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I'm the Schoeneblogger. Come on in, and have a look around. While you're here, you should join in the conversation. If you want to find out a little more about me click that tab below that says "about me." If you like what you read or want some of your friends to join the conversation, click the "share on facebook" below the blog. (same goes for twitter or google+)

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Follow me over to the new site

I've decided to take my blog to wordpress.  I'm so thankful to all of you who have subscribed and chosen to follow this blog.  Please follow me over to wordpress at  aldenschoeneberg.com  Resubscribe so that you continue to get email notices whenever I add content.  I think that the comment interface will be even better on the new site so keep leaving those great comments.  I'd love to get a conversation going.  My vision is for The Schoeneblog to be more of a conversation than just a broadcast.

The biggest vote of affirmation you can give a blogger is to become a subscriber or follower of the blog.

I won't shut this blog down for a while so that other readers can also be directed to the new site.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Schoeneblog Is Moving!

I've decided to take my blog to wordpress.  I'm so thankful to all of you who have subscribed and chosen to follow this blog.  Please follow me over to wordpress at  aldenschoeneberg.com  Resubscribe so that you continue to get email notices whenever I add content.  I think that the comment interface will be even better on the new site so keep leaving those great comments.  I'd love to get a conversation going.  My vision is for The Schoeneblog to be more of a conversation than just a broadcast.

I won't shut this blog down for a while so that other reader can also be directed to the new site.

O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing



In the past I haven't blogged in series.  I have simply tried to get the one blog in per week as faithful as I can.  Well, I suppose it's time for a change.  Introducing a new series for The Schoeneblog: Why Do We Sing That? In this series I will attempt to break down a lyric within a worship song and ponder it's biblical purpose for worshipers. This idea has been on my heart for some time.  I even had a previous blog in December in which I reflected on some lyrics within a Christmas hymn. You can read it here.  Anyway, I think my explanation has gone on long enough.  If you like were this is going or have some ideas of worship songs you'd like to see here, please leave a comment below.


WHY DO WE SING THAT?
Sing what you believe and believe what you sing.

As I sing out my praises to the Father with songs, old and new, I try to meditate on biblical truths within the lyrics.  One such text I have had on my mind over the last several weeks is a verse in O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing.  It goes like this;

He breaks the power of canceled sin
He sets the prisoner free
His blood can make the foulest clean
His blood availed for me.

In most traditions this is the 3rd verse, however in my denomination we sing it as the 4th and last verse.  But, did you know that in the original song which Wesley titled, For the Anniversary Day of One's Conversion, it was the 10th of 17 verses!  Let us never again accuse our worship leaders of songs taking too long!

The beginning of the verse is the part I've really been pondering. At times I had sung this great Charles Wesley hymn before (that is the shorter version, O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing), and thought that this phrase seemed redundant. The words "breaks" and "canceled," I had determined meant the same thing.  One was in present tense and the later in past tense, but that is the only difference, right?

I meditated on this and pressed forward in my regular studies and reading. I've been reminded through the tweets of pastors and theologians I follow that "The gospel is just as important after you become a Christian as it is before." -Tullian Tchividjian  And also that the same God who has paid the penalty for our sin has given us His power to overcome sin daily.  In light of these encouragements, it struck me that this one verse was not restating the truth of our pardon for sin but was reminding us of the two dimensions of Jesus' victory over sin on our behalf.

The lyric isn't redundant after all.  It really is saying these two things.
1. Jesus canceled the penalty of our sin so our future with Him is secure.
2. Jesus breaks the power that sin had over us in this life.

Child of God, not only are you Forgiven and Redeemed, in Christ you are also Over-comers!

Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. NLT

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Worship in Truth

Last month, I posted what it means to worship in Spirit.  You can read it here.  Jesus said...

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. (John 4:23 ESV)

Again, I will borrow some ideas from Henry Blackaby and Ron Owens found in their study on worship; Worship Believers Experiencing God.  You can purchase it here.  I cannot recommend this study highly enough! You should get it!

Worshiping in truth means we respond to what God says is true about himself.
One of the tasks for a worship pastor is to evaluate whether or not a song choice communicates biblical truth clearly.  Believe it or not, we don't just pick songs we like and avoid the songs you like. (Though some may think we do.)  As stewards of an hour on Sunday, it is weekly task to plan services that are biblical in content, balanced in context, and abundant in Christ.

Worshiping in truth means we worship in and through the One who is Truth.

Jesus is the Truth.  He says "I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to (can worship) the Father except through Me."  Jesus said to the woman at the well that true worshipers will worship in truth. And He is truth.  Blackaby and Owens put it this way "Worship under the New Covenant is always through Christ, in Christ, and for Christ.   Our Lord is the embodiment of truth."

