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Monday, September 30, 2013

How to Respond When Bad Things Happen

When bad things happen we wonder where God is. We feel as if God doesn't care or even that He has abandoned us. Deep down we know that isn't true, but the internal confusion can still persist. What can we do?

Paul shared a list of things to help remold our thoughts in Philippians 4:8-9: 
“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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”  Focusing our thoughts as God as commanded in His Word brings the promise of God’s peace.

 But you might ask, “How do I do that? What can I think about?”  Great question. Let me suggest some things.  Just as emergency workers are trained to follow a set of procedures when a crisis occurs, it is good for us to have a plan in mind for when bad things happen to train out thoughts how to respond in a way that pleases God. Here are some starters that I use and have found helpful.

Begin with the following statement, say it out loud:

I can trust God because:

1. God is in control; God has a plan.  He is under no obligation to share His plan with me and I am not able to see everything from His perspective. This helps develop our faith. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,  neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.  As the rain and the snow  come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish,  so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:8-11

2. God loves you, He loves me. The cross is a reminder forever of the depth of the love of God. As we contemplate the cross where God sacrificed His only Son for us that we might have an eternal relationship with Him in eternity, we can never doubt the love of Almighty God.”But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

3. The purpose of my life is to glorify God.
– We do this by allowing Him to shape us into the image of His Son by developing a relationship with Him: “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” Ephesians 4:13-15

– by leading others to that relationship, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:8

– by being obedient to His commands, “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” John 15: 10

– and by worshiping Him in Spirit and in truth. “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” John 4:23-24.

4. What happens to me is not as critical as my response to what happens.  Not that what happens is not important, but my response is indicative of the depth of relationship with God and how well I know Him. “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” Acts 20:24

5. I can thank God. Scripture says that "in everything" we give thanks, not "for". “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Each time those negative thoughts of doubt and despair coming knocking at your mind’s door, go back and begin to repeat: “I can trust God because....”

Friday, September 27, 2013

"Unplugged" Worship

“Be Prepared” is not only the Boy Scouts’ motto, it is a necessity for those who lead worship. Recently, the air conditioning system went out at our church sanctuary on a Saturday causing a rapid change of venue. Tracks, lighting, video, mics, were all ready for use in the sanctuary, however the AC issue caused us to call in a “Plan B,” which was go to our Fellowship Hall. Now with only two microphones and a older piano. All my planning was envisioned in another place with greater facilities, and now had to be thrown out as the last minute. Our congregation graciously accepted the change and we had a meaningful time of worship, However, the incident did make the wheels of my mind begin to spin. What do I really need in order to worship?

What if the electricity had gone out, what would we have done?  The Sanctuary has side doors, but no windows, so a lack of breeze would be an issue. We could use the piano, maybe an acoustic guitar, but no organ, electric guitar, lighting, air conditioning, or projection screens. Without proper lighting even hymnals would be questionable.  If you were to go bare bones, with just your hearts and voices what changes would you have make? It is easy for our security to become trapped by the all the non-essentials. Perhaps we’ve become so dependent on a wall of sound that for some musical worship  would be difficult, if not impossible.

No, I’m not about to suggest that we return to the caves and push to renounce every modern convenience. Years of serving overseas as a missionary provided plenty of experiences of bare-boned worship that was meaningful [and some that was not]. Now, living in south Louisiana in the heat and humidity without air conditioning would not be pleasant and most likely would demand that we move our time of worship to a time of the day when the weather would be less oppressive. However, I would like for us to think about worshiping “un-plugged” for just a moment.

By “Unplugged Worship,” I mean, worshiping God without all the technology that has facilitated and complicated our time together as the Body of Christ.  The music in worship services in England after the Reformation was reduced to the singing of the Psalms in unison, that is, just melody, no harmony. Light was provided by windows, sound by the acoustics of the room and the strength of human voice. [The simplicity is tempting, yet I know how important good accompaniment is to supporting congregational singing.]

The question is this: What if our churches had to worship “unplugged” for a month? A year? Would we see the attendance increase or decrease? Would those that seek to be entertained lose interest and go somewhere else or no where at all? Would we be able to worship without the “extras” that have become so much a part of what we do? Is it just enough to gather as the Body of Christ and center our hearts and focus on Him, whether or not we are even able to sing or not? Is Jesus alone enough? 

If there is something we have to have besides God’s Word and Holy Spirit in our lives as we gather and focus on God, then have we made that object or thing an “idol” that separates us from  worship? 

Perhaps we need to “unplug” every now and then and see what are those things on which we are really depending for worship individually and corporately.  Just some thoughts....