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Monday, December 19, 2011

Gospel Theology in our Christmas Carols

We love singing all the Christmas carols this time of year.  It's because we are so mindful of Christ birth. But the angel said to them, Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.  this will be a sign to you; You will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."  Most of the time (because we're in a hurry) we only sing the first and maybe the last verses of these great carols!  Shame on us!  And shame on you, worship leaders!  We are leaving out some really important theology and as a result robbing our congregations of knowing more about the Christ, the promised One.

We sang some carols today during a monthly lunch gathering of senior adults and a retired pastor leaned over to me - after we sang all four verses of "Joy to the World" -  and he commented on how we seldom sing all the verses.  He was right.  Patience is a virtue and the fruit of the spirit.  We miss out on so much when our impatience leads us to skip verses such as;

No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found
far as, far as the curse is found.

You won't hear this verse sung in arrangements on any Disney Christmas albums.  So if yours is a Disney Christianity, you can stop right here. You need not read any more of this article.  However, if the Christ you worship at Christmas is more than just a baby born in a manger, if to you, He is the Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Emmanuel, and the One Peter confesses "You are the Christ the Son of the Living God," then lets take a look at the oft excluded verse 3 of Isaac Watts' "Joy to the World."

We start this verse with "No more let sins and sorrows grow or thorns infest the ground" and we recognize the fall of man.  This is the story we know from the opening chapters of the Bible when Adam and Eve - of their own free will, and tempted by the serpent - disobeyed God and ate the fruit from the forbidden tree.  When they confessed that they had ignored the one instruction God had given them, He cursed the serpent, then He cursed the woman and the man and he cursed the ground.  

"Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.  Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field" Genesis 3:17

"He comes to make his blessings flow." What kind of blessings?  We often think of blessings as 'stuff' that is not the case here.  Jesus is the blessing from God - the One who brings salvation from this curse.  Watts appropriately uses the verb "flow" because Jesus is the Living Water.  He is the curse lifter, the Redeemer of the earth.  He is the Promised One that the prophets spoke of.  He clothed Himself in our injured flesh and entered a world that had been cursed - a result of a fallen humanity.  He died a sinners death, was buried and rose again bringing us eternal life and returning to us the fellowship between God and mankind that we haven't been able to know since the garden of Eden.  And He will come again and the curse will be completely lifted and we will once again enjoy the fullness of His presence. 

"Far as the curse is found." The blessing of Jesus is also relief from the curse.  He will return again to gather his children and resurrect the dead in Christ.  The curse will be lifted and he will make all things new again.

"Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street.  On either side was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.  There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it. and His bond-servents will serve Him;" Revelation 22:1-3

"And behold, I am coming quickly.  Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book." Revelation 22:7

Christ has not yet returned.  Verse three is sung in anticipation of His second coming.  In this one carol, sung at Christmas time, we celebrate His first coming and we also, with our spiritual eyes, look forward to His return.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Music of Christmas

This past weekend the Choir and Drama teams presented our Christmas program.  What a fantastic job these wonderful people do each year!  I have such a privilege to work with singers and actors who love Christ and long to see Him lifted up.

Notice I purposefully used the word presented rather than performed.  In today's culture, anything put to music is expected to be for the purpose of entertainment.  Entertainment is defined as [a : amusement or diversion provided especially by performers <hired a band to provide entertainment> b : something diverting or engaging: as: a public performance.] We greatly desire to overcome this expectation for music and drama in the church. Our motivation is not to perform but to encourage.  I believe that churches should have a different motivation for the way they use music and drama.  We hope to see music used in the more Biblical practice of encouraging the fellowship of the family of believers - to remind ourselves and one another of the richness we have in Christ Jesus.  On Sunday, in particular, that we would Marvel at the Manger and how Jesus chose to come at the humblest of times in the poorest of places and present Himself to the least of all peoples.

The root word Entertain has a slightly different definition -[a : to keep, hold, or maintain in the mind <I entertain grave doubts about her sincerity> b : to receive and take into consideration.]  That is our goal! - to "maintain in the mind" that Christ is Lord - to "receive and take into consideration" that He Who was born in the manger was and IS the Son of God.  We use music and drama because it helps us in our efforts to "maintain in the mind" and "take into consideration."

The challenge we undertake each year is to remind the body that Christ is the center, not only of Christmas, but of our very lives.  All of us need these constant reminders.  We long to lift Him up through the songs and scripts we present, but we also hope to use those songs and scripts to challenge the church body to lift Him up with their lives - to weave Jesus in to the fabric of their everyday lives.  Accordingly, on Sunday, we ended the morning with a congregational song declaring Jesus to be the Messiah.

Jesus Messiah
by Chris Tomlin | Daniel Carson | Ed Cash | Jesse Reeves

He became sin who knew no sin
That we might become His righteousness
He humbled Himself and carried the cross
Love so amazing love so amazing

His body the bread His blood the wine
Broken and poured out all for love
The whole earth trembled and the veil was torn
Love so amazing love so amazing 

Jesus Messiah Name above all names
Blessed Redeemer Emmanuel
The Rescue for sinners
The Ransom from heaven
Jesus Messiah Lord of all
All our hope is in You
All our hope is in You
All the glory to You God
The Light of the world

Jesus Messiah
Lord of all
The Lord of all
The Lord of all

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Lord of ALL! Lord of the season. Lord of the church.  Lord of our homes.  Lord of our song!  Lord of our friendships.  Lord of my life.  Lord of all we say and do.  He is the Messiah and He is LORD!

Monday, December 05, 2011

40 is Beautiful

My wife had a birthday yesterday - the BIG one.  I gave her a hard time more than once throughout the day.  She was a good sport about it or rather, she endured it.  I was nice too, though.  I gave her presents and told her she was beautiful and a treasure.  Is it my fault she chose to go antiquing?  She set me up with so much great material!

