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Friday, September 16, 2016

Worship: What Do We Hope Will Happen?

What is it that we all hope for when we attend a worship service?  Do we desire the same thing or do we have slightly (or even vastly) different expectations?  Sometimes folks get annoyed/upset with the preacher for an ill-timed joke or referring to an author deemed a heretic by their favorite stone thrower.  Sometimes us Christians are so busy building cases against each other it's a wonder we accomplish anything of value for the Lord.  But that's a rant for another day :)  More than the preacher making a goof, folks get downright upset, angry, and possessive when it comes to the songs we sing and how we sing them.

Some write suggestions ... or demands to the worship leader.   Some do it anonymously.  Seriously?

Some just vote with their faces, folded arms and general disengagement.

So - what do you hope for when you gather with other believers to worship the Lord?  It might be at church, maybe at a "worship concert" or possibly in something less formal like a living room or a campfire.  Hopefully we all really do want the same thing: to truly worship God for who He is and what He's done.  It seems, though, that we also bring other hopes and desires into the mix when we worship God with others.

Some of us are wanting, even needing to be reminded of when we first discovered that life giving grace.  Most of us connect that time in our faith with some of the songs we sang during that time.  We want that first love to be refueled.

Some of us are having trouble letting go of how things were and embracing what they're becoming.  Music can serve a lot like a time capsule, reflecting the values of a decade or generation.  There's a reason why we have radio stations dedicated to classic rock and 80's or 90's pop, lots of us aren't ready to embrace the new sounds of today.  The same is true in church music.  We might not say it but what we want is musical comfort food.

Some of us are really hoping to be energized and encouraged by the worship set.  We want to feel something and if the lead guitarist's hair literally caught on fire that wouldn't be bad either.  If the preacher got up and said, "Let's just keep singing for the rest of the service!" That would be just about perfect.

Some of us are coming into a worship gathering and we're hurting, wounded, and beat up by the past week.  We want to cry out to the Lord and be comforted.   Just a six-string and a couple vocalists who are a little more sensitive would do just the trick.

We all want to worship the Lord and yet we all come to Him with different needs and wants.  None of them are particularly better or worse than another but when we come to a worship service and don't get exactly what we  need, we ought not to be shocked or even upset about it.  In every single gathering of people there are a multitude of life situations represented.  There are a multitude of musical preferences.  There are also differing viewpoints on what makes a song theologically sound; things that should prompt healthy discussion rather than angry demands.

Here's the thing:  BE NICE TO  YOUR WORSHIP LEADER!  Depending on your church they may or may not be paid to do what they do.  If they volunteer their time be EXTRA nice to them :) Almost every music leader I've met has the desire to lead the church in worship that is honoring to the Lord and most of them want your experience to be as uplifting and meaningful as possible.  When that precious time is derailed in some way for you they find that frustrating and disappointing too.

Here are a few quick ways to help them lead you and others in the church who might be in your shoes a little better:

1) Pray for them!  - And let them know you're praying for them.

2) When they introduce (or keep repeating) a song you don't like or believe is theologically lacking, ask them why they like it.  Ask them what they think about the lyrics you believe aren't quite right.  Maybe they have a great explanation and maybe they haven't thought about it but in either case, questions are always more effective than declarations or accusations.  They will appreciate that you shared your concerns with gentleness.

3) Acknowledge to yourself that your exact needs cannot be met by the worship leader or band.  God alone is the one who heals and restores us.  Look for Him throughout the service and avoid the temptation to critique whoever is on stage.  If our worship is distracted or thwarted all because we can't turn off the critical, internal monologue then that really is time we'll never get back.  And that's on us.

Friday, July 8, 2016

What We Really Need Now

So sometimes I am all caught up and current on current events and other times I'm just caught up with life.  Somehow I managed to completely miss the events of this week until this morning when the internet yanked me out of my temporary ignorance.  I've been busy with ministry and busy just hanging out with my family doing my best "Dad" impersonation so I admit that I wasn't thrilled to have a tall serving of hatred and a side of violence with my coffee.

