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Monday, February 16, 2015

Ten Ideas That Will Destroy Worship

1. Worship is the music. Worship is our obedient response to God’s nature and character; that response can be with or without music. Limiting worship to music implies that those who aren’t so musically inclined can’t really worship. We are commanded to worship, and God would not command what He would not equip us to do. Praying, giving, hearing God’s Word, and much more are all a part of worship.

2. Being able to play and instrument and sing makes one a “Worship Leader.”  Many times people are thrust into a position out of necessity, whether or not they are prepared.  Fortunately, training exists for these impromptu leaders, but if all that happens is filling the position without a biblical understanding of what worship is and isn’t, how what they do fits into worship, and how  personal purity and growth in their spiritual life is an integral part of the whole, then the person may only be filling a position, but not really fulfilling the role of a worship leader.

3. The groups up front are performing, the congregation is the audience.  Worship is not entertainment, since the focus of entertainment is pleasing the listener, but the focus of worship is pleasing God.  Entertainment and worship are on opposite ends of the spectrum. The purpose of worship is God-centered, giving glory to God alone.

4. “After we use a song for a while, we burn it and look for another.”  The danger here is a lack of understanding of the biblical mandate in Colossians 3:16 of using music to teach. It is great to learn new songs, but not to use only new songs. Singing only the “latest & greatest” generally misses the fullness of expression of doctrine and is narrow in focus. We learn by repetition over a long period of time. There must be a building of a congregational memory of songs that they can sing by heart and express the fullness of our faith.  Multigenerational worship is more than just young and old singing the same songs; but each generation mixing life together in all the aspects of corporate worship over time.

5. “I can do what needs to be done; I don’t need to.... anymore.” The absence of a teachable spirit can poison congregational worship. Being able to play the songs of today does not guarantee skill for tomorrow.  There are always areas in which we can grow and improve. God may be preparing the leader for a new assignment, but the refusal to seek help and grow will disqualify the person from the opportunity. [Even with those we train at the Seminary, we desire to instill the heart of a lifelong learner.]

6. “If we build it, they will come”: worship style, etc.  The idea of cultural relevance was right, but trying to make worship style the substitute for the Body of Christ personally sharing Christ is wrong. Natural growth is a result of the organism multiplying itself by reproduction; we dare not make a worship service the primary means by which we reach out to the lost. True growth comes from the discipleship of those who have been led to Christ and mentored into the basics of the faith. False growth comes from  just “swapping sheep” from another congregation because of worship style.

7. “It’s just not worship unless this person/group is leading/preaching.”  When we must have something more than just God and His Word to worship, we are revealing that God alone is not enough. Simply put, we have made that person, group, or whatever an idol in our lives. When Peter, James, and John were with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter was getting caught up in everything, until God’s voice clarified the issue: “Behold my Son, in whom I am well pleased, listen to Him.” and when they looked up, they saw Jesus only. [Matthew 17:1-8] We can easily begin to worship the experience of worship more than worship the Christ of worship.

8. Following formulas more than the leadership of the Spirit. There is a tendency to copy what others have done, even so much as to how a song is shared, without thinking of the context from which it came. Rather than seeking the leadership of the Spirit about the needs of the congregation and how everything fits together with the message to be shared, some leaders just put together what they have heard from the latest conference, without even thinking that the songs were written for the conference and it just won’t sound the same with their group as it did with the 5000 at the conference.  The practice of jumping up an octave on the verse or chorus after a bridge may sound exciting, but the true is, few in the congregation can do it, or if they do, they sound as if they shouldn’t have tried. Everyone is not a tenor or soprano. Leaders must know their congregations.

9. The volume of the music reflects the intensity of the worship. When the dB levels push 90 and above the body will begin to release endorphins as an automatic pain response for protection causing the person to have a sense of a “high.”  Too easily this physical response is interpreted as a spiritual one, resulting in confusion, not to mention that prolonged exposure leads to hearing loss. [This effect is same for an organ playing over 90 dBs as it is for a praise band, for it is not the type of music, but the dB level that is causing the damage.] Unfortunately, the damage is much like a slow growing tumor that is not discovered until the damage is done and is permanent.