Her version of 40 is not like I remember 40 being.  It seems younger, somehow.  Perhaps it's because she has always carried herself with an upright maturity.  She was a young grown-up when I met her.  I'm not saying she took herself too seriously, in fact she was and is quite silly.  The times we are silly together are some of our favorites.  She keeps life fun for all of us.  

For me, her 40th birthday is not a mark of her age, but a measure of the richness of years we have spent together.  I value her more today than when we first joined our lives.  In fact, her value to me is more than I could have ever imagined back then.  To me 40 is not a mark of her rising age, but of her increasing value.  I'm reminded of the line in one of our favorite movies - one of the few chick flicks I will admit to liking. 

Joe Fox is browsing through the old book section in the "Shop Around The Corner."  He asks George about a certain book there and George offers some information regarding the significance and age of the book and the following conversation is heard:

George Pappas: The, uh, illustrations are hand tipped.
Joe Fox: And that's why it costs so much?
George Pappas: No, that's why it's WORTH so much. 

(from You've Got Mail)

It's not the age alone that brings the value -  the book was a treasure to begin with, and as time has passed, it's kept it's value and even increased it's worth.  That's my wife at 40.  She is a masterpiece and wonderfully crafted to begin with.  This has not changed.  But the careful detailing and craftsmanship, evidence of the Masters hand on her life, has been polished by the years of her living out her purpose and loving the ones God has given to her.  She was created with a purpose.  A part of that purpose, I'm delighted to say, is to be my partner, friend and the treasure I happily serve.

Happy Birthday, Melanie.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

December 16, 1983

December 16, 1983 is a date, for my family, that will never be forgotten. My first memory of that day was at 5th grade recess.  Our school principal came outside to give me a message that my brothers and I would need to get on the bus to go to our papa and granny’s after school.  It seemed strange to me that he, The principal himself, came out onto the playground in the cold to give me the message personally, instead of just sending a message through my teacher.  In his demeanor there seemed to be something more that he wasn’t telling me.  But as a 10-year-old, I shrugged it off and went back to playing with my friends. We were digging tunnels in the snow which had drifted against a hill.

So after school, my two younger brothers and I boarded the bus to Granny’s, still unaware of the life-changing news that we would soon hear.  We arrived at Granny’s and were instructed to begin our homework. Mom wasn't home yet from her doctor visit. (She was pregnant with the youngest of us 5 brothers.) I think Granny sensed our worry, or at least our curiosity as to the reason why we weren’t taken home after school.  If Mom wasn't home yet, then Dad would have been there on the farm to greet us. I did wonder why, but I couldn't have imagined this. She assured us that Mom was just fine after her doctor visit and that she would be coming soon to let us know what was going on.  I think Granny knew that we needed to hear about such a tragedy from our own mother.  I guess after that, we did some homework, played and caused the usual trouble.

When Mom arrived, I wasn’t ready for the news. How could I be? Mom sat us down and said, "Boys, I have some bad news."  My first thought was about Dad.  Was he okay?  The she said the words that I would never forget.  “Our house has burned to the ground. Everything's gone.”  We began crying as the weight of these words sank in. I still recall the pain and hurt that I felt then.  We all hugged Mom tightly and cried with her. My youngest brother cried with us, but I wondered if he really understood or if it just upset him to see all of us so emotional.  My first thought for him was about his beloved pink blanket.  In my 10-year-old mind I couldn’t imagine how my 4-year-old brother could survive one night without his pink blanky.

When faced with this kind of loss, so many thoughts swirl around in your mind.  And it's interesting how kids think of these things so differently. I thought of the money I had been saving in a Hershey’s cocoa tin in my closet.  I think I had saved about $20 from birthday money and money I had gotten from Dad for picking up walnuts.  I was saving for some Star Wars action figures to add to my collection. A collection which was now destroyed by the fire. And my $20 had burned up in the fire.  But Mom and Dad had money - no, their money burned up, too. How much had Mom and Dad lost?  I was too young to understand their loss, but I knew that it was bigger than my $20.

Later in the evening, Dad arrived covered in soot and ash.  I had never seen my dad cry until that day.  He hugged us and Mom and assured us that God was going to take care of us.  When I smelled the smoke on him, I pictured our house in flames.  I knew that he had fought the fire for his family.

The memories get further apart after that but I know we stayed the first couple of days with Granny and Papa.  The very next day Granny and Mom went to town for some shopping.  We'd lost everything.  Now, in my mind we needed everything. What store do you go to to get everything?  I remember my papa had given Mom some money to make sure each of us had nice clothes to wear to church.  We were still singing "What Child Is This?" for the service on Sunday, and he knew we that would need something nice to wear.  A few days later we moved in with my other grandparents.  They had more room and the extra bathrooms necessary for our big family.  We celebrated Christmas there, and I got the Star Wars toy that I wanted - the toy version of the hoverbike from Return of the Jedi. (By design, it broke into 3 pieces on impact, just like in the movie.)  I appreciated that toy so much and the giving hearts of my parents.  It was strange to celebrate Christmas in a home that wasn’t our own.  Our home was gone now.  Or was it really?  Words like "home," and "family" now took on a bigger meaning than ever before.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sing, Sing, Sing!

I've been a worship pastor for 18 years.  Much has changed for us with regard to worship in the church.  New technologies such as big screens with moving video backgrounds have found a home in our places of worship.  That's not a bad thing!  It's also not the "bees knees" as they say.  Well some people use that phrase.

It seems that the one thing that unites the churches of God today is that we love to fight about worship style.  As Stephen would say - "You stiff-necked people!"  GET OVER IT!  Are you too blind to see that it is not the Father who has caused you to be so opinionated about music or to prefer a certain style?  No, it is the evil one who divides us.  Too many of you have chosen to love your music style more than you love the One you're attempting to sing to. You have forgotten your audience is the living God.  He is not impressed by your style!  He is interested in your broken and contrite hearts! Psalm 51.  

