things done for God by ALL Believers. So read on and apply!


When it comes to church worship one topic that seems to be a tricky one is the issue of excellence. What qualifies as good enough? If the person has the right heart are they automatically eligible to lead? There is an obvious tension that exists between balancing heart and skill.

On one hand, we all know that worship is undoubtedly an act of the heart. But does that mean that we shouldn’t bother putting effort into our craft and offer forth a subpar offering? Colossians 3:23 says,

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.

So the often-heard statement, “Well… it’s good enough for church” holds no water when held in light of the verse above, and the old saying, “It’s the heart that counts” is only partially correct. God is excellent and His desire for us is excellence. Psalm 33:3 says,

Sing to Him a new song. Play skillfully and shout for joy.

As leaders and musicians, we are instructed to do everything we do with excellence and with “skill.” A good question we should ask ourselves is: Why is our need to pursue excellence, and the often lack of such a pursuit, even an issue? In fact, you’d think that Christians would widely embrace the fact that because God is excellent, he has called us to excellence as well, and so we ought to strive to be excellent in everything we are and in everything that we do. But you only have to look at people in our churches and our presentation or “offering” to know that this is not necessarily the case.

But… all of you non-musicians hang in there with me! This is for you too… this exact thought, or pursuit of excellence, can be applied to anything you do in the Lord’s name! What is your offering? What is our method of worship? Maybe it is teaching, working with kids, being a missionary to your community or workplace, sitting with the sick, crying with the broken? The opportunities are limitless!

I believe a major problem we run into with regard to excellence in church is a theological problem that is best interpreted as an underlying “cheap” understanding of grace. People like to embrace the notion that because we are saved by grace, we can just sort of kick back and relax and not be overly concerned about anything. Now of course we would never admit to having that mentality… but the complacency we talked about a couple of weeks ago is a sure sign of it. It seems as if in many ministries laziness, mediocrity, and complacency have become the “norm” and not just accepted… but also expected! Somehow, I believe, we have come to think the pursuit of excellence is incompatible with salvation by grace. Excellence is suddenly not a “spiritually correct” word because we automatically assume that we are seeking excellence for ourselves or to earn/ payback God for our salvation, when in actuality our pursuit of excellence is out of response to a deep-felt conviction of God’s grace that spurs us on to grateful service and a pursuit of true personal excellence for His glory alone!

As Christians saved by grace, we ought to try harder, because we want to bring honor and glory to God through the things he has enabled us to do!

Hebrews 13:16 says,

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

It’s a delicate balancing act between heart and skill… but it is one that we MUST balance. Our offering matters! Our presentation matters!

For example, imagine that your anniversary is coming up and you know that your wife has been admiring a new shiny $300 necklace. You scrounge up all the change you can by flipping over couch cushions and rummaging through the dryer and are somehow able to afford that $300 necklace.

The day of your anniversary comes and goes and two days later you realize that after all the prep work you have forgotten all about it! So… to save face you go to the closet where you hid the necklace and bring it out in the original shopping bag you brought it home from the store in… maybe the receipt is still attached. You hand it to her and say, “Sorry I forgot our anniversary… I got you this.”

What’s the necklace worth? Well, $300! The receipt can prove it.

But imagine if, rather than forgetting that you bought the necklace, you also bought the finest gift-wrap you could find. You carefully and perfectly wrapped the box and topped it off with a beautiful bow, and you give it to your wife with some well thought out words and a smile.

What’s the necklace worth? Well, still $300! The receipt can prove it.

The point is that the wrapping and appearance doesn’t change what the gift is worth. The value is on the inside. But what the wrapping does is communicate to her that you understand what the gift, and the recipient of the gift, is truly worth.

I believe the same is true in our worship services. John chapter 4 makes clear to us the kind of worship that pleases God. John 4:23-24 says,

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

God is after our hearts. This means that real worship of truly reverent hearts doesn’t depend on the quality of music, lights, stage sets, lasers, smoke machines, song selections, or any of the other trivial things we tag along with it. It never has and it never will.

The value of your worship is found in your sincerity.

But… if we view our worship as an offering or gift to God then what kind of picture does the above example paint? What challenge does it present? I believe with all my heart that my unceasing efforts of excellence in my craft, not just settling for “good enough” serves to demonstrate both to myself, God, and my church community, that I understand that very value of worship and excellence. The presentation matters.

Romans 12:1 says,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

This passage talks about our proper act of worship: taking our whole selves, everything that we can possible offer, and placing it before God as an offering. My love for Jesus should inspire and push me to work exceptionally hard to excel at my craft so that what I bring is the absolute best that it can be… because He deserves it and the presentation matters. When a laborer has a conviction that what they do isn’t just a hobby, but that they are being faithful with what God has put in their hand, then to them that labor is an act of worship!

Our sincerity can be found in our response.

I want to challenge us all to be Worship Pastors who are not willing to focus on skill at the expense of people’s hearts, but not brush off skill for the attitude of “good enough.” Worship Pastors, Christians in general, must know both must be addressed but ultimately realize that worship is fundamentally a function of the heart, and when a heart is transformed in worship, everything else follows including skill and excellence. The more experience I have gained, the more I have realized that my leadership has to become an act of worship that inspires others to worship, my skill has to be at a level high enough to allow me to worship with my presence and leadership without distraction. We become “lead worshippers” when we blend these two functions into one, so that people cannot tell the difference. Psalm 78:72 describes David as a man who led Israel with integrity of heart and with skillful hands. Heart and skill are two primary issues that every worship pastor wrestles with, not just for themselves but also for the people they lead. Both are part of the Biblical mandates that take a central role in the job description of a Worship Pastor.

In all of this it’s important to note that excellence is not perfection. Excellence is an attitude or mindset that drives us to do the best we can with what we have within our ability. Misappropriated excellence creates an environment that is harsh, restraining, and ultimately discouraging. But an appropriate understanding of excellence creates an environment that is fundamentally encouraging as it calls out the full potential of every individual that comes from the Father.

James 1:17 says,

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Aren’t you glad that when God created the universe, He took a step back and “saw that it was good,” not “saw that it was good enough.” Our pursuit of excellence is purely a reflection of an excellent God.

So, what is it that matters in our worship? Is it heart or skill? What actually matters is that Jesus is honored in all that we do and in our displayed love for Him.

Psalm 96:7-9 says,

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!