Monday, November 5, 2018

More Better

Love is an emotional thing.

Love is a practical thing.

I have been trying for decades to love people more. I want to have compassion like Jesus. Chances are, if you are reading this, you do too. I've always thought of this "heart of Jesus" like the scene in Luke. He was looking over Jerusalem, tears streaming down His cheeks, longing to gather her citizens to Himself. I want my heart to feel that deeply for people, yearning to gather them to Jesus.

In simple terms, I want to love people more.

But then a while back I was sitting in church, listening to a sermon, minding my own business, and crashing into my mind came this question:

Is it more important to love people more, or love people better?

You see, as soft as Jesus' heart was for the people of God's city, they had no idea. They didn't see his tears. They didn't experience his emotion. They didn't get needs met. They weren't going to be saved from their sin by a man sitting on a hillside crying.

And that's exactly why Jesus didn't stay there. He walked into the city, knowing full well that it would cost His life.

And pay for theirs.

His heart compelled Him to do something.

And now, on this side of the blood soaked cross and echoing empty tomb, there can be no doubt. The people knew Jesus loved them.

We know Jesus loves us.

He demonstrated it.

So must I.

And this is how I love people better--not just more, but better: I demonstrate it.

So I've been on the lookout. How can I love those my "heart feels full of emotion for" with actions that show it?

I don't mean kindness, though that is essential--fruit of the Spirit. I mean love....
  • that cares more about their well being than my own;
  • that cares more about their condition than ministry programming;
  • that follows up a prayer with a text;
  • that asks how they are doing, just because they came to mind... after all, it was probably the Spirit that brought them there;
  • that does for someone else what I don't feel like doing.
There is no part of me that believes Jesus "felt like" enduring the events of Good Friday.

But if you and I want Easter-like relationships--that echo with the power of resurrection--we need to find ways to love better.

Love more. Love better.

More better.

I'd love to see some comments! How do you demonstrate your love effectively?

Monday, October 29, 2018

Devo: Chain Breaker

We sang this in a couple of our services yesterday. One of our (young!) retired ladies posted the lyrics on her Facebook profile, commeting "I so felt the Holy Spirit with us today." She inspired me to re-visit the lyrics. Perhaps someone you know needs this more than you. And maybe it was God that led me to share this just for you. To watch the powerful music video from Zach Williams, CLICK HERE.


Prison

What’s yours?

There are a thousand. Maybe more.

The prisons mentioned in Chain Breaker seem a good place to start:
hurting with pain,
searching for direction.

A dozen others come to mind whether I sing this it in personal worship or lead it publicly:
Alcohol
Anxiety
Depression
Fear
Gambling
Marijuana
Meth
Painkillers
Pornography
Pride
Tobacco
Worry.

After a minute with Google, a dozen other possibilities emerge.

The astounding thing about Jesus is that WHICH prison doesn’t seem to matter to Him. He can free us—better yet, He yearned to free us so much that He defeated sin and the grave to set us free—from our prisons.

To set you free from yours.

So run to Him. Every time you are tempted to run back to your prison, choose to run to Him instead.

He’s been breaking chains for people like Peter, Paul and Silas for millennia.

He wants to break yours, too.


Chain Breaker

If you've been walking the same old road
For miles and miles,
If you've been hearing the same old voice
Tell the same old lies,
If you're trying to fill the same old holes inside,
There's a better life,
There's a better life.

If you've got pain, He's a pain taker.
If you feel lost, He's a way maker.
If you need freedom, or saving,
He's a prison shaking Savior.
If you got chains, He's a chain breaker.

We've all searched for the light of day
In the dead of night.
We've all found ourselves worn out
From the same old fight.
We've all run to things we know just ain't right.
There's a better life,
There's a better life.

If you believe it,
If you receive it,
If you can feel it,
Somebody testify.

Oh, if you need freedom, or saving,
He's a prison shaking Savior.
If you got chains, He's a chain breaker.