When did it happen that we began to replace loving God with music appreciation?  Do we really expect that God will one day place a crown on our head and say; "I'm so glad you forced your new songs into the the fabric of church life, totally relevant, dude?" or will He say "Thank you for fighting to keep hymns in the church.  Those are my favorites too?"  Absolutely Not!

I understand all the reasons and all the arguments people offer for adding technology and for calling upon various styles and they are not bad reasons.  We want to be relevant in our methods.  This is a good thing.  We desire to sing our songs in musical languages that our guests, who may not have a church background, can understand. This is noble. I'm in agreement with these motivations, however (COMMA, DOT, DOT, DOT) let us keep our primary motivation for music and its accompanying technologies centered on Christ.

Colossians 3:16 Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.

The psalms and hymns and spiritual songs help us fill our lives with the richness of Christ.  We sing the attributes to God to remind ourselves, Who it is we worship.  We sing out the truth about God's love for us as an encouragement to each another.  We sing our praises to God out of thankfulness for all He has done and all He will do.  The body encourages the body.  There is just something about singing it out loud that helps us internalize the richness of Jesus and allows Him to fill up our lives.  It can't be reproduced by listening to a song on the radio.  It must be done out loud and in cooperation. (It is called cooperate worship, right?)

Sing, Sing, Sing! People of God, sing TO each other and be encouraged. Sing WITH each other to God and give Him thanks and praise. Sing AS ONE body and dwell in unity!  This is what psalms and hymns and spiritual songs can help us do.  What God meant as a tool to remind us to be filled with His richness and to unify us, the evil one has used to divide us.  The evil one has no greater joy than dividing the people of God.

Father, forgive me when my pride has derailed my best efforts to worship You.  At times I have made an idol out of my own tastes and traditions.  Forgive me, Lord, when I've failed to encourage others because I pretended that style was synonymous with worship.  I long to be filled with the richness of Christ and to encourage others to be filled with the same.  Help me use ALL psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, new and old, as a medium for the body to worship and give thanks as one.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Prayer of Thanks to God Who Blesses Beyond Measure

Father, You are my great Provider.  You love to give good things to Your children.  You have blessed me with every good thing.  Sometimes Your blessings have been answers to my prayers; A lovely wife, kids who love You, a home for my family.  The very best gifts from You are the ones I wasn't wise enough to ask You for - things at the time, I didn't even know that I needed; Grace, Mercy, Salvation. While I was still a sinner, Christ died for me.

You provide my daily needs, may I not take them for granted.  I bless You, Provider, for daily food to sustain me and clothes to warm me.  I bless You, Healer, for bringing me and those I love through times of sickness and pain.  I bless You, Mighty One, for giving us Your strength and power as we work for the sake of Your gospel.  I bless You, Creator, for the beauty You show us in a sunset and in a starry sky.  I bless You, Deliverer, for saving me from the death blow of my enemies.  I bless You, Prince of Peace, for making a way that I may enter Your presence free from the wrath I deserve.  I bless You, Friend of sinners, for Your intimate fellowship that brings me such joy and satisfaction.

And in case I haven't said it before, I want to thank you for the suffering and hardship You have, in Your wisdom, allowed in my life.  Though I am not yet the completed work You have designed, You are shaping me with these trials.  If it were not for the trials, I would not have experienced Your Spirit teaching me endurance which builds and shapes my character.  And You have shaped that character that my hope would be fixed on Jesus alone.  As You say in Your Word;

Romans5:3-5 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

Thank You, Lord, that You have restored friendships that I had broken with harsh words or disagreements.  Thank You that Your ways are better than mine.  Thank You for Your forgiveness which has allowed me to forgive others who may have wronged me.  Thank You for not allowing my sins to devour me and destroy my life.  By Your forgiveness You have rescued me.

Your love, oh Lord, reached out to me when I was completely helpless to save myself.  I give You thanks. Even now I am completely powerless to do anything outside of Christ living in me.  In Christ, I can do all things.  Outside of Christ, I can do nothing of any value.  Thank You for Jesus, Who is the Christ, Your Son; and YOU ARE ALIVE!

You alone are God.  You alone deserve to be God.  You dwell in light unapproachable, yet You welcome me in as a child coming home.  Bless Your Name!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Handkerchief to Cell Phones

I sorted through my drawers this weekend (something my wife has been after me to do for some time.) I needed to get rid of some shirts, that at this time in their life, would make better rags.  This was a task long overdue, Melanie would agree. 

As I sorted through and threw rag/shirts over into the toss pile I wondered what had taken me so long. I have a tendency to wear shirts down to nothing  - especially undershirts. Working my way to the bottom of the drawer I discovered an ancient artifact - handkerchiefs.  

What were these square clothes - much to thin to make a good rag? I don't know why I even have them in my drawer.  I don't remember buying them.  One was blue with a KC logo.  Okay that one was promotional item.  Two others were folded in a triangle - I remember wearing those under my bicycle helmet to catch sweat.  Four were the straight up white variety (much whiter than my undershirts due to the lack of use.) 

I recall my dad and grandpa always having one of these in their back pocket.  On the farm it was handy in the field, when no tissues were nearby.  And the dust and dirt blowing up in your face always made a handkerchief necessary.  Just a kid in those days, I remember having a handkerchief of my own when I joined dad in the hayfield. 

Why don't I carry them around now?  Well, I work in an office.  Dirt seldom blows up into my face.  My biggest nuisance is the occasional headache from the florescent lights or the sore shoulders and back from hunching over my computer.  Even if I needed a handkerchief, I wouldn't have room for one.  Like a lot of us, my back pocket is occupied by my cell phone. 

Handkerchiefs now seem to be something of nostalgia and not just of a life on the farm where one was needed to relieve the sinuses of dust.  Remember how Carey Grant or Jimmy Stewart used to offer the lady their handkerchief when she would cry?  Who does that anymore?  Handkerchiefs came in very handy to the beau sharing a moment onscreen with his emotional gal.  "Don't cry, shopgirl."

