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I am a follower of Jesus.
Like you, I am faced with choices, desires, options, and possibilities. Some options are obviously contrary to the heart of God, and so I know not to consider them as viable. But what about those other options? What about my desires, dreams, and hopes? Everyone has them, or had them at one time.
As a follower of Jesus, there are many paths that are considered acceptable by my church culture. If I want to pursue something, and it has a “Jesus element” to it, then I usually get approval by most people that I know. There are other activities that are considered good and acceptable by my popular culture, and are not obviously “wrong”, and so once again I receive a nod of approval.
Following Jesus is completely contrary to the two scenarios that I have just described. Neither public approval nor my church culture approval is enough to validate a trajectory for my life. My own desires, predispositions, and tendencies are not to be the compass for my existence. Someone has said that, “the enemy of the best is the good”. It is incredibly easy to be a few degrees off regarding what one ought to be doing with their life. A few degrees off doesn’t seem like much when a pilot first takes off, but obviously, the further he flies, the more off course he gets. Such can be the outcome of a person’s life. We can be well intentioned, but way off course. We can “land” in a place that is distant from where we should have landed.
To some I may sound idealistic. To others, legalistic and confined. I have considered those possibilities as well. I have wondered if I ought not allow myself to be more free, to follow the impulses and passions of my heart.
As I understand it, following Jesus is neither a matter of pragmatism, or logic. Pragmatism dictates that we ought to do the things that “works”. Logic is the thing that seems obvious.
A Christian man might be a very talented athlete, with a great possibility of a professional career. Pragmatism and logic would dictate that that is the course he ought to pursue, but it may not necessarily be the path that God has chosen for him. Just because a man can follow a path and be successful at it doesn’t mean that he should. Two examples of this come to mind: Jim Elliot, and Eric Liddell. Both men were incredibly gifted athletes, but both set aside their athletic pursuits to pursue a greater prize.
People undoubtedly called Elliot and Liddell foolish for choosing Christian service over athletic careers, but both men stayed their courses as they felt led by God, and their lives and deaths have become models of faith for the Christian Church. Pragmatism and logic would have dictated different paths for Elliot and Liddell. Their personal passion for sports, coupled with their athletic talents would have seemed to be evidence of an athletic career, but the Spirit of God had a greater plan.
Let me conclude with some scripture that points to what I am suggesting.
Philippians 3:12-14 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
John 8:29 And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.
Both Paul and Jesus could have been incredibly successful in the eyes of the world if they had chosen different paths. Paul would have been a shaper of culture, a great author, and a philosopher. Jesus could have changed the temporary course of history for Israel by driving out the Romans, and He would have been an amazing king.
Aren’t we glad that neither of them chose the good instead of the best? Aren’t we glad that they did not allow pragmatism and logic to dictate their actions?
Dear reader, if you are a Christ follower, don’t miss the best because you choose the good. Don’t allow pragmatism or logic to dictate you life path. Just because you can do something well, and because you have a passion for it doesn’t mean that those pursuits should be the focus of your life. God may allow you to pursue some things as part time hobbies, but keep the main thing the main thing.
Criticism can be hard to swallow. Regarding criticism, it has been said, “Your friends have everything to lose, and your enemies have nothing to lose”. In other words, listening to criticism can be a helpful thing, if the criticism is true and accurate. Your friends take the risk of you getting angry at them, so they take a chance in sharing a criticism with you. Your enemies don’t care if you like what they say or not, so they can be blunt. In either scenario, there may be things to learn.
But I think I have a better idea than listening to critics, and it is this: Critique yourself. Examine yourself. There is Biblical precedent for it.
The Apostle Paul told the church at Corinth, “For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged”. (1 Corinthians 11:31)
The church at Corinth was mishandling the Lord’s Supper, and God had judged some of them. That was the immediate context of the passage, but there is an application that can be extracted from that verse. We ought to judge ourselves in regards to how well we are doing as worship leaders.
I’d rather be an honest critic of myself, than be surprised by the words of another. It just makes sense to me that worship leaders ought to examine how they are doing regarding the ministry that God has given them.
