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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Poisoned by Bitterness

“For I see that you’re being poisoned by bitterness and you’re a prisoner of wickedness!” [Acts 8:23, ISV]

The story of Simon in Acts 8 is a fascinating story: after having public attention and admiration for his occult practices and “magic,” he hears the Gospel being preached by Philip, believes and is baptized. In Acts 8:13 Luke records that “he [Simon] became devoted to Philip.” It is not unusual for a new convert to latch onto the one who led he or she to Christ, but there seems to be more here than gratitude for having shared the message of salvation. Simon is overwhelmed by the miracles he witnesses. He has spent his life making money from his “magic” and now he is witnessing something more than just magic and is having a difficult time processing what is going on.

Later, when Peter arrives and lays hands on these new believers, they receive the Holy Spirit. Simon’s natural [old self] response is to offer to buy this new “magic,” for no doubt, that is how he had learned many if not all the “magic” he had practiced. But the Holy Spirit opens Peter’s eyes to see the motivation behind his request. Listen to Peter’s reply in verses 20-23:

“But Peter told him, ‘May your money perish with you because you thought you could obtain God’s free gift with money! You have no part or share in what we’re saying, because your heart isn’t right with God. So repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, your heart’s intent may be forgiven you. For I see that you’re being poisoned by bitterness and you’re a prisoner of wickedness.’”

Strong words. The fame and attention he once had had now faded and these “new guys” with this “new magic” were taking the city by storm. He has been left out and now wanted back in and was willing to pay good money for a chance at the opportunity. This was more than a simple misunderstanding. This was greed. He was bitter over the loss of income, prestige, and certainly confused about how things in the Kingdom of God were handled. If it had only been this confusion, I don’t think Peter would have said what he did. The Holy Spirit of God goes to the root of the problem, his greed, his jealousy, his bitterness and candidly shares with him what is wrong.

Bitterness was poisoning him. He was a prisoner of old habits, old desires, and he had to come to the point where he realized what he was doing. At that point, God sends Peter, the restored leader of the apostles, who shares openly and directly. “You’re a prisoner of an unholy life and the bitterness in your heart is like poison and will kill you, Simon.” Simon’s response is a plea for Peter and Philip to pray for him for deliverance.

So, what’s all this have to do with worship? Great question.

Like many in public ministries, Worship leaders are put on pedestals, looked up to, etc. It is very easy to begin to believe all the positive comments people make [while trying to forget the other ones], and bask in the limelight. Then something happens, and all the attention begins to fade, and we are left with a choice: to believe that our real and ultimate approval comes from God and not from others, or to worry and become bitter over the situation.

In the case of Simon, perhaps the first problem was that he seemed to be more anchored in Philip than in Jesus. When we make other believers more than God intended, we are setting ourselves up for major disappointments. We can never receive from another person that which only God can give: acceptance and approval. Only God can meet those deepest needs in a relationship with Him. Simon had fixed his eyes on Philip more than Jesus. When we set our focus on others to meet our needs of acceptance and love we are setting both of us up for ultimate failure.

But that is not all. Simon had reverted to his old ways of thinking and acting. I will not try to debate whether or not he had truly been converted; Scripture only says that he had believed and was baptized, and the words used there are the same ones for others that had truly believed. Based on that, it seems that he had believed. But what had been a lifetime pattern of thinking was going to take some time to change. Old thought patterns have to be rooted out, named, and abandoned by replacing them with new one. If not, these older patterns of thinking would poison him.

Bitterness works like poison, choking out the life and joy of the individual until nothing of the former self remains. Worship leaders can become bitter from a multitude of issues: change of roles, change of financial conditions, changes of personnel, even changes in leadership and in the process lose the joy of rendering service.

What can be done? First, we need to be careful that we are “devoted to Christ,” not individuals. There are many wonderful men and women of God who can offer wonderful encouragement in our walk with God, but we must remember that even they have “feet of clay.”

Second, recognize bitterness for what it is: poison to your system. Admit your hurt to God, since He is only one that can change the situation if He so desires. Confess your bitterness and hurt to Him.

Third, repent, ask for forgiveness, for help. Bitterness breaks our fellowship with God, makes focusing on Him difficult because our minds keep replaying the hurt or words we would like to say over and over again. Ask God to help you refocus on Him, His power, His love. Thank Him for what He has done, for His great forgiveness and grace, even though we do not deserve it. Pray for those that might have been the cause.

Lastly, act in the power of the Holy Spirit to minister to someone in need. Remember what Paul said in Ephesians 4:31 “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice,” as well as what the writer of Hebrews said in 12:15, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Mobile Church: Your Cellular Congregation

I was wondering what would happen if in an attempt to push technology beyond the normal you could now attend “Mobile Church” a Church whose only connection was through cell phones. Sit back, and enjoy this spoof of perhaps how it might go:

[Phone Receptionist] Welcome to Mobile Church: Your Cellular Congregation. If this is your first time to call us, push “1", if you are already a member, press “2"
You have pushed “1". Welcome to Mobile Church: Your Cellular Congregation. Welcome to the latest in cell phone spiritual guidance and connection, all in less than one hour. If you would like to begin with just a prayer, push “1" if you would like both a prayer and a song press “2", if you would just want the sermon, press “3".
You have pushed “2" you wish to have a prayer and a song. If you would like a long prayer press “1" or a short prayer press “2"
You have pressed 2, short prayer. If you would like a traditional hymn press “1" if you would like a contemporary song press “2", if you would like a Southern Gospel Quartet, press “3", if you would like a full choir singing stately classics press “4"
You have pressed “2", If you would like older contemporary press “1" , if you would like the latest on the CCLI top 25 charts press “2",
You have pressed 1. If you would like a commercial break for an offering, press “1", if you do not want an offering, press “2"
You have pressed “2, no offering. For the “no offering” category you only have two choices for sermons. Press “1" if you would like a long dry sermon or press “2" if you want a long funny sermon. If you would like to reconsider the offering press “3" and get the option for the short sermon.
You have pressed “3" . How much would you like to give? Please punch in the amount on your phone, followed by the pound sign. -Beep--Beep--Beep- Please enter your credit or debit card number -Beep--Beep--Beep--Beep--Beep--Beep--Beep--Beep--Beep--Beep--Beep--Beep-
Thank you for your support of Mobile Church.
If you would like to start your sermon after the song press “1", if you would like to hear your sermon first, press “2".
You have pressed “2". I’m sorry, you no longer have enough time left to hear the sermon. However, we look forward to hearing from you next time.
Good bye and God bless.
Buzz.............[line disconnects]

