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Monday, December 31, 2012

What We Can Learn from Joseph and Mary

We have just passed a time of the focus on Christ’s birth. The coming of God in flesh for the redemption of all peoples should always be central to the message of Christmas. It is good to look back and see the people that God in His grace chooses to use for His purposes. Joseph and Mary have qualities that can serve as encouragement and models for us. Let’s take a brief review and be encouraged for this new year.

Joseph: The Man Who God Chooses
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” 19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.

The man that God chooses:
1. Faithful to God’s Word.  
2. Showed love to Mary, trying to protect her from public disgrace, even before he knew what was going on. 
3. God reminded Joseph of his heritage, that he was more than just the average person. 
4. He listened to God, knew God’s Word, and was obedient to what God said.
5. He obeyed instantly without hesitation.
6. God spoke to Mary through an angel, Joseph through a dream. God doesn’t always speak the same way through everyone, but He always is consistent with His Word.
7. Upon returning, he was wise and prudent in where he chose to live. 

Mary: a heart after God’s Own Heart   Luke 1:26-56

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 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, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” 34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”  35 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. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.” 38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

46 And Mary said:  “My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—  holy is his name. 50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;  he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.” 56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

V. 26-34 She was favored, [1]  because she had faith:  “How will this be?”  Not, “How can this be?”  As was Zechariah responded.  Mary is saying, “it will happen, how?” while Zechariah expressed doubt.  Our first response can indicate whether or not we are believers or doubters. Only confident trust in God and knowing Him deeply can produce the faith to believe.

V. 35-38   [2] She believed what was told her and submitted to God’s will: “I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled.” Although she might not have thought through all the implications of saying “yes” to God, her willing spirit to be obedient regardless was apparent. 

V. 46-56   [3] She knew God’s Word: See 1 Samuel 2:1-10.  Perhaps because her cousin who could not have children was now about to give birth in her old age, Mary is reminded of the story of Hannah, the mother of Samuel. Compare the prayer of Hannah and Mary.  Much of Mary’s song is a paraphrase of the prayer of Hannah. Mary would have had to have memorized and known much of the Old Testament to just pull that out of her heart. Putting God’s Word in our heart is key to being able to trust God, especially in difficulty situations.

What characteristics of God does Mary express?  [1] God’s greatness, [2] Savior, [3] His watch and care over those He loves, [4] Mighty One, [5] Holy, [6] He is merciful, [7] He does mighty deeds, [8] scatters the proud and mighty, [9] He exalts the lowly, [10] satisfies the needy, [11] He keeps His promises

1.   Our first response can indicate whether or not we are believers or doubters. Only confident trust in God and knowing Him deeply can produce the faith to believe.

2. Although she might not have thought through all the implications of saying “yes” to God, her willing spirit to be obedient regardless was apparent.

3. Putting God’s Word in our heart is key to being able to trust God, especially in difficulty situations.

4. Knowing God’s character and nature can help us as we face life’s challenges.  Only confident trust in God and knowing Him deeply can produce the faith to believe.

5. Mary “treasured all these things in her heart.” We need to keep a record of what God is doing so we can be encouraged in difficult times, and leave a heritage of faith for those that follow us.

I trust that as we look at Joseph and Mary God would build more of His character in our lives.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Armistice in the Worship War: Learning from Conflict and Controversy

    What can be done? Is there any relief in sight, or must the divisions continue until one side reaches a definitive victory? The present controversy does not seem to be as great of an issue as it was ten years ago. Does this mean that the fighting is coming to an end, or does it just mean that because it is largely generationally sided, one group is just out-living the other? In the past no doubt, some conflicts were never resolved, but literally “died,” yet others lasted over 100 years. Worship is much more than music but a study done in 2003 by George Barna revealed
    "Many church people fight about music because they have yet to understand the purpose of music in the worship process. That lack of insight causes them to focus on and fight for their preferred sound, instruments, presentation techniques, or their desired order of service. Too often, church leaders get caught up in the fuss. These battles are inappropriate distractions from meaningful ministry and fruitful discipleship. Christians need to be more zealous about, and devoted to worshiping God. The Church needs to move on and focus on the One worthy of worship and the desire of His heart - which is to be worshiped with intensity and passion by His people - rather than to focus on the tools used to facilitate our expressions of love and gratitude."[George Barna, accessed.]

When in a stalemate, a positive resolution in conflict can often come as a result of an agreement to halt the fighting and actively seek mutual agreement, a truce. Understanding previous worship conflicts and how they were resolved might be one way to lay the foundation is discovering a positive outcome.
     The following is a summary listing of the controversies covered, how they were resolved and how the understanding might apply to the present circumstance:


1. Conflict:         Use of instruments in worship
    Resolution:     Instruments banned in worship for nearly 700 years  
    Analysis:         Symbolic theological interpretation resulted in restriction of their use, and the strength of those who supported it
    Comment:      Eventually instruments were accepted and used in worship. Extreme responses seem to have been an over reaction to an issue that was not a heresy. 
2. Conflict:        Songs used in promoting heretical views of Christ’s deity
    Resolution:    Congregational singing restricted until Vatican II [except Luther, etc.]
    Analysis:       Theological heresy resulted in restriction of congregational singing
    Comment:     Restricting singing to a small group of singers eliminated congregational participation. The establishment of a process to filter theological heresy from the congregational singing and training in biblical truth might have been a more equitable solution.

3. Conflict:        Icons interpreted as providing an image of the unseen God
    Resolution:    Though temporarily banned, eventually accepted
    Analysis:       Religious leadership favorable to icons pushed support
    Comment:     The use of art to aid in worship was substantiated.

4. Conflict:        Need for vernacular worship and revisions in the mass
    Resolution:    Division into various groups: Luther, Zwingli, Calvin. Three views on Lord’s Supper, Open congregational singing {Luther} restricted congregational singing {Zwingli} and Limited  congregational singing {Calvin}
    Analysis:        Differing theological positions about the reform needed resulted in factions.
    Comment:     After nearly 500 years, though distinctions still exists in views and practices of Lord’s   Supper, congregational singing has become more homogenous among the groups, with a limited common canon of hymnody.

5. Conflict:        Musical counterpoint made text unintelligible, use of secular melodies in mass  music
    Resolution:    Palestrina’s more refined counterpoint, use of secular melodies continued
    Analysis:       Composers had placed musical elements of their compositions above the priority of textual  interpretation and understanding. Contrafactum continued despite papal bans.
    Comment:     Compositional guidelines seemed to be more effective in dealing with musical issues than outright restrictions. The danger lies in the association of the secular melody and how powerful the association remains in a new musical context with biblical or Christianized texts.

6. Conflict:        Limiting the texts to biblical ones only seemed to be restriction that went further than the
 biblical record
    Resolution:    Initially, hymns were added during Lord’s Supper, then the quality of the text was greatly
 improved through authors such as Watts.  Watts was able to show that a Christian perspective on the psalms was necessary and that believers needed to be able to express personal experience. By the early part of the 1700s the inclusion of hymn singing was standard practice.
    Analysis:       Though opposition was initially strong, worthy expressions of praise were composed and used help break down the resistance. The idea was not to replace Scripture, but to help interpret it.
    Comment:     Hymn singing was not without precedent, Luther had promoted it years before, but fear of presenting an unworthy sacrifice, that is, one of “human composure” slowed the progress of personal expressions, especially in England.

7. Conflict:        The Reformation and Evangelical revival had produced a enormous amount hymnody, but had completely rejected anything from the past, because of its catholic roots. There was a need to reconnect with the early church worship and reclaim worthy expressions of praise and worship from the past.
    Resolution:    Texts from Greek and Latin sources were translated and set to music.
    Analysis:        Rejection of catholic doctrines had resulted in the rejection of anything related to the catholic church. Previous over correction of the Reformation  led others to see the need to restore the good that was in the past.
    Comment:         The development of Hymns Ancient and Modern, that included old and new, set a new standard for what a hymnal as a worship tool could do.