Here is what I suggest:
Listen to yourself. I regularly listen to the recorded worship sessions from our church. I am often disappointed in my playing and singing, but I am able to identify mistakes that I regularly make, and have an awareness of what needs to be worked on. There might be a certain note that is consistently off pitch. Maybe a phrase could be sung better. Sometimes during the worship leading, I am ‘really feeling it”, and it seems to be “right”, until listen back to the recording, and discovering that I rushed the song, or played it too slowly. Listening to myself has helped me identify problematic areas of my playing, singing, and leading.
Sometimes the recording off the soundboard may not be a good representation of what the church is hearing. I suggest that the serious worship leader use some kind of recording device to record the sound of the room. The Zoom H1 digital recorder can be purchased for about $125, and gives the worship leader a clear representation of what the worship experience sounds like. It is a great investment for the serious worship leader. Older models can be found for $60-75 on Craigslist or eBay.
Better than listening to yourself, is watching yourself. The congregation watches us for at least part of the time. What they see can affect them positively or negatively. We all have funny idiosyncrasies. We might have poor posture, and that makes us look lazy. Some people have distracting facial expressions when they play or sing. I regularly watch myself both play and preach. We are fortunate to have a good video system, so I see “every little thing”. :-/
Have a friend video record you with their iPhone. Set up an inexpensive video camera, and have the band examine itself. I would rather discover visual distractions and correct them, than to force the congregation to endure them until I figure them out.
Worship leading is a platform ministry. We are in front of people. How you stand, sing, play makes a difference. Some clothes may not be flattering to you, and might be a distraction. Certainly, modesty in dress should be practiced. We look in the mirror before we leave the house. I think it is a good idea to “look in the mirror” regarding our worship leading.
So Mr./Mrs./Miss Worship Leader….critique yourself. Listen, watch, and make adjustments as needed. Your church will appreciate it, and the worship experience will be enhanced.
Some thoughts for fellow followers of Jesus…
The ten second sound bite version of what I am writing is this: If you blew it, and have a mess on your hands, let God fix it. You thought you could be in control and do things your own way, and now you have a mess. In your flesh, you made a mess. What makes you think that in your flesh, you can fix it? Better to walk in the Spirit like you should have to begin with. Walk in the Spirit, and let God fix it.
The longer version of the same story line is as follows…
Sin is a nasty thing. It promises much, and delivers little. The consequences are always bigger than the gratification. It never seems as bad as it really is…until later.
We get used to sinning. We minimize it. We get de-sensitized to it. We agree in our heads that something is wrong, but we do it anyway, intending to stop.
There are sins of commission: we do things that we know are wrong.
There are sins of omission: we don’t do things we know that we should.
The sin in a Christian’s life can run the gamut of not reading your Bible (dumb…you need God’s Word, heart, and direction) to something much more obvious, like substance abuse or sexual immorality. We can be committing little sins, like being disagreeable, or we can be committing bigger sins, such as being violent and a striker. A sin of omission might be that you don’t think that church attendance is important, and eventually find yourself isolated, alone, unchallenged, un-encouraged, etc. There are numerous examples of sins of commission and omission.
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Filed under: Christianity
, Decision Making
, Dying To Self
, God's Will
, Good Intentions
, Self Awareness
, Spirit Filled Life
, Spiritual Blindness
, Spiritual Growth
Pastors and church leaders make many valid efforts to promote church unity. In any city, there is the church universal. Each of our particular churches is a sub culture of the City Church, and then within each church, there are sub-sub cultures, such as youth groups, 50’s plus groups, college groups, etc.
We are conscious to understand each sub-sub culture, to speak on their terms, and be sensitive to their world. We seek to promote activities that appeal to those sub-sub cultures, and to bring age appropriate blessings to them.
These efforts are good efforts, in that they reach into people’s worlds. We meet them where they are at. We become “all things to all men that we might save (and bless) some”.
Human nature is such that we love our peer groups. Birds of a feather flock together. We all have that tendency. Like attracts like. Little or no effort is needed to mingle with people like ourselves. It is an unconscious human response to seek out peers that understand us, accept us, and approve of us. And so, sub-sub cultures exist within our church.