10. It doesn’t matter if the congregation doesn’t participate, they can just follow the praise team or worship group in front and let them sing.  The truth is, if the congregation is not following, that is, singing, then the group up front is not leading. Such an attitude can slip into the mindset that the congregation is an audience and those leading into performance. We are to encourage one another as the Body of Christ.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Meditations on the Lord’s Prayer {Matthew 6:9-13}

Our Father in heaven,
Lord, we are commanded, encouraged to look to You,  the Creator of the Universe, in a personal way, as a perfect Father. As good as our fathers might have been, You, as “our Father in heaven” always responds in perfect love, perfect patience, perfect timing, for You alone know what has been, what is, and what will be. You are not limited to this physical world and time, but are in heaven, ruling over time and eternity. Help us not forget this prayer was given by the Son, who of His own will became a man, breaking through time and eternity to walk in the limitations of human flesh that we might see how much You, God love us, and also provide the way to forgiveness and restoration of that personal relationship that we might be able to call You, “our Father.”

hallowed be Your name,
Lord, You alone are hallowed, holy, separate from us, Creator, not creation. Holy is Your name, Your name is the personification of who You Are – The Great I AM, love, the Beginning and the End, the Eternal One, Righteous One, Lord God Almighty; and what You do: Creator, Sustainer, Savior, Redeemer, Rock, Fortress, Teacher, Protector, Provider, Comforter, Counselor, Friend.

Your kingdom come, 
May the way that You exercise rule and authority over all the universe, time and eternity be realized in this temporal, physical life that we experience now. Help us to become aware of that rule, and realize that we will see in more in its fullness when we are finally at home in heaven with You.

Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
We pray that as Your will is a reality and is the natural response in every way in heaven, may it be just that way here on earth as well. That the worship we offer here, would be as the worship we will offer there; that the thoughts, words, and actions we have here will be the thoughts and words we will have there; that our understanding of You and Your will and ways would be as it will be in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.
We recognize that You, God are our Provider, Protector for our every need, and that those needs are constantly with us. Each day, we go to You for the food to nourish our bodies, for the provision of shelter and clothing, for the reassurance of Your presence and approval. May we not seek those things outside of Your hand, lest we accept less than what You would desire and what we truly need.

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
You are the only One that can forgive our sins; we are absolutely helpless to do so on our own. The price of that forgiveness came at the cost of the life of Your, Son, Jesus. We seek forgiveness in no other person. In the way that you freely forgive our sins, help us to forgive those who sin against us –  To release to You those who offend us and to trust You to carry out  justice, as the Just and Upright One.  Help us to remember that no one could ever do to us what we have done that brought about the death of Christ; Help us to forgive as you have forgiven us.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
While we live in this earthly tent, we know we cannot escape living among those desires and attractions that would lure us away from Your perfect will and plan. Help us to not succumb to shortcuts, and the easy way out, but patiently accept the disciplines of the formation of the character of Christ You are building into our lives.  Set our eyes and thoughts on “those things which are above;” help us to choose to avoid those things that trip us, and those “sins that so easily entangle.” Help us to be able to hear Your voice of warning; speak loudly so that we cannot mistake that it is Your voice that we are hearing. Provide that “way of escape that we might be able to bear it.”

For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever, Amen.
For Yours alone, O God, is that authority to rule over all, the power to rule over all and the glory due for ruling over all as Lord God Almighty throughout eternity. So be it; so it really is.

Monday, November 24, 2014

10 Lessons from Jonah for Thanksgiving

When God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, Jonah runs the other direction he heads far East toward Tarshish, on the coast of Spain; Nineveh, the principal city of the Assyrians, was far East in the opposite direction.  Considering that being a Hebrew and walking into the capital city and telling them that destruction was on the way would be like one of us going over to a Middle Eastern extremist group and giving the same message, one can understand Jonah’s reservation. Not only this, Jonah probably wanted God to punish this cruel and wicked nation. The problem was, that’s not what God had told him to do.  God will consistently move to see that His ultimate will is done: “Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up.” [1:4]

The other members on the boat were not Hebrews, and when asked who he was, Jonah told them that he was running away from the God that made the heavens, earth, and sea, which was threatening to sink the boat they were in,   Jonah tells them to throw him overboard.  They resisted, but the storm only grew worse.   “Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.” Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm.  At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.”[1:13-16]

 Notice that Jonah could have resisted and caused the death of all, but he doesn’t. This is the first glimmer of hope that he is having a change of heart.  Notice also that God can use even the bad circumstances to bring others to Himself.  

