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Monday, December 4, 2017

I Just Love to Hear that Preacher!

Perhaps you have heard this, or even said it yourself. I’m sure most of us have heard men and women of God whom God has used in a mighty way in our lives and in the lives of others. Perhaps you may not have been aware that the above title was found in the book of Ezekiel:

In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month on the fifth day, a man who had escaped from Jerusalem came to me and said, “The city has fallen!” ...“As for you, son of man, your people are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’ My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them, you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice. When all this comes true—and it surely will—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.” Ezekiel  33:21, 30-33

Granted, I have paraphrased what the people said, but it is, in essence, the same. Let’s get some context before we go any further. Jerusalem had fallen; the Babylonians had conquered the city and the news reaches the exiles in Babylonia. [For the more of the story, go to Jeremiah 39.] Chapter 33 begins with God calling on the prophet to be the faithful watchman so as not to incur guilt by failing to warn the Israelites of their sin. God calls the people to repent of their evil ways and then exposes their sin and false motives. 

Here is a summary is the heart of the message to the exiles:

– The exiles have a desire to “hear” God’s prophet:
As for you, son of man, your people are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord

– The exiles had an established habit to go and hear what the prophet had to say:
 My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words

– However, they only listen, never with the intent to put into practice or have any personal application to what is being said:
 but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain   They even speak of love, but their motives are impure and their actions betray them.

– They treat what they hear as entertainment.
Indeed, to them, you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice

– God encourages the prophet to continue to be faithful regardless.
When all this comes true—and it surely will—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.

So what does that have to do with us?  Great question; I’m glad you asked. When we go to worship, are we going just “enjoy the music” or “enjoy the preacher?” If we fail to see growth in our walk with Christ or fail to see our attitudes and responses become more conformed to that of Christ after worship, then we are walking perilously close to what we see in the verses above.

Notice that they had an established habit of hearing God’s Word, but that there was a refusal for God’s Word to change their established habits that were contrary to that Word. Another way to describe it was they enjoyed being entertained, but not transformed. Even when we look for “inspiration” during a worship we betray a focus on self; Worship is God-centered. Inspiration may make us feel better, but true worship can transform us.

Stop and reflect on your worship. Are you being transformed, day by day more into the image of God’s Son?  It is time to take seriously the words of the prophet Ezekiel.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The greatest thing...

My life as a believer and disciple of Jesus Christ has not been without highs and lows, periods of inexpressible joy and deep heartache and sorrow.  I have noticed one thing that as I walked through these seasons of ups and downs, a specific aspect of the God’s nature and character, a new, or at least a better-understood truth would seem to surface and overshadow the rest.  Until we are alone, we not able to truly grasp the depth of Christ as friend, or
... until everything around us seems to be falling apart, that we grasp that Christ is our Rock,
... until the situation is hopeless that He is our hope,
... until sick that He is our healer.

God uses all the circumstances of our lives to reveal Himself to us and to learn to trust Him and to have a more intimate relationship with Him.  Sometimes when we in the process of learning, that particular part of God’s character may seem to the “most important of all the rest.”  We begin to see it everywhere and in almost everything. God’s Word seems to shout out this truth from almost every page. If we are not careful, we will begin to minimize other aspects of the nature of God because now we have “found the key that unlocks all other secrets.” 

It reminds me of when I was young, my grandfather bought a new red pickup and was so proud of it, he loved to drive it around the small rural community in which they lived. Not long afterward, something very interesting happened. Soon he began to notice that there were a bunch of red pickups around the town that he had never even noticed before. In a similar way, once we discover a new truth in the Word, it is not unusual to begin to see it “everywhere” and wonder why everyone else doesn’t see it as well. If we follow down that path, we will begin to see others as immature, or at least not as far along in the faith as ourselves who have this superior knowledge. [Paul and the early church had to deal with these issues as well, but that is not the central focus of this post.] Such prideful thoughts and actions will only lead to grief until we confess and forsake them. 

