“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!”

 

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Set the Table

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Psalm says,

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Exodus 19:7-17 says,

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The act of table-setting can be scary.

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

Lead Worship… Not Songs

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

I’ve led SO many songs!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In John 5:19 Jesus says it like this,

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

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

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


Worship before you lead.

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

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

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

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


Create a culture of feedback.

Isn’t this a scary thought?

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

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

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


Be willing to take risks.

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

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

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

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


 

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

How do You Approach the Throne?

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

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

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

1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us that,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Settle for the Substitute

We have discussed the question, “What is Worship?” numerous times before here on the blog. To be honest we could attack that question from a different angle every week and end up barely scratching the surface of all that encompasses worship.

So today I want to discuss what it means to worship? Or more specifically, is there a right way or a wrong way to do it?

Is it singing, clapping and/or raising your hands at your local church on Sunday… or is there something more to it than that?

The question of “what does worship look like” is extremely important. Far too many arguments have been had over what is and is not a legitimate form of worship. Whole denominations have formed and churches have split over the nuances of this question! Preferences can too easily become elevated to precepts if we’re not carefully grounding our understanding of worship in what we see in the Bible.

Worship is singing… but not only singing.

Many Christians today understand worship as singing. When we talk about Sunday morning, we refer to congregational singing as “worship.” When we say, “I really enjoyed the worship,” we almost always mean “I really enjoyed the music.”

This isn’t entirely wrong… it’s just incomplete. There are clear examples of singing as worship found in Scripture. Exodus 15:1-2 says,

I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

Judges 5:3 says,

Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes; to the LORD I will sing; I will make melody to the LORD, the God of Israel.

2 Samuel 22:50 says,

For this I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations, and sing praises to your name.

Psalm 5:11 says,

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you.

Psalm 7:17 says,

I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High.

These are just a select few of the vast examples of singing out of worship that we can find in Scripture, and as you know I could go on and on. The point is… we’re admonished to sing to the Lord and to encourage one another with hymns and spiritual songs.

So singing, biblically, is a part of worship.

However, we must be careful not to equate worship solely with singing and music.

The word “worship” at its most basic level means to ascribe worth… or “worth-ship.” This is helpful to keep in mind, especially when you consider the words translated as “worship.” The two most commonly used words in Hebrew and Greek that we often translate as “worship” are ḥā·wā[h] and proskyneō and refer to bowing or kneeling down, both to God and to men.

They describe an act of reverential deference.

This is the important thing to understand, then, about worship. It’s not merely about singing, but it’s about reverence. It’s about having a biblical fear of the Lord. At its most basic level, then, you could define worship as the humbling of yourself before the One who is your better. This, naturally, has serious implications.

Worship is not primarily about how you feel.

First, if worship is about humbling yourself before God, we have to consider the place of our feelings. Many today seem to equate fired up feelings with genuine affection for the Lord. The louder the music, the higher the hands are raised, the more our hearts must be inclined toward God… right? We all do it! We leave an energetic worship service where the atmosphere and mood was just right, the music struck a chord deep within us, and we feel as if we have “taken” something away and out of worship with us.

But this understanding places too much emphasis on feelings. We must always remember that while emotional expressiveness can be a sign of genuine affection, It’s what is in the heart that really counts and those things aren’t always demonstrated fully in a 25 minute worship set on Sunday.

Jonathan Edwards put it this way,

Nothing can be certainly known of the nature of religious affections by this, that they much dispose persons with their mouths to praise and glorify God.

His point is simple: people can fervently praise God with their mouths and still be far off from Him. This is much the same warning Paul gives when he tells the Corinthians that you can have a great outward show, but without love, it’s worthless. You can see that in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3,

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Is it any wonder that Jeremiah reminds us not to put too much stock in our feelings in Jeremiah 17:9?

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Worship is what you do every moment of every day.

Second, in the Old Testament, particularly once the nation of Israel is established, there’s a definite connection between place and worship. God’s people were to worship in a specific place (first the Tabernacle, then the Temple). This was the meeting place between God and His people. At the Temple, God’s people would offer sacrifices for the forgiveness of sin, peace offerings to God, and numerous other offerings and acts of service.

It can be tempting to take the imagery of the Temple worship and place it upon the local church. However, the New Testament doesn’t allow for this. Instead, starting with Jesus, the New Testament presents a definite shift away from “place and time” worship to “every moment, everywhere” worship.

In his discussion with the woman at the well in John 4:21-24 Jesus tells the woman,

Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 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.

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.

Hebrews 13:15-16 says,

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

While I’ve only included a few brief examples, the general thrust of the New Testament, while never neglecting the importance of believers gathering together in corporate worship, drastically broadens our understanding of what worshipping God truly is. It’s not a matter of getting together on Sunday, singing songs, giving money, listening to a sermon and heading home for the rest of the week to do whatever we want.