God sends a fish, granted a large one, to swallow Jonah and he stays there 3 days and nights.  It is there in the belly of the fish that he repents and prays for mercy. His prayer, recorded in chapter 2, is an amazing testimony of faith and trust in the goodness of God, despite the circumstances, for toward the end it turns into a prayer of praise and thanksgiving, even though he is still in the belly of the fish:
“When my life was ebbing away, 
    I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
    to your holy temple.
 “Those who cling to worthless idols
    turn away from God’s love for them.
 But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
    will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
    I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”

 And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” [2:7-10]

Jonah could have been upset that though he escaped from the storm, he is swallowed by the fish, but God used this in his life to bring him to repentance. Jonah’s perspective changed: what could have been viewed as only making the situation worse, or no better, is now seen as God having mercy and saving him from the storm.  Repentance and gratitude begin to change his heart toward praise. God again directs and the fish deliver him to the shore.  Jonah was not useful until he became grateful.

God takes the initiative again by issuing the same basic command, almost as if nothing had happened. “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh.” [3:1-3]

Surprisingly, miraculously the people of Nineveh respond.  One of the greatest revivals in all of Scripture occurs when this entire city repents and seeks God. When the people repent, God responds: “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” [3:10] God could have sent an angel, or even another prophet to Nineveh, but doesn’t. Why? God wanted to teach Jonah about love and mercy and how deep His character and love are. He also wanted to show that salvation is for all who repent, regardless how pagan and evil.

Interestingly, the story doesn’t end here. Had the principle lesson been about the revival, the book would have ended, but it doesn’t. We do not have to read much into the story to realize that Jonah really had not paid much attention to the people responding and repenting, but God did. Look at Jonah’s response to God:

“But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” [4:1-3]

Jonah goes off farther East, hopefully to watch the fireworks as God destroys this enemy of the Hebrew nation. The Assyrians were a cruel and evil nation, raiding smaller countries around them and turning the inhabitants into slaves. Jonah hated them, and probably wanted to see God’s judgment on them, but God had other plans.

God’s plans for the angry prophet were not quite over. God prepares and gourd vine to grow which shades Jonah from the heat as he waits. Then God prepares a worm to eat the root of the vine, and then a hot dry wind to finish it off. In less than 24 hours Jonah goes from happy to angry over the vine. Listen to the dialogue between God and Jonah and how God teaches him how He cares for all people:

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” 
“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”
But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” [4:9-11]

Jonah’s priorities were out of line. He cared more for his own convenience than he did for the souls of men. God uses the vine to illustrate Jonah’s selfishness and lack of love.

Jonah is a great little book, but what does this have to do with Thanksgiving?  Precisely that it was at the point of giving thanks, even before he was released from the belly of the fish, that Jonah was in a position to be used as God desired.  The following are some lessons that we need to take away as we read the book:

1. God will accomplish His will. He is willing to move heaven and earth to get it done. He desires that we obey Him willingly, but will use our rebellion against His will to teach us that obedience is always better.
2. Jonah was not useful until he became grateful.
3. God takes the initiative. Nine different times in the story God moves; He is not distant and far away when trouble comes, but rather as close as the nearest prayer.
4. God will bless even the unrighteous to bring them into a relationship with Himself.
5. Repentance and gratitude begin a work in our heart that can help us as we obey.
6. Many times we fail to see how merciful God has been with us. The “belly of the fish” we find ourselves in may really be a blessing in disguise.
7. God can and does use even the most mundane and ordinary things to accomplish His will. Never say that you are not “important” enough, or spiritual enough to be used by God. He used a storm, a fish, a gourd vine, a worm, and a dry wind to accomplish His task: He can use even us!
8. God will use the ordinary around us to reveal where our character does not reflect His nature.
9. God cares for all people, everywhere, for “He is not willing that any should perish.” [Matt. 18:14]
10. Years later, Peter is going to be in Joppa, the very town from which Jonah fled God’s will, and will have a choice to obey, even though it didn’t seem quite right, and he makes the correct decision to obey.

Are you in the belly of a big fish right now?  How will you choose to respond? What can you give thanks for right now?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Why Do We Celebrate Christmas?