8. Conflict:        Congregational song had deteriorated to chaos and mumbled praise from lining out.
    Resolution:    Rise of singing schools in local churches to aid in teaching individuals to sing and lead song.
     Analysis:       Lack of training left many with a desire to help, but little enough training for both leader and congregations.
    Comment:     Training leadership and congregations in worship was basic to teaching and discipleship.

9. Conflict:        Rapid growth and popularity of a particular style led to use of songs without theological filter.
    Resolution:    An explosion in hymnals and collections to meet demand. Only those most popular songs survived in later generations of collections.  Songs were absorbed into the musical canon of the church. With the rise of denominational hymnals doctrinal issues were addressed in a more systematic way.
    Analysis:        Popular music style took precedent over careful theological issues
    Comment:      Stylized composition can be relevant culturally, but needs theological analysis to guard against doctrinal heresy.

10. Conflict:        Gender insensitivity had alienated part of the body of Christ.
      Resolution:    Some groups addressed gender issues among the body of Christ, but extended their applications to include the Godhead.
      Analysis:       In search of new expression of the nature of God, those addressing gender issues reject biblical understanding and biblical descriptions of the Godhead.
      Comment:     There is a need to avoid alienating segments of the body of Christ, but not at the expense of biblical self-expression.


11. Conflict:        Rejection of more traditional forms of hymnody to the limitation of secular stylized music in worship. Rejection of organ and choral groups to guitar, percussion and praise band.
      Resolution:    Venue worship: developed worship services based on music styles; development of some blend between the two styles.
      Analysis:       Generational tastes drive decision making as to what worship is for the individual.
      Comment:     Failure to teach and understand biblical worship within a post modern culture has resulted in “me-driven” worship. The critical issue is the balance between being culturally relevant and spiritually reverent.


        How can our understanding of these previous conflicts inform the present controversies
of inclusive language and contemporary music? The following are some attempts toward that goal:

•    With the controversy over the use of instruments, symbolic theological understandings gave way to more literal interpretation of Scripture. Over time, the resistance resulting from negative associations was overcome, allowing the use of instruments in worship.  Time does not change the truth, but in time what is perceived as critical can change. The use of a guitar is no less holy than an organ, and over time the negative associations related to the use of the guitar and other instruments will most likely fade as their use in contemporary worship continues. At the same time, sensitivity is needed toward those for whom instruments used may or may not be perceived as more conductive to worship.

•    The Arian controversy which included the use of songs to teach heretical views of Christ’s deity highlighted the concept that there are truths that are non-negotiable. With the current practice of many worship leaders downloading their music from the internet, there is a risk of allowing songs with weak or heretical doctrine to be sung in worship, since no group provides a theological filter for the texts. Worship leadership must be trained in theology as well as music, if churches are to avoid this error of the past.

•    Iconoclasm might have eliminated much of the art that was used in worship. Key leadership in critical times meant the difference between the abolition of art in worship and its use.  Worship centers whose focus is to mirror the television or concert stage and eliminate traditional worship symbols and objects used in worship run the risk of a new wave of iconoclasm.

•    New musical developments in the Middle Ages developed slowly over time. Technology today has aided in bringing changes and information at speeds faster than they can be absorbed. When changes in musical style are attempted too quickly the resulting tension can split a congregation. How change occurs is just as critical as what changes occur. Care must be taken to balance feeding the entire flock and utilizing musical style in being relevant to culture.

•    The Reformation pushed the way for worship reform, renewed the authority of Scripture as the rule of faith and revealed that godly men can look at the same jewel and not see the same facets the same way. After a time a more unified understanding of and the acceptance of the use of hymns as well as psalms was achieved.  Differences still remain as to the interpretation of the Lord’s Supper.  Godly men and women may not always see everything exactly the same, yet care must be given not to demonize those who differ on secondary matters of the faith, as some of the Reformers demonized each other. Believers must remember that knowledge is yet not complete, and the prayer of unity by Christ in John 17.

•    Men like Palestrina were instrumental during the Counter Reformation in modeling how to respond when music becomes the goal in and of itself over the message of the text. New compositional techniques brought clarity and beauty to the singing of the text.  Care must be given that worship is about God, and that the medium must not overshadow the message.  Music and methods to deliver the music that have negative associations from secular use should be used carefully, always considering any association their use might bring to the minds of those in the congregation.

•    The Oxford movement was critical in regaining ties with the past and in the development of effective tools for use in worship. The desire to be relevant must not be at the expense of cutting all ties from past generations.  The congregation that only hears and sings the latest songs will doubtful develop a canon of songs that reflect a broad spectrum of doctrines of the faith.

•    The controversy over the “Old Way” versus the “Regular Singing” is a reminder of the importance of proper training for worship leadership and that poor leadership can be detrimental to worship. A biblical understanding of what worship is and is not, is imperative for anyone who assumes a leadership role in worship. At the same time, proper musical training can enhance and facilitate worship.

•    Issues around Gospel hymnody helped lay the foundation for theological filters in denominational hymnals and the need for worship to be relevant to the culture. Tools and resources are critical in worship, and worship planning. Balance must be maintained between being relevant to the culture and at the same time reverent in worship. The resetting of older texts to new tunes and revitalized hymns can help bridge the gap.

    The controversies over Inclusive language and Contemporary Music are still being debated. Rather than drawing lines in the sand, believers can sketch out a truce based on how the men and women of God have handled issues in the past as seen in the past controversies and conflicts.  Church leadership must learn to respond rather than react to  avoid further division in the Body of Christ.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

What do you do when God is silent?

Recently my wife, Kathy, was sharing with a sermon she had heard Dr. John Ortberg share at a conference about the “Saturdays” in one’s life.  On Friday, the some of the disciples watched Jesus die on the cross.  On Sunday morning overwhelming joy replaced every other emotion they might have had. But Saturday was a long day.  There was no hope of deliverance. They all were hiding, most likely sad, confused, broken hearted, angry, scared, and experiencing a host of other emotions. Before Jesus had raised the dead, now He was dead. Before God spoke through His Son, but now God was silent.

What do you do when God is silent? 

This caused me to reflect on the “Saturdays” we have in the worship ministry. No I am not just talking about the 24 hour period preceding Sunday, but those times of silence when God does not answer our cries, when we know “all the right words,” but have those doubts if we might have missed something along the way.  We can do all the planning possible, we can rehearse groups to near perfection, and yet, sometimes it seems like we are just going through the motions.  We can be caught as the innocent victim of a tragedy. We can be in the middle of a life crisis, of ministry, or health, or family, and cry out to the Father, only to hear, – nothing. Silence.

The phrase, “silence is golden,” may fit a situation where there is simply too much noise and we escape to an empty room to allow our ears a reprieve, but in the crucible of pain and difficulty when we are crying out to God, silence is not golden.

What do you do when God is silent?

There are some common answers: “just believe,” “there’s always a purpose,” “God is in control.” and many more that we all have heard. These words are true, but I think there is more.

Silence can be from disobedience. After Jonathan disobeys Saul’s foolish oath, God is silent and does not speak, save to identify Jonathan as the guilty one. Peter admonishes husbands to guard their relationship with their wives “so that your prayers are not hindered.” When sin is present, God can be silent and confession and repentance must take place. However, every time God is silent is not a result of sin.

When Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that their brother was sick, there is no record that Jesus sent back a message to assure the sisters that He would come later. There is no record of sin in the story. Jesus simply waits several days. Silence. The silence from such a close friend must have been overwhelming, and what was worse, Larazus dies during this time of silence. Mary and Martha must have thought, “God has surely abandoned us!”  Yet, we know that was far from the case and that Jesus was about to do something beyond their wildest imaginations.  But there were at least three days of silence for the sisters.  Sometimes the silence is longer.

What do you do when God is silent?

In the life of Abraham, several years passed by between God’s promise to give him an heir in Genesis 15 and from the time Isaac is born in Genesis 21. Abraham is 86 years old when Ishmael is born and 100 when Isaac is born, yet he received the promised even before his having a child with Hagar. This is to say that at least 14 years of silence had gone by. What did Abraham do during these years? There were times he was confused, but continued to believe, even though he made some terrible mistakes.