Worshiping in truth means we read and preach God's Word.

This is at the core of our worship.  How can we respond to what God says is true about Himself unless we understand what it is He is saying about Himself?  It's easy to see that the first two statements are true of both private and cooperate worship.  This third statement must also be practiced in private as well as public.  Within our own private settings we must sink ourselves into God's word.  If we claim to love God but in private we don't spend time reading His words to us, then what is true about us and our worship?

Father, I long to be the kind of worshiper You seek - one who worships You in truth.  Jesus, be the center of my life and my worship.  Forgive me for the times I have passed up the opportunity to read Your Word and instead have given my time to lesser things. Teach me what is true about You so that I may worship You as You really are.  Strip away the false ideas I have of how I think You should be and forgive me for that idolatry.  Draw my heart again and again to You, my Fountain that does not run dry.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Liar or Lover?

I have some favorite words.  I'm sure you do too.  There are a lot of words I like for the way they sound, like STEADFAST!  What a great word!  I want to be steadfast.  There are other words I like because of what they represent like "breakfast."  I'm a big fan of breakfast - any time of the day.  I also like the word meat because... well... I like meat!  And when you put certain words together, it's even better - Breakfast Meat! Are you hungry yet? As I think it over, it's more than mere words that bring me elation, but rather it's what they represent.  If I had to choose between the word "breakfast" or eating a REAL breakfast that was sitting right in front of me, I'd pass on the mere word and dive into the eggs, waffles and bacon!

Substance is always preferred to mere words.  It must be this way with God, too.  We talk a lot about worship, but is it the word or the concept that we love or do we demonstrate to God how much we love Him?  We love to sing about worship, but do we worship?  Does our worship have substance?  Just as I prefer a real breakfast to the mere mention of the word, God's desire is that we truly worship Him rather than just talk positively about it. 

Reminds be of a parable:         

Matthew 21:28-32
"What do you think? A man had two sons.  And he went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' And he answered, 'I will not,' but afterward he changed his mind and went.  and he went to the other son and said the same.  And he answered, 'I go, sir,' but did not go. Which of the two obeyed his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you."

We understand that it is not enough to say that we love God and will obey Him.  We have to actually OBEY Him.  Worship is loving God.  How does God expect us to show our love?  Obedience.  The words Worship-Love-Obedience are meant to be used together.  Take away any one of those words and worship becomes something less than substantial - mere words.  

We seek to obey because we love God.  We need to be careful that love rather than duty drives our obedience. Duty has its place, but love is God's greatest command. "Love the Lord your God with all you heart and all our soul and all your mind." (Matthew 22:37) "Let love be your highest goal!" (1 Cor 14:1)
 
However, if we say we love God, but do not obey Him, the Bible calls us liars! 

1John 2:4-6
If someone claims, "I know God," but doesn't obey God's commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth.  But those who obey God's word truly show how completely they love him.  Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.

I don't mean to be harsh, but there are only two things we can do as people who claim to know Jesus.
Be a Lover or be a Liar!

Holy God and my Father, I desire to be a true worshiper, though I know that I have failed to obey You so many times.  Other times I have obeyed out of duty and hated it because my love was for myself and not for You.  And at times I have merely gone through the motions of worship with my mind disengaged from Your presence.  Forgive me for my half-heartedness.  And help me so that my  Worship and Love show through in Obedience and my Love and Obedience make complete my Worship and let my Worship and Obedience demonstrate my Love for You. amen.

Monday, April 09, 2012

The Day After The Day After Easter

Twas the day after Easter? No, the day after that, folks returned to the lives they had lead.

For the most part, all life settled back to its norm and many or most felt their hearts were still warm
from Sunday and spiritually fed.

They let their minds wander toward worry and pleasure forgetting the power of Christ's precious treasure,
they settled for luke warm instead.

"Easter's alright.  It does have its place" said a red-headed boy, chocolate still on his face.
Said a sweet little gal "The people looked swell; men in suits and ladies in lace."
"But when it's all done, I've a business to run," said a gent as he packed his briefcase.

Seems the world had moved on and forgotten the song 'bout victory over hell, sin and death.
"Those words that bring cheer don't apply to us here, on Tuesday" said Lori and Seth.

"Could there be a way" another did say "to keep Easter alive all the year?"
Then he turned up the show with his TV remote to drown other sounds from his ear.
Another repined, "Lord just give us a sign..." as she helped her son on with his jacket,
"...that You still care when life isn't fair, falls apart and I'm caught in a panic."

Easter's crescendo flew out through the window as they sped through the tasks of their day.
The Sun overhead brightly shined, but instead no one noticed and busy they stayed.
Rather than hope, their souls would still grope for the something they'd let slip away.