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Three Questions that Can Change How You Plan Worship

When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.all of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. 1 Corinthians 14:26

I am greatly indebted to Drs. Terry York and David Bolin in their book, The Worship Matrix, for the basic idea of this blog. I would consider this a "must have" for all those who plan and lead worship.)

In Paul's letter to the church at Corinth, that Apostle addresses several problems in which the believers were having. Disorder in worship was one of those issues. The passage above is descriptive, not prescriptive, that is, this is a historical account, not a general commandment for all Christians for all time. That is to easy that we should not take this passage to mean that in every church, every believer should have one of the five activities for every time they might meet, then as well as right now. While that is true that the passage is not prescriptive, there certainly is more to the passage than a historical account of how Paul dealt with a particular problem. We can ask ourselves if there are some general principles that might be applied to our present situation. I believe there are. In the following paragraphs I would like to suggest a few, not that these are the only ones, but they might serve as a start.

First, there seems to be an assumption of regular corporate worship in which congregational participation is the norm. The focus of activity seems to be sharing among the congregation, not just the activity of the leadership. In Paul's context, these congregations would have most likely been groups meeting in homes, and not very large. For that reason it would have been a small enough so that everyone could have participated. So, what might be a general principle be in this case?

For one, congregational participation is vital to worship. It is easy for worship leaders to build a service more around what they can do and hope the congregation joins in, than to build into a service maximun participation. If we are not careful in our planing how to involve the congregation, it will be easy for the service go become "entertainment" and not worship. One of the key words for 'worship' in the Greek is the word 'lituguria,' which means 'the work of the people'. If there is no 'work of the people' we may rightly ask, "Has there really been worship?"

Another important part of the passage is the reason given why it was done that way: "all of these must be done for the strengthening of the church." Priority is given for the edification of the church as a whole, not just the personal preferences of any one group or persons. As we look at how this might apply to to us, it is crucial that we hear the words of the Apostle that all that is done is done to strengthen the whole body, not ignore a segment, because of age, preference, etc. A key question to ask ourselves as we plan is, "Does this service edify the whole church body?" This is not an easy question to answer honestly, and and even more difficult one to accomplish.

Some questions for us to ponder are: How many of our people really participate in the worship services we plan? Are there enough varied activities that provide ample opportunity for such widespread participation? Is what we are doing in worship focused more on a single group, or are we consciously planning for the building up of every member?

I am grateful to both York & Bolin for helping me think through these issues, and I pray that they will be a help to you as well.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Ten Lessons from the Exodus

Yes, there are many more than ten lessons that we can learn from the Israelites trek to the promised land, but here are ten for starters.

1. Through not around. One of the first ways God showed His power after the 10 plagues, was to lead His people through the Red Sea, not around it. At times, we see a hopeless situation, but God sees a way to reveal His nature and power.

2. We can get so accustomed to the blessings and provisions of God we complain even about the miracles.
No one on earth had ever been provided for like the Israelites in the desert with the manna. Day after day, God literally gave them their daily bread, yet when they began to take it for granted, they complained, and their ungrateful spirit had deadly consequences.

3. Analyze and study your options.
The 12 “spies” were not rebuked for studying the landscape and getting to know what they were to be facing, but their lack of faith that God would do what He said He would do.

4. When God closes a door, don’t try to break it down. Once the Israelites had been told the results of their lack of faith and disobedience, that is, 40 years in the desert, then they decided that they would obey. Too late. They attempted to force their way into to promised land, which proved to be a colossal failure.

5. Review your mistakes. After the 40 years, all of those over the age 20 had died, except Caleb and Joshua, so Moses reviewed with them their history. He began with their disobedience and why they had to spend 40 years in the desert, and continued telling the story so their would be no doubts as to why things were the way they were. He even shared his own failure, revealing why he would not be allowed to enter with them.

6. Review what God has done in your life. Not only did Moses review their failures, but he recalled the great things that God had done on their behalf. Tracing the history of God’s goodness is a great way to renew confidence in God during difficult times and when facing unknown circumstances.

7. Step out on faith. The waters of the Jordan river did not part before the priests stepped into it, as did the Red Sea. God may not always do things exactly the same way twice; in fact, He probably won’t. Our response is to obey and step out and be confident that God will do what He said He would do.

8. There is a reward at the end. In the midst of so hardships and trials along the way, it is easy to forget that there is a glorious future promised to God’s children. A good reminder for us is that heaven will not be a place where we finally get what we always wanted, but the place where our wants will finally be as God desired. The central focus of heaven is the Lamb of God on His throne, not my wishes fulfilled.

9. Receiving the promises of God requires obedience on your part. Moses was a man of God, one who spoke to God “face to face,” yet because of his disobedience he never was permitted to enter the land promised.

10. Commitment to do right means that sometimes you will stand alone. Joshua and Caleb stood alone in the midst of the majority of public opinion, because they were committed to believing God regardless.