Romans 12:15-16 says
15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! 

This is all a part of sharing life together. We are made in the image of a relational God and we are to be relational! And not just carnal relationship, but heavenly relationships - sharing life as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Galatians is one of my favorite books in the NT, especially chapter 6.   And in that chapter, Paul instructs us to;

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. 

I'm not saying that we should all go back to the days of carrying around a handkerchief, or that we should give up our cell phones in our back pockets and return to the days of blowing our noses into linens. What I am saying is that, as the opportunity presents itself, we should be obedient to Christ and submit ourselves to one another.  We should speak truth and encouragement to one another and when the moment calls for it we should just shut up and be a shoulder to lean on.  There isn't an app for that.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Paradox Between Being Relational and Being Right

I see in my kids a reflection of myself.  We are caught in a paradox seeded in the blueprint of humanity.  An inner desire to be in relational conflicts with a passionate drive to be right.  For my kids, this comes out in epic sibling battles.

My kids love each other, and depend on that sibling relationship for encouragement.  Through their friendships with one another they gain an understanding of the world of High School and Middle School.  They share in common the burdens and blessings of being a child whose Dad is a Pastor of Worship.  They rely on each other to endure the German stubbornness and sometimes quick temper of their dad.

But, while they see their need for a sibling relationship, they are torn with a drive to be right.  Now, I don't mean to say that they look for the right answer.  No, not at all.  They deeply desire to prove that the thoughts and opinions they start with are the right ones.  Scripture teaches that none of us, by nature, are right.  None of us, by nature, are even good.

Romans3:10 As the Scriptures say,
   “No one is righteous—
      not even one.
 11 No one is truly wise;
      no one is seeking God.
12 All have turned away;
      all have become useless.
   No one does good,
      not a single one.”
 13 “Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave.
      Their tongues are filled with lies.”
   “Snake venom drips from their lips.”
    14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
 15 “They rush to commit murder.
    16 Destruction and misery always follow them.
 17 They don’t know where to find peace.”
    18 “They have no fear of God at all.”

We were made to live in intimate relationship with our Creator.  Because of our sin nature it is impossible for us to have this Father/son/daughter relationship with God here in this life or in eternity.  This sin nature is our inheritance (Thanks grandpa Adam and grandma Eve). We have also inherited the penalty, which is death.

That sounds so harsh. "But, I'm a nice person."  "I do more good stuff than bad."  "I help the poor.  I go to church."

Let me ask you a question.  Where did you ever get the idea that God has a scale and weighs your good things against the bad?  That's not how it works. If the imagery of a scale helps your understanding of the judgement, then you should think of it like this.  If you were born standing one the side of the scale and you needed to throw your good deeds to the other side of the scale, you would not be strong enough to throw them that far. No matter how good your deed is, your arm isn't strong enough. It's not about how good your deeds are.  It's about you not being able to reach the other side of the scale with them.

Romans 3:19 Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. 20 For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. 21 But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses[a] and the prophets long ago. 22 We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

Jesus came and poured out His righteousness for us. He substituted Himself for us on the cross. He died in our place. Because we were helpless to do anything, He did it all.  Every ounce of our salvation is the work of Jesus.  You can't do good enough works to earn it and you can't do enough good works to prove it.  Try as you might, you can't even live up to the laws we've been given.

 Romans2:23For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, 26 for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.

Made in the image of God to live in intimate relationship with God under the righteousness of God.  That relationship was broken by Adam who passed on to us an inheritance of unrighteousness. This unrighteousness first inherited then fully embraced by our own sinfulness. Jesus came to cleanse us from Adams stain and forgive our sins.  His work on the cross did it ALL!

I recently saw this tweet - "Supplementing God's grace with your works is like supplementing the Arctic Circle with your ice chip.  You Are You Kidding?" - Scotty Ward Smith via twitter.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Tell the Story

by Katherine Hankey

I love to tell the story of unseen things above.
Of Jesus and His glory,
Of Jesus and His love.
I love to tell the story because I know it's true.
It satisfies my longings
as nothing else can do.

My recent ambition to write comes from a deeper longing to tell the story of Jesus.  I'm enjoying the writing process, but as I attempt to write, I sense that I am drawing nearer to Jesus. 

In my last blog entry, I discovered the definition of a disciple as one who "embraces" and "assists in spreading" the teachings of another.  For us it is Jesus teachings we embrace.  We assist Him in spreading His message, His gift of mercy, forgiveness, grace and eternity with Him.  His Story!  So many have not heard.

During the summer months I watched an interview with Eugene Peterson who wrote The Message, a "plain English" translation - considered a paraphrase by some - of the Bible.  In this clip, the interviewer ask Peterson; "Do you have any advise for.... people who think 'I'd like to write, I'd like to be a storyteller?'" Peterson answers "Do it. We need all we can get.  There are never enough storytellers"  He goes on to explain that there are many who don't want to go through the discipline it takes to be a good writer.

This interview and especially Peterson's answer to that specific question pricks something inside of me that wants to step forward and take on the challenges of being a writer.  Disciplines at all.  It does take discipline to be a disciple.  Imagine that.  Disciplined in a way that "assists in spreading the teachings" of Jesus.

As a submission to that discipline and in recognition that I have much to learn, I'm attending the Annual Fall Writers Conference put on by the Heart of America Christian Writers Network.  I look forward learning the craft and pray that I retain every ounce of what learn this weekend so that I will better Tell The Story.

How do you tell the story?  Are you a writer, singer, preacher, teacher, social media aficionado? Please leave a comment below.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

What Is A Disciple?

At my church, we are in the middle of the series we've titled The Original BIG XII.  That is the 12 disciples.  So I thought I would look up the definition for disciple.  Here is what I found.  Disciple - “One who embraces and assists in spreading the teachings of another.”  Have you ever been convicted by the dictionary? (I know that the Holy Spirit is the real one who convicts all men.)