Then the voice of a younger cried out much like thunder, "He's Risen! He's Risen, indeed!"
"But that was on Sunday, the day before Monday. On Tuesday that's not what we need!
So mellow, young fellow." said Art with a bellow, "Don't be a fanatic, I plead."

But the voice of the younger cried out even stronger, "He's Risen, He's Living again."
Repeated and then, other voices joined in with "Alive, Forever, Amen!"

Remember to live out the faith that you sing out.  It matters on Tuesday the same,
as it did, when on Sunday, you said "Jesus Loves Me." Don't forget you're the reason He came!

Monday, April 02, 2012

Make Way For The King!


On Palm Sunday we remember how Jesus entered Jerusalem to the praises of His followers.  They placed the branches of palms on the road to make a path.  Most even took the cloak off their back and placed that on the road to make Jesus’ path. (Matt. 21:8) Would you do that?  Would you ruin a perfectly good cloak to make way for your Savior?  Do you know how hard it is to get out donkey stains?

Remember what happened next? Jesus went to the temple and found the place full of greedy selfish people. They were “helping” outsiders – guests – by changing their foreign currency into the proper form so that they could buy the animal for sacrifice.  They were ripping people off!  The church was full of guests.  But the scribes and chief priests could think only of profiting off of them.  After all, these people only come to the Temple once a year.  Jesus - in righteous anger - dumped over the tables and drove those crooks out of the temple yard.  Temple was to be a place to spend time in prayer and to know the Father.

If it troubles you to think about Jesus' show of anger, just remember that in a few days he would die for the sins of these money changers.

When guests show up for Easter services next week, let us be humble.  They are not here so we can be proud of how full building is. (Not for our profit)   They are here to seek and to find the Savior, the Redeemer.  They are here at the invitation of the Father. Take off your cloak and lay it down to make a path; a path that leads them to Jesus.   Let’s all humbly serve our guests next week and every week.  In the name of Jesus.

Monday, March 12, 2012

More Christ Please

We all pray for more - more money to get us to the end of the month, more time with our kids, more patience with the people who annoy us, more time in the day to get things done.  In one of the famous prayers in history, St. Patrick prayed for more too.  But unlike most of our ordinary prayers, St. Patrick prayed for more Christ.


Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.



The first time I heard this portion of what has been called St. Patrick's "Breastplate prayer," I was in my college Chorale and it was the text of an anthem we were singing.  Since that time, I have remembered this prayer and often come back to it, especially when my prayer life is in a rut and my prayers start to sound selfish.  St. Patrick's desire to increase the presence of Christ in every nook and cranny of life is something I want for my life too.  And I believe it is what Jesus wants for all of us.

When your prayer life feels dry and you find yourself using the same words and making the same requests, take a cue from St. Patrick and pray for more Christ.  What richness we have in our Savior!  Oh, how Jesus longs to give us more of Himself! We have only to ask.



This article originally appeared in "The Connection," - the weekly bulletin for FSBC Lawrence.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Worship in Spirit

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. (John 4:23 ESV)

As a worship pastor, I absolutely love to see people singing praises to God, who is worthy of our highest praise and adoration.  I love a good upbeat song sung by the choir or a solo that reminds me of the hope we have in Jesus.  We might call this spirited worship.  But is this what it means to worship in "spirit?"

Henry Blackaby and Ron Owens posed this question in their study on worship; Worship Believers Experiencing God.  You can purchase it here. What does it mean to worship God in Spirit? It's a question worth asking.  For a more detailed answer you really should buy the study book.  But I'll try to convey a couple of Blackaby and Owens' points.

When Jesus says the Father is seeking "worshipers" who will worship in spirit and in truth, I don't think he means that God is seeking a "spirited" display of music and singing.  In fact, it has little or nothing at all to do with music.  Rather, we become true worshipers of God by being born of his spirit.

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:5-6 ESV)

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (John 6:63 ESV)

The Father is seeking true worshipers.  He desires worshipers whose hearts are filled with His Spirit.
  • Worshipers who worship in spirit have come alive in Christ.  They have been born of the spirit into the kingdom of God.
  • Worshipers who worship in spirit have hearts responsive to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. They confess and repent, and offer worship from hearts that have been cleansed, forgiven and restored by Christ.
  • Worshipers who worship in spirit maintain a spirit of honesty with God.  When they disobey or otherwise fail to obey God, they confess it before Him and offer a broken and contrite heart. (Psalm 51)
  • Worshipers who worship in spirit focus on God with and without the use of music.  Music is only one vehicle of expressing their worship.  Their love is also expressed to the Father through obedience, service, loving others, and living out a testimony of grace that woes they lost friends to the Savior.
Father, I long to be the kind of worshiper You seek.  My heart is Yours.  Forgive me when I have sought to offer You worship through a heart of pride.  I repent and bend my heart toward You that I may know Your joy and worship You in the way You desire. May I worship You in a spirit of obedience and love that goes beyond an hour on Sunday and saturates my everyday life.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Real Faith ALIVE