If we fail to grow and only continue to focus on the truth we have learned, then our growth will become stagnate.  As someone has said, “if all you have in your hand is a hammer, then everything begins to look like a nail.”  God’s nature and character is much greater than we can imagine and we must keep on deepening our relationship with Him so we can continue to grow in Who He is. Focusing on only one aspect is like saying that the most important part of a wrench is the part that fits on the bolt; however, the truth is without the handle the part that fits the bolt would be useless. A wrench is not a wrench unless it has both; they were never intended to be separated.

As finite creations, we are incapable of grasping it all, so our loving Father feeds us with the different foods and in the forms that are best for us and give Him glory. The process is not without pain, but it is not without joy, either. Just as there are changes in our physical growth, our understanding of God develops with the seasons of our lives.  Our growth and development does not minimize the importance of the former truths we learned, ut reveals that our infinite and almighty Creator is beyond our comprehension. When God opens a door to reveal more of who He is, we need to remember that it is just a door and not confuse it with the entire building.

Let me break this down just a little more. When we come to Christ, we are overwhelmed with all that God in Christ as done to redeem us; the grace of God is beyond our capacity to understand.  Later, we may begin to focus on the depth of the cost that Christ suffered, or the power of the resurrection and victory over death and hell, or consummation of time itself and spending eternity with God in heaven.  The emphasis we give as we grow in Christ to these truths [and many others], does not lessen the importance of those we are not emphasizing, but highlight the fact that we are simply incapable of grasping it all. The truth is that the only way that we could grasp it all would be if we were God, Himself. We need to rejoice in His greatness, not lament our limitations.

What is the takeaway from this?  
1. We get to know God deeper as we go through difficulty and problems of life, since they are the classroom in which we are to learn God’s nature and character as we study His Word.
2. As we have various seasons of life, childhood, youth, young adulthood, parenthood or singleness, older adulthood, and the various responsibilities and challenges that accompany each stage, we will have seasons in our spiritual growth and understanding.
3. We should not stop and focus on just one stage, but welcome other stages as they come. [Many times a new one will begin before the last reaches its end.]
4. We dare not look down on others who are going through other stages that we might have already gone through, but love and encourage them.
5. God is beyond our understanding, but He desires for us to get to know Him, trust Him and share this truth with others.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Lord, Teach Us to Pray....

     Of all the things the disciples could have specifically asked the Lord to teach them, it is worthy of note that it was how to pray.  Perhaps they were so accustomed to hearing lofty prayers aimed more at those around them than the God of the universe, that when they heard Jesus pray, they realized that they were listening in on an intimate conversation with His Father and they longed to have that kind of relationship.  Developing our prayer life is one of the most important aspects of our relationship with the Father as well.

     Even though I am still in the "learner stage" of prayer, I occasionally I am asked by a student or others to share some prayer helps. The materials below are some material on praying Scripture that I have used for a number of years as part of my morning devotional time. These are only suggestions and I am certainly not saying that this is best or only way to pray, just that is something that has been helpful to me over the years.

     The first section is just a listing of names and attributes of God divided into 31-day sections.  I like to meditate on the names or attributes of God for that day; for example, on the 8th  I meditated on the fact that God is "true", that Jesus is the "Door or Gate for the sheep,"  and that He is my "Friend;" on the 9th  I meditated on the fact that He is "Just," the "Branch", and the "Lawgiver."

     Then I pray through some daily requests that I pray for myself and my family. You certainly could add or subtract anything there; these are just issues in my own life for which I am praying. This section ends with the prayer that God would place someone in my path, on my heart, and that He would grant boldness in sharing.

     The following section is something that would need to be added by each person: Family, Church, Pastor, Staff, Deacons, Friends, Missionaries, Works, lost ones for which you are praying.  Following that section are 50 passages that you can use as part of your prayer, or that have blanks in which you can add specific names. You might want to use only one per day, or several, depending on the amount of time that you take for your prayer time.                 