Jonathan Smith | Mia Fieldes | Zach Williams | © 2015 Anthems of Hope (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC) | Be Essential Songs (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC) | Not Just Another Song Publishing (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC) | So Essential Tunes (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC) | Upside Down Under (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC) | Wisteria Drive (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

Monday, October 15, 2018

12 Commitments in Pursuit of Humility

In recent months, I have become more deeply convinced of the danger of pride and the value of humility. Pride is the gate through which we enter all other sins. Humility is the way out. And the way to stay out.

After struggling for more than 30 years with this central charicteristic of Christianity—humility—I’d like to share some of what I’m learning. I still fail more often than I succeed. But I think God has shown me some things along the way that might serve your journey. If so, hallelujah!

1) I will redirect my speech. If I’m talking about myself, I try to notice and turn the conversation to the other person. I can’t do this so much that I close myself off to others. That’s a different sort of arrogance. Still, talking about myself less tends to result in thinking of myself less.

2) I will simply say “thank you” or “that’s very kind” when someone compliments me. No commentary is needed. This is so hard for me. I want to thank them and deflect. Most of the time I attempt to do that, however, I end up in the land of #humblebrag.

3) I will redirect glory to God. If someone begins to attribute things to me that only God can do, that seems like the right exception to #2. Still, I’ll be brief.

4) I will talk less. The less I talk, the less I’m likely to talk about myself. And the less I talk about myself, the less I think about myself.

5) I will redirect to the other person. When asked a question about myself, if I can answer briefly and then ask the other person to share their perspective, this helps. In my fallenness, though, I typically have a lot I want to say and so I stink at this.

6) I will think about myself less — feeling pity, pride, or preoccupation — I want to am learning to “cast, give thanks, and refocus.” I cast my cares on my Father, because He cares for me. I thank Him that He’s got this—my pity, pride or preoccupation. And then I refocus. Usually this looks like getting busy serving someone else.

7) I will continually remind myself that it’s a lot better to humble myself than it is to be humbled by God. 

8) I will never one-up someone in conversation. I will celebrate their accomplishment without comparing it to my own.

9) I will ask more questions than I will give answers. Humility looks more like a student than a teacher. Pride gives answers. Humility asks questions. 

10) I will relentlessly pursue affirming others without regard for reciprocation.

11) I will live from a place of God’s love and acceptance so I don’t have to seek love and acceptance from people.

12) When my feelings get hurt, I will recognize this as a source of pride. And I will allow that broken, fallen part of me to die. For "my old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” My flesh gets its feelings hurt. Christ in me does not.

Some of you will recognize this is not all original thinking. (Is anything?) But I have drawn on things I’ve learned from several influencers in recent years: Tim Harris, Louie Giglio, Rick Roepke, and others. I am grateful for those voices in my life—in person, in writing, in podcasts, etc.

Do you have any tips to share?

Monday, October 1, 2018

Guess Who Is Praying for You?

“I will pray for you.”

Fewer words are sweeter or more life giving. About the only thing I’d rather hear is the actual praying-voice of someone praying for me. Over me.

Get this: Jesus is praying for you. Praying over you. Pleading for you.

Use your holy imagination. See Him standing next to God, talking with His Father? Our Father.

Hear His voice.

Son to Dad. Perfect High Priest to Most High God.

Your Friend, Jesus, talking with the King of the Universe.

Dr Luke relays a story about this with one of Jesus’ closest friends, Simon (Peter):
“Simon, stay on your toes. Satan has tried his best to separate all of you from me, like chaff from wheat. Simon, I’ve prayed for you in particular that you not give in or give out. When you have come through the time of testing, turn to your companions and give them a fresh start.” (Luke 22:31-32, The Message)

Did you see it? “I’ve prayed for you in particular."

Now go ahead, put your name in the blank:

"_______, I’ve prayed for you in particular that you not give in or give out.”