While recognizing and ministering to sub-sub cultures in our church has its benefits, it can also create problems regarding church unity. The blessing of attending church can revolve around easily fitting into our sub-sub culture peer group. There is almost if not actual immediate gratification in peer groups. Social and cultural mores are understood, and have been previously navigated. People enter into sub-sub cultures, and though the balance of things changes at times, lesser adjustments can be quickly made.
Most people that I know have little time to expand their circle of friends, much less try to break into a different sub-sub culture. The thought of learning another social language, another culture, etc., is not only not natural, but troublesome and too challenging for most people.
Yet this is what must happen if our churches are going to continue past one generation, and if they are going to be trans-generational. Younger people need to learn from older people, and older people need to realize their responsibility to raise up the next generation.
The Apostle Paul teaches that in Christ, we are created as “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15). There is a new culture called “Christian”. There is a new man called “Christian”. There is a new peer group called “Christian”.
If a man or woman or teen can see that the greatest oneness they have is not the cultural “sameness” of this present fleeting moment, but the eternal oneness of being one in Jesus, then suddenly that person’s “peer group” is no longer a sub-sub culture, but has grown to include the entire Body of Christ.
If a person can capture the idea that they have settled for the ease of living in a sub-sub culture peer group, but have missed the greater blessing of knowing the entire church, they just might be motivated enough to push past present cultural trends, and actually try to understand another Christian from a different sub-sub culture.
We all understand that the best evangelist for a teen is another teen. Kids come to church because their friends convince them to. Like attracts like.
I submit that if a pastor can convince a few teens that their peer group is the entire church, and not just the youth group, that those kids will begin to reach out to older people in the church. They will convince their friends to go with them as they do it. The same is true for every sub-sub culture peer group. All you need is one or two people from a sub-sub culture to break out and be convinced that their true peer group is actually the entire church.
Therefore, whereas understanding and reaching into sub-sub groups can be effective, and ought to be done, I suggest that we never sacrifice the unity of trans-generational fellowship for the sake of reaching out to a slice of society. Both are needed. We may reach people by focusing on a sub-sub culture, but we need to help them mature into seeing the entire Body of Christ as their peer group. Trans-generational love and nurturing must occur. Kids need to know that the old people want them, not that they simply hire a youth leader to reach them. Old people need to know that young people genuinely respect them for their accomplishments, and are willing to sit and listen to them.
Cultural awareness is important, but love always finds a way to navigate through cultural waters, and reach a kid, a single mom, or an elderly person. Cultural relevance is a tool of understanding, but love is the heart of the matter. Oneness in Christ is the banner that every Christian needs to ultimately see as the glue that not only builds the church, but holds it together, and pushes it forward into the future.
Nehemiah 4:14 “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses”.
God is sovereign, but man is responsible. As far as I know, no one ever accidentally ends up in heaven. There is a fight that must be fought. There was a fight that was fought to make it possible.
The people of Jerusalem had grown accustomed to the walls being torn down and lying in rubble. Decades had passed, and they had done nothing to remedy the situation. They lived in distress and reproach, but that was the new normal for them. Shame, embarrassment, stress and danger was what they settled for. They were a disheartened people.
God gave Nehemiah a burden for the people, and for the glory of the City where God dwelt. He labored in prayer, and then he labored with his hands. He inspired the people to live the way that God wanted for them. He moved them to change. They had a newfound “mind to work”.
The enemies of God and His people were quick to attack verbally, with threats and mocking. Nehemiah countered with prayer and exhortation to the people. He told them to fight and build. They wore swords as they worked. They were inspired to do something that they had neglected for decades. They were discovering who they were in God.
Dear Christian: Is there anybody you are willing to fight for? Will you fight for them in prayer and fasting? Will you deny yourself pleasure and entertainment and even rest in order to bring the truth, hope, and love of God to them? Will you visit them, wait for them, pay for them, drive them, help them, listen to them, serve them, again and again?
Will you fight for children that are going in the wrong direction? Will you fight for your marriage, and for your spouse Will you fight for your neighbors, your community, your city, your extended family?
Will you fight for people with addictions? Will you fight for those who are self destructive? Will you spend and be spent for others? (2 Corinthians 12:15)
Does the sphere of your existence start and stop at your front door, or do you have eyes and a heart beyond your own personal world? Do you simultaneously enjoy the blessings of life, but always carry a holy burden for people, or do you avoid any “heaviness” of life, and leave people to fight for themselves?