Meditating on God’s Character
1. Loving 1. Lawyer [Jer. 51:36/Lam. 4:58]        
2. Kind         2. Good / Shepherd         
3. Merciful 3. Alpha and Omega        
4. Gracious 4. Holy / Holy One [Is. 43:14]
5. Patient 5. Defender [Is. 43:14]                      
6. Forgiving 6. Bread of Heaven                     
7. Faithful 7. Lord of hosts, Lord Almighty 
8. True           8. Door / Gate for the Sheep
9. Just 9. Branch [Zech. 3:8]           
10. Righteous       10. Priest & King [Zech 6:13]
11. Unchanging       11. Sun of Righteousness with
12. Creator [Is.43:15]     Healing in His wings [Mal.4:2]                                           
13. Sustainer       12. Fortress [Ps. 18:1/43:2]
14. Refuge       13. Shield & Stronghold [Ps. 94:22]
15. Strength       14. Compassionate [Ps 103:8]   
16. Rock               15. Infinite              
17. Teacher                           16. Ruler 
18. Guide       17. Impartial  
19. Corrector / Discipliner    18. Trustworthy 
20. Light / Lamp [Ps. 18:28] 19. Substitute
21. Way                20. Tree of Life          
22. Truth        21. Son of Man / Son of God      
23. Life                22. Mighty God / Almighty      
24. Wonderful Counselor      23. Author of Life
26. Everlasting Father        24. The Upright One
27. Prince of Peace        25. Source of Joy
28. Healer                              26. I AM         
29. Rewarder                         27. Savior           
30. Our Rest                          28. Bread of Heaven
31. Eternal / Everlasting       29. Lord of lords
                                              30. Cornerstone
                                              31. Great High Priest

1. Liberator
2. Helper
3. Ransom
4. Judge [Lam. 4:58]
5. Wisdom
6. Redeemer
7. Protector [Ps. 121]
8. Friend
9. Lawgiver [Is. 33:22]
10. Ever Present
11. Supplier / Provider
12. Commander
13. King of kings
14. [add  others...]

Daily Requests
Father, I love You, thank You, and praise You. I lift up Your holy name. Bind and rebuke Satan from my spirit, mind, will, emotions, thoughts, hopes desires, fears, body, habits, responses, words and every inclination toward evil.

I ask for Your wisdom and insight, Your nature and character, Your health and safety, Your love and discernment; to be sensitive to Your Holy Spirit and alert to Your wisdom and ways; that You would grant peace, provision, protection, perseverance, power to resist evil and temptation, an awareness of Your presence, Your patience and positive response, a passion for Your purposes, and to please You above all else. Rest in You, claim Your favor, Your grace, Trust You.

To be able to hear You speak, believe, and obey; that You would bless, enlarge territory, that Your hand would be with us, keeping us from evil and helping us to abide in You; that all that is said and done would bring glory to You.

I claim Your Word in Philippians 1:6, “You who began this good work will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Help watch eating and exercise; to not provide Satan with an opportunity of temptation by my own making or design; to watch and guard my tongue — every word said and to guard my eyes against every glance, every thought, every written word, & protect from bad choices, to choose Your will and obey. To use time wisely. May all choices be directed by Your Holy Spirit.

Develop in me right thinking, renewing my mind [Romans 12:1-2 & Philippians 4:8]. Prepare me for spiritual warfare [Ephesians 6]. Help me realize that You are with me, helping me want to obey You and then helping me do what You want [Philippians 2:13]. Father, grant that I might have the mind of Christ [I Corinthians 2:16]

Put someone in my path, place someone in my heart, and grant the boldness to share the Gospel.
Pray these for Family, Church, Pastor, Staff, & Deacons, Government, Friends, Missionaries, Work, lost people, & others on your heart.