Not sure your name deserves to be there? Hebrews 7:25 may help. It declares that the resurrected Jesus “lives forever to intercede with God” on behalf of those who come to God.

Try it again:

"_______, I’ve prayed for you in particular that you not give in or give out.”

Whenever it feels like you’re about to give in to temptation, remember Jesus has prayed for you to have victory.

Whenever it feels like you can’t go one more day, one more step, remember Jesus has prayed for you to have strength.


Before The Throne Of God Above (click on the title to hear the song)

Before the throne of God above,
I have a strong and perfect plea,
A great High Priest whose name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me;
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart;
I know that while in heav'n He stands,
No tongue can bid me thence depart,
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair,
And tells me of the guilt within;
Upward I look and see Him there,
Who made an end to all my sin;
Because the sinless Saviour died
My sinful soul is counted free;
For God the Just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me,
To look on Him and pardon me.

Behold Him there, the risen Lamb,
My perfect spotless righteousness;
The great unchangeable I Am,
The King of glory and of grace;
One with Himself, I cannot die;
My soul is purchased with His blood;
My life is hid with Christ on high;
With Christ my Saviour and my God,
With Christ my Saviour and my God.

Charitie Lees Bancroft | Vikki Cook | © 1997 Sovereign Grace Worship (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing (Integrity Music [DC Cook]))

Monday, September 24, 2018

It Matters

I sometimes wonder, is it worth it?

No matter the extent of my planning, it seems I can never do enough to cover all the details. Is it worth it?

I line up vocalists and instrumentalists weeks ahead, and conflicts knock them out a day or two before. Worth it?

The tech team stays late and arrives early, and the sound check still can't seem to start on time. Worth it?

I pour my heart into new servant-leaders, but then their job takes them across the county or the country. Worth it?

Sometimes I just don’t know if it matters.

You?

But then, something like this happens...

Brandon was just 20. His car lost control and the tree won. The author of death and destruction—our enemy—stuck his gnarly finger out and wreaked havoc.

But he—the enemy—couldn’t see the rest of the story.

You see, Brandon hadn’t been coming to church much lately.  His mom politely invited him at breakfast last Sunday. He agreed.

Not much of a singer in worship, Brandon listened intently to the pastor preach from Psalm 66. “You were born to sing,” the preacher proclaimed. “God commands you to sing, whether you feel like it or not, like the song or not, sing pretty or not. So sing.” And he wrapped up by declaring, “Your worship life can’t be complete without singing.”

Beforehand, the pastor and I prayed and pondered. Which songs go before and after a sermon like that. As we prepared to hear the Word of the Lord we sang, “It’s Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to You only.”

And then after, we prayerfully chose “Shout to the Lord all the earth, let us sing.”

And Brandon sang. Not mumbled. Not mouthed the words. Sang. Full-throated, heart-felt, soul-expressed singing, tears streamed down his cheek.

His mom and dad were moved to tears. Their best friends, seated nearby, noticed too.

It was the last time his momma heard him sing, this side of eternity.

It matters, brothers and sisters. The song choices matter. The prayer undergirding your crafting of worship gatherings matters. The way you pastor people between Sundays matters. The way you fight for a great relationship with your pastor matters. The way you battle in the heavenly places on behalf of your people matters.

If you have grown weary in doing good, please let this truth land in the depths of your soul: what you do matters.

Press on. Keep the faith. Fight for your team. Don’t give up.

It matters.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Got a Preposition for You

Prepositions are mighty big, little words. In just 2 or 3 letters, they can change the meaning of a sentence. Or a paragraph. Or a whole conversation.

If you’re a sports fan, you’d much prefer your team be in the championship game than at the championship game. How much more for those on the team!

If you’re in love with the guy you hope will pop the question, you’d rather hear “You’re the one for me” than “You’re the one with me.”

Powerful prepositions.

These mighty little words can help us understand how we worship, too.