Every moment of every day is to be an act of worship to God.

This brings us to the most serious implication of the New Testament understanding of worship: our need for the Gospel.

The reality is: the Gospel perfects our worship.

On our best days, our efforts are half-hearted, our motives conflicted. The flesh is constantly at war with the spirit. If our worship were up to us alone, we’d be utterly lost. None of it would be pleasing and acceptable to God. But this is where the good news of the Gospel aids us in our worship… Jesus is the perfect worshipper. In His incarnation, He obeyed every command of God without flaw or failure. His devotion is unwavering.

He gives us His perfect worship to cover our imperfect offerings of songs, service and sacrifice.

The Gospel gives us reason to stand before the throne of grace, imperfect as we are, because we have an Advocate there who has completed the work for us, one who appeals to us to rely on Him increasingly to purify our motives, and perfect our worship. Hebrews 4:16 says,

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

That’s what biblical worship looks like. Don’t settle for a substitute.

Worship Leaders: Seek Him First

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 150:16 says,

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

Hebrews 13:15 says,

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

Colossians 3:16 says,

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 6:33 says,

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

Jeremiah 29:13 promises,

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

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

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


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

 

When we Rest

Have you ever seen a kid that is fighting sleep so hard that it is funny? My wife might say that she has seen me do that. A typical weeknight for us consists of her studying her medical schoolbooks while I watch YouTube videos on the couch. Almost nightly she wakes me up on the couch to tell me to go to bed, and almost nightly I reply, “I wasn’t asleep.”

Rest is necessary and important physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We know that’s true. We know we need rest… but like that kid we often fight it.

Why do we resist rest?

When athletes are training for competition, one of the most important aspects of training that must be remembered is this; rest is what actually builds muscle and improves our performance. The training breaks them down and leaves them weak. That is why the rest is so important. While this is true in the realm of athletics, it seems that it is also true in God’s eyes.

The fourth commandment given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai reads as follows in Exodus 20:8,

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

The Lord continues saying in verses 9-11,

Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

The Lord rested… so why do we resist rest. There are a couple of things that happen when we rest. Let’s think together.


  • When we Rest, We Trust

The fourth commandment directs us to observe the Sabbath, to rest one day a week. The nation of Israel regularly got themselves into trouble because they refused to honor the Sabbath. It was an issue for them the same as it most likely is for many of us!

The first use of the term Sabbath in the Old Testament is in Exodus when God was instructing the Israelites about rules for gathering manna. Six days they were to collect manna, but the day before Sabbath they were told to gather twice as much. When they took in too much manna on other days it rotted, but the day before Sabbath it remained perfectly edible.

But… did they follow God’s clear instructions? Exodus 16:27-30 says,

On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? See! The Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.” So the people rested on the seventh day.

Some of the people didn’t believe God. They didn’t believe he had given them Sabbath, that he would provide for them, or that he would allow them to truly rest.

I wonder if that’s our biggest problem with rest… we simply don’t believe God.

Rest is an opportunity for us as believers to exercise our trust in God for our daily lives and needs as it was for the Israelites in the desert. The Israelites risked being hungry for a day if God didn’t come through on His word, but they put themselves in a situation in which they would see God’s faithfulness, provision, and the truth of his Word at work.

So, when we resist rest we must ask ourselves: Do I trust God to meet my needs, or do I feel like I had better work a little more to make sure my needs are met? To be honest, sometimes I claim the former but live the latter.

By resting we trust God to provide for our material and physical needs like the Israelites did in the wilderness, but while writing this I am reminded that my most desperate need is for forgiveness and reconciliation with God, and no matter how frantically I work, I will never achieve that by my own effort. Work alone cannot earn grace! But thankfully, I don’t have to, work for those things. Jesus took care of them for me through his death and resurrection. In faith, I can rest in the truth that I am forgiven and reconciled. If Jesus Christ willingly died for me, why would he not also meet my daily needs?

God does not say, “Wait until all your enemies have been destroyed, until every problem in your life has been resolved, then you can rest.” Instead He says in Psalm 110:1-2,

Rest first until I make all your enemies your footstool.

Joseph Prince wrote,

What do you see when it comes to healing for a condition in your sick body or breakthroughs for your financial challenges? Do you see lack and say, “Let me get out of this situation first. Let me hear the doctors’ reports say that everything is clear, and then I can rest”?

We find it hard to rest because our human nature is inclined toward worry and restlessness. The devil loves to see human nature reign in the church and to have you believe that you can only rest when things go well or when you see your breakthroughs. Stop saying, “When my child finishes primary school, I will stop worrying and rest.” You know what? After primary school, there is secondary school. Then, after your child completes secondary school, you will say, “I think when my child finishes university, then I will rest.” And you will never rest!