Scriptures to Pray
Phil. 4:6-7  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
James 5:16  Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
Romans 8:26-32  In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Matthew 7:7-8  Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
May the God of peace equip ____ with everything good for doing His will, and may (he/she) work in him what is pleasing to Him through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20a, 21.)
May ____ be wise in the way (he/she) acts toward outsiders; making the most of every opportunity. Let (his/her) conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that (he/she) may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:5,6)
God, fill ___ with the knowledge of your will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that (he/she) may live a life worthy of you, Lord, and may please You in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to Your glorious might so that (he/she) may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to You, Father, who has qualified (him/her) to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. (Colossians 1:9-12)
That the Spirit of the Lord will rest on ___the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord and (he/she) will delight in the fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:2,3a.)
So then, just as _________received Christ Jesus as Lord, may they continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as they were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7)
And this I pray: that _________'s love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that __________ may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)
Lord, I ask that you, God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, give __________ the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that __________ may know you better. (Ephesians 1:17)
May ____________be strengthened with all power according to Your glorious might so that ____________may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully give thanks to You, Father. (Colossians 1:11-12)
But since we belong to the day, let (help)___________ be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. (1 Thessalonians 5:8)
May __________ be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that their labor is not in vain in the Lord never wasted or to no purpose. (1 Corinthians 15:58)
Help ___________ not to be weary in well-doing. Show them that if they don't get discouraged and give up, in due time they will reap a harvest of blessing. (Galatians 6:9)
O God, liberally supply all of __________'s needs according to your glorious riches, and may your limitless grace be theirs today....and every day. (Philippians 4:19,23)
Enable __________ to keep up their courage, firm to the end, along with joy and trust in the Lord. (Hebrews 3:6)
May __________ cry unto you for the help they need. Whenever their heart is faint and overwhelmed, lead them to the mighty, towering Rock of safety, for you are their refuge. (Psalms 61:2)
Lord, we should be bearing fruit, reproducing Christians. This is the way you are glorified. Give ___________ the desire to bear much fruit for Your honor and glory and then provide them with the ability to do so. (John 15:2,5,8)
Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ. May ____________ do so. (Acts 5:42)
May ___________ have the commitment of Paul I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace. (Acts 20:24)
May ____________ proclaim your Word to others today. May they have a sense of urgency to do this 'in season and out of season' (whether the circumstances are favorable or unfavorable.): (1 Corinthians 9:26) Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Timothy 4:2)
Give to __________friendship and fellowship with other Christians. Help them to realize that But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)
Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. May ___________ so live today. (1 Peter 3:9)
Then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. (Philippians 2:2) Pray this for the Pastor, Church Staff as well as for the whole church.
May ____________ be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. (Ephesians 4:2)
In every decision ___________ makes today, help him to have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16)
Instruct __________ to forget those things that are behind and reach forth unto those things which are before, to press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3: 13,14)
Let the word of Christ dwell in ____________ richly as he teaches and admonishes others with all wisdom, and as he sings psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in his heart toward God. (Colossians 3:16)
Help ___________ to be just and fair to his fellow workers, remembering he has a 'boss' in heaven. (Colossians 4:1)
Help ___________ to feed the flock of believers placed under his care. May he oversee the flock...and may he be an example to the flock.  (1Peter 5:2,3)
May __________ be directed at all times by the Holy Spirit, knowing when to 'go' and when to 'wait', and when to change plans entirely. (Acts 16:6,7)
Health and Safety
Enable __________ to lie down and rest in green meadows and lead them beside the quiet streams. Restore their failing health. (Psalm 23:2,3)
O Lord, keep on guiding ____________ with your wisdom and counsel. If their health fails or their spirits droop, be the strength of their heart...forever! (Psalm 73:24,26)
Lord, protect ____________ as you would the pupil of your eye. Hide them in the shadow of your wings. (Psalm 17:8) [36] You are our refuge. Provide _____________with your protection. Never let them be defeated. (Psalm 71:1)
May no harm befall ____________, no disaster come near their dwelling. Command your angels concerning __________ to guard them in all ways. (Psalm 91:10-11)
When doubts fill the minds of _________, when their hearts are in turmoil...quiet them and give them renewed hope and cheer. (Psalm 94:19)
2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
John 15:4-5 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in Him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
Isaiah 40:31 but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 43:1-3 But now, this is what the LORD says he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: 'Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior...
Isaiah 55:5-6,11 Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. ... 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.
Psalm 46:1-2, 9-11  God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, ...He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire. Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Psalm 103:8-14  The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.
Psalm 34:4-9  I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called, and the Lord heard him, he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. Fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing.
Psalm 5:3, 11-12  In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly. But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. Surely, LORD, you bless the righteous;   you surround them with your favor as with a shield.
Psalm 56:3   But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.
Psalm 4:8   In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.
Romans 15:5-7 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and  Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