There are two statements that have stuck in my heart this as I listened to Jesus Manifesto, a book I had previously read.
  • "Jesus didn't come to make bad people good.  he came to make dead people live." -Jesus Manifesto
  • "It's possible to serve God without loving him, but it is impossible to love God without serving him." -Anonymous
 Our lives are a testament to the God we love and serve.  But the world is not always seeing the true testament of God through his people.  They only see a mere picture of our hypocrisy. What happens when we say we love God, but are afraid of taking scripture too seriously? The nonbelievers around us might never pick up a Bible.  They have only our lives as a window to the greatness and glory of God.  What do they see?  How do our lives translate scripture to the world?

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit the orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. -James 1:27 ESV

Instead of seeing James 1:27 lived out in our lives, does the world see something else?  Do they this:

Religion in its' purest form before my neighbor is this: Dress up on Sundays, smile pretty and convince everyone that your life is a dream.  Carry a big Bible, sing and clap (but not too enthusiastically or they'll think something is wrong with you) and attend church at least three Sundays per month.

OUCH!

The two statements at the top of this article remind me of what James says about faith.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled,"  without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not  have works, is dead. -James 2:14-17 ESV

Serving God and loving others, is the natural product of a living breathing faith.  Because God loved us first, (while we were still sinners) and we are filled with his love (in Christ), his love will overflow and touch everyone around us.  If we love him, we will love others.

I want to be clear.  I am NOT saying that we work hard and discipline ourselves in order to prove our love for God is real.  What I AM saying that the more we fall in love with God, the more we will naturally obey and keep his commands - the more natural it will be for us to love others.  The anonymous quote above could be rephrased like this; It is possible to do good works without a living faith, but there is no such thing a living faith that does not produce good works.

If you are feeling that your faith is dried up or you feel burned out, then it may be that you have been attempting to do the good works on your own.  Perhaps you have previously thought of good works as a penance.  Maybe you thought you had to prove your love to God by doing good things for him.  There is a better way.  Fall in love with Jesus again.  Discover again in scripture how much you are loved and treasured by God.  His word is a love letter to you, not a check list of good works to do.  Let the power of HIS LOVE change you.  Transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit.  Let him do it.  Just as we can not save ourselves, we also can not transform ourselves.  You are NOT the potter.  You are the clay.  It is Jesus who has brought you from death into life and Jesus who makes you new.

Trying to do good works without a living breathing faith is like manually tying ripened fruit to the branches of a dead tree.  The work is laborious and exhausting.  The fruit quickly perishes and the tree is incapable of producing more fruit to replace it.  So you begin the laborious and exhausting work all over again.  Burnout is inevitable!  Real living breathing faith that naturally produces good works is like a tree, healthy and beautiful, planted by streams of fresh water, whose roots run deep into soil rich with the essential minerals to nourish it.  It produces the best fruit season after season - fruit that is a blessing to all who encounter the tree.

Discipline is good.  A living breathing faith that reproduces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control is better!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Does God Feel Worshipped?

When it comes to worship, everyone seems to have an opinion.  What are the best songs to sing?  Should the emphasis be on congregational singing or should we highlight a special choir piece or a solo?  Is it more important to be relevant or foundational?  Do we attempt to be more creative even if it is not practical?  We throw around words like seeker sensitive, seeker friendly, relevant, creative, diverse and intentional all in an effort to present services of worship that people will "like."

Now, I will admit that I have also used these words and phrases in considering how to design meaningful moments within a worship service.  But I've learned that they are more appropriately applied as the second question we ask when we involve ourselves in worship planning, rather than the first.  The first question should look a little more like this: "God, how do You want Your people to worship You?"  Have you asked that question recently? Even if you are not the one responsible for worship planning, you are still a worshiper. Have you asked the Father; "How do you want me to worship you?"

Once we answer this question, the next after it can be; "Okay, now how do we do that in a way everyone can understand and identify with?" and "How do we help our people become the kind of worshipers the Father seeks?"

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
(John 4:23-26 ESV)

I realize that this is written as a conversation for worship pastors, or those who plan worship.  But, as a worshiper, I would encourage you to pray that God would show you what kind of worshiper He desires you to be. Let this request include your public and private offerings of worship. As a starting point, read Romans 12:1.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1 ESV)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

It Is Better To Suffer For Doing Good!