God wants us to find rest in the midst of the storm. And when you rest in Him, things will go well. This doesn’t mean that there is no storm… but, it does mean that He will see us through the storm (Psalm 46).


  • When we Rest, He Works 

What happens when we become make a concentrated effort to rest? Let’s look at this secret hidden in the story of how Jesus healed a man who had been suffering from an infirmity for 38 years.

John 5:8–9 says,

Jesus said to him, ‘Rise, take
up your bed and walk.’ And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath.

Why did Jesus ask the man to take up his bed? Why not just ask him to stand up and walk? I think the question Jesus asks paints a picture of what Christ is saying to each of us. That command Jesus gave to take up the bed paints a picture for us of a command to rest in Him and to allow Him to do the work. For this man the work Jesus accomplished was a work of healing. What work are you needing Jesus to accomplish? So, in this story what Jesus was actually saying to the man was, “Rise, take up your rest and walk!”

Notice that the day this story occurs day was the Sabbath, the day of rest. Therefore, what God is saying is that when you rest, He works! Isn’t this amazing?

On the day that man rests, God is able to work!

Matthew 11:28 says,

Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

We’re not used to handing control over to anyone else. We want to do it our way, on our timing. We don’t trust other people to do things exactly the way we want them, and we have a hard time trusting God too.

But can you think of anyone more competent than God? Can’t the all-powerful being who created the universe and who keeps it running take care of your problems?

When you rest in God, you don’t tell him what to do or how to do it. You take a break from your troubles and allow Him to work!


Remember that your time of rest is also a time to remember and to thank God for all that He has done for you. It’s not simply a time to stop doing all things… it is a time to stop your busywork and to focus on Christ.

I encourage each of you, and myself, to try and slow down and take the time to rest. We are all so rushed and so busy.  God commands us to rest because He loves us and He knows what’s best for us! What might happen if we put a little trust in Him?  Let’s be encouraged to show a little faith and find out.

May God give us the strength to rest!

Your Song Informs

The role of praise in a Christian’s life wears many hats. Some like the “feeling” that they get. Some like the entertainment value that it offers or maybe the outreach tool that a good band or musical service can provide. But there has to be more to our worship than that.

The Bible doesn’t give a “formal definition” of worship. But while looking for clarity or meaning perhaps we can begin to draw a meaning by seeing what various words for worship mean. The English word “worship” comes from two Old English words: weorth, which means “worth,” and scipe or ship, which means something like shape or “quality.” We can see the Old English word -ship in modern words like friendship and sportsmanship – that’s the quality of being a friend, or the quality of being a good sport.

So worship can be somewhat defined by splitting the word apart… worship becomes “worth-ship.” We are ascribing worth to what we worship. When we worship God we are saying that God has worth, that he is worthy. Worship means to declare worth, to attribute worth. Or to put it in biblical terms, we praise God. We speak, or sing, about how good and powerful God is.

This is a purpose for which we are called in 1 Peter 2:9 where it says,

You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

We were called for the purpose of praising God, worshiping God. That is one of the “job descriptions” of a Christian. We should declare that God is worthy, worth more than everything else put together.

Now let’s look at the biblical words. In both Hebrew and Greek, there are two major kinds of words for worship. The first kind means to bow down, to kneel, to put one’s face down as an act of respect and submission. In this portrayal, or act of worship, our body language is saying that we are willingly submitting our bodies, lives, desires, etc… to God’s will. The other kind of biblical word means to serve. Roughly half of the time these words are translated as worship, and the other half as serve. It carries the idea of doing something for God or making a sacrifice or carrying out his instructions for us here on earth.

Of course, word meanings don’t prove what worship is, but they do illustrate three different types or portrayals of worship: speaking/ singing, listening, and doing.

There is a worship that expresses the heart, a worship that involves the mind, and a worship that involves the body. There is a worship that is giving praise upward, a worship that is receiving instructions from above, and a worship that carries out instruction in the world around us. The best part is… we need all three types of worship! Some people focus primarily on speaking or singing praise to God. Praise is good, but if all we do is praise God, without ever listening to what he says, we have to ask whether we believe the words we are saying. If he is really all wise and all loving, then we need to be attentive to what he is telling us, because he is worth listening to. Similarly, all talk and no action does not show God the respect he deserves. Actions speak louder than words, and if our behavior isn’t changed by God, then our actions are saying that God isn’t important… He’s a nice idea, but not relevant to our day-to-day lives. When we really believe that God is worthy of every single praise and every single thing we can offer Him, then we will be willing to listen and to change the way we live in response to such a worthy God. We will trust him and seek him and want to please him as much as we can. Worship is the giving of our entire self, our thoughts and our emotions, to God’s use. All of life is an act of submission, an act of worship. Our service to God is not centered on a time or a temple, but is done whenever and wherever we are, because we are the temple of God. Worship should invade our entire lives. The test of worship is not only what happens at church, but what happens at home, on the job and wherever we go. Worship should inform and affect our behavior.