If you know Jesus today, there was probably someone that fought for you, prayed for you when you didn’t care, thought of you when you were confused and lost, and yearned for you when you were selfish and lived only for yourself. Someone prayed you into God’s kingdom, longed for you, spoke to you, waited for you. Someone gave of themselves so that you would have ears to hear the invitation of Jesus.
Dear Christian: Be a Nehemiah. Fight for the souls and well being of others, and then inspire others to fight as well.
Why is it that you think we are here?
Mark 14:3-9 3And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. 4But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, “Why was this fragrant oil wasted? 5For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they criticized her sharply.
6But Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. 7For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. 8She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. 9Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”
Many who love Jesus give of themselves to Him.
They give time, money, talents, material possessions.
They forsake personal gain, high paying careers, and upward mobility.
Some would say that they give too much.
Parents may encourage their child to go to college and prepare for a good career, rather than go to Bible college and prepare for a life of godly service.
They would never tell their child to not be a Christian; they would just tell them to have a “balanced” life, and be sure to have a good career first. They may suggest that their child not get too fanatical about their Christian faith. They would emphasize that it’s a tough world out there, so their child needs to “look out for #1″.
There are many other examples of how people that give their lives to Jesus are warned or corrected by others who are around Jesus. The disciples were with Jesus all the time, had seen the miracles, and heard Him teach, but they thought that what this was did was “a waste”. They justified their opinion by saying that some good social act could have been done instead. Helping the poor is important, but it wasn’t more important at that moment.
They made the mistake that so many Christians make: they miss the best and suggest the good. They are committed, but not too committed. They worship and serve, to a point. They give, but are careful to not go beyond what is reasonable. They try to be “reasonable” in their Christian life, and are careful to maintain a “balance”.
I never read about keeping a balance. I read about being led by the Holy Spirit.
Like the woman who poured out the costly ointment, some Christians pour out their lives to God.
Like the woman, they are told that what they have done is extravagant and extreme.
Jesus had a different opinion, and defended her.
Be careful about how you judge such things.
There are many that perhaps rightly criticize the Church of not being socially active in the past generation. I will not argue with that.
The current knee jerk reaction seems to be an inappropriate push towards social activism, but with precious little concern for discipleship, personal holiness, commitment to Jesus, etc.
In fact, the Church has become to some, simply a people resource. A place to mobilize bodies, to gain signatures, and to use for causes, rather than an entity to commit to as a family and a Body.
The pendulum has again swung, and it always swings too far.
I am not criticizing social activism. I am criticizing the over emphasis of it by those who name the name of Christ.
Jesus said that “every good tree bears good fruit”. Social activism ought to be the fruit of a Christian’s life, but it is not the tree. Jesus is the tree, and the fruit comes forth from the tree.
May we be careful to not do the “good thing” while we miss the “best thing”.
Doing “good things” is much easier than “laying down your life and picking up your cross”.
Let’s serve people, but may it flow out of intimacy with Jesus.
My friend Roby Duke (now with Jesus) once said this to a group of song writers: “Your inspiration is perfect, but your songwriting needs work”.
We can be wonderfully inspired to express ourselves, but not quite have the ability, time, or energy to rightly say what we are trying to say. Perhaps the inspiration is fighting against good common sense that would tell us to slow down and think it through. Now is such a moment for me. The inspiration is perfect. I am rushing ahead. I hope this comes out O.K.
QUESTION: “It is easy to live vicariously through others, but is that really living?”
Let’s start with one of many definitions for the word “vicarious”.
“Felt or enjoyed through imagined participation in the experience of others”: a vicarious thrill.
There is a place for such experience in moderation, but our world is making it increasingly easy for people to feel emotions that don’t have any corresponding personal experience.
We can dial up, Google, Net Flix, read, browse, or Pay Per View our way to any emotion we want, without ever having to actually “do” something that requires dedication, effort, commitment, or faith.
If there was ever a generation that could become addicted to “feeling without doing”, that generation is now.