We have assumed for too long that just because we have been saved that we are automatically “disciples.”  That is our mistake.  As the saved church of Christ – His body, His bride, His beloved sons and daughters – we are called to be disciples, but not every one of us who is saved answers that call.  

I think there are a number of reasons or obstacles that keep us from being disciples.  One reason, I just mentioned; we assume we already are disciples.  We make the hearing the call with answering the call.  You’ve been told that you are called, but just being called is not what made the original BIG XII into disciples – Answering the call did.  They “embraced and assisted in spreading the teachings of Jesus.”

A second reason we don't answer the call is because we think it is too difficult.  A narrow path and filled with many trials it is. (Did that just sound like Yoda?) Personally I'd rather walk the narrow path, where my guide is Jesus himself, than walk the easy path, where my guide only has one thing on his mind - my destruction.

The original BIG XII understood that Jesus was calling them to “embrace and assist in spreading his teachings.”  He was called Teacher by Peter in Mark 9:5.   Even Pharisees called Jesus teacher. (Mark 12:13-14) (John 3:2) The disciples embraced Jesus’ teachings.   And as far as the second qualification for a disciple – as assisting in the spreading of Jesus’ teachings – Jesus let them know, from the beginning, that this was why he’d called them.  Mark 1:17 “And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”  And that is exactly what they became.  In fact, the original XII - minus Judas - died because they would not stop spreading the teachings of Jesus.

These are the men who, along with Paul, penned the New Testament.  These are the disciples God is calling us to join.  This is the original BIG XII whose examples we are invited to follow.

Monday, October 31, 2011

What Am I Afraid Of?

We all have things that we are afraid of. Some are small fears, some are bigger fears. For instance; some people are afraid of heights or spiders or clowns.  To my knowledge I don't have any fears that cripple me like that.  But I do have some smaller fears.

It could be said that I'm afraid of ketchup. It's not really so much a fear as it is just being really grossed out.  More specifically, when a glob of spilled ketchup on the table that has reached a state of being half dried out, but is still gooey and sticky so that it hitches a ride on your sleeve and you find it later on the front of your shirt from when you crossed your arms or on the inside of your jacket sleeve.  Has this ever happened to you? - (me either.)  I'd swear that the evil, half dried, sticky, ketchup glob inspired the comic villain known as venom.

Well that's an example of small fear - minor, insignificant, not really life shaping.  Other fears can shape our lives.  Worry can cripple us from truly living.  We fear something bad will happen to our families or to us.  We fear not being able to succeed at our jobs or not having enough money to pay the bills.  These are reasonable fears and it is very understandable that we would have them from time to time, but we cannot live there. We have a hope in Christ and he has promised to meet all our needs.  We must pray for wisdom to recognize the difference in ourselves between needs and wants. ex. I want to drive a newer car, but I don't NEED one.

Personally, I have a fear greater than these.  And I know that God is bigger than our fears and that He is sovereign, but I can't help but fearing that the church is falling/has fallen away from her first love. Some churches have traded the gospel in for a gospel of works, adding to "by grace through faith alone." Other churches have exchanged the gospel for a health and wealth gospel, that if you really love Jesus, he will make you healthy and wealthy.  Jesus is their Prince of prosperity rather than the Prince of Peace.  This false gospel is a contradiction to the very teachings of Jesus.  If you are praying for God to bring you wealth, then you love a another god. (Matt. 6:24)  If you are keeping your wealth for yourself, while reading the story of the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-24), then you have stored up your treasures where moth and rust destroy. Yet, this is not my greatest fear.

My greatest fear is that the church in America won't be able to get their focus back on Jesus.  I'm afraid that Christians who fill our churches everywhere will remain silent about their faith.  I'm afraid of seeing people love the ways they worship more than they love the person of Jesus Christ.  I'm afraid that if it came to a choice between Jesus and the church, most Christians would choose the church.  I'm afraid of believers being more interested receiving the blessing than in giving sacrifice.

Father, call us back to You and open our ears to hear You.  More than knowing about Jesus, help us to know the person of Jesus.  You are a relational God.  As you have blessed us, help us to bless others, and to recognize that You have indeed blessed us so that we can give as You gave.  Let us not cheapen the work of Christ on the cross by proclaiming works as an added requirement of salvation.  Jesus death was payment in full.  "Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling." May we worship You as You truly are and lay aside the way we think you should be. You created us in your image, forgive us when we try to redefine You in ours.

"An idol of the mind is as offensive to God as an idol of the hand." - A.W. Tozer

Thursday, October 27, 2011

How To Plan A Revival Without Scheduling One


This one-word-blog brought to you by Paul's Letters to the Corinthians and Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.  Great effort was taken in the writing of this blog to keep the message clear and simple. Please feel free to elaborate with your own thoughts and experiences in the comment section below. All comments will be read by the author of the one-word-blog and replies will be posted at the authors earliest convenience. Any questions, concerns or suggestions can also be submitted via the comment section below.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Don't Give Up On Your Dreams

It is easy to get discouraged. Especially when you look around and your situation is not what you thought it would be.  It appears to you that your dreams have failed.  The visions of success you had as a young man or woman are nowhere to be found.  Have you ever felt like that?  Maybe you believed you would have a higher position in your company by now, or that at you would have a larger salary. Perhaps you don't feel appreciated and aren't getting paid what you think you deserve.  You never started that business you always dreamed about.  The people around you seem to have everything they want in life; success, money and acknowledgements. You think that you've missed God's best for your life.  You think that God can't use you because you are not good enough.  You ask God, "why won't you bless me?"

It's time to put this thinking away. Thinking like this is pure deception. God does have a plan for your life and you are in the perfect position to be used by him.  He has blessed you, but you can't see it when you compare yourself to those around you.

