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Sunday, February 14, 2016

How Many Rocks Have You Hit This Sunday?

I know that sounds silly; there are some Sundays when things don’t go exactly as planned that we can get frustrated enough to throw some rocks, but hitting rocks?  I’m sure you’ve already guessed where I am going with this: Moses’ striking the rock when the Israelites needed water. At first glance one might think that it is a simple matter of controlling one’s anger, however, I believe that it is worth our unpacking to see what else might be there.  Let’s look at the passage in Numbers 20:1-13.

1 In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried. 2 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. 3 They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! 4 Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? 5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”

6 Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. 7 The Lord said to Moses, 8 “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”

9 So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. 12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” 13 These were the waters of Meribah, where the Israelites quarreled with the Lord and where he was proved holy among them.

Let’s have some background: Forty years have passed and most of the early generation had died. Miriam’s death is the only record of a woman of the original group. She had been one of the leaders, but also instrumental in saving Moses’ life as a baby.  Not only was Moses’ grieving the death of his beloved sister, the people had no water and had begun to complain once again. Notice that as before, the people were blaming Moses for their situation.  Being without water is a serious issue for we can live only a few hours without it.  But already they had forgotten the past 40 years of God’s gracious provision as if it had never happened. When life’s circumstances get desperate, we can develop short term memory loss of all that God has done in our lives to that point; such was the case of the children of Israel: they were thirsty, their children were crying, their containers of water were empty and all they saw around them was sand and rock.  This was not the first time that they had blamed Moses for their circumstances, but let’s focus on this instance for right now.

Notice how Moses and Aaron respond: They both fall face down in front of the Tent of Meeting in reverence and fear, for they well remember the last time the people complained. The cloud of God’s presence appears, where in the past this had been a sign of direction and protection, now [as before when the sons of Korah had rebelled], it was a sign of judgment.  As they had done in the past, Moses and Aaron go before the presence of God and fall on their faces pleading for help.   Notice God’s response:  [1] Take the staff, [2] gather the people, [3] speak to the rock and the water will come. This is different than the earlier account years before in Ex. 17:2-6, when God told Moses specifically strike the rock.

One might ask, “Why take the rod if he wasn’t going to use it?  Good question. Perhaps because it was the symbol of God’s authority. But this time God only commands that Moses speak. God doesn’t always act the same way in similar circumstances. Sometimes we pray and God miraculously moves, heals, touches; then sometimes in seemingly the exact same set of circumstances, the heavens seem sealed shut and God seems distant. Let me assure you that He is not distant; He is closer than your next breath. His plan for our lives is developing, stretching us to trust Him more, not totally unlike the children’s of Israel’s 40-year trek in the wilderness, which was not just punishment, but a time of training to trust in God to lead and supply. God now tells Moses to “Speak to the rock.” God wants Moses to learn that obedience is important, even when it doesn’t make sense. God had spoken the universe into formation out of nothing; He had spoken His commandments and His covenant. In Jesus, the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us. Speaking is important.

One thing that is so disappointing is that Moses began well: falling on his face in reverence. But he takes a decisive turn:  First, rather than speaking to the rock, he chastises the people, then, he begins to assume authority and power to do the miracle: “Must we bring you water from this rock!” and finally, he strikes the rock not once, but twice, allowing his frustration and anger to take control.

Does God provide water for the people even though Moses had disobeyed? Yes, God’s grace and mercy are constant. However, Moses and Aaron have disobeyed and disqualified themselves from being able to enter the Promised Land.  Let’s review what God gives as the reason for their punishment? “You did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites.”   The question is, “How did they not show trust and honor? There may me many more reasons, but let’s review a few:

       [1] Perhaps they allowed the frustrations of the circumstance to change their focus from God’s power to their own frustration with the situation– they had had enough.
       [2] Moses begins complaining, and so acts just like the people to whom he is addressing.
       [3] He fails to obey, striking the rock, rather than speaking to it. Even though he had to strike it before, God doesn’t always do things the same way twice. By claiming to “bring water from this rock”
       [4] Moses was claiming power that was not his, but God’s only. God does not share His glory with another. Moses did not honor God by giving Him the credit for providing the water and it cost him the privilege of being able to enter the land.

To be sure: God demands trust and obedience from those with whom He has a covenant relationship and God does not share His honor.  God has no needs; He is God. So what could we possibly give to God? The only thing that we can give to God is our trust, obedience and gratitude for all that He has done and all that He is.