Every act of obedience is an act of worship. It declares that God has worth.

God wants worship not only on our lips, but also in our hearts. He wants our worship to be sincere. He wants to be the most important thing in our lives, and for us to be truly submissive to him. He wants our worship to affect our behavior, that we make sacrifices, that we put to death the deeds of selfishness, that we seek justice, be merciful and humble, and help others. He wants us not just to obey him, but to serve in ways that go beyond specific commands. We are to worship wherever we go, doing all things to God’s glory, praying always, giving thanks always, never ceasing to be a temple of the Holy Spirit. Our worship involves how we work, how we drive, how we interact with people, what we do in public and in private, etc… The real test of worship is not what happens at church, but what happens at home, and on the job, and wherever we go. Is God important enough to make a difference in the way we live, in the way we work, in the way we get along with other people? When the Holy Spirit lives in us, when we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, worship is a part of everyday life.

When we face attack from the enemy our response of praise should “inform” our thoughts, mind, and attitude of several things that can help us to overcome or to fight back. What is our worship “speaking into” or informing?


Us of God

Our worship is “saying” a lot of things although on the surface sometimes it seems to be pretty straightforward or “cut and dry.” One of the things we too often neglect in our worship is how the very songs we are singing are working to shape our thoughts about God the Father.

Our worship can be theologically forming!

I know that I myself at times grow idle in my thinking about the nature and attributes of God. Sometimes in the midst of an attack or storm I fail to recognize God for all He is. One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the one of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Throughout His earthly ministry it was rare that people recognized Jesus and worshipped Him for who He really was: the Son of God.

But… in this case they did. Here comes Jesus riding in on a donkey and the people are lining the road and praising Him as the Messiah. The people are crying out “Hosanna!” This word was originally an appeal for deliverance, translating to “please save.” But here we see it being transformed into an expression of joy and praise for deliverance that only the Messiah brings.

The crowds that lined the roads recognized whom Jesus was and were moved to praise.

The reason this is such a big deal is because at this point, the people still believed that the Messiah was going to be a warrior king who would overthrow the Roman government and raise Israel to a place of political and military power. However, we now know that Jesus accomplished the will of God in a way that they didn’t expect. But… their preconceived notions or thoughts about the Messiah didn’t prohibit them from recognizing Him and His power and worshipping Him for who He was.

Does our “mis-information” or skewed perspective of who God is prohibit us from recognizing Him, His power, and His work around us daily or in times of spiritual deficiency or attack?

The story is continued in Luke 19:37-40 where it goes on to say,

And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen; saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest. And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples. And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.

Did you catch the end of that verse?

The Pharisees were religious teachers of the day, but they let what they thought they knew about God completely blind them for seeing God right in front of their faces. Their religion was their God. It is what they worshipped.

Are we sometimes so caught up in the things that we “know” about God that we miss the workings of God taking place right in front of us?

It is essential for us to have the proper perspective and context about God, His attributes, and His work done on our behalf, and to incorporate those things into the songs that we sing on a daily basis. By “informing” ourselves of who God is in good times that information will be embedded in our very spirit for the rough times… the times when life’s outlook seems bleak.

Psalm 27:4-5 says,

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.


Us of our Mission

When reading about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in the above passages out of Luke I can’t help but wonder if Jesus were to ride into our churches today would we be moved to worship and praise Him, or would the rocks have to cry out? This triumphant entry is the beginning of the culmination of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and when the Pharisees tell him to quiet the crowd, his response is simply amazing:

I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.

What Jesus is saying is that because He is who they say He is, that He is worthy of their praise. Do we realize that? Jesus IS God, and He is worthy of all praise we can give Him and more! So much so that if people fail to praise him, then the stones themselves will because He is worthy of it! God WILL be praised. Regardless of willingness, circumstance, cultural acceptance, or even your participation!

This is one of my favorite stories in Scripture because it reminds me of how awesome God is, and it serves as a job description for all believers! Our job is to be worshipping God and bring Him the glory due His name. We should be constantly worshipping him! In good or bad the call to praise still exists.

Imagine hearing a rock cry out the praise of Christ. How incredible would that be? It is nothing more than a rock… but God is so amazing, that even it MUST acknowledge and give him praise. To be honest though, I don’t want the rocks to sing God’s praise because if they do, that means I’m not doing my job!

Our mission is simple.