Monday, October 9, 2017

7 Signs of a Near-Sighted Worship Leader

No, we’re not talking about the need for a visit to the optometrist, but one who has a different vision problem: limited vision of what a worship ministry encompass. Let’s look at these in summary fashion.

1. The Sunday One-and-Done: This one shows up to go over the worship sets, confident in pull-it-off-again. He or she knows it's not perfect, but it will be good enough for Sunday and knows no one there even knows the difference.

2. Superman or Wonderwoman: Gifted, likable, confident, they assume their place behind the microphone knowing how to “help the people respond,” because things just happen when they lead.

3. Toys for Tots: This one just has to have the latest and greatest tech toys or the service just won’t be right.

4. The Rising Star: This one is rising by moving up as fast as possible, always on the lookout for the “next big break” that will put him or her in the place of ministry such talent can be used and appreciated.

5. The Life-Preserver: Involvement in the local church needs to be limited to those activities that match gifts and talents; there is no need to go “overboard” on this service thing.

6. No Minors Allowed: No attempts are made to develop music and worship skills among the children or youth.  They are willing to work with the volunteers who already can “play,” but are really too busy in the worship ministry to babysit little kids.

7. You have arrived at your destination: These worship leaders finally have reached the point where they don’t have to practice anymore, after all, there is so much ministry to do and time is precious.

Near-sighted worship leadership lacks vision and fails to have the desired expected impact. Only the Servant leadership modeled by Jesus and directed by the Holy Spirit can help avoid these failures.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Ten Things I Am Praying for My Students this Semester

1. A deep and consistent time in getting to know and trust God better; knowing that in asking that I am asking God to lead them through situations and circumstances that will stretch their faith.

2. A growing understanding that their worth is based not on their performance, but on what Christ has done in their lives so that their desire for excellence would grow out of gratitude and not from trying to prove they are better than others.

3. That they would be willing to ask themselves their inner motivations and ask God to purify what is not consistent with His will.

4. That they would realize that they are not studying for just a particular class, but for the development of discipline and life skills that God wants them to learn through the class.

5. That they would realize that there are no shortcuts to character development.

6. That learning the material, developing the skills, and relating to others in godliness is more important than getting the degree.

7. Understanding and accepting their limits; that they cannot do everything and must learn to make wise choices of what God desires.

8. That they would learn to ask and think through the future ramifications of the choices they make today.

9. That they would forgive and seek forgiveness, releasing to God the vengeance desired and readily admitting wrong committed.

10. That they would worship God in Spirit and truth and lead others to do the same.

Monday, July 24, 2017

A Worship Myth and Misunderstanding

God inhabits the praise of His people.”   This is taken from Psalm 22:3, the very psalm that Jesus references as He is suffering on the cross. While much has been and needs to be said about the psalm, the immediate context is attributed to David writing during a time of great distress, yet as the song continues he gives hope in the ultimate victory of God: “They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!” [v. 31] Jesus transforms the meaning as He quotes the first line of the psalm [My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?], not so much as a testimony of God’s abandonment, but as some scholars believe that in citing the beginning many around the cross would have been familiar with the entire psalm, which might have been interpreted in a different way, one of ultimate victory.

Please pardon such a brief contextual note. {I would encourage the reader to seek out a good commentary for a more complete study.} The root of the confusion lies with the King James translation of verse 3: “But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.”  Which in the last several decades has been not only taken out of context, but the original meaning has been skewed to be understood that “God will come down as we begin to praise Him.”  Later this idea has evolved into “making God show up and do something great.”  The idea is simply, God will begin to inhabit the place where His name is praised.  