If you are going to compare yourself with someone, try Joseph.  I mean, talk about big dreams getting smashed.  Joseph's dreams revealed to him that he would eventually be lord over all his family, even his father, the great Jacob.  His brothers made sure that didn't happen and threw him in a pit, then sold him to slave traders. If something like that would happen to us today, we would walk away from God and claim that he failed to keep his promises.But God's ways are not our ways.

Joseph kept his faith, though I'm sure he was a bit confused as to why God would had given him his dreams.  Joseph, now a slave, put his whole self into his work. He was living Collosians 3:23. Because of his extraordinary work, Joseph climbed the ladder and was promoted to head servant.   Now he was starting to get somewhere.  Yeah, he was still a slave, but he was in charge! Along comes Potiphar's wife.

Betrayed by a liar!  If I'd been Joseph I would have been so angry with God.  "I was wronged!"  How is it that evil doers seem to win and those, in the right, get punished?  This was the case for Joseph. Faced with temptation, he made the moral choice - the right choice. (He didn't buy into the lie that "he deserved this.") Still he was sentenced to prison.  Lower than ever before and even farther from his dreams, Joseph kept believing that God would use him.  "And the Lord made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden."

Of course we all know the rest of the story; Joseph interprets a dream for the cup-bearer, who in-turn forgets his promise to mention Josephs plight to the Pharaoh. Two years pass by. The cup-bearer finally remembers Joseph.  Joseph interprets the Pharaohs dreams and is put in charge of Egypt!  (That was when Egyptians still liked their leaders.)  Joseph was in charge of the whole country!  Finally! He made it!  He'd "arrived." "His ship had come in."

We look at Joseph's story and see how Joseph took 2 steps forward and 11 steps back. God used some very frustrating circumstances in Joseph's life before realizing Joseph's dreams.  But the final step in Joseph's journey is not the only point to his life.  Joseph made a big difference EVERYWHERE he was placed.  When a slave, he worked as if he was working for the Lord. God used this to make a difference in Potiphar who, "Realized that the Lord was with Joseph."  In the prison "the Lord was with him and caused everything he did to succeed." God also made Himself real to the Pharaoh who "gave Joseph a new name Zaphenath-paneah" which means "God speaks and lives."  All around Joseph's shattered dreams, people witnessed the hope of God because Joseph honored and believed God.

You may not think you are the success story God wanted you to be.  Change your thinking and let God use you where you are. When He is ready to use you somewhere else, He will move you.  Don't believe yourself to be a failure when God has placed you exactly where you are for His purpose.  Wherever you are, go after His purpose with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  Live as one who has the hope of Christ.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Prayer For The Struggling Servant

Father, in all Your majesty, You did not consider Yourself too good to come down and serve us.  Thank You for Your humility.  You knelt to wash the feet of disciples, those whom You called Your students.  When Your followers thought themselves too good to be bothered by the presence of little children, You corrected their thinking and allowed the children to come into Your presence. You placed Your hands on sinners who needed healing and entered the homes of thieves, sanctioned by an oppressive government to steal money from their own people.  You showed honor to those living with shame.  Show me the places I've decided I'm too good to enter.  Remind me that I am not better than others but a servant to all.  Destroy the pride in me that decides I'm above serving the ones society brushes to the side.  Bring me back to reality when I get too big for my britches.  By itself, giving money does not cover it when I know that You have called ME to go.  Help me find ways to serve and put an end to my excuses.  And may I walk with You as a humble servant lead by a servant Master.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Do What Is Good

Every day you live, you can Make A Difference.  Each day holds new opportunities to do good.  Opportunities which are different for each of us and have specifically been designed for us.  In fact, you and I have appointments today with people whose names we do not yet know. And those appointments will call for us to "do good." You're skeptical, I can tell.  If you don't believe me read this... Ephesians 2:10 says "For we are God's masterpiece.  He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planed for us long ago."

We know our time on this earth is brief.  Scripture declares it and we see evidence everyday that life is short.  It would be such a waste to live that life only for ourselves, especially in the light of Eph 2:10. God has made us His masterpiece.  He specifically designed us to do the "good things" and he planned these "good things" long ago explicitly for us.  WOW!

Another verse - This one's a favorite. Galatians 6:9-10 "So let's not get tired of doing what is good.  At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don't give up.  Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone - especially to those in the family of faith." YES! do good to everyone, ESPECIALLY other believers and DON'T EVER STOP doing good.

I believe that all of us want to do good.  But, in a world turned upside down, where evil is declared good and good is deemed offensive, it's difficult to know where to begin.   Do you lack ideas in your personal campaign to do good?  Here are some starters.

Tithe to your church and then give above that.  Find a place to serve within your church and then find a 2nd place to serve.  Go to Bible Study and Worship faithfully, then stay a little longer to encourage others. Too easy?  Scripture does say "especially to those in the family of faith."  We can't just ignore that because it seems obvious.  We are biblical to start with these three things and springboard from them.

Now for the "don't ever stop" part of the Galatians instruction - But lunch for a friend.  Serve the meal at a homeless shelter.  Invite friends over to dinner.  Send someone an encouraging message on facebook.  Send an elderly widow a bouquet of flowers.  Rake your neighbors yard when he is out of town.  Have a Daddy/Daughter date or a Mother/Son date.  Tell someone that Jesus loves them.  Hold the door for a stranger.  Sponsor a child.  Help an elderly shopper with his/her cart.  help a friend with a repair. Tell someone they are doing a great job.  Tell others that you love them.  Make A Difference.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Relevant Ways Of Us

We learned from Joe last Sunday that there is a need for us to use relevant ways to communicate the love of Jesus to our world.  If you missed it, you can listen to it here.  As Joe pointed out, Paul demonstrated the value of being relevant in Acts 17, when he spoke of Jesus to the Athenians.  The points Joe brought out on Sunday were great and have caused me to continue to marinade on the Acts 17 passage he shared.  And a couple of additional thoughts came to mind.