Psalm 150:1 says,

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.

Psalm 98:4 says,

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music.

1 Peter 1:8 continues along with this pattern and says,

Let your love of the Lord Jesus pour out; rejoice with a glorious inexpressible joy.

The crowds who had seen Jesus ministry, his miracles, heard his teaching, and had their lives touched were eager to speak and cry out “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Their words were a confession, an acknowledgment that in Jesus they were placing their hope, their future, their security, and their salvation.

Has Jesus changed your life? What are your words confessing?

Worship involves our entire relationship with God: our words, our attitudes, and our actions. Our worship is a response to God. We can’t know God’s worth, much less declare it, unless God reveals himself to us. So God initiates worship by revealing himself to us. Then we respond, and the proper response is worship. The more we grasp his greatness, his power, his love, his character, the more we understand his worthiness, the better we can declare his worth, the better we can worship, and the better we can persevere and rise victorious in this spiritual fight that we are caught up in.

Brothers and sisters… will you pursue your mission and confess God’s goodness and salvation message each and every day despite your circumstances, emotions, or what the world might say? Will you cry out or will the rocks take your place?

Psalm 95:1 says,

Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.


Us of the Situation

I never quite understand when Christians are surprised that life doesn’t become perfect or turn into “smooth sailing” the moment that they give their heart to the Lord. Newsflash… just because you’re a Christian it doesn’t mean everything is easy, and it definitely doesn’t mean we no longer have times of battle. What happens when you find yourself in a situation or battle that feels overwhelming? There seems to be many different ways we deal with those things that we’d rather just have pass us by. Battles are never fun, and of course they’re never something we would just pick ourselves for fun. However, they’re also unavoidable. We are in a battle, and in battle there are times when there is much warfare going on all around us.

We serve a God of seasons as the Book of Ecclesiastes tells us, and times of war are unavoidable. Even in the words “spiritual warfare” we find the word war. It’s messy. It’s unavoidable. So the real question is, “How do we battle?”

Our songs have many purposes and can inform us of many things, but an important thing that our praise can inform us of is our situation before God and in the moment we are currently facing. I believe the Lord gives us ways to battle efficiently, and part of that is understanding the fight we are in. But no matter the battle, we must remember the battle is never ours, it’s always the Lord’s. 2 Chronicles 15 says,

And he said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s.

How many songs remind us of that very truth? Take a look at the song “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” Parts of it go like this,

A mighty fortress is our God

A bulwark never failing

Our helper He amid the flood

Of mortal ills prevailing

For still our ancient foe

Doth seek to work us woe

His craft and power are great

And armed with cruel hate

On earth is not his equal

 

A mighty fortress

A mighty fortress is our God

A mighty fortress

A mighty fortress is our God

 

And though this world

With devils filled

Should threaten to undo us

We will not fear

For God hath willed

His truth to triumph through us

The prince of darkness grim

We tremble not for him

His rage we can endure

For lo his doom is sure

One little word shall fell him

What important truth! The battle is not ours! Our present situation, no matter how bad, becomes informed when we realize that we have a God who has already won and is our shelter and strength. He fights for us, and the battle is His.

Don’t be a “crisis Christian,” that only calls out to God when something goes wrong. In order to be successful in battle we must be proactive instead of reactive! The enemy loves to catch us unprepared and unequipped. I think it’s wise, when you’re not feeling a battle, that you use that time to get yourself equipped. Learn some songs that can enlighten your current and future situations with vital truths of God. Often times when things get tough and the unknown rears it’s head we can be informed and gather a more clear perspective about the situation we face through our songs of praise and worship. I think we need to remember, it’s never the size of the battle, and it’s never how great the enemy is, but if we keep our focus on God, how powerful He is, and how faithful He’s been time and time again that this is where you will find victory.

The battles we face are the Lord’s. Our job is to worship and trust Him. Our victories lie within our ability to trust and praise. So if you find yourself in a battle, don’t cry out in fear from what you see, cry out in faith for who God is and what He has already done! Go before the Lord in worship remembering all He has done and how faithful He’s been to you already. I’ve realized that whenever I do this, it takes me to a place of relying upon Him to battle whatever comes my way. Allow your song to inform your situation.


The Enemy of Who they Face

John 10:10 records Jesus saying,

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

In our reality a thief, like every other type of criminal, is nothing more than an opportunist. Thieves look for the easiest prey they can find. They watch for people who appear to be timid, weak and incapable of defending themselves. Criminals also understand that there is indeed safety in numbers, so they choose victims who are alone and too separated from others to get help. Think about it… burglars find houses with little to no defenses. Attackers find victims who are easy targets. No opportunist wants to pick a fight they can possibly lose!

How does this apply to our praise as a utility or tool for our spiritual battles?