One might ask what the danger or problem is with living vicariously through the great accomplishments of others. Some of that might be O.K., in that it might inspire us to aspire to do great things. Plus, it certainly feels good to feel good. So what’s the problem?
The problem is this: That kind of living, if it becomes the habitual lifestyle of a person, does nothing to produce in them the quality traits needed to actually enjoy those emotions from first hand accomplishment.
I understand that some of the things that “thrill” us are only for a few to actually experience. We can’t all go out and win gold medals, climb Mt. Everest, or do world tours singing about changing the world.
But I wonder, if vicarious living comes to satisfy us to the point that we don’t pursue what we COULD BE DOING, then has it gone too far? I say “yes”: then it has gone to far.
So….what is it that you are actually supposed to be doing?
I submit to you that actually desiring, struggling, sacrificing, and dedicating one’s self on a personal level is far more important than taking the vicarious route of simply feeling the goose bumps from someone else’s accomplishment. The satisfaction that comes from personal accomplishment is much more valuable than enjoying someone else’s “bigger than life” accomplishment.
Finally, if you are a follower of Jesus, then He wants to live through you. Your part is to surrender, seek His will, believe His promises, walk in holiness by His power, and take small and big steps of faith in responding to what He wants to do through you.
That process has been the most satisfying part of my life, whenever I have actually gotten out of the way long enough for it to happen. The small victories of having my life so bound up in His life have been the most satisfying experiences of my life. My experiences may not compare to some of the great accomplishments of others, but they don’t need to. They are my experiences with God, and I can have first hand satisfaction from them.
Rich Mullins said it well: “Jesus, write me into Your story…whisper it to me.”
Filed under: Decision Making
, Dying To Self
, Fellowship With God
, God's Will
, Good Intentions
, Spirit Filled Life
I just returned from a 2 1/2 day preaching practicum, which, a few years ago, is not something I would have imagined attending. I was more than pleasantly surprised.
The practicum was led by Art Azurdia, who is a professor at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. The practicum consisted of Art teaching on preaching, sermon preparation, and hermeneutics, which is the “theory and methodology of interpreting the Bible”. That was Day One.
Art spoke on sermon preparation in great depth. We studied diagramming verses, parsing verbs, looking for flow, preparing a “telos”, and much more. Art also encouraged us to see the entire Bible as the story of redemption through Jesus Christ. The differing portions of the Bible are all knit together in one great story, which is the story of God redeeming man.
In addition, Art spoke on the idea of Christocentric preaching, which means seeing the entire Bible in its relationship to the Gospel, and understanding how a passage aligns itself with the work of redemption.
Seven Calvary Chapel pastors attended the practicum, and we were each assigned a portion of the Book of Ruth to preach on (Days 2 & 3). We were then critiqued by our peers and by Art. Each guy preached for 30 minutes, and we were then critiqued for 45 minutes. It might sound scary, but it wasn’t, and I found it to be very beneficial. I look forward to implementing some of the steps to sermon preparation that Art suggested we pursue. I am sure that Cornerstone will become a mega church in a matter of months as a result of my new found skills.
On another note…I didn’t want to go. I struggled to go. I was fighting internally about going. “Why”, you ask? Glad you asked. I’ll tell you why…
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I spoke with a dear saint of God recently who is going through a very difficult time in life. This person has been very much wronged as of late, and negative things seem to be piling up one after another.
In the course of our conversation, this person said a couple of things that I often hear.
“I don’t know how much more I can take”. “I’m not handling this well”.
How we view the “handling” of our problems is very interesting to me, and I think we (Christians) get it wrong a lot.
I think we often feel that we aren’t handling things well for the following reasons:
1. We are very emotional, experiencing feelings of anger, resentment, revenge, sadness, despair.
2. We resent that we feel such emotions.
3. On occasions, we say or do things that we regret.
4. We find ourselves complaining to God or to others.
5. We are not ourselves. We are easily distracted, struggle to read our Bibles, and can’t concentrate in prayer. We say things like, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me”.
6. We are tempted to stay away from church or fellowship, because our emotions are depleted, and we can’t stand to talk to one more person.
7. Overall, as Christians, we expect that we ought to be much more in control of our emotions, and not feeling so out of control.
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