In verse 16 it says that Paul was "greatly distressed" or "deeply troubled" when he saw the city was full of idols.  Reading this, I notice that it does NOT say that he was angry at the people for worshiping idols.  But he WAS "deeply troubled" by it.

When you look at the life your friends and family are living, are you "deeply troubled?"  Or do you find yourself angry with them?  I think there is a difference.  In Paul's case, he must have seen the emptiness in their lives. In spite of their fervent efforts to worship many gods, Paul knew that those gods were not real and could bring their worshipers no fulfillment.  An idol could do nothing for their sin condition.  No idol could comfort them, or give them peace or hope.  Do you observe the emptiness and hopelessness in your Christ-less friends and family?  Or does it just make you mad that they act so irresponsibly? 

Verse 23 "While I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD,'  therefore what you worship in ignorance, I proclaim to you."  Paul was examining their idols?  Shouldn't he have kept his distance?  What if someone saw him there and thought he was condoning idol worship?  To be clear; Paul did NOT participate in idol worship!  But we can observe that he made an effort to understand the people he was trying to reach.  I can't help but wonder if Paul asked himself "How can I speak to these people in a way they can understand? Can I really identify with idol worshipers?" 

When we read that Paul confessed to "passing through and examining the objects of your worship," we see that Paul was intentional.  I don't think that Paul's mention of "AN UNKNOWN GOD" was spontaneous.  He was purposefully looking for a way to connect.  The altar inscribed "TO AN UNKNOWN GOD" revealed to him that these people were actively 'seeking' to know God.  The only reason God remained unknown was because they had not been told.

You may have friends to whom God is still unknown. 

So how can we be relevant to those friends.  I believe that we have opportunities in 2011 and beyond like never before.  And they are brought to us by multiple Social Media engines, and they're FREE!  Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Blogs allow us to, at anytime and in almost anyplace, share the love of Jesus with anyone.  I don't know what you do with your social media time, but let me encourage you to think about it in a new way.

Until about a year ago I used facebook as an alternative gaming platform.  Please don't throw the first stone!  Those games gave me a chance to interact online with my family who live in another state.  Why the change?  A year ago I read this book "The Church of Facebook" by Jesse Rice.  If you're a reader, you should by this book.  I won't summarize it for you, but Jerry's words were largely responsible for refocusing my social media time.

Let me make a couple suggestions and feel free to criticize or embrace these.  Some Dos and Don'ts:

1. DON'T repost those "Gotcha, you sinner" types of tags and quips you read on others status updates.  You know the type I'm talking about - similar to the church marquee that says "If you think it's hot here, just wait!" This "punchline witnessing" doesn't allow you to speak Christ into someone's life as a loving friend would. You'll likely be unfriended and your witness left damaged.

2. DON'T tell someone "If you don't repost this, you're ashamed of Jesus." In all honesty, they may love Jesus, but avoid reposting because they are ashamed of you.

3. DO be a personal and authentic witness when on social media.  Facebook and other social media platforms play up to our tendency to pretend we are something or someone we are not. Most of us have a certain and specific image we want to portray. And on facebook we think we can control the way we present ourselves.  Instead of that silliness, be yourself.  People will appreciate it when you "keep it real" even if that goes against the culture and the social media norm.

4. DO be intentional.  We have an opportunity here that is unique to our generation alone. Let's not miss it.  Pray for the people in your friends list or circles or followers. Message someone just to tell them you are praying for them.

5. DO be encouraging. Post and tweet scripture. Inspire others with quotes from Christian writers and speakers.  Post something the Holy Spirit taught you that day.

6. DO follow other believers who can encourage and/or mentor you on social media.  I follow several on twitter who I look forward to checking everyday.

I'm sure many of you have already had similar thoughts and consider the social media universe a relevant means of making a difference in the lives of others.  Are you being a positive twitness on twitter?  Or do you put on your pious face for facebook?

What do you intentionally do on social media to Make A Difference for Christ?  Do you agree with my ideas?  Do you have an idea to share with me? Please leave a comment.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Christmas in October

One of the fundamentals of the life of a worship pastor is that, every year you get a whole lot of Christmas.  Having the responsibility of helping the congregation celebrate every year means you start with rehearsals in October.  And to do that, you must at least begin sifting through music in July or at the latest, August.  It's not Christmas all year round, but it can feel like it.  

So, tonight I'll begin introducing a few of the Christmas anthems to the choir.  I remind them each year that the Christmas rehearsals in October are just as, or more important that the ones in late November.  I firmly believe that when our Christmas celebrations go well, it is because of the work we did back in October and that begins tonight.

I still am a fan of Christmas; the wonder and mystery, a big fan, actually.  But my favorite holiday continues to be Thanksgiving.  If I must begin Christmas preparations so early, it makes since to give thanks beginning even now.  Now I'm rambling.

My thought today is, as I begin preparing a choir to lead in Christmas celebration, is to not wait.  Don't wait until December to wonder at the Lord and ALL He has done and is doing.  If you have trouble finding the wonder and awesomeness of God, read a few Psalms.  Perhaps your heart is troubled and you feel alone.  You are NOT alone.

Too many times we as Christians approach the mystery of God as if He was a puzzle to be solved.  That is not the purpose of His mystery.  He is not like us, yet we try to humanize Him.  Allow the mighty mystery of the Father, King and Creator to overcome you.  Stand in awe of Him.  Don't try to figure Him out or explain Him using human understanding.  Study as a disciple, yes.  But as a disciple, never lose the wonder of the Master.

I like how Eugene Peterson describes this wonder in Psalm 29.