What can we do while we are waiting for God to speak?

This is not to over simplify, or to minimize to pain of waiting during a time of silence from God. I would like for us to take to heart what Paul shared 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.”  Our first step is to choose to be obedient to the Word of God and choose by an act of will what we will make as our focus.

Here are some of those things that can be of help:

1. We can choose to believe that God is in control.
2. We can choose to believe that what God has planned is our good and His glory.
3. We can choose to believe that He loves us. [We can never doubt the love of God when we look at the cross.]
4. We can choose to believe that if we have sinned, “if we confess our sin He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” [1 John 1:9]
5. We can choose to believe that He wants to draw us into a closer relationship, in which we know Him in a deeper way. {We get to know Him as Healer, when we experience sickness, as Rock and Fortress, when going through difficulty, as Comforter as we experience sorrow.}
6. We can choose to believe that God can use our difficulties as an encouragement to others and a testimony that God is faithful even in the midst of what seems to be a “silence from God.”
7. We can choose to believe that God has entrusted us with this time because He knows as we trust in Him, we will be able to endure it.
8. We can choose to give thanks “in all things,” as 1 Thess. 5:18 says.  Not “for all things,” but “in all things.”
9. We can choose to believe that God will reward those who trust Him. [“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.” Heb. 11:6]
10. We can choose to believe that “my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” [Phil. 4:19]

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Worship Leaders and Respect

Many of those who lead worship sense a lack of respect from those with whom they work.  Sometimes from direct comments or confrontations to indirect comments or body language, but the message communicated to the “designated leader” is one of lack of respect.  How can leadership gain the respect they need? How can those who serve under poor leadership show proper respect? Let’s consider some options.

Though intended for husbands and wives, Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, gives a great basis for this discussion in his book, Love and Respect [Thomas Nelson, 2004].  I would like to borrow some general principles he mentions as well as some other ideas that I believe might be of help. 

According to Eggerichs, men define themselves more by what they do than what they say, women on the whole are more relational. [I would encourage anyone to go ahead and read what he has to say about the husband/wife relationship issues, but I will depart in another direction.] Understanding this difference is key for working with volunteers as a leader and working “under” different leaders. I would like to reserve discussion of the differences in leadership styles between men and women for another time, but I would like to focus on the general topic of how leaders gain respect from those with whom they work and how these volunteers can express it.

Thoughts to ponder for Worship Leaders
1. To earn respect, you must give respect. How does a leader show respect for those volunteers with whom he or she works? There are several ways, but let me mention a few:
    –  By making the expectations of the responsibility clear from the beginning.  If the leader keeps adding responsibilities or commitments to what was originally agreed, the volunteer will be frustrated. Understanding what was being expected of them has now become a moving target and the volunteer will begin to question his or her ability to participate if there are more “surprises” along the way. 
    – Respecting volunteer’s time. Wasting rehearsal time by not being ready, learning the music with the group, rather than teaching it, talking too much, getting a late start or constantly going overtime, all of these reflect a general attitude of disrespect to the volunteers with whom you work.
    – Respecting the volunteer’s opinion. Listening to the opinions of others does not mean accepting everything they say as an option upon which to act. However, many leaders are surprised by comments from volunteers that what they say is being ignored. How can we better listen to these suggestions? One helpful tool is called active listening, in which you repeat back to the person what they have said without giving an evaluation of the comment. Don’t say, “What do you mean the bridge in this song doesn’t fit? You just don’t know how to play.” But rather, “You are saying that the bridge doesn’t seem to fit. What seems wrong about it to you?” By asking for clarification you have affirmed the person and shown respect. Even if the idea seems off the wall, you can say “that’s interesting, and we might try that later, but right now let’s see if we can focus on this.

2. Respect is earned, not bought or purchased, or demanded. As a leader, respect may be demanded, but will not be given if those on whom the demands are forced do not consider the person worthy of respect. When working with volunteers, the leader must remember that they are here as volunteers and the level of demand must be in line with that reality, and not compared to someone whose only job and income is to do that job.  
    One very damaging attempt at earning respect is by showing favoritism. Few things destroy respect faster than when volunteers sense or see favoritism on the part of the leader or the one that is responsible for making decisions.  Favoritism foments jealously and cultivates a spirit of unhealthy competition.  
    This is not to say that there should not be high standards, but reasonable expectations, clearly understood.  Unreasonable expectations reflect the inexperience of the leader and lack of sensitivity to the abilities of those for whom the leader is called to work.
    Making threats is another tragedy that poor leaders practice.  Statements like,  “Do this or else,”  reveal insecure leadership ability and is a sure fire way to kill any respect toward leadership. It is difficult to show respect when true leadership is just not there. 
    This is compounded when some type of financial reward is tied to the demand. Expectations of what the specific responsibilities are tied to financial benefits must be clearly explained before they are accepted. Failure to do so will only cause trouble and misunderstanding for all involved.

3. Healthy boundaries must be set.
Letting those who work with you know what is expected of them in a detailed manner from the beginning helps avoid the hard feelings that come from continually calling out someone for not being at a performance or rehearsal. Set the expectations by a clear description: “you are needed each week in rehearsal and in these services.  If the leader keeps adding responsibilities or commitments to what was originally agreed, the volunteer will be frustrated because trying to these extra responsibilities were not planned, or anticipated. It is like hitting a moving target.  Good leaders know how to set healthy boundaries and respect them once they are set.
    If an emergency arises, exceptions might need to be made, but they really need to be emergencies, otherwise “exceptions become the rule, and not an exception.” When a leader doesn’t play by his own guidelines, respect for the leader will suffer.

Are you in leadership and feel as if you are lacking respect?

Review the thoughts above and do honest self evaluation. If there are some areas on which you need to improve, fine, admit them, confess them to the group and being to map out some steps to overcome them. Sharing the fact that you recognize and admit weakness and that you are actively working on them will actually do more to rebuild respect. Asking specific people to help you be accountable will really help you make progress. I pray God’s blessing on you as you grow in your leadership skills.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Five Minutes in Heaven

Often as I attempt to share about biblical worship, I wish we could have just 5 minutes in heaven to see what real worship is going to be like. In my mind’s eye I can envision closing my eyes to the realities around me and opening them again to the breath-taking sights and sounds of the eternal presence of God Almighty.

A hushed awe of the beauty of His holiness surrounds everything as far as the eye can see, and it can see farther, and clearer than anything earthly sight allows. His holy presence illuminates everything and the brightness of His glory emanates from the central throne where countless myriads of believers encircle in an endless chorus of worship. The golden streets and pearl gates are but shadowy images, compared to the magnetic-like attraction that draws my attention to the Lamb seated in authority. 
An unexplainable sense of completeness floods my memory as the stories of Scripture come alive with the “rightness” of how they fit together. The depth of the love of God inundates my being, and His eternal plan to restore a fallen creation back to Himself becomes as clear as a  mist that fades away in the morning. I am overwhelmed by the awesomeness of His grace and the forgiveness of my sin. My thoughts are not on my own desires, nor what others might think, but shear gratitude as I fall to my knees in adoration. I can only cry out in worship, no other thoughts fill my heart.

As I was sharing this with my wife, Kathy, she reminded me that if we really could just see what worship was like in heaven there would be no room for faith. He has commanded us to worship Him whether or not we fully understand or feel like doing so. What God has shared with us in His Word is what we need now and we must trust Him and what He says: faith is not sight.

In my desire to have my students really have a glimpse of the worship of heaven, I must help them realize that we must continue to study and believe what will be a reality then.  Worship is that obedient response to the revealed nature and character of God and faith links us with that reality.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Selected Bibliography for Worship and Music Ministry

Last week I taught at Worship Week at the Ridgecrest Conference Center and shared a selected bibliography for worship and music ministry resources that I believe will be helpful for all. They are listed below.