How does this apply to worship leadership? God does not share His glory with another. One of the great dangers of ministries that are very public and visible is allowing the focus to center on the human leadership and failure to be the facilitator that guides the focus on the only One who is worthy of worship. Unfortunately, there are well-meaning brothers and sisters in Christ shift their focus each Sunday to those who stand before a congregation to “perform.”  Like Moses claiming a power that wasn’t his in the first place, some would manipulate those listening to produce their desire result. My prayer is that this is the rare exception. There are many sincere men and women who lead in worship and do so in way that facilitates congregational worship. May God teach us how we can lead in such a way that we do not get in the way, but guide the worship to God alone.

1. Life is full of sadness and frustrations; however it is in those times that we need to focus even more on God’s love and character and follow His will and direction closely.
2. We must continually remind ourselves of all that God has done to help us when the frustrations and problems come.
3. God’s mercy and grace are constant, even when we are not.
4. God doesn’t always do things the same way twice; we must not assume His will, but seek it.
5. God does not share His glory with another. We must recognize His love, provision, protection, nature, and character.
6. The only thing that we can give to God is our trust, obedience and gratitude for all that He has done and all that He is.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Living by Fear or Faith --- Numbers 13-14 ---

Another mass shooting–  terrorists around the corner: we live a world of uncertainty with concerns in that back of our thoughts that we or one of our loved ones might be the next victims of this kind or some other senseless tragedy.  How are Christians to respond?   I believe that God’s Word have much to say on the subject, but I would like to focus on chapters 13-14 of Numbers. I highly recommend Dr. Dennis Cole’s commentary on the book [ ]

Because the section is rather lengthy, I will only refer to it and not quote the entire two chapters here. In chapter 13 you will remember, Moses had led the Israelites through the desert from Egypt to the borders of the land which God had promised to give them. Twelve spies are sent out check out the land– Was it good or bad? How are the people, the cities? Notice that Moses’ request implied the possibility of something bad and getting information about the situation was not bad in and of itself— they needed the report in order to adequately plan attacks. So, checking out the situation was not a lack of faith, but at this point, strategic planning.

For 40 days the 12 cover the land and bring back the report: The land and its fruit are indeed great, but 10 of the 12 shared a negative evaluation: [1] the people were more powerful, [2] their cities were too fortified and large, [3] there were giants.  Notice that their evaluation only took into account what they thought they could do. They had forgotten all that God had done for them and the miracles that had happened.  God knew about the people, the cities, and the giants, but He also knew what He would do if they would but trust Him. Caleb speaks up giving a counter perspective, one that counted on the power of the God that had delivered them, but the 10 countered with repeating and then even adding their own evaluation “ We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” Their focus was on their own ability, but God had never commanded that, but that they trust Him. Their failure to believe was a rejection of the promise of God, and of God, Himself.

Chapter 14 retell the grief of the people weeping all night: “[2-4].  Their focus was on the problem: “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” Focusing on the problem and not God made them forget all that God had already done for them.  They were “stuck” in thinking only about the giants and walled cities and never mentioned the beatings they had received as slaves in Egypt. Fear, and wrong focus causes us to forget or disregard the negative.  Living by fear rather than by faith will lead us to make poor choices.

Moses and Aaron fall down in complete distress at the lack of faith of the people, tearing their clothes as a sign of their grief.  God’s people had forgotten all that God had done and were rejecting the promise that God had given them, and in doing so rejecting Him as God. Joshua even tries to persuade the people, but to no avail. God suddenly appears in the cloud in view of all and declares: “How long will they treat me with contempt?”

What does it meant to “treat with contempt?”An online dictionary states: “The feeling or attitude of regarding someone or something as inferior, base, or worthless; scorn. 2. The state of being despised or dishonored” How were the Israelites treating God as inferior, worthless, and dishonored?   [ ] Anytime we disregard what God says, we are responding in contempt of who God is, and God does not take it lightly.

Moses pleads on behalf of God’s honor [Egyptians will say God was not strong enough to do what He said He would do] and on God’s own nature and character: [God is patient, loving, kind, and forgiving]. V. 20-38   What is God’s response? [1] He forgives, but declares the consequences for their disobedience. Here God shows the balance of love and justice.  Rather then wipe them all out instantly, they will return to the wilderness where they will die, [something they said that would have been better anyway - v. 2-4], but in the process learn to trust God. The children for whom they feared would be spoils of war will inherit the land, and God will bring glory to Himself in how He accomplishes all of it.