Let’s look first at a few translations of verse 3 that are more accurate:

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;  you are the one Israel praises. [NIV]
You are holy; you sit as king receiving the praises of Israel. [NET]
Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. [ESV]

As can be seen, “inhabitest” can be better translated, “enthroned, or seated.”   The idea of God making a special appearance because of our praise is not found or even implied. Another difficulty in “causing God to show up” is that it reflects a faulty understanding of worship. God initiates worship, man does not.

This fallacy is also reflected when we pray [or sing] for “God’s Spirit or presence to come to us as we worship,” or to “Welcome or invite the Holy Spirit to come among us.”  We are not in a position to invite: Only He is God, and He through His Holy Spirit already lives within the believer, so there is no need or reason to “invite.”

We can surrender our will and our desires; we can repent, we can acknowledge His nature and character and His great acts. We can thank Him for His presence among us through His Holy Spirit. We can ask for help and courage to proclaim, but we cannot give God permission to join us.   Although done in innocence, when we use such phrases as mentioned, we are placing ourselves in a position of control, which is contrary to the true desire of the worshipper.  

We need to be careful as we gather to be true to the Scriptures and our understanding of worship. Christ is the central figure in our worship. Worship is our obedient response to His revealed nature and character. {For further study, I would recommend Swee Hong Lim and Lester Ruth’s new book, Lovin’ on Jesus: A Concise History of Contemporary Worship.}

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

What About Emotions and Worship?

I would like to respond to a recent note posted on the blog article, “Worship and Entertainment” by a reader:
I thoroughly enjoyed your post and it was very thought provoking. I would like to explore more thought on the role of emotion. While I agree that emotion for the sake of emotion is not worship, there are emotions that well up out of a deep connection with God. I am afraid that we tend to discount emotion as contrived or a surface connection when it can be a part of the most basic expression of our relationship with God. 

I have briefly touched on worship and emotions in previous blogs [Worshiping by Faith, and Worship and Emotions], but this issue is huge in our culture and I believe that there is so much more that needs to be said. Because there are entire books on emotions, I will be the first to say that what is here will not be all that needs to be said, nor do I claim to be the authority to state them. These are only some ideas compiled that I trust can be used without causing too much confusion.

1. Emotions are not evil but are a gift from God. God, Himself, is described as having emotions and we are created in His image.  Zephaniah 3: 17 states: “The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love, he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”  The God who created all there is expressed joy in His creation and rejoices. Surely part of being formed in the image of the Creator means that the capacity to feel and express emotions is also a part of who we are. They can be used for evil, but that was not God's purpose for them.

2. We must remember that “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” [Jeremiah 17:9] Our emotions have been tainted by our human nature and must always be subject to the truth of God’s Word. Whether or not we “feel” something is right or wrong is not the basis for truth, but what Scripture. We must evaluate our feelings to make sure that they are consistent with God’s Word.

3. Sometimes our emotions are a result of physical issues and chemical imbalances in the body. These imbalances can weaken our ability to respond correctly, especially in stressful circumstances. I know from personal experience the effects of hypoglycemia [low blood sugar] can have and how now to help control it.

4. When we find ourselves reacting with very strong emotions like outbursts of anger, etc., then they need to become red flags that something is not right in our responses. In these cases, we need to ask ourselves “Why am I responding in this way?” Many times we will come to understand that there is a point of fear, etc., for which we might not have been consciously aware.   Sometimes our emotional responses are tied to a traumatic incident in the past, or the environment in which we were raised. If blowing up and screaming were the norm in someone’s childhood, it is no surprise to find that person repeating the response as an adult in similar situations. As we become aware of the root causes we can begin to process them and respond in a biblical fashion and not just react.   {I highly recommend Peter Scazzero’s book, The Emotionally Healthy Leader for anyone interested in the subject.  Another good article is by Glenn Packiam and his excellent blog post: }