It's been easy for me to get discouraged lately.  I read the news and watch the holy ordinance of marriage attacked by a godless society.  I read further and discover that religious discrimination is thriving in New York. There, it is not only lawful to deny churches the ability to rent public school space for worship, but it is mandatory - punishable by heavy fines.  Yes, in New York, it is a state mandate to discriminate against Christians!  At the same time Christian organizations are being forced to go against their biblical convictions regarding abortion.  Faith based companies are being forced to pay for healthcare that provides coverage for contraceptives including the abortion pill - deceptively labeled "emergency contraceptive."  Don't be misled.  This is not just an attack on Catholic hospitals.  This creates a problem for ALL faith based organizations.

Do you see why it easy for me to get discouraged?  Followers of Christ, we can not ignore this!  But we must also not be defeated in our minds and hearts.  Jesus said "In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Do not be overwhelmed by this temporary suffering.  God is not mocked!  Christian, do not lose heart.  Jesus has overcome the world.  This world is only our temporary home.  Our victory, in Christ, is certain and eternal!

For a long time in the United States, we have heard and even joined the mantra "God and Country." Somewhere along the way this changed.  While we were looking the other direction, our Country has declared itself to be god.  Now, it seems the government tells the church what is right and what is wrong.  The government has made it clear that it has no use for God or His church.  Our most treasured freedom is being dismantled.  Freedom of Religion and the free exercise thereof, has no meaning if our government mandates when, where, how, and to what extend the Church may practice Biblical teachings.

To the Christ followers in America this is unfathomable!  However, Christians all over the world and all throughout history have faced oppressions far greater than these - Yet They Stand!

My heart is heavy that these circumstances seem so dark.  Maybe you are fighting the same sense of gloom in your spirit.  Take heart - Be encouraged.   I find clear instruction and abundant encouragement from the following words in Eugene Peterson's The Message; from Ephesians 6:10-18

God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out. 

Because the trials of this life never take a time-out, because the world's bombardment against Christianity never takes a break, we can not abandon the struggle.  I encourage you to pick up His banner and serve within your churches in community.  Serve outside the churches; everywhere you are. Stand up for what is good.  Let Peter's words guide us daily as we seek to love those who hate the God we serve.

13And who will harm you if you are deeply committed to what is good?  14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear or be disturbed, 15 but honor  the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. 16 However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.  1 Peter 3:13-17

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Football And Fun



Like most of the U.S. population, I watched the Super Bowl with some friends Sunday evening.  It was the first NFL game I had watched all season. This was not because I don't enjoy sports, mind you.  But, because I LOVE sports, I determined that I needed to fast from watching the NFL this season.  

Football isn't my favorite sport, so don't think this was a huge sacrifice.  I do enjoy football, but mostly it's just something to cheer for in between baseball seasons.  The toughest part was breaking from my family fantasy league. Congrats, Corey.

But as we all know, the most important part of the Super Bowl is the commercials!  Most say that the commercials just weren't as good this year.  That may be true, but perhaps our expectations are unreal because of the pregame hype regarding the commercials.  There were some really clever commercials.  Most of them I could watch with my children. A few, however, I'd prefer not to have those images in my mind.

These few commercials clearly believed that the best way to promote their product was to make the "potential buyer" think of sex - trigger the lust-fulness of the watcher.  Most, however, seem to have learned that what people really want to do during the commercial breaks, is laugh with their friends.  So, to go daddy, kia, and fiat, I'll just say "not cool!"  And to the rest, I will say, Well Done and Thanks for allowing the Super Bowl to be an environment where youth pastors and parents don't have to sweat it out during the commercials or show the game on a time delay through a DVR and fast forward the commercials.  We can't proclaim purity to our kids out of one side of mouths and from the other side excuse what is on our TV as "just a commercial."

Even if you don't have a commitment to purity in regard to what you allow your eyes to see, wouldn't you rather see a grandma slingshot a baby at a tree house to score a bag of Doritos? Or perhaps like most of the adult world you are tired of the "teen harlequin" vampire genre and you enjoyed watching vampire's burst into ashes in the stream of some super bright headlights.  Maybe you're like me and you can't get enough of dogs, dressed like star wars characters, barking Darth Vader's theme music.

I could be optimistic, but I felt like the commercials were, for the most part, cleaner this year.  There were a few extreme exceptions, but most of the commercials were pretty good.  What's your opinion?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Be Careful Little Thumbs What You Tweet!