V. 39-45 Once the people heard that they were going to have to wander in the desert for 40 years, they decide that they had made a mistake and were now “ready to obey.”   Late obedience is still disobedience. In fact, Moses told them to specifically not to go, but they disobeyed again, proving that they really had not learned their lesson.

What can we learn from this that can help us today? When fears seem to overtake you, or you are facing overwhelming circumstances, here are ten things to ponder and I pray will be of help:

1. God is faithful to His promises, even though we are not; we can trust Him and we can believe He knows what He is doing. God said He would give them the land, they just failed to believe Him.

2. Strategic planning is not a lack of faith as long as at its center is trust in God, not human ability.

3. Caleb did not try to deny the negative but put it in perspective. God was the One that was fighting for them. We do not pretend that the danger does not exist; we place our trust in the One who is our Protector, Provider and God.

4. Lack of faith and negative reports spread like wildfire. We tend to forget what God has done in the past and only worry about the unknown.

5. Failure to believe is a rejection of the promise of God, and of God, Himself. We must focus on God, not the circumstances.

6. When we take our eyes off of God and His power, we are left with the hopelessness of our own efforts. We will become “stuck” and unable to think rightly. We need to refocus on who God is and all that He has done.

7. Living by fear rather than by faith will lead us to make poor choices. We tend to minimize the bad of the past and forget the great things God has brought us through. We must continually remind ourselves of God’s goodness and faithfulness.

8. When we reject God’s commands, we are rejecting His promises as well. In rejecting His commands, we are rejecting Him and all that He wants to do for us and through us. We are showing “contempt” toward God.

9. God will forgive sin if we confess it. However, sin always has consequences. It can be forgiven, but damage done remains as a reminder and a warning to avoid that road that leads only to defeat and despair. Sin affects innocent people related to the sinner. The children under 20 years of age and Joshua and Caleb, who were innocent had to wander in the desert for 40 years, as well. Our sin doesn’t just affect us.

10. God can and will use the consequences for our good and His glory. During the 40 years, the Israelites learned valuable lessons about how to fight, how to trust God and the nations around them became fearful of the God of the Israelites.

Monday, September 28, 2015

“It’s a good worship song, but......”

Not a rant, but a concern. I heard Bryan And Katie Torwalt’s worship song “Holy Spirit, You Are Welcome Here,” that for the most part expresses the joy of being in the presence of God in worship. Yet, I have some issues with part of the text:

"Holy Spirit, You are welcome here, come flood this place and fill the atmosphere...."

I believe that it is worth the time to share some concerns that I believe warrants further study and underscores the need for our worship leaders to take to heart the analysis the text we put on the lips and hearts on those with whom we are leading.  Rather than a long discourse, I’ll will just list them:

1. God is the one who takes the initiative in worship, we don't show up and invite God to join us. – Remember that the bush was burning before Moses got there.

2. Since the Holy Spirit lives in us, we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit, then it is not a matter of "welcoming the Holy Spirit", but acknowledging His presence in our lives. The song, I'm sure, is referencing Pentecost or when the church prayed and the place where they were staying was shaken. But in both accounts, they did not pray for those things, for they did not know they were going to happen as they did. Rather than praying for such an experience, we might should pray for the sensitivity to hear God's voice and the boldness to obey.

3. Praying for the experience is not what the early church did, they prayed for the boldness to share. I realize there are those that will disagree, and that's fine. I just think we are treading on thin ice doctrinally and we get much of our doctrine from what we sing.

This is a topic that needs unpacking:
There are four bases from which we make decisions: God’s Word, history and tradition, human intellect, and personal experience. Though all four are important, nothing should ever take precedence over God’s Word.  Throughout history the source for heresies can be traced to getting these out of balance.

For example, let’s say that we have a song that “the Lord gave me.” If we are not careful,  then we are saying that the text and music are directly from God, which places it on the same level as God’s Word, or to say it in another way, we have received further revelation from God. Such logic has led to many doctrinal heresies and problems in the Body of Christ. The issue here is that we forget that we have “clay feet” that we are the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve and share in their fallen nature.

We can be sure that any word we receive from God will not contradict what He has already said in His Word.  For this reason, then we must pass what we write through the filter of God’s Word: Is what is taught here consistent with the overall teaching of Scripture? Just because the Bible mentions something does not mean that it is teaching it: Scripture mentions that Judas hung himself, but that certainly doesn’t mean that we are to go and  do the same.