5. Music and emotions.
Music can express where words alone seem to fail and part of that expression includes our emotions. Music can become an aid for expression for those who have difficulty in expressing how they feel in words. The psalms are replete with examples of praise to God and joyful expressions in the form of a song; many are direct commands to “sing joyfully,” that is, to express joy to God through song. James 5:13 clearly states “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.” Since there are many resources covering this aspect, I won’t go any deeper; it is clear that the Scriptures are replete with examples of music and the expression of emotions. Scott Aniol goes further:

Music provides a language for a right expression of emotion, and good music actually educates our emotions so that they develop to maturity.” “... words cannot adequately express what we feel. Church music– that is, poetry set to music– provides the language we need to express our affections. So in a church service, as we contemplate truth and goodness, we use music to help us take the next step and respond with our affections.” [Scott Aniol: Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, p. 165-166.]

The key is to keep our focus on God as the center of our worship and not the emotions that the music may evoke, lest we find ourselves worshiping the feelings generated by the music more than God. We have freedom of emotional expression but focused on the root source, not the result.

6. The danger arises when we use emotions as the primary measure of our worship experience; we begin to focus on the result, rather than the cause. Allow me to fall back on the experience I had with my children when we served overseas as missionaries. After a trip that would take me away from home, I always tried to bring the kids something from where I’d been. After a while I noticed that it seemed at times they were more excited about “Daddy, what did you bring me?” than my return. If we are not careful we will begin to focus on the emotions that no doubt come in our worship, but lessen our focus on the reason for our worship.

I hope that this brief discussion helps some and doesn’t muddy the water too much. I do not pretend to have covered it all, but just some talking points for clarity on the subject. Until we are in eternity with God in heaven, I believe there will be this tension between focusing on Christ and our emotions. It is unhealthy to live on either extreme: to deny and refuse to express emotion or to give full reign to whatever we feel. Balance is needed, directed by the Holy Spirit and guided by the Word of God.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


Not long ago I was eating at a local restaurant, like many with a series of TVs on highlighting various sporting events, except on one the channel had not been changed and one of the infamous infomercials was on touting a set of cookware that could change your life and destiny... Ok, I am exaggerating, but I'm sure you've seen it or one like it. There were two co-stars, one who was doing the cooking and another who was overawed and amazed with everything the other would do with the cookware. Excitement, smiles, laughter, just seemed as if by just bringing the cookware into your home the whole kitchen would transform itself into a 5-star restaurant, and to top it off, they were going to offer you this one-time special price of just three easy payments of .... Well, you know. You've heard the same ones. Sometimes, they will break in and say, “But wait, if you order now, we will send you another complete set for free! Just pay shipping and handling.

Hear me first say that I don't doubt that what they are selling might be good; this is not a commentary on the quality of the product. Perhaps it's just me, but when I hear those commercials I tend to jump to the defensive and wonder “What are they trying to sell me now? What's the catch?”  I confess that I cannot listen fairly because of some past experiences I have known from others who have made similar purchases and had less than positive results. I tend to lump all such advertisements together. The purpose of the infomercial is to sell the product. I get that, and yet I long for all the information and openness that doesn't tell me “this is the only pan you will ever need for the rest of your life...” Theoretically possible, but highly unlikely.

By now you might be wondering what all this has to do with worship. Glad you asked because I really am not on an anti-advertising tirade. If we are not careful we can allow our worship to morph into an infomercial about a Jesus “who will take all your problems away.” The manner in which we talk about our faith and relationship in Christ can begin to sound like a cheap infomercial and subconsciously be lumped together with those on TV. Authenticity requires transparency.  As we share of the transformation that Christ has made in our lives, we need to share the struggles and failures as well. As Bonhoeffer stated, “Free grace is not cheap grace.” Following Christ includes commitment and sacrifice.