Bartley, James W. Worship That Pleases God: Biblical Perspectives. Akure, Ondo State, Nigeria: Baal   Hamon Publishers, 2008.

Best, Harold M. Music Through the Eyes of Faith. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Christian College Coalition for Enduring Values, 1993.

Clark Jr., Paul B. Tune My Heart to Sing Thy Grace: Worship Renewal through Congregational     Singing. Crossbooks, a division of LifeWay, 2010.

Dawn, Marva J. Reaching Out without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for the Turn-of-the-     Century Culture. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.

Eskew, Harry and Hugh T. McElrath. Sing with Understanding. 2nd ed. Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1996

Harland, Mike. Seven Words of Worship: The Key to a Lifetime of Experiencing God. B & H         Publishing, Nashville, 2008.

Henderson, Daniel. Transforming Prayer: Everything Changes When You Seek God's Face.             Minneapolis, MN: 2011.

Iorg, Jeff. Is God Calling Me? Answering the Question Every Leader Believer Asks. B &; H Publishing  Group, 2008.
Liesch, Barry. The New Worship: Straight Talk on Music and the Church. Baker Books, 1996.

Kauflin, Bob. Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God. Wheaton,  IL: Crossway Books, 2008.

Mitchell, Robert H. I DonŠœt Like That Music. Carol Stream, IL: Hope Publishing Company, 1993.

________. Ministry and Music. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1978.

Morgan, Robert J. Then Sings My Soul: 150 of the World's Greatest Hymn Stories, Nelson

Music, David W and Milburn Price and William Reynolds. A Survey of Christian Hymnody. 5th ed.  Rev. Carol Stream, IL: Hope Publishing Co., 1999.

Noland, Rory. The Heart of the Artist. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999.

Owens, Ron with Jan McMurray. Return to Worship: A God-Centered Approach. (Nashville: Broadman   and Holman Publishers, 1999.

Peterson, David. Engaging With God: A Biblical Theology of Worship. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity  Press, 1992.

Pass, David B. Music and the Church: A Theology of Church Music. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1989.

Segler, Franklin M. and Randall Bradley. Christian Worship: Its Theology and Practice, 3rd ed., Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006.

Steele, Ed. Worship HeartCries: Personal Preparation for Corporate Worship. New Orleans: Worship   HeartCries Ministries, 2012.

Stewart, Sonja M. and Jerome W. Berryman. Young Children and Worship. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1989.

Towns, Elmer. Putting an End to Worship Wars (Nashville, Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1997.

Wiersbe, Warren W. Real Worship: It will Transform Your Life. Nashville, TN: Oliver Nelson, 1986.

William, William H. and Robert L. Wilson. Preaching and Worship in the Small Church. Nashville, TN:   Abingdon, 1980.

York, Terry W. America's Worship Wars. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003.

York, Terry and C. David Bolin. The Voice of Our Congregation: Seeking and Celebrating God's Song  for Us. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2005.

Worship &; Music Ministry
Barfoot, Phil. The Ultimate Idea Book for Music Ministry!: Volumes 1 & 2 ,104 Great Ideas from 150  Outstanding Music Ministries.

Bradley, Randall. From Postlude to Prelude: Music Ministry's Other Six Days. St. Louis, MO: Morning   Star Publishers, 2004.

Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, [The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship has an exceptional website for locating resources addressing worship leadership, planning and renewal. Articles, audio files, bibliographies and numerous resources relevant to traditions across the Christian spectrum are here. Special attention is given to collaborative approaches to worship celebration and incorporating the arts actively in worship. Workshops and courses offered through the Institute are noted, as well as complete information on their annual Symposium on Worship and the Arts. Grant opportunities for projects oriented toward renewing worship are also included.]

Clark Jr., Paul B. Tune My Heart to Sing Thy Grace: Worship Renewal through Congregational Singing. Crossbooks, a division of LifeWay, 2010.

Eason, Tim. Media Ministry Made Easy: A Practical Guide to Visual Communication. Nashville:
Abingdon Press, 2003. With DVD.

Eiche, Jon F. Guide to Sound Systems for Worship. Buena Park, CA: Yamaha, 1990.

Gibson, Bill. The Ultimate Church Sound Operator's Handbook. Hal Leonard Music Pro Guide.
Indianapolis: Hal Leonard, 2007.

Herring, Brad. Sound, Lighting and Video: A Resource for Worship. Focal Press, 2009.

Hughes, Kent and Barbara Hughes. Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome. Crossway Books & Bibles, 2008.

Klassen, Ron, and John Koessler. No Little Places: The Untapped Potential of the Small-Town Church

Noland, Rory. Worship on Earth As It Is in Heaven: Exploring Worship as a Spiritual Discipline. Grand Rapdis: Zondervan Publishing Company, 2011.

Prentice, David A. Loaves and Fishes: Worship Team Training. Transforming Small Church Resources into Quality Music Ministry. Baltimore: Publish in America, 2007.

Scazzero, Peter. The Emotionally Healthy Church: A Strategy for Discipleship that Actually Changes   Lives. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003.

Shelley, Marshall. Well-Intentioned Dragons: Ministering to Problem People in the Church. Bethany     House, 1994.

Wallace, Robin Knowles. Worshiping in the Small Membership Church. Abingdon Press, 2008.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Released: Worship HeartCries: Personal Preparation for Corporate Worship!

I am grateful to announce the release of Worship HeartCries: Personal Preparation for Corporate Worship, a new ebook from Worship HeartCries Ministries.The seeds for Worship HeartCries were planted years ago as I sat in a seminary class under Dr. T. W. Hunt.  The Spirit of God used him to light a fire about worship in my heart that has been burning ever since.

Now, after teaching about worship for twenty years in Latin America as a missionary and over ten years  as a Seminary Professor, I am convinced there is a greater desire now to worship God than I have seen in years past. As great as the desire is, there seems to be more confusion as to what biblical worship is and even more confusion about what it looks like when we do it.

If information alone could transform our worship, then we should have long since seen a revolution in our church services. But information is only part of the solution. Learning how to apply what we know may be the biggest challenge we face.

One of the key issues is not so much the amount of content available about worship, but how to worship. My sincere desire is to help push back all the preconceived notions and give some practical helps as we gather together for corporate worship.

Regardless of who may be on the platform, only God’s Spirit can transform those moments together into what may be called “worship,” and there are some definite things that the Body must do so that worship may occur. What are they? That’s the heart of this book.

Available in formats for Kindle, Nook, PDF,

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Working with Small Groups in Worship

Working with Small Music Groups in your church, whether a Praise Team, Small Choir, other just a group that volunteers for Christmas and Easter can be a headache or a joy. Here are some helps to make that challenge a positive experience.

1. Plan for those you have. Be faithful with the one talent person that may be there, rather than bemoan the five talent people that someone else’s church does have.
2. Do what can be done and do it well.
3. Provide some kind of training and preparation musically as well as spiritually. Heart of the Artist: Rory Noland. Perhaps a class on how to read music, weekend workshop, etc.
4. Help those who do not match pitch. Find out where there are and gradually build from there. Pitch known melodies in the key that the person can sing. Make recordings of warmups, etc., and have them repeat, repeat, repeat.
5. Always provide opportunities for success, not failure.  Never embarrass the group by letting the group sing unprepared.
6. Sing on a regular basis, at least every other week. Singers want to participate. If they only sing once a month or every other month, they will loose interest. It will take some time to build up to singing that often, but  will be worth it.
7. Rehearse on a consistent basis, regardless of who comes. Nothing will kill a group faster than hearing the director say, “Well we only have half the people hear, let’s not practice tonight.” This only  punishes the faithful few. You can reduce what you might have rehearsed, but don’t cancel, if at all possible.
8. Be consistent, positive, and add humor. Do not cut down; re-enforce small group feel.
9. Plan what you are singing for long term, then break it down into rehearsable segments. Use a 3-4  month calendar of music to sing. This becomes your rehearsal schedule: [Songs 1-12]
        Song 3        Sunday in three weeks
        Song 2        Sunday in two weeks
        Song 1        Next Sunday
        Song 4        Sunday in 4 weeks
        Song 5 [listen & sing along]   {For the next rehearsal take out Song 1 and rotate in Song 6}
        – Rehearsal format: warmup, modeling good vowel sounds
        – Listen and sing along
        – Play notes for parts by sections
        – Combine parts
        – repeat with accompaniment
10. Rehearse, don’t talk too much.  If you have 15 in the group and talk just one minute, you didn’t waste one minute, you wasted 15.
11. Have fellowship times together, especially after programs or special events.
12. Enlist volunteers to help with:
    – getting music out to rehearse and for Sunday
    – publicity for programs
    – contacting absentees
    – taking up an offering for flowers, bereavement, get well cards, etc.
13. Keep fresh with what is new.  Lifeway's Red Box, Word, Crystal Sea, Lillenas, Lorentz, etc. My favorite Christmas cantata: Glorious Impossible, Favorite Easter cantata: The Risen Christ