29 Bravo, God, bravo!
Gods and all angels shout, “Encore!”
In awe before the glory,
in awe before God’s visible power.
Stand at attention!
Dress your best to honor him!
3 God thunders across the waters,
Brilliant, his voice and his face, streaming brightness—
God, across the flood waters.
4 God’s thunder tympanic,
God’s thunder symphonic.
5 God’s thunder smashes cedars,
God topples the northern cedars.
6 The mountain ranges skip like spring colts,
The high ridges jump like wild kid goats.
7–8 God’s thunder spits fire.
God thunders, the wilderness quakes;
He makes the desert of Kadesh shake.
9 God’s thunder sets the oak trees dancing
A wild dance, whirling; the pelting rain strips their branches.
We fall to our knees—we call out, “Glory!”
10 Above the floodwaters is God’s throne
from which his power flows,
from which he rules the world.
11 God makes his people strong.
God gives his people peace. 

Oh, God, my Father.  I never want to lose the wonder I have for you.  Your love is so amazing, I can
not fathom it. Your grace is so free, I can barely appreciate it.  Your blessing so generous, I run out
of time trying to name them.  That You would choose to love someone as unloveable as me is beyond
my human reasoning.  I can only say Thank You and allow my heart to wonder at Your Holy presence.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Live Like You Were Dying (Wait! I'm not done yet!)

Sunday we finished, what I believe will prove to be, a pivotal series in the life of our church. And I find myself asking the question "Where do I go from here?" I feel like I'm just starting to apply these principles into the fabric of my everyday living and I'm not ready to put away.  Do you feel that way too?  I have asked our Church Librarian to suggest a few books from our library that will help us continue on this journey - even when the sermon series is over and the small groups have completed their studies together.  Thank you Barb Rich for being my guest blogger on the Schoeneblog, today.

by Ann Voskamp
 Just like you, Ann Voskamp hungers to live her one life well. Forget the bucket lists that have us escaping our everyday lives for exotic experiences. 'How,' Ann wondered, 'do we find joy in the midst of deadlines, debt, drama, and daily duties? What does the Christ-life really look like when your days are gritty, long---and sometimes even dark? How is God even here?' In One Thousand Gifts, Ann invites you to embrace everyday blessings and embark on the transformative spiritual discipline of chronicling God's gifts. It's only in this expressing of gratitude for the life we already have, we discover the life we've always wanted ... a life we can take, give thanks for, and break for others. We come to feel and know the impossible right down in our bones: we are wildly loved --- by God. Let Ann's beautiful, heart-aching stories of the everyday give you a way of seeing that opens your eyes to ordinary amazing grace, a way of being present to God that makes you deeply happy, and a way of living that is finally fully alive. Come live the best dare of all!

When Life Is Hard by James MacDonald

When life is hard, you know, really hard, we often spend all our time pleading, begging, yelling, refusing, and questioning. While none of these things are necessarily unusual, they are missing the ultimate point. When life is hard, when things get ugly, when all hope seems to be lost… that is when we are able to display the superiority of the life lived in God.

It is in those moments of despair, when we question what is happening, when we don’t know what to do, when some trials never…seem…to…end, that we can lean most heavily into God’s promises and truths.

Don't Forget To Dream: Pursuing a Life That Matters-Shaped by the Heart of God 
by Tim Dowdy

"Don't Forget to Dream" by Tim Dowdy is a book of encouragement for young people. Many times they set goals for themselves only to have them crushed. Dowdy's book offers hope for crushed dreams. He offers the path to fulfilled dreams. Each chapter contains anecdotes from Dowdy's memories, scripture that supports Dowdy's statements, words of encouragement and a challenge. Dream Resolution is an area to record your intentions in that particular area. I highly recommend this book for high school, college students, and all young people.

Live Big!: 10 LifeCoaching Tips for Living Large, Passionate Dreams by Dr. Katie Brazelton

Life coach Dr. Katie Brazelton provides readers the tools they need to move from daydreaming to real adventure. In a friendly and encouraging tone, Katie takes readers through ten steps, from Face Your Fears to Capture Your Live Big! Dream. Each of the ten steps gives readers a broader, richer understanding of how to start, run, and finish the race well ahead of the pack. And on each step of the way, Dr. Brazelton offers inspiring messages, stories, scriptures, and prayers..

With busy lives and complicated schedules, most people don’t think they have time to fulfill their dreams while still juggling work, family, friends, and God. Dr. Brazelton’s Live Big! has just the right-sized bits of wisdom to help readers get started on the process of finding their God-designed purpose. .

Outlive Your Life:You Were Made to Make A Difference  by Max Lucado


These are difficult days in our world's history. 1.75 billion people are desperately poor, natural disasters are gouging entire nations, and economic uncertainty still reigns across the globe. But you and I have been given an opportunity to make a big difference. What if we did? What if we rocked the world with hope? Infiltrated all corners with God's love and life? We are created by a great God to do great works. He invites us to outlive our lives, not just in heaven, but here on earth. Let's live our lives in such a way that the world will be glad we did.

Surviving in an Angry World: Finding Your Way to Personal Peace by Charles Stanley

The premise of this book is that learning to let go of anger—and ultimately forgiving the offender—will transform the foundation of every kind of relationship we have. Stanley defines anger as "a strong feeling of intense displeasure, hostility, or indignation as a result of a real or an imagined threat or insult, frustration, or injustice toward yourself or towards someone who’s very important to you." Building on this definition, Stanley...

1. Helps readers identify the signs of anger, so they can identify anger in themselves. 
2. Reveals the far-reaching consequences of anger, which encompass the spiritual, emotional, and physical.
3. Teaches readers how to handle anger through thirteen concrete steps.
4. Walks readers through the steps to true forgiveness and the healing power it brings.

Thanks again Barb for these suggestions. Barb has assured me that all these books are currently in the library and not checked out at this time.  Let me suggest a couple other ideas to keep the Live Like You Were Dying theme in front of you.  Go back and do it all again!  You can listen to all the sermons a second time here on the FSBC family website.  Go through the book again, too.  You can get a DVD from me if you'd like to watch Gary Smalley's teaching one more time.  The important thing is DON'T FORGET and DON'T QUIT.  We've heard it, now let's live it... together.

"Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them." Deuteronomy 4:9 NIV