4. Seeking the experience first puts the cart before the horse. When Daddy comes in from a trip away and has a habit of bringing a surprise to his kids, it doesn’t take long before the kids begin to look forward to what their father is bringing more than himself.  We need to be cautious about measuring our worship based on feeling or the level of a given experience. Remember the admonition of Jesus: “Lord, didn’t we cast out demons in your name and perform all kinds of miracles?”  And he said to them, “Depart from me for I never knew you.” [Matt. 7:23] The test of our worship is our obedience response to God, not our feelings. We can have an experience outside of the realm of obedience.

5. Because many of the songs we sing come from artists, downloaded from the internet and then sung in our churches the theological filter is absent.  I have no doubt about the sincerity of the artist or composers, nor their good intentions, however, I imagine most are not trained in theology. We don’t sing intentions, we sing lyrics, regardless of how sincere.  In the days of the use of hymnals one could rely on the fact that a committee on theology had at least reviewed the text of the songs and made adjustments before publication. Now, however, the gates are down and we are dependent on the artists/composers and the theological depth of the worship leaders to serve as the gatekeepers for what is sung in churches.   It is worth remembering the Arian controversy, though he was sincere in what he believed [Jesus was not divine], and shared his teaching through sermon and catchy songs of the day. It became such a problem that congregational song was virtually abolished after the Council of Laodicea.

6. We must be careful that we begin to worship the idea of how we feel in worship, or worship the trappings of worship instead of the God whom we are worshiping.  Not to unlike the teenager that is “in love with the idea of love,” it is easy to become enthralled with the idea of worship. And for those leading worship, to become enamored with the feelings of leading worship, rather than focusing on the One to whom the worship is directed.

7. What can be done?  Fix the text as need be. Sometimes it can be done with just adjusting some of the text. Write the composer and share your concerns. If they listen to you fine, if not you just leave the song out or use your corrections for the local worship services. Remember, our people will remember more of what they sing than just hear, and if there is an emotional response, as is many times in a worship service, the memory of the text is actually stored in a deeper part of the brain. Paul pleaded with those to whom he wrote to guard themselves against false doctrines, so we should do no less and certainly not promote them through putting them in the hearts and minds of those to whom we serve.

Before the worship set is selected, as we are praying through what is to be sung for the service, we must check the text of what we are going to be using. If you are lacking in theological training, there are reputable institutions with online courses available– take advantage of them and prepare yourself. We are responsible to God for what we are teaching [James 3:1] and we must remember that we are teaching as we lead in worship [Col. 3:16].

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Revisiting Psalm 73

All we have to do is look around us and realize that our world and the society in which we live is far from God’s plan. Political leadership has tossed aside biblical standards and many in powerful positions scoff at the notion morality from God’s point of view. “Wrong” things can happen within the Body of Christ as well. As leaders, how are we to respond? How can one not become discouraged when “right” is called “wrong,” and “wrong” called “right?”  Fortunately, we are not the first to have to deal with such difficulties. God’s Word records a similar situation in Psalm 73 that can be of great help to us as we face the tragedy of our time.

Asaph begins with fact, with what he knows is true:
1 Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.

Through an honest and transparent testimony of his own weaknesses, he begins to recount his inmost thoughts and feelings.   Notice that he identified his feelings and [even why he felt that way]. He confesses that he even envied the wicked because they seem to avoid all the difficulties he had to face:
2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;  I had nearly lost my foothold.
3 For I envied the arrogant  when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

And why he felt that way:
4 They have no struggles;  their bodies are healthy and strong. 5 They are free from common human burdens;  they are not plagued by human ills.  6 Therefore pride is their necklace;  they clothe themselves with violence. 7 From their callous hearts comes iniquity;  their evil imaginations have no limits. 8 They scoff, and speak with malice;  with arrogance they threaten oppression. 9 Their mouths lay claim to heaven,  and their tongues take possession of the earth. 10 Therefore their people turn to them  and drink up waters in abundance. 11 They say, “How would God know?   Does the Most High know anything?” 12 This is what the wicked are like—   always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.

The psalmist places his focus on his circumstances and the injustice around him and the result is discouragement and depression. Focusing on their “success” causes the psalmist to become discouraged and depressed. See what he says in the following two verses:

13 Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence.
14 All day long I have been afflicted,  and every morning brings new punishments.

When we take our eyes off of Christ and His will and direction for our lives, we can quickly become despondent as we see things seemingly out of control, injustice, suffering, etc.
– We can feel as if God has abandoned us and has left us to suffer under injustice and evil.
– What he believed didn’t coincide with the reality he was living.
One lesson that we might overlook is the important fact that the psalmist is transparent and shares these things with us, or we would have never known. His willingness to share his struggles becomes an important part of biblical instruction on how to deal with injustices in our own lives.