Soon we will gather together as the Body of Christ on earth and begin to celebrate His birth. But, some may ask, "Why all this fuss over a baby in a hay stall nearly 2000 years ago? What does that really have to do with me?"  I'm so glad you asked. That's something we would like to explore for just a moment.

We must begin with the beginning. I mean, THE beginning. Scripture says that God created the heavens and the earth. Regardless what else you may believe about what happened afterwards, we must begin with the fact the where did all there is come from?

Popular belief that rejects God has no real answer. As someone once stated, it is like the formula:
                                   "nothing + no one = something."
One doesn't have to be an intellectual scholar to realize the faulty reasoning in that statement. The stars and all the universe could not have just appeared all by themselves. There had to be a Pre-existing One, a Creator, and that Pre-existing One is God. God, who is eternal and has always been spoke into existence all the universe with the power of His Word.

So if we accept the fact that pre-existing God created everything, we also accept the fact that He did it intentionally and with purpose. What was that purpose? Listen to what the Scripture says in Eph 1:3-6–
 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the  creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”

We were created to have fellowship with God. However, when the first man and woman had enjoyed a short time of walking with their Creator, they were tempted to reject what God said was good and chose instead to supplant that command with their own desires and opinions. They wanted the right to determine what was good and what was evil. The choice was fatal, and separated humankind from their Maker. Fellowship was broken. Atonement, or reconciliation had to be made to restore the relationship with God. We were unable to do anything to bring about the restoration necessary.

The result of this broken relationship was a vacuum in the lives of all men and women. Many, even today, try to lives their lives apart from the very One who could give them life, hope, fulfillment. The season of Christmas is just a hollow shadow, just a time to do something for others and bring on the party.

The sin in the garden wedged an eternal separation between God and His creation. The echos of the sin in the garden still are heard today in the refusal to seek God and His fellowship. Yet God provided a way for restoration, but it would be at great cost. God knew that the man and woman He had created would choose to follow their own path, so He provided a way to restore that
fellowship. That path, that way was the willing choice of the Son to become like one of His own creations to live a sinless life and become the willing sacrifice that would pay the price of our disobedience and through Him, restoring that relationship to becoming children of God.

Paul goes on in Eph. [1:7-10]
"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ."

Somehow in the miraculous mind and plan of God, God becomes man through the birth of a virgin named Mary: [Luke 1:31-35]
"You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob's descendants forever; his kingdom will never end."
"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God."

Some might say, "You are being too exclusive. Believing in Christ as the only way to God eliminates all other possibilities. That's too narrow." However, just think for a moment, truth by its very nature is exclusive: 2 + 2 = 4. To say that something is true, we have also have to be able to say that there are some things that are not true. Jesus, Himself claimed the be the Son of God. He said in John14:6, "Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Here is the question we must answer: "Is what Jesus said  true?" For if it true then we must accept it, or reject it.{For more on this subject, let me encourage you to visit Ravi Zacharias' ministry website: I have found it to be a great source of help.}

One of God's gifts to man and woman at creation was the gift of free will; the ability to choose to follow Him or follow after their own desires. He wanted the fellowship with His creation to be one of free choice, not puppets on a string. When we choose to follow Him, we are  acknowledging that He is King of kings and Lord of lords!

What is our response to all that God has done? Scripture says in Romans 5:8: "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." And later, "If you declare with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved." We can respond to Him in faith, believing, accepting what He has done, receiving the eternal life that He alone can give. We can respond in worship!

All this came through a baby in a manger; that is why we celebrate this season. God became man and dwelt among us. God reached down to give us hope, to give us life, to restore the relationship that He has desired with His creation.

The only way we can truly celebrate Christmas is by the full recognition of Who Christ is. So much of this season has been pushed aside by making the center of the season what we want, and pleasing ourselves, yet we have seen the very heart of Christmas is the love of God and His provision to restore the relationship with men and women broken by sin, and restored by the sending of Jesus, His Son. Let's begin to shift that focus and put the spotlight where it really belongs, on Jesus Christ, the Living Son of God!

The question that remains is what we will do with these facts? What will be your response to all that God has done? The light that God has given is shining, literally thousands all over the world are seeking Him, seeking forgiveness, receiving eternal life. What about you?