The truth is that most thieves are cowards who only want to go after people that are smaller and weaker than them. People who walk confidently and display a high level of self-assurance are far less likely to be targeted by thieves. Since a criminal prefers to put the least amount of effort into their heinous deeds, they wait for someone who is slow moving and seems to be unsure of themselves. This is the type of victim who will stand by meekly when they are involved in a confrontation.

As Believers if we are singing truths confidently, and believing them, then we are painting ourselves as less of an opportune target because we are a harder “kill” than someone else for the enemy. By praising in the midst of the spiritual fight we are looking the enemy in the face and proclaiming that we won’t be taken by surprise, we won’t back down, and we are ready to fight back.

“Stand up, Stand up for Jesus” is a song that we probably have all heard or sung at one time or another, and I believe that it has strong message for the enemy that we can learn from and sing when a spiritual fight heads our way.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus!

By singing this we aren’t asking if we should stand up for the cause of Christ, but rather we are proclaiming that the cause of Christ is worth rising up for. It means that we will defend the truth and share it with others. From the beginning of the song we are telling the enemy that we won’t be an easy target.

Ye soldiers of the cross; Lift high His royal banner, It must not suffer loss.

When you study the history of armies and war, you find that when soldiers would go into battle sometimes they would have banner. This banner was used to communicate, encourage, and represent their nation or their king. Imagine our soldiers currently wearing the stars and stripes on their uniforms as they fight for what that particular flag represents. Many of the “flag bearers” of old would actually carry their banner of flag instead of a weapon into war. In these battles if the soldier carrying the banner was killed, another soldier would pick up the banner and carry it in his place because it was that important to them and to their cause.

We can relate to this when come to our flag. Most of us are proud to be Americans and we love what our flag represents, and we cringe when someone decided to burn the flag out of protest because we know what our flag represents and that it came at the high cost of solider lives. As Christians, we need to realize that when we became Christians we signed up in the Lord’s army. Everyone of us is a Christian soldier.

2 Timothy 2:3-4 says,

You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.

We are not fighting a physical war, we are fighting a spiritual one, but we must stand up as Christian soldiers and face our enemy. We must sing and wave the banner of Christ high with boldness and confidence so he knows the fight that is before him.

From victory unto victory His army shall He lead, till every foe is vanquished, for Christ is Lord indeed.

Jesus is the head of the church, and He knows how to help in our time of need. He has given us all the tools we need to win against our enemies because He has given us the power of His blood and the sword of the spirit, which is God’s truth.

I’m so thankful that God’s sheep are protected from the thief by their Shepherd, in John 10:11 Jesus said,

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

I’ll leave the rest of the hymn for you to interpret and sing in the face of your foe. The fight is worth fighting and the outcome is sealed. Allow your song to route your foe before the battle begins.

Stand up stand up for Jesus

The trumpet call obey

Forth to the mighty conflict

In this His glorious day

Ye that are brave now serve Him

Against unnumbered foes

Let courage rise with danger

And strength to strength oppose

 

Stand up stand up for Jesus

Stand in His strength alone

The arm of flesh will fail you

Ye dare not trust your own

Put on the gospel armor

Each piece put on with prayer

Where duty calls or danger

Be never wanting there

 

Stand up stand up for Jesus

Each soldier to his post

Close up the broken column

And shout through all the host

Make good the loss so heavy

In those that still remain

And prove to all around you

That death itself is gain

 

Stand up stand up for Jesus

The strife will not be long

This day the noise of battle

The next the victor’s song

To those who vanquish evil

A crown of life shall be

They with the King of Glory

Shall reign eternally


What songs are you singing and how are they working for you in your spiritual fight?

Spiritual Exercise

I enjoy certain types of exercise. I like to go to the gym and lift weights, I like to play basketball. I don’t, however, like to run. Maybe it’s because I think it’s aimless… or maybe it’s because conditioning to run is hard and it hurts! My wife enjoys running… she does it a lot. On the other hand, I joke with people and tell them that the only thing that would make me run is a bear behind me! I go through phases though where I will jump on a treadmill and run. I particularly remember the last time because I went from not running at all to running 3.5 miles on the first go round. I felt fine the day of… but the day after was a different story all together. My body, although conditioned for other types of exercise, was not conditioned for strenuous running! The point I am trying to make is… exercise is hard. Especially if it is an exercise that we haven’t been conditioning for.

Today we will talk about conditioning our relationship with God through a different exercise plan… service.

Think about a relationship that you hold dear. Maybe it is with a lifelong friend, a husband or wife, a family member… most relationships that have proven to be lasting have experienced hard times that you have to work through. Any good relationship takes work to develop. I can remember in the early stages of dating my wife how I took the time to get to know her, what she liked and disliked, how she handled situations, her sense of humor, etc… It took time and effort to form a stronger relationship with her and a better understanding of her.