We don’t know what drove the psalmist to go to worship; but it was the turning point in his life. What we have is a testimony of the process.
15 If I had spoken out like that, I would have betrayed your children.
16 When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply
17 till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.

These things had been frustrations boiling up inside him, things he had not share publicly, but were tearing him apart from the inside, “till he enters the sanctuary of God.

Just as the prophet Isaiah saw himself as God sees him in Isaiah 6, “woe is me, for I am undone, I am a man of unclean lips and dwell among a people of unclean lips.”... so the psalmist begins to see God’s truth.

It is in worship that God reveals His nature and character to us, and we begin to see ourselves as we really are.  Thoughts and attitudes deep within us surface in the holy light of His presence. As we approach God in worship our perspectives change and he is able to think rightly again:

18 Surely you place them on slippery ground;  you cast them down to ruin.
19 How suddenly are they destroyed,  completely swept away by terrors!
20 They are like a dream when one awakes; when you arise, Lord, you will despise them as fantasies.

“Till I entered the sanctuary of God...”  When the psalmist refocused his attention on God and mediated on who God was and what He had done in the past, he began to understand their end.

Notice that the situation does not change: the wicked are still in power, they scoff at God, and they live as God doesn’t care or even exits.   What has changed is his focus and perspective.  God is in control and this is not the end of the story. He also knows the tragic end of those who scoff at God.   An understanding of how God has worked in the past reminds the psalmist that God has the final word and that sin is always punished. Judgement comes in God’s time, not ours.

Worship is our obedient response to the revealed nature and character of God. We cannot get into the presence of God without a glimpse of His nature, His character.  The difficulties of life become the lesson plans of God to reveal Himself to us.  When I am in need, I learn He is my supply; when grieving, He is my Comforter, confused, my Rock.  Let’s remind ourselves of the importance of pulling away each day, to enter the sanctuary of God and get to know Him better.

Seeking out God in mediation and worship had another result that instrumental in the psalmist dealing with his discouragement and despondency: he not only was able to see God’s truth about the wicked, but he realized that inwardly he was bitter. Look at verses 21-22:

When he began to look honestly at his feelings and how he was responding, he could accurately evaluate his actions: His focus on how unfair things were had led to discouragement and he had become bitter against God.   The more his focus was on their prosperity the more he lost his ability to think logically about the situation from God’s standpoint. Envy  replaces his sensitivity to God’s working in his life and robbed him of a grateful attitude for all of God’s blessings.

21 When my heart was grieved  and my spirit embittered,
22 I was senseless and ignorant;  I was a brute beast before you.

Bitterness robs us of the blessing that God wants to give through the discipline of the trial. Listen to what the writer of Hebrews had to say:
“9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 
12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;” {Heb. 12:9-15}

The psalmist comes to the point where he is sharing publicly about his feelings, his struggles, and the God’s truth in the midst of difficult situations.  It is out of that, that he comes to rely on God’s truth and comes to a powerful insight.

His time of worship clears his mind so that he can to begin to think clearly again and he can begin to state the reality of the situation in correct terms: God is in control. God is in control of my life. He will provide and protect. I can learn to trust Him and He will receive the glory from my responding rightly.

Until we can reorient our thinking though our focusing on God in worship, we will fail to see God’s truth in the situations in which we live, we can fail to see ourselves rightly, we can fall into bitterness. But praise God, it didn’t stop there. He did come to see God’s truth and his life was changed.

The truth is our lives can be changed, too.

Listen to the psalmist, fresh from his encounter with God, thoughts directed not by his outward circumstances, but by the truth of God:

23 Yet I am always with you;  you hold me by my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel,  and afterward you will take me into glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven but you?  And earth has nothing I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail,   but God is the strength of my heart  and my portion forever. 27 Those who are far from you will perish;  you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. 28 But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.

Verse 26 is key to the recovery of the psalmist: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”  He is not in denial of his personal situation, nor does he glibly brush off his feelings. He simply sets his focus on the only one that can truly change the situation and make things right. Regardless of the outcome, his trust and confidence is in God. God is in control; God will bring justice, God is the strength of my heart and refuge forever. His heart response then was to share with others what God had done in his life.