Remember the song you sang as a child?  Oh, be careful little eyes what you see.  That was the first verse.  The others were: Be careful little mouth what you say/feet where you go/ears what you hear/hands what you do... that's all I can remember.  May I submit an updated verse to this song that has shaped the character of many young children? (That may have been an exaggeration)  "Oh, be careful little thumbs what you tweet."

We live in the social media age.  Many of you tweet or blog or at least facebook.  These can all be very positive ways of communicating.  They can also be ways of spreading bad ideas or bankrupt theology.  Be careful little thumbs what you tweet.

First, the trend was emails.  Someone you new would forward an email that included a catchy little story or clever poem that sounded good.  It would be about God (after you scroll past the email addresses of  a thousand people you didn't recognize.)  It would pose a thought or an idea that just wasn't biblical ex. "now that johnny has gone, he is my guardian angel."  Then it would conclude with the assault on your relationship with Jesus - "If you love Jesus, then forward this to everyone you know. If you are ashamed of Jesus click delete." Where was the third option; If this is bad theology, click delete ALL and every copy will be deleted from every email account in the webniverse?

Can I get a witness?

In addition to my blog, I try to keep up with twitter and facebook.  I also monitor my kids facebook accounts to make sure they are safe and that their online witness remains untarnished.  It takes a lot of time to do all these things.  But, I am confident that they have value.  We, as believers have the opportunity to shine the light of Christ with our presence on social media.  We are also accountable to God that we present Him in truth and do not misrepresent his character.

The church in Thessaloniki was wary when prophecy was spoken to them.  So much so, that it seems they were rejecting all prophetic word.  Paul encouraged them to be open to the prophecy, but to test it all in accordance with God's word.

Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 ESV)

We would be wise to apply this to what we read and repost on social media.  Test everything; retweet what is good.  When you come across a spiritual tweet or facebook post and it sounds good, test it.  See if it stands up to a biblical foundation.  Does it agree with the character of God as He has revealed Himself to us in scripture.  Does it present Jesus glorified or cheapen His work of salvation?  Is it loving? Does it offer biblical encouragement toward others within the family of faith or does it merely attempt to make  the reader feel good with a clever but unbiblical clich√©?

Paul gives a list of instructions to the Thessalonians at the end of his first letter.  These would make a good checklist for us as we contemplate our Christian presence on social media.
  1. Admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak - be patient with them all.
  2. Rejoice always
  3. Pray without ceasing
  4. Give thanks in all circumstances
  5. Do not quench the spirit
  6. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good
  7. Abstain from every form of evil
Social media is playing a larger role in shaping disciples.  You and I follow pastors and bible teachers and fellow believers through social media. And by our own tweets and facebook posts we sometimes influence the way others understand or misunderstand the Bible. We are called to Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)

So, the next time you read a post that sounds good, but something seems a little off - test is.  If it declares an unbiblical view of God or applies scripture out of context - Do not pass go, do not collect $200 and absolutely do not retweet it! Be careful little thumbs what you tweet.

Father, we are your servants.  You have told us that we are salt and light to a world living in darkness. Help us as we try to live our lives as a testament to the greatness of Jesus.  May the light of Jesus, who lives in us and through us, shine whenever and wherever we interact with others.  May our presence on social media build up and encourage everyone, especially those in the family of faith. (Gal 6:10) Help us to hold one another accountable for the way we represent Christ through social media interaction. May your name be glorified in every thing we do, every word we say, and every phrase we tweet.               - Amen

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Worship Showdown



While reading the book "David," by Chuck Swindoll, I came across the section where David played on the lyre for Saul.  As I read this section, I knew I would have to return and spend some more time. As a worship pastor, I was intrigued by the contrast between Saul and David's purpose for music.

Background:  Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him. 15 And Saul's servants said to him, “Behold now, a harmful spirit from God is tormenting you. 16 Let our lord now command your servants who are before you to seek out a man who is skillful in playing the lyre, and when the harmful spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will be well.” 1 Samuel 16:14-16

It is not really possible for us to know why God did this.  But we know that this harmful spirit was "from the Lord because it plainly says; a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him. We can realize that, in the Old Testament, God's spirit didn't permanently rest on any one other than David and John the Baptist.  It wasn't until the Day of Pentecost that God would send His spirit to permanently rest on His people.  As Swindoll says, "when the Spirit of God comes into the believing sinner as salvation, He never leaves."  God no longer causes His Spirit "to depart from" those who are "in Christ," nor does He send a "harmful spirit" to torment those of us who are "in Christ."  But He did do this to Saul.

It is widely thought that God did this as a form of judgement for Saul's sin of turning against the Lord.  This made it necessary for Saul to need soft, sweet music to relieve the spirit's torments. 