Friday, June 8, 2012

2012 Baptist Church Music Conference Insights

This week I was privileged to be able to participate in the Baptist Church Music Conference held at First Baptist Church, Tulsa, Oklahoma. This year’s president, Dr. Martha Hicks, from Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri pulled together an educational and worshipful two days and nights that left a lasting impression in my heart and soul. I would like to pull together some insights from those who shared during this time that should provide food for thought for this coming week.  

Dr. Ray Leininger, Pastor Emeritus of First Baptist Church, Bolivar, Missouri, shared the importance of recognizing our “balcony people,” taking the idea from Hebrews 12, that we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses” whose lives and words cheer us on. As Dr. Leininger was reflected on the “roll call of the faithful” in chapter 11, he reminded us that none of those listed were perfect people. They weren’t listed for their faultlessness, but for their faithfulness. For example, even though Noah got drunk after the flood, Hebrews 11:7 states: “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” One of his insights into the passage was that the working out of Noah’s faith meant a daily routine of sawing and hammering,– nothing glamorous. Being faithful at times, just means hard work, sometimes or perhaps even boring.  

Dr. Deron Spoo, pastor of First Baptist Tulsa, shared how Hezekiah destroyed the bronze snake that Moses had made to save the Israelites from the snakes that were biting them as a result of their disobedience. Though it had been an important reminder of God’s power among them, it had become an object of worship unto itself. “Things that held great meaning in the past as aids to worship can become objects that compete for our worship in the future. Anything that we have to have to worship besides Jesus Christ, be it guitar or organ, can become a bronze snake.”  

Dr. David Music, Professor of Church Music at Baylor University, shared a historical perspective of the development of Baptist worship practices from the turn of the 20th Century to the turn of the 21st Century. Dr. Music reminded us that the one of the needs addressed at the Southern Baptist Convention of 1918 was the deplorable state of music in the local churches. Most of the music leaders in local churches were untrained volunteers and each churches did what was right in their own eyes. A committee was named to address the issue and eventually B. B. McKinney, author of “Wherever He Leads” and many more older favorites, was named as head of a department of music for the Baptist Sunday School Board. One of McKinney’s first moves was to provide a worship tool that all Baptists could use. The Broadman Hymnal changed the face of Baptist worship by unifying Baptists under one book, the first collection to do so in a broad based manner. In the years that followed music education was an important development in local churches as well as the development of choirs, then later instrumental groups. This process continued until the late ‘60s when the youth musicals began and the style of music began to mirror popular rock. Charismatic influence mixed with the church growth movement continued to influence style and content, and the terms “contemporary,” “traditional,” and “blended” were used to describe worship style. As these influences grew, fewer churches followed a single denominational worship resource and more began to follow various models and use a wide range of resources. The result is that the present situation of worship in our churches is similar to what it was before 1925.  

Dr. Jon Duncan from the Georgia Baptist Convention and Dr. Joe Crider from Southern Seminary both shared insightful material, as well as incredible worship services led by Jeff Elkins of FBC, Tulsa, The Singing Churchmen of Oklahoma, Bruce Greer of FBC, Oklahoma City and Dennis Jerringan. These were very meaningful, but I decided just to focus on the previous three because of how they spoke to me personally.

I needed to be reminded of those who have gone before, those biblical heroes of the faith were normal people who trusted in an All Powerful God, and that we need to be encouragers for younger in the faith who might be watching us.

I needed to be reminded that I can let the very things that enhance worship become an object of worship.

I needed to be reminded that there is a great need to allow worship to unify us once again, not divide and separate us.

I would encourage anyone related to leading worship to attend the Conference next year and allow God to speak to the needs of your heart.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Do We Always Have to Learn Lessons the Hard Way?

When I was about 13 or 14, I reached into oven to retrieve a cast iron skillet my mother had asked for to make some cornbread. I had already turned on the oven some time before, and without thinking grabbed the handle with the force I knew it would take to pick up the heavy cast iron. Unfortunately, I forgot, or was not thinking about the fact that the skillet would be hot and proceeded to burn my hand. Obviously, a foolish thing to do, but I can assure you that I have never repeated that mistake.

We don’t always have to learn the “hard way,” but can learn from the mistakes of others so that we don’t have to “burn our hands” with every task that we are called to accomplish. I have been working through the lives of Saul and David in my personal Bible study time and the Spirit of God keeps bringing me back to some lessons that He wants me to learn by observing the failures in the leadership of Saul. I am deeply concerned that those who lead worship lead in such a way that glorifies God and avoids the tragedies exemplified in the lives of so many in Scripture. I would like to add four more lessons we can learn by understanding the failure from Saul, Israel’s first king.

 1. Saul confused manipulation with leading by a positive example. After Saul is crowned king, he received the news that the Ammonites were going to attack Jabesh in Israel [1 Samuel 11]. Notice Saul’s response in verses 6-8:  
“When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he burned with anger. He took a pair of oxen, cut them into pieces, and sent the pieces by messengers throughout Israel, proclaiming, ‘This is what will be done to the oxen of anyone who does not follow Saul and Samuel.’ Then the terror of the Lord fell on the people, and they came out together as one.”

  Saul is filled with the Spirit of God, but rather than saying that the pagans were defying the Living God [as David has done with Goliath], or even just sending pieces of the oxen out to everyone, he added a threat. In this initial call to arms, the fear of God came on the people and they follow “Saul and Samuel.” God used Saul to win the victory in spite of the method of his recruiting troops, not because of it. This fear was initially motivated by the fear of losing their own cattle. [Already God had touched the hearts of some men to follow Saul [1 Samuel 10:26], but in this case Saul doesn’t see them as enough, and Scripture is silent as to how many these early followers were.] Saul’s relationship with God seemed to be secondary in that it was through Samuel, not one based from a personal walk with God. Saul could not lead by example, he had to default to manipulation and fear. Unfortunately, there are very few signs that his leadership skills ever surpassed these methods.

 Worship leadership that stoops to manipulation and threats to “lead and motivate” others only proves that it can do neither: lead nor motivate. Such behavior reflects only great gaps of character and immaturity in their relationship with Christ.  

2. Saul confused winning a battle with winning the war. After Saul defeated the Ammonites, there was a shift in Saul’s battle plans. Where at first he responded in a defensive manner, his next move was offensive in character. In 1 Samuel 13, Saul and Jonathan made an unprovoked attack on a Philistine outpost and have incurred the wrath of the pagan army. Over confident in his own abilities as commanding general, his initiative proves his undoing. As the armies of the Philistines began to amass, fear overwhelmed the Israelite army, and Saul’s soldiers began to scatter. Tired of waiting on Samuel the prophet and God’s direction, Saul offers the sacrifice himself. This breach of practice was not a mere desire to have God’s blessing and thus couldn’t wait, it was direct disobedience to God’s command.

Following God’s instructions was not just an option, but an absolute necessity for the leader that God chooses. One victory doesn’t guarantee future victory, and such assumptions are foolish especially when done outside the direct command of God. One poor decision only leads to another.  