Notice that he ends the psalm committed to share what God has done, but to really do that, he has to share where he has been, and his honesty and transparency become a bridge to our discouragements. As we become honest about our own brokenness, as we commit ourselves to openness before God in worship, we too, can become bridges to those who are hiding in their hurts, chained by secrets that they are too ashamed to share. We are all broken and God is remaking and remolding us into the image of His Son. We are broken people sharing with other broken people the God of love that can make us whole.

Let's recap:
The psalmist started with the right understanding, yet allowed his focus to shift to the negative circumstances around him. He became discouraged and depressed. He goes into the sanctuary to worship and God begins to redirect his focus back on God’s nature, power, and control. Out of his worship he begins to see the God’s truth about those who scoff at God, but even more, he begins to see himself in a new light, he sees his own bitterness.  What is as amazing as all this is that he was honest enough to write it down, become transparent and help us to become transparent too.

So now what?  Let’s look at some steps that we can follow based on Psalm 73 that can help us through difficult times:

What we can learn...
1. Realize that we are not above becoming failing, from becoming discouraged.
2. Many times we become discouraged when we spend more time focusing on the “prosperity of the wicked” or the problem, than the strength of the Savior.
3. We need to be honest about our thoughts and feelings before God.
4. Mediation on who God is and what He has done can help refocus our thoughts. Biblical worship is one of the best first steps toward the refocus.
5. As we worship God, we realize that He is in control and that we can trust Him.
6. We also realize that God has a righteous judgement and that all sin will be dealt with in a way that brings God glory.
7. As we worship, we will begin to see the sin in our own life and confess it before the Father.
9. We center our focus on the reality of Who God is and What He as done more than present circumstances.
10. We can begin to see God’s truth in the situation and we share what God has done in our lives.
11. As we become honest and transparent about our struggles we can help others as they are going through similar situations.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Four things that will Derail Your Ministry

How to avoid becoming a statistic in working with Pastors, other Staff, and Relationships within the congregation.

No one goes into the ministry planning to fail, their expectations envision success. Being sensitive to some common causes of failure can help avoid a ministry going down in flames. More failures in ministry are from personal moral issues and problems in relationships than just from a lack of musical skill.
1. Wrong thinking patterns:
My value, worth comes from my performance”: Our worth as individuals comes from what Christ has done for us, not how well we perform. We dare not confuse talent with self worth, or functional ability with acceptance before God.
Victim mentality”: There are those who seem to see the glass always as half empty, and believe that everyone is after them, that others are always picking on them, and that the dark clouds just seem to follow them around.
I can not be wrong” and “fear of failure”: The  issue here is insecurity.  A fear of failure means loss of self esteem or a sense of worth as an individual, or an issue of pride, and a resistance toward humility.
“I have all the answers” : The “know it all” attitude can stem from over confidence, or a false sense of superiority. Sometimes the underlying reason is insecurity, but also can be just outright arrogance.
We’re too small to have an excellent music ministry. When we base excellence on the comparison with the mega-churches we will come up short every time. Fortunately, that is not the basis for excellence. The basis for excellence is God’s approval.

–What can be done? Paul in Romans 12:1-2 gives us great help: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will.” [emphasis added] Patterns of wrong thinking are common even among those who name Christ as Savior. So how do we “renew our minds” so that we can be “transformed?” Again, Paul gives us some great help in Philippians 4:8:  “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  We must change the focus of our thinking.

Another great help is to articulate the truth of the situation.  The truth is that we don’t have all the answers, only God does; that everyone isn’t out to get us, since “he that began a good work in you will carry it on until its completion” [Phil. 1:6].  The truth is that our worth as individuals comes from what Christ has done for us, not how well we perform. The truth is that failure is the confirmation that we are not perfect. Everyone fails at something. We chose to think in certain ways and develop patterns of thinking that are not healthy nor biblical. Choosing to think in other ways takes deliberate effort and practice, but is a biblical principle that can change our lives. Remember that the gift on which Jesus commented was not the great amounts by the rich, but that of the poor widow.

Replace “wrong” patterns with “right” patterns:  Ask the question: “What is the truth about the this situation?” 
– My worth comes from Christ and what He has done for me. I do not work to earn God’s approval, but to show gratitude for all He has done.
– Since my self esteem dos not dependent on success, failure is an opportunity for the character of Christ be developed.
– Excellence in ministry is based on obedience, not size; having God’s not human approval.
– Give thanks “in all things,” not for all things. Be sure to share you appreciation and gratitude to others, too.
– God is in control and I can trust Him, even when everything doesn’t make sense.