King Saul - Reading through this chapter, I wondered what we could learn from Saul's experience.  We don't share Saul's malady, but perhaps we tend to adopt his purpose for music within our own worship strategies.  And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him. 1 Samuel 16:23. Swindoll explains that the Hebrew word is ravach and it means "to give space so as to bring relief." I can relate.  Having 3 teenagers and a preschooler, sometimes I just "need a little space."

Now, the words "refreshed" and "eased" are good words. In fact, I like them very much.  We all need refreshed from time to time. This world can beat us up and wear us down.  Living life takes it's toll on us, but I don't think the purpose for worship is that we be refreshed.  That is not the goal of our worship.  It is a byproduct of being in the presence of God.  Being refreshed will be a symptom of an already-obedient heart.  Refreshment is the reward for taking on the yoke of Christ, for He says "My yoke is easy and my burden is light."

We would all confess that we worship God because He commands it, and because He deserves it.  But we would never say, "I worship because God deserves to refresh me."  It just sounds weird!  When it comes to worship, we don't want to sidestep the object of our worship  - God Himself.  We miss the point when we focus only on what we can gain.

Often times, we are seeking refreshment from the anxieties and worries of life.  Without a doubt, God wants to relieve us of those worries.  Jesus says to us in Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. In other words, God is saying, "Trust Me. Obey Me. Worship Me alone.  Don't worry about the things that make you worry.  I am taking care of you."

King Saul was tormented, because he was disobedient.  The soothing music allowed him a way to cope with his torment and gain temporary relief, without having to actually repent and obey God.  Saul had no intention of reconciling himself to God.  He settled for the temporary refreshment.

David -David gives us a complete contrast to what we see in Saul. Where Saul has the goal to soothe his tormented soul, David desires to be made right in God's presence.  Saul desired to be pleased by the music, but David desired to please the Lord. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalm 51:17. 

In Psalm 51:11 David, in his song, asks God,  "Cast me not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me."  How interesting! This same David who played to soothe a tormenting Saul, from whom God's spirit had departed, now asks that God not take His spirit from David.  I don't know about you, but that seems like more than a coincidence to me.  I'm so glad that we no longer have to resort to that request.  Jesus declared that He would always be with us.  Never will he leave us or forsake us.  As we've already learned, God did not permanently rest his spirit on any one until the Day of Pentecost, except for David and John the Baptist.

During the closing verses of Psalm 51, we see that David recognized something very significant.  God desires worshipers! For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. Psalm 51:16.  David knew that it wasn't the burnt offering, and it wasn't the sacrifices that pleased God.  Those were merely a medium to symbolize what it was that God really desired.  God desires that we offer ourselves to him - that we offer hearts and lives, broken by our sin, and bendable for his correcting.  This verse also looks forward to what Paul would tell us in Roman:  I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1.  David rightly viewed the physical sacrifice as a symbol of "dieing to his sinfulness."

So, the question is - what is our goal when we worship?  Is it to be soothed, refreshed and made to feel better, or is it to die to ourselves and offer wholeheartedly our very lives to God?  Do we choose to make confession, or do we choose to seek refreshment while we live our lives in disobedience to God?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My Top Ten for 2011



Each of us have our different tastes in music, books and movies, but most of us enjoy music and books and or movies.  I might read a book that I find particularly stirring or one that impacts me and my wife will think it's just "okay." So, your list might match mine or be completely different.  In fact, if you have a book, CD or movie that helped move you forward in your journey with Christ during the previous year, feel free to share it in the comments section.  I might just add it to my own list of things to read, watch and listen to in 2012.  My list below is not ranked in any particular order.  That is not my intention. They are simply the top ten books and recordings that have fueled my fire for Christ during the last year.  And maybe a movie or two. Anyway, here goes...