Our worship must be centered around Christ's death and resurrection, salvation, redemption, His return, Who God is, all He has done and how this Almighty God desires a relationship with His creation. At the same time, this relationship demands a surrender of personal desire that welcomes the remolding of our character that is consistent with the new nature He has given.  The benefits of our relationship with Christ should never be minimized, but the cost of the commitment cannot be overlooked. Worship is God-centered. The focus of worship is not to meet our needs but to return to God the praise and thanksgiving to Him who alone is worthy. At the same time, as we are obedient in this recognition, God miraculously meets our needs.

Worship that is designed as an “infomercial” is shallow, gimmicky and lacks depth. Worship must be accessible to those attending, but not compromised just to bring in the crowds. Jesus never did the miracles just to bring in the crowd. In fact, Matthew 5:1 states that “When he saw the multitudes, he called his disciples to himself and when he sat down he began to teach them {the twelve} saying...” Nor was he worried when the crowds didn’t understand what he meant by “eating his flesh and drinking his blood” and began to leave. His desire was to test the commitment of the twelve: “Will you also go?” Peter replied, “To whom shall we go? You alone have the words of life!”   [John 6:55-69]

Worship is that celebration and thanksgiving for all He has done and will do, but it is also that obedient commitment to follow Him, to allow His Holy Spirit to cut away the rough edges of our personalities until we reflect the Son of God. We cannot have one without the other.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Selfies and Worship

We live in a culture that is dominated by “selfies.” The desire to take a snapshot of oneself with friends and family in a memorable location is not new. It is common to see the collection of family photos someone standing on a boundary between two states and having one foot in both states, or some such historical or geographical place.  However, the shift to “selfie” is the focus of the subject: it’s all about “me.” “Selfie sticks” are common and feed the craze to get that best shot of, well you know, “me.” I did a search on Yahoo on “How to get the best selfie,” and got no less than 1.3 million sites. Youtube videos on the subject abound.

What does this have to do with worship? Plenty. If we live our lives with the camera on ourselves, focusing on who and what we are, we will carry that attitude into the worship service, consciously or subconsciously. Whether we articulate the question out loud or not, our thoughts are: “How well does this please me? Do I like the music? The Worship leader? The Band? Those around me? The preacher? Am I comfortable?” All the activities are measured in light of the “mental selfie” of what is pleasing to us.

Worship is the obedience response to the revealed nature and character of God. He is the focus. Any focus on ourselves must be in light of who we are in relation to Him. Though created in His image, we have rebelled breaking fellowship with God. God in His infinite love and grace sent His Son, Jesus, as a sacrifice that could forgive our rebellion and restore the relationship. In humble gratitude we respond in praise and thanksgiving, worshiping the God of our salvation and desiring that all come to the knowledge of Christ. Biblical worship keeps the central focus on God, what He has done, is doing, and what He will do; “selfies” do not have a place.

In her book, Vainglory: the Forgotten Vice, Rebecca DeYoung describes how pride has been obscured by the construct of vainglory: “Put simply, the prideful person desires to be greater than others, whether others recognize this or not, while the vainglorious person wishes to attract others’ notice and applause, whether she is better than them or not.” [p. 42] Motivation becomes central to the idea of vainglory in that we want to let our light shine, not so much to dispel darkness, but because we love being in the spotlight. This is the “selfie” mentality that has infiltrated worship. “Selfie” worship in a congregation may not lack participation, but is void of biblical purpose.

What can be done? Before we can treat any sickness, it must be diagnosed and we must be willing to follow proper treatment. We must admit that we might be ill and allow for a checkup. Asking God to reveal our motives, to purify our heart’s desires, to seek & prepare to meet with Him on a daily basis as well as in times of corporate worship are good starters. When we humbly approach the throne of God, confessing sin, seeking His face, He will not slam the door of heaven on us. However, we must be willing to be obedient and do what He commands, forgive, share, and be open to His leadership.

When we find ourselves measuring how much we “enjoyed the worship,” we need to stop and do a “selfie” check. We need to turn the camera around and change the focus.

[For more on this, see the blog post: Worship and Entertainment]