Some people have the idea that knowing God should be easy. That developing a relationship with the Creator and sovereign Lord of the universe should require nothing more strenuous than listening to an occasional sermon or reading a book or two. Why is that? Why is it that we will study for years in college to get a degree, we’ll labor nights and weekends to get ahead in our careers, and yet we think that knowing God should be effortless? We’ll exercise for hours to improve our physical health. We’ll eat right and sacrifice junk food, and torture ourselves on the treadmill.

In other areas of life, we understand that having things of value require work and dedication. Yet in the realm of the spirit, we expect good things just to drop into our laps. But that’s not the way it works! Like anything else of great worth, knowing God requires diligence and sustained effort. Is it worth it? Yes, the reward of seeking God far exceeds the cost. But there is a cost.

1 Timothy 4:7-10 says,

Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.

You see, “knowing” God isn’t something that just happens. It requires that we “train ourselves” or as other translations put it, “discipline ourselves.”

The Christian life is not just an intellectual exercise. It’s not just some kind of self-improvement motivational program. Nor is it a set of rules and regulations. The essence of the Christian life is truly knowing God and having a vital, living and intimate relationship with Him; experiencing His presence and activity in our daily lives.

The good new is that God is not hiding from us! He wants nothing more than for us to know Him. He promises good things, and rewards, to those who seek Him. But a true relationship with God is not going to be had by anyone with only a casual, passing interest. The half-hearted may as well not waste their time. The merely curious can and will eventually find something else to tickle their fancy and temporarily fulfill their curiosity. I say all of this because God is only found by those who seek Him earnestly, who seek Him with “all their heart.” God is known by those willing to persevere, those willing to keep asking, and keep knocking, and keep seeking.

Hebrews 11:6 says,

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Lamentations 3:25 says,

The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.

Jeremiah 29:13 says,

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

Imagine that you’re an actor preparing for a role, and you want to know what makes your character tick… you want to understand how they think, what they feel, how they view the world. What would you do? Heath Ledger was cast as the villainous Joker in The Dark Knight. Up until Ledger was cast in the movie he was notorious for playing more light-hearted roles. Playing the Joker required a bit more preparation, which Ledger took to an interesting level. It is said that he locked himself in a hotel room, isolating himself from everyone, and took prescription drugs in order to get into a Joker-like state of mind. Ledger slept an average of two hours a night while playing “a psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy.” He put himself in that very state of mind to play the role. Ledger was reported as saying, “I couldn’t stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going.”

Actors have discovered that in order to really understand and get inside the head of their characters, the best kind of research is to actually live that life. Go through a day as them. Experience for themselves what it’s like. See what they see, hear what they hear, and hopefully feel what they feel.

In the same way, in order to really know someone, you have to enter their world and walk a mile in their shoes. If we as Christians want to know Christ, we have to do what He did. We have to imitate Him. Our topic today is “Seeking God through the Spiritual Exercise of Service.” I believe that we are never more like Christ than when we are serving others.

Matthew 20:25-28 says,

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Why did Jesus come? For two reasons. Everything He did can be summarized under these two headings. First, he came to die… to give his life in exchange for ours, to pay the penalty for our sin so that we could be forgiven. The crucifixion wasn’t something bad that just happened to him; it was in his plan from the very beginning. The other thing Jesus came to do was serve. He served people by healing them, He served people by teaching them, He served people by walking with them, attending to their needs (spiritually, physically, emotionally). Jesus even displayed service by washing his disciples feet!

John 13:3-5 says,

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

It continues in John 13:12-16 where it says,

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.

You see, as many of you already know, at these times foot washing was a menial task, usually done by a household servant, upon a master or guest entering a household. Because of the footwear and road conditions of the time foot washing was necessary but dirty and unappreciated work.

That’s exactly the kind of service Jesus calls us to!

If you are not serving, you are not living like Christ. And to know Him, you have to be like Him. You have to follow His example. Christ came to serve, and unless we think we are greater than Him, we should be serving one another also.

1 Peter 4:10 says,

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.

Galatians 5:13 says,

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote,

The service that one should perform for another in Christian community is that of active helpfulness. This means, initially, simple assistance in trifling, external matters. There is a multitude of these things wherever people live together. Nobody is too good for the meanest (lowest) service. One who worries about the loss of time that such petty, outward acts of helpfulness entail is usually taking the importance of his own career too seriously.

True Christian service is humble service. It delights in being a blessing to others, and is not concerned with receiving praise, or recognition, or thanks. It’s only goal is the welfare of the one being served.

Finally, let me give you some quick practical principles for exercising your faith and relationship with God through service.