3. He shifted his focus to from defending the people to defending his position. Saul continued making poor choices, even when God gave him another opportunity by bringing retribution on the Amalekites for what they had done to Israel in the past. Unfortunately, Saul caved into his own fear of the men, and for shows his lack of leadership again by not being able to control his own soldiers. The prophet condemned the kings and pronounces his fate:  

Samuel said, “Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; wage war against them until you have wiped them out.’ Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?” “But I did obey the Lord,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.” But Samuel replied: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.” ... As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you. He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.” [1 Samuel 15: 17-23, 27-29]

Saul’s focus began to shift from this point on looking for the one that God had chosen to replace him as king. On numerous occasions Saul attempted to kill David. The longer he was in power, the more effort he put in chasing down David to take his life.

When some leaders sense their position and power are being threatened, their focus changes from doing what needs to be done to self preservation. God is the ultimate protector of our reputation. The One who placed the leadership in the position they are in is well able to protect them or remove them as He sees fit.

4. He confused the mercy and grace of God with the approval of God. Perhaps one of the most bewildering things of all in this biblical account is that God left Saul in power for 40 years. Saul’s life was marked with a few great military victories and a series of tragic failures as a leader. He had lost the respect of those under him as well as the moral authority to lead. All he did have was the position. The longer Saul stayed in power, the more he assumed everything he did was right. He became his own standard for right and wrong. He misunderstood the mercy and grace of God that allowed him countless times and opportunity to repent and respond correctly.

God had even anointed David as the new king, but David does not take any initiative to remove Saul, allowing God to do this on His timetable. [Speculation that David was too young and lacked experience might be a valid consideration, as well as the fact that God was building His character into David by allowing him to go through the years of hiding from Saul. David needed to learn that God was his fortress and shield when being chased, he needed learn to seek God in discouragement, etc. Some of the most endeared psalms were written during these years. These may be valid, but only God knows why He did what He did.] Saul just never understood.

We must never confuse God’s mercy and grace with His approval. Sometimes God blesses us to bring us to repentance; sometimes he disciplines us to bring us to repentance. Saul’s life ended tragically, and ironically after a failed attempt at suicide, at the hands of an Amalekite. His great battle victories forgotten, Saul leaves a legacy of failures in character and leadership.  

Do we always have to learn lessons the hard way? What is the “take away” from the life of Saul as a leader? We must learn from the mistakes of leaders like Saul to help us avoid repeating similar failures. -We must lead by positive example, above reproach, never manipulating or in unethical ways. 
-We must not confuse one or two major victories and think that we are invincible. 
-We must focus on what God has called us to do, not on how to keep our power and position. 
-We must never confuse God’s mercy and grace with His approval.

{This is Part 2 of a Character Study on the Life of Saul. The first part is found at: Worship HeartCries: Are There Sheep Bleating in Your Ministry? }

Monday, May 7, 2012

Who Decides What Is Good?

The truths in God’s Word are inexhaustible. I was reminded greatly of this in a Bible Study led by Dr. Bob Cole at our church recently. I have been reading the Bible through each year for nearly 40 years and have heard countless sermons on Genesis, Adam and Eve, etc., but I had never heard some of the truths I heard just two weeks ago. Dr. Cole, who did his doctoral in Hebrew, shared how the writer of Genesis would add the commentary “and God saw that it was good” after God would speak into existence different aspects of creation. God also defined that “it was not good” that man should be alone, and so a helpmate was formed from him. From the very beginning, God was the one who determined what was good and what was not.

When the serpent tempted Eve, the temptation dealt in questioning God and God’s Word. The back side of the temptation was getting Eve and eventually Adam, to reject God’s design and set their own standard for what was “good.” Scripture states that “when Eve saw that the fruit was good, she took some of it and ate.” Up until that time God alone had set the standards of determining what was good. The rebellion in the garden was not just about going against the direct command of God, but establishing one’s own standard for what was good. The application is simple, anytime we come to the place where we bypass God and set up our own standards for what is good for us, we have fallen into the same temptation as the first two in the garden of Eden. Choosing to make our own decisions about what is good is tempting because it appeals to our pride. We want, in our fallen selves, to make our own decisions. It is somehow degrading to have to take someone else's (even God's) advice. Dr. Cole shared much more, but I will narrow the discussion on the above, and honestly, I am still processing as the Spirit of God is working the applications in my own life. The implications for worship leadership are our focus at the moment. God has declared what pleases Him, what He has declared as good, He has declared what is not good. Correct worship style and musical taste are not specifically clarified in Scripture; the object and focus of worship are. The focus of worship is God and God alone. Obedience is better than sacrifice and the attitudes with which we approach God are important. These are only basic, foundational concepts.

When we begin to define what God accepts as "good" by our own standards and not God's, then we are falling to the same temptation as Adam and Eve. Remember God's admonition to Samuel when looking to anoint a new king: "man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart." Our natural tendency is to assume God approves of what we have defined as good, worshipful, and meaningful, which many times is based on our feelings or emotional response. Worship is our obedience response to the revealed nature and character of God, and without that obedient response our worship is incomplete. If we ignore obedient response, we are redefining what Scripture teaches about worship and succumb to the same temptation as Eden's first pair.

The question is, "Who decides what is good in worship for you?" Keeping these thoughts in mind can make a world of difference as we plan and as we function as "lead worshipers."

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Common Traits of Those Who Fail in the Ministry

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.

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.

–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.
2. Those who fail in the ministry have tendencies to rationalize their actions rather than understand the reasons for them and they provide excuses for why and what they have done, rather than true explanations. Sometimes this is accompanied by an inability to accept responsibility. Unfortunately, rationalization becomes the pattern of justification for an inability to complete a task, or to admit wrong. Time was not taken to think through issues involved or to seek council about implications of a course of action, resulting in poor outcome at best, or failure at worst.  More time is spent in making excuses for what went wrong than the time it would have taken to adequately prepare in the first place. Rather than preparing, life becomes a series of reactions to one life event after another.

What can be done?  Careful preparation, thorough considerations of issues related to the problem, and seeking wise counsel can go a long way in preventing such disasters. Proverbs 15:22 says: “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”  If there is a deficiency in one of these areas, then asking for help and accountability from others can help retrain old patterns of response.

3. Failing to develop a servant and learner’s heart and failing to love people
.  Leaders that fail often lack love for those to whom God has called them to minister. As someone as said, “People don’t care about what you say, until they understand how much you care.” Jesus was the supreme example of the servant leader, washing the dirty feet of disciples too proud to even do it for themselves.  Leaders that fail are also those who are unwilling to learn from others. God provides a myriad of opportunities for us to learn from those around us, even from those who do not know Him, but we must we willing to be taught.

4. Failure to keep on growing: spiritually, musically, physically, relationally, and intellectually.  Living things that cease to grow and develop often die. Leaders that fail have stopped growing spiritually, too busy or tired to maintain the personal spiritual disciplines necessary for an intimate relationship with Christ.  Regular physical exercise and healthy diet rarely are high their priority list. Investment in relationships and continued study never seem to find their way into the scheduling process. They are driven by the tyranny of the urgent, lost in a sea of activities that seem out of their control.

Learning to make healthy boundaries for one’s own spiritual life, family life, health and ministry can revolutionize one’s life and effectiveness and provide a healthy model for families with whom they minister.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Are there bleating sheep in your ministry?

In 1 Samuel 15, Scripture relates the story of Saul’s failure to completely follow God’s instructions to completely destroy the Amalekites and how he allows the men to take the spoils, allowing the king of the Amalekites to live. When questioned by Samuel the prophet of God why he disobeyed, Saul only attempts to justify his actions. By calling his partial obedience a completed task, refusing to admit any wrong doing on his part, and blaming others for what had happened, Saul totally fails the true test that God was giving. The test was not just a call for an elimination of an old enemy of the Hebrew people, but a test to see if Saul would wholeheartedly follow God’s command. Saul failed in several areas:

First, he failed to see that partial obedience is disobedience.
Second, he confused the task to be done for the lesson to be learned. By only focusing on the goal of winning the battle, he never asked himself if God might have a higher purpose in the assignment.
Third, he allowed fear to motivate his actions, rather than faith, because he defined who he was by what he did more than who God had called him to be.