  1. Bonhoeffer - Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy, by Eric Metaxas - This is a huge book about a great man.  I took my time with it and read it over the course of two months.  If you enjoys biographies or are inspired by the lives of great Christians, this is a must read! I loved this book and passed it on to a friend who passed it on to another friend.
  2. Ghosts Upon the Earth - Gungor - I don't really know how to define Gungor and I think the band would be very proud of that.  This is a very talented, creative, innovative group of musicians and worshipers.  As a worship pastor, looking for more songs to help us say all that we need to say to God, most of Gungors songs are attainable for congregations' singing, but it was unmistakable to me that worship was taking place during their concert at NWLC last summer.  It's difficult to put my finger why they're so appealing to me, but I can say that my kids and I can't get enough of Gungor and Ghosts Upon the Earth displays everything we like about the band Gungor. Trans-Siberian Orchestra meets Sigur R√≥s and Queen - minus a measure of flamboyancy.
  3. Jesus Manifesto, by Frank Viola and Leonard Sweet - I read this book toward the beginning of last year with my brother.  We live in different states, but called each other to discuss what we were reading.  Reading this sparked a revival in my own heart.  I didn't even realize that I was in need of a revival, but after years of working in a church, I'd begun to subconsciously convince myself that I had to live this Christ life out of sheer will.  I would have never said that out loud or even believe that I believed it, but my inner thoughts were telling me a different story.
  4. 10,000 Reasons - Matt Redman - Last summer I attended the National Worship Leader Conference in Kansas City, KS and when Matt Redman lead one of the evening worship times, his recording 10,000 reasons became my top favorite worship album of the year.  We have already incorporated 2 of the songs and I suspect more are to come.  The two songs we sing as a congregation are 10,000 Reasons and Holy.
  5. Bark of the Bog Owl, by Johnathan Rogers - In 2011 I began following the blog at rabbitroom.com.  It's a community of creatives - song writers, authors, musicians, theologians, artists, etc.  I encourage you to check it.  On to my point... one of the contributors to that site is the author, Johnathan Rogers.  The Bark of the Bog Owl is the first book in the Wilderking trilogy and takes the reader into world of swamps, gators and of course the mysterious Feechie folk.  Rogers is a wonderful writer and, though this book is more of a young adult fiction, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
  6. The Reckoning - NEEDTOBREATHE - For me it seemed like this was a step back from the groups previous offering - Outsiders - at least on my initial enjoyment level.  But I found that I couldn't stop listening to it.  I'm still trying to figure out the deeper meaning behind some of the lyrics, but even if I don't pick up on them, the music is fantastic!
  7. The Way of the Wild Heart by John Eldredge - An older book that I finally got around to reading.  I can't express enough that I wish I had read this book when I first purchased it several years ago.  I think I'd be a better dad to my sons.  I hope that I can make up for some of the time I've lost, know that many of the things Eldredge pointed out have turned a switch on in my brain.  If you have sons, or just need to understand some of the "why questions" on your journey as a man, then I encourage you to read this book.
  8. Over The Edge by Brandilyn Collins - Okay, I admit that I might be rounding up on this one, but let me explain.  I don't normally read murder mysteries or suspense, but another book I read encouraged me to read the some of the same authors my wife chooses so... I actually like the book and finished it in maybe two days.  My wife and daughter had been reading a lot of Brandilyn Collins recently so I thought I would join them.  This is in my top ten to say - I'm glad I did - and it really is a good book for it's genre.
  9. The King's Speech - This was such a great movie.  I didn't catch it in theaters when it came out, so I'm a little behind, but my wife and I rented it this year and found it to be a very compelling story.  Reminds me of another who tried to use his stammering as an excuse not to serve.  Yes, I'm talking about you, Moses.  For the rest of us, we have no excuses to offer God when He calls us.
  10. Captain America - The First Avenger - A shout out to my favorite childhood super hero! There were certainly better pieces of cinema in 2011 and certainly more inspiring movies.  I willingly concede.  But I was excited to finally see my favorite super hero on the big screen.

Well, that's it - nothing too spectacular to an outsider, but to me, this was a big part of my journey over the last year and includes the things I really enjoyed.  I'd love to hear about the books/albums/movies you enjoyed last year.  Please share your comments.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Forget the New Resolutions - Just Be New



I didn’t make any “New Year’s” resolutions this year… There. I said it. Each year I make a few and always fail to follow through.  I start off well, but inevitably, I always regress back to the norm.  What I need to do is redefine what my normal is. I need a new normal.

2 Corinthians 5 talks about a new normal.  It would be a good place for all of us to begin the New Year. 

If it seems we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God.  And if we are in our right minds, it is for your benefit.  Either way, Christ’s love controls us.  Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life.  He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.  So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view.  At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view.  How differently we know him now!  This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person.  The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 2 Cor 5:13-17

Perhaps the reason many of us continually fail to follow through on our resolutions is because we make resolutions based on living for ourselves.  Too often I fall into the trap of thinking that God’s whole existence is to make MY IDEA of “the good life” become a reality for ME. “I can do all things, through him who strengthens me” is not a verse about ME.  It is a verse about CHRIST!  I can pursue God’s will in every circumstance!

When I try to live for God, in my own will, it doesn’t work out.  I fail.  It’s a trap to try and conveniently add Christ into OUR old normal.  HE doesn’t fit there!  The only way to grab hold of the new life is to die to the old one.  Whoever belongs to Christ has become a new person.  The OLD LIFE IS GONE.  We are foolish when we try to go back to the old life and live in our will. Let us all fully embrace the New Normal – this new life, in Christ.  And may we never, ever let go of him.