TO —Who are you singing to? There are two primary options: you’re singing to Godor to each another. Which way does the text go? Are the words directed to God? (Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee; How Great Thou Art; Great Is Thy Faithfulness; I Love You Lord; Open Up the Heavens) Or are the lyrics directed to one another? (O Worship the King; To God Be the Glory; Blessed Assurance; In Christ Alone; No Longer Slaves)

This little word (to) has a good bit to do with where our eyes focus. Are they looking to the heavens, where Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father? Or are they catching the eyes of those around us, encouraging… spurring one another on? 

FOR —Closely related, and a place I have much sin to confess… Who are you singing for? When I first discovered I could sing—back in high school—I would sing for the people around me. Always and only. I would do my best to demonstrate to everyone within a few seats of me just how talented I was. I was singing for the praise of those around me. I was, perhaps more accurately, singing to others for my own gain. But these days I try to sing for the edification—the building up—of those gathered to worship. And, on the days I get it right, only for the glory of God.

WITH —Who are you singing with? This is one of the reasons I love being part of a free-church, or non-liturgical tradition. There is a beautiful, powerful, Biblical emphasis on being together. Being family. Being the Body of Christ. We often think of this in the ways we serve alongside each other outside of the worship gathering, but when we meet with God, we are still the Body. We need each other. (“The eye can’t say to the foot, ‘I don’t need you.’” - 1 Cor 12) Many of the pronouns in our lyrics remind us of this. I don’t sing in a box all by myself, or even with other people in boxes. We are joined. We worship together. (O God Our Help in Ages Past; Everlasting God; How Great Is Our God; We Will Remember)

OVER —Who are you singing over? Perhaps this is a new one for you. But when you lift your voice, there is a benefit for those around you. I don’t mean that they hear how well you sing (or grimace when you miss a note). I mean something happens when praise leaves your lips… when worship goes beyond your personal space. It blessed others. I suspect you know this is true because you’ve been on the receiving end. Someone near you, perhaps behind you, has sung their joy and it lifted your sad soul. Or someone has lifted their hands in praise and it straightened your slumped shoulders. There are times your singing ministers to those who are too broken to sing on their own. When you can’t lift your voice because of your hurt, your brokenness, even your sin, we want to sing for you.

OVER, part 2— This is my favorite. Who is singing over you? God! I’ve known this for decades. I’ve had the honor of teaching this from pulpits for years. But the words of Zephaniah 3:17 never grow old:
   "The Lord your God is living among you.
      He is a mighty savior.
    He will take delight in you with gladness.
      With His love, he will calm all your fears.
      He will rejoice over you with joyful songs."

Got any to add?

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

12 Steps for Planning Worship


There can be so much more to planning worship, but if you'll follow these steps, you'll be off to a great start!

  • Pray (Best if this happens more than once in the process!)
  • Read sermon text, if you have one. Consider reading in 3 or more translations.
  • Brainstorm* congregational song options.
  • Brainstorm* other worship elements (prayer, video, drama, presentational music, other creative ministries).
  • Determine the structure for the day (e.g. Psalm 95, Tabernacle, Isaiah 6, Historical 4-fold patter, Ascend the Hill—Vertical Church, etc.).
  • Decide which songs / other worship elements.
  • Arrange big chunks for best flow.
  • Consider transitions between worship elements.
  • Then consider…
    1. Is the service Trinitarian, including Father, Son and Spirit language?
    2. Are all generations represented; are you serving the whole gathering?
    3. Have you considered 3 audiences (glorify God, edify the Church, testify to the Community)?
    4. Is text direction going in both directions in the service (vertical and horizontal)?
    5. Are you singing the gospel?
    6. Is there adequate variety (from intimate to epic), etc.?
  • Decide if #3-#7 should be re-visited / re-worked.
  • Attend to details:
    1. song keys,
    2. vocal / instrumental road map,
    3. house / stage lighting.
  • Assign / invite personnel.

*Brainstorming, by nature, means not evaluating. Start with all possibilities.


For more about worship planning, check out my book "Worship Leader Handbook."