Let’s briefly look at each one of these. I was reminded of this first issue while visiting with our daughter who was correcting our grandson. After not doing all of what his mother has asked him to do, I heard her give some instruction and completed her statements with the phrase, “partial obedience is disobedience.” I was completely impressed, for this is a lesson that really must be learned from childhood.

In God’s sight, partial obedience is disobedience.
This may seem cruel and cold at first, but look at it this way. Suppose that the surgeon who is about to operate on you asks the nurse, “Has the scalpel been sterilized?” and she replies, “Yes, all but this one tiny part.” Would you want the surgeon to use it? Of course not, for regardless how small that “one tiny part” may be, there could be enough bacteria to kill the patient. If this is true in our physical world, in the spiritual realm only God can see what lingering “bacteria” is left by our partial obedience, and such sin separates us from open fellowship with the Father. In the case of Saul, God’s commentary is tragic: “I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” [1 Sam. 15:11] Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the LORD all that night.” [Notice that Saul’s disobedience was a grief to Samuel, who had anointed him as king. Our failures rarely affect only ourselves.]

As finite creatures we are incapable of understanding the infinite mind and purposes of God. However, that does not mean that God does not want or allow us to discern some of the purposes of His actions. The most obvious revealed purpose is why He sent His Son to redeem man, – “for God so loved the world.” Other areas of God’s actions and will may not be so clear. Sometimes what God has called us to do is not as important as the character quality He is developing in us in the process of doing it. I remember in the movie, “The Karate Kid,” the older master tells his young apprentice to paint the fence, but in a very specific way. Later, he has him polish a car, again in a very specific manner. The confused teenager obliged, but did not understand and finally in frustration tells the man that he came for training in karate, not to paint fences. Then the master shows him that the motions he gave for painting the fence were actually a part of a specific defensive move in karate. The activity was painting a fence, but the lesson was detailed training in defense. Saul had confused the task to be done with the lesson to be learned.

After Saul had defeated the Amalekites, he proceeds to set up a monument to himself. This is revealing in that he [1] takes credit for what God had done, not realizing that God had only used Saul as the instruments of His will, and [2] Saul was defining who he was by what he had accomplished, not by his character. Understanding this is key to the conversation that follows with the prophet in 1 Samuel 15:13-34. Rather than cite the entire passage, I just refer to specific parts. When Samuel finds Saul, probably in front of the monument he had set up for himself, Saul greets him, saying, “The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD’s instructions.” [v. 13]. The prophet does not mince words in his reply: “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?” Which is to say, “Saul, if you had obeyed I wouldn’t be hearing what I am hearing. The proof of your disobedience is all around you.” Saul then tries to shift blame: “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.” [v.15] Saul did not understand that disobedience is disobedience, regardless when attempts are made to spiritualize it. He could not own up to his own failure of responsibility to oversee the actions of his troops.

Samuel does not allow for excuses or justifications, his reply is swift and clear: “Enough!” Samuel said to Saul. “Let me tell you what the LORD said to me last night.” God doesn’t play our games of trying to justify our actions. Samuel again confronts Saul with the truth: “Why did you not obey the LORD?” Saul fails to see this as an opportunity of grace and forgiveness on God’s part and again tries to defend his actions: “But I did obey the LORD,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal.” [v.20-21] Saul just does not get it. Only when judgement falls does Saul begin to reveal the truth. Samuel’s response to Saul’s excuses are words that we must take to heart if we are going to have effective ministries. Listen first to Samuel’s response to Saul’s rationalization of his sin:

“Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the LORD?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
he has rejected you as king.”
[1Sam. 15:22-23]

The tendency is try to explain away our sin, to push the rationalizations in which we have used to delude ourselves on God in a feeble attempt to justify our actions. When Saul refuses to respond to the grace of God and admit guilt, judgement falls. Saul’s rebellion against God was like idolatry in that he had set himself up as his own authority, worshiping the image of himself for what he had done. Saul had even taken that mental image of himself and turned it into a physical monument for him admire. However, now it was too late, his unrepentant attitude has been judged by God and with one quick word, God has rejected Saul as king. Disobedience, especially among the leaders God has placed in power, has serious consequences.

The tragedy of the situation continues to unfold: “Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the LORD’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the men and so I gave in to them. Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the LORD.” [v.24-25] When Saul finally admits he is wrong, it is too late. God has already chosen another leader, one whose heart would follow after His. With his confession he revealed the motivation of his action: fear. Since Saul understood who he was only by what he did, that is, king and leader of the army, he feared doing anything that would reduce their numbers, thus, weakening his image and potential. He was not depending on God for his battles, but sheer numbers of men. So, when the men wanted to take the plunder from the battle, Saul did not have the courage to trust God, to set the standard of complete obedience based on God’s command to destroy everything. In short, he failed to see that his worth was not based on the size of his army or the battles won, but on the what God had called him to do and be. [This is clearly seen later in the battle when David kills Goliath.] The price he paid was very costly, for though he continued to reign as king, he did so without the blessing of God, and he grew more self-centered and suspicious until he finally commits suicide on the battlefield.

Let’s returning to the original question, “Are there any bleating sheep in your ministry?” Bleating sheep can be any area of our lives in which we settle for less than complete obedience, any time we confuse the task to be done for the lesson to be learned, and any time we allow fear to motivate our actions, rather than faith, defining who we are by what we do more than who God had called us to be.

{This is Part 1 of a Character Study on the life of Saul. Part 2 may be found at Worship HeartCries: Do We Always Have to Learn Lessons the Hard Way? }

Saturday, April 14, 2012

“...God has turned His back on me...”

Strong words, sometimes more felt, than allowed to pass from our lips, yet many feel this way when going through very difficult circumstances. Listen to the words of Naomi: “It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD’s hand has turned against me!” [Ruth 1:13 b, NIV] The International Standard Version reads, “the Lord is working against me!” Naomi had traveled with her husband and two sons to Moab in search of food for survival. After staying there for some time, her sons married Moabite women and later her husband and two sons died. Now left alone with no male survivors, that is, protectors and providers, Naomi was feeling totally abandoned. In that moment she felt as if the covenant keeping God [LORD or Yahweh] had forgotten His own covenant and she was left like a leaf in a wind storm.

We know the story and long to be able to whisper in her ear, “I know it’s bad, but God has something so incredible for you, just trust Him!” We know that God was using all these circumstances to bring Boaz and Ruth together, to supply for all her needs, to bless her with grandchildren, and eventually a king for Israel. Naomi did not live to see her great grandson, David, become king of Israel and had no idea of the great things God would bring about through the tragedy. On an even greater level, nor could she have perceived what God would do through this linage: the birth of God’s Messiah, Jesus!

It is good for us to have reminders of God’s providence, His power, His love, and how though it may seem as though He may have abandoned us, that injustice rules and God has forgotten to keep His promises, He still is in control. Words like that are easy to write and fly off the tongue quite readily, but believing them in the midst of feelings of abandonment are not that simple. I know with my head what God has said, but my feelings of loneliness seem to mock my beliefs. I must come to a decision to believe God regardless of my feelings or external circumstances and know that He is in control and that He is working on His plan and schedule. I must conform to His plan, not that He changes the universe for mine. If God allows, I may see His purpose, if not, I will see it when I stand before Him in glory. We can always think of others who are in more difficult situations than our own, and though those kind of thoughts may change the perspective somewhat, when it is all said and done, we are still in pain and still blaming God for not working on our behalf. We need something more than just a reminder that there are others in worst circumstances.