Plan to be Available

It is helpful for us to get in the habit of serving by planning to serve. But… we must also be available to serve on the spur of the moment. Our exercising of service needs to include both scheduled service and impromptu service. For instance, you could offer to help out one of the mothers in the church by babysitting once a week so that she can spend an hour or two without the kids. OR… you could serve in a planned and organized ministry of the church. That’s planned service. But you can also be available when a family needs help on short notice. Are you the kind of person that people call when they have a need? Do you have a history of service that would cause them to think of you?

Often, a need arises, or an opportunity to serve presents itself, but we can’t respond because we’re too busy. Part of being available to help others is simplifying your life so that you have free time to serve when you’re needed. I understand… this is hard! Life is busy! But, we must evaluate our priorities. Are we too busy for people?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote,

We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and cancelling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. We may pass them by, preoccupied with our more important tasks, as the priest passed by the man who had fallen among thieves, perhaps — reading the Bible. . . . . it is part of the discipline of humility that we must not spare our hand where it can perform a service and we do not assume that our schedule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by God.


Look for Opportunities

Take initiative! Don’t wait to be asked!

Jesus responded to requests for help, but he also took the initiative to serve when he saw a need. A true servant always has their “radar” up. They stay alert for anything someone might say or do that indicates an opportunity to serve. Let’s be honest, sometimes our lack of service isn’t because people don’t want to ask… it’s because they don’t know to ask! Have you waited so long to be asked that people have no idea that you are even willing to step up to a task and possibly get your hands dirty?


Be Flexible

Don’t pigeonhole yourself and your service by having specific ideas of what your “serving” should look like.

In fact, don’t be too particular about how you serve. God has uniquely gifted each of us, but we shouldn’t be so concerned about only serving within our “specialty” that we pass up anything that doesn’t fit. I am absolutely certain that Jesus wasn’t an extraordinary “foot washer.” He saw a need and rose to fulfill that need.

We must be willing to serve in the small things as well as in the large. Don’t wait for a big project to come along, but seek out opportunities for everyday acts of generosity and helpfulness.

If there’s a genuine need, and you can meet it, don’t be too concerned with whether it’s one of your “gifts.” Just do it.


The key to a deep knowledge of Christ, and a deep experience of God, is to do the things that Christ did. The more we follow the example of Christ, by serving one another in humility and love, the more we will be like Him. The more we are like Him, the better we will know Him. And that is worth any price, any service, any sacrifice, and any suffering.

 

Asking the Right Question

A few weeks ago I posted a blog about asking the necessary questions in ministry. You can find it here: Asking the Necessary Questions

Today I am going to talk specifically about the number one question worship leaders should be asking themselves. The reason this is necessary is I personally feel the tug to be concerned with many areas in a “creative” ministry. Sometimes we get stuck asking: What songs should I do? What creative elements can I add? How can we improve as a team or ministry? Etc.

All of these questions are good and at some point need to be asked… but if you lead worship, there’s a question you should be asking first and on a constant basis.

You see… we can be so caught in our worship subcultures and the idea that our worship has to “fit” in certain boxes, remain relevant, and/or look attractive from the outside that we don’t see clearly enough to ask the most important question.

What is God doing in my church?

Think about how obvious that is but how often we totally miss it! If you are anything at all like me then you understand the struggle it is not to get so caught up in what we are doing, our music and all things that accompany it, that we disconnect ourselves unintentionally from the life of the church.

It’s easy to get stuck on the “how” and neglect the “why.”

Depending on your leadership style this may be a side effect of organization and always looking ahead. I know that is the case for myself, so in order to combat that I have to look ahead but remember to seize every moment for what it is… an opportunity.

We can too easily chase the “doing” of worship ministry, rather than loving and serving God’s people.

The simple but necessary question gets overlooked… “What is God doing in my church?”

Let’s talk about worship, at its essence. If you think about it, worship is about transformation. We need to worship God more than God needs our worship! He is self sufficient, all satisfying and all satisfied. He has no needs, no beginning, no end, no ego problems that cause Him to demand worship. We worship because it transforms us. Worship can transform our churches.

2 Corinthians 3:18 says,

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

God desires transformational worship.

Let me ask you for a second to set down your instrument, turn off your Spotify worship playlist, and for a moment, stop brainstorming ways to make your ministry more “cutting edge” or relevant. What would change if you looked at your congregation through this lens? What if rather than it being about our music and our creativity, we were more focused on seeing what God was doing in our midst and partnering with that?

What is God doing in your local church? What season are you walking through? What breakthroughs are on the horizon? Because, fellow worship leaders, this is be the most important question you can ask this week regarding your ministry. You will serve God’s people better in worship when you know what God is doing.