One thing that we can do is to reassign meaning to what is happening: to realize that God is working out is plan and that He is giving us the privilege of being a part of it and using it to help grind down the rough corners of our character so that they reflect His character. Giving thanks to God “in all things” [not “for”, but “in”] is a great first step. I really believe that Jesus was reassigning the meaning of what was happening on the cross when He said, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” More than just a statement of complete anguish, though He was definitely going through indescribable agony, Jesus was quoting from Psalm 22, for in that psalm those Jews around Him at the cross would have been well familiar with the rest of the text and how it describes the suffering He was going through at that moment. Through His pain Jesus was shouting to the crowds, “Listen, look, God is fulfilling His Word before your very eyes!” He was trying to help them reassign meaning to the tragedy of the moment. To help them see that even in death, God would gain the victory.

In similar fashion after the resurrection, when the disciples were in complete disarray and confusion, when He appears to them, Jesus reassigns meaning to what they were going through. Luke 24:25-27 records Jesus explaining what had happened to two on the road to Emmaus: “He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” Jesus reassigned meaning, though it wasn’t until he did what they had no doubt seen Him do many times, break bread and give thanks, that their eyes were opened.

We may not be able to discern what God is doing, but we can ask Him to help us reassign new meaning to what is going on, confident that He is in control and that He has a purpose that will be for our ultimate good and His glory!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Gideon’s Lessons for Worship Leaders [Judges 6-8]

1. Size and importance doesn’t matter.
By Gideon’s own comments, he was from the “weakest family in Manasseh and the youngest in his family”. Being useful for the Lord, is not dependent on the size of the group to which you minister, or if you are serving “in one of the great congregations” of the area. God’s understanding of “greatest” is not measured the way our culture measures it.

2. He was faithful and brave in little things.
When God calls out Gideon for service he is threshing wheat in a wine press, a place that he could help provide food for his family, but in a way that the enemy would not see.

3. He was called of God to do what he did; he didn’t dream it up on his own. Gideon did not have dreams and aspirations of becoming a great general and winning fame and riches for himself . He had no delusions of grandeur. After attending a mega meeting and seeing all the glitz and fame some worship leaders seem to have, it is easy for that to become an attraction and for some to want to desire that for themselves. That is not a call from God, only an ambitious desire.

4. When he realizes that it was an angel of the Lord that had been speaking to him, his first response is worship, not boasting about what had happened.
Judges 6:23 states that after the angel of the Lord had vanished from his sight, Gideon cried out in fear, but God tells him not to be afraid. His first response was to build an altar, which he names “The Lord is peace.”

5. Before he could do great things for God, he had to deal with the idolatry in his own household.
He worship experience is followed by obedience to what God tells him to do. God then instructs Gideon to tear down the altar to Baal that was on his father’s land and offer a sacrifice using the wood from the idol, which he does. Even though he is ridiculed for what he did, he remained obedient.

6. The Spirit of God did not come upon Gideon until he had been obedient in what God had called him to do by tearing down the idol of Baal. Obedience in the little things is prerequisite before we are useful for the larger tasks. As Jesus said in the parable of the talents, he that is faithful in little, will be given more. There must be a willingness to do what seems to be insignificant jobs with an uncomplaining spirit, before we are entrusted with greater tasks.

7. He was humble, and needed reassurance that this was what God wanted him to do. There have been many sermons on the weaknesses of Gideon’s “throwing out a fleece,” or asking God for proof for what God was calling him to do. And in one sense, it is true, because of a lack of faith, he did ask for confirmation. However, Gideon is listed in faith’s “Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11, so there must be something more here. Consider, that he did probably did not have easy access to scripture, and no prophet is even on the scene until Samuel, years later. He was well aware of his inability to accomplish the task. He did not doubt that God could do it, only his own involvement in the task.

8. God looks for those who will give Him the glory. God reduced the number of soldiers from 32,000 to 300, which is a great study in itself, but we’ll save that for another time. God’s desire was to work in such a way that the Israelites would not say that is was by their own skill and strength that they defeated the enemy, but that would realize that it was by God’s hand alone. Such is a model for our ministry in leading worship: it must be for God’s glory, not done in such a way that we become the focus of attention, or used as a stepping stone to a “better situation.”

9. Once Gideon acts on faith, God provides a sign to reassure Gideon that the victory was God’s. The first sign, the fleece, was at Gideon’s request, but the next, Gideon’s overhearing the enemy’s soldier’s conversation [Judges 6:9-15] was God’s initiative, showing Gideon that He was already working on his behalf. Notice that Gideon’s first response to God’s sign, is worship.

10. Gideon followed God’s plan, and taught others to do what he was doing.
When it was time, Gideon tells the 300 men under his charge, “Watch me, and do what I do.” [Judges 6:17]. Worship is not something we tell other to do, it is something we do and ask others to follow in what we are doing.

11. God brings the victory for Himself as Gideon was obedient to do what God had instructed.
The army was defeated, God was glorified, all because Gideon was obedient, and believed what God had promised.

12. Gideon was persistent.
The battle that followed was tough. The previous night’s destruction had left 120,000 men dead, but 15,000 had fled. Gideon didn’t say that his part was over, but took his 300 men after them. Even when denied help [Judges 8:4-9], he kept on pursuing until he had captured the kings of the enemy.

13. The reminder of his victory, became an idol unto itself. Gideon refused to become Israel’s king, stating that only God was their king, but did take a ring from each of his men’s share of the war booty. With this he made an ephod, a gold woven garment, similar to what the priests wore. This symbol of Israel’s victory over the enemy became an idol that they worshiped, rather than the God that had given them the victory. Any victory we might experience, any experience we might have can become an idol in and of itself and take us away from the very One who gave the victory or experience.

I trust these lessons can be of help to all of us who lead in worship.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Jesus Knew Who He Was...

Dr. Norris Grubbs, Associate Dean over our Extension Centers for NOBTS as well as Greek professor for Leavell College, shared some insights during Faculty Devotions this week that helped crystalize some ideas that had been swirling around my head. Referencing Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in John 13, Norris shares the following:

“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come form God and was returning to God; so he got up ...” John puts this at the start of this story, and I think it helps us understand a little bit of how Jesus was able and willing to perform this lowly duty of servanthood that night. He understood who he was.

So often, I think we define ourselves by what we do. The problem with that approach is that we will never serve others especially something degrading like Jesus does here because we will be afraid others will think that is who we really are. But the Bible clearly shows that we are not defined that way. Jesus knew what the Father had given him and that he had come from God and was going back there. I wonder if sometimes I fail to serve as I should because I have forgotten all that God has given to me and that I am his no matter what I do.

Good words, Norris, good insight.

Jesus was not concerned with the loss of image or the opinion of the disciples. His overarching purpose of living out the nature and character of God for them in that moment was more important than the passing judgements of those who might base their opinions on what others think or define themselves by what they do. Go back and mediate on the phrase, “He understood who he was.” We need to stop and unpack that a little more.

Too often we allow ourselves to be defined by others, whether these “others” are voices from the past that told us that pronounced words of failure {“You’ll never amount to anything}, defeat {You never do anything right!}, or even praise {You’re so good at that...}. The problem with those statements is that those statements fail to adequately describe who we are, because we are more than what we do. It is dangerous to attempt to live trying to disprove words of failure and defeat or live up to words of praise, since they depend on the approval of others. In the long run, we will be defining ourselves by a measurement that is sure to collapse and fail.

The biblical truth is our identity comes from what God in Christ has done for us, not from what others might say or think. If we are in Christ, we are CHILDREN OF GOD! There is no higher or more honorable name that might describe who we are. God gives me my worth, not because of who I am or what I’ve done, but because of whose I am and what He has done!

Jesus knew who He was. We need to realize whose we are and not pay attention to those who would attempt to redefine who we are by their own standards. The longer I am in the ministry, the more I realize how easy it is to forget this basic truth and fall back in trying to define my worth according to the pleasures and displeasures of others. I am a child of God, not worthy of anything, but by the grace of God granted favor to be called His child. In Christ, I can know who and whose I am! Thanks, Norris, for the reminder; I know I needed it.