Why are we so reluctant to learn?

But God is kind - He had this tune next on my playlist while I worked and it seems more than just well timed.

Amidst the chaos and the protests and the violence and the shouting and the madness and the accusations and the grief ... God is still speaking.  The Prince of Peace still works in the lives of the people He has created and the ones for whom He laid His life down.  He is just.  He is good.  He is merciful.  It's just that sometimes we can't - or don't want to hear Him above the noise of our own voices.  We've managed to cover our ears and insist on our own form of "justice" rather than invite the will of God to be realized rather than our own perverseness.

Next week we will be teaching the kids about the Lord's Prayer and two portions of that model are needed in overwhelming portions.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.


And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

His kingdom is not susceptible to corruption or racism or hatred or injustice.  So Heavenly Father - may your kingdom come here ... and quickly!

And may we learn what peace and forgiveness looks like in the balance of justice.

I grieve with the families and friends of the victims in all of this craziness.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Not My Primary Concern

Honestly I feel a little peculiar even thinking about two politically related posts in a row but apparently there are lots of us who can't stop thinking about who will become the next POTUS.  It's primary season and the battle for delegates, super and otherwise, is fascinating and tiresome all at once.  I think there should be brackets to fill out like they do for March Madness and if someone were to get their bracket totally right they would win a lifetime tax exemption ... or something like that.

You may have wondered if I was going to (or ever will) give you my personal choice on a candidate.  If you were then unfortunately you 'll find me a great disappointment.  Although I reserve the right to take a different stance on this in the future if/when the Lord leads me to do so, I believe that I am supposed to be silent on the issue.  There are many pastors I respect who endorse a candidate or at least let people know who they like and I find no fault in them but for me, after praying prayers and thinking thoughts, I've concluded that candidates are not my primary concern.

My main job isn't to tell you what to do or what to think but to continue to point you back to Christ and His kingdom.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
 ~Matthew 6:33, 34

Selecting our next leader is a big deal, in fact it is a super big deal but it is not the biggest deal.  A heart surrendered to Christ is the biggest deal!  Why?  World leaders will come and go but the rule of Jesus will never end.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. O
f the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
~ Isaiah 9:6, 7

If we're going to sweat, debate, argue, endorse, denounce and pontificate about who we're going to let lead us in policies and laws shouldn't we devote ourselves so much more to the One who said, "Follow me"?  Politicians talk often of things like change, hopes, and dreams.  Jesus offers things like transformation, new and everlasting life, forgiveness and freedom from sin.  He is eternally fascinating.  There are lots of well educated and legitimately wise people out there offering good political advice.  I listen to what they have to say and consider their counsel.  Honestly, you don't need my two cents added to the mix on politics but perhaps we all need to be in greater contact with our King as we choose our President.  If I can do something that points us back to Him, then that's my job.

So ... after all that my choice is Jesus.  I want Jesus to be our leader.  He is, after all, a might good one!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Dear Christians Who Vote

There's a reason why folks tell jokes about lawyers, salesmen, and politicians.  Truth be told there are plenty of reasons not at all without merit that provoke a zinger now and then but there's this one thing that stands out like Mr. Trump's hair on a windy day.  Authenticity, rather the glaring lack of the stuff, has reduced the 2016 Presidential election to something more like a sports/entertainment hybrid; you know, like the WWE.

Here's the crazy thing - we keep going back for more.   That would be fine if we were just looking for a few laughs rather than the next leader of our nation.

Here's the crazier thing - we've helped make them like this. You know how we keep seeing video of the candidates saying things completely contradicting their current positions?  There's a reason for that.  We, the voters, have trained them to flip flop or at least to say what our specific group wants them to say in exchange for our support.  And so does the specific group that takes a slightly different view on the issue.  And so does the next group.  And the one after that.  It's a little Pavlovian  when you think about it; those candidates have learned to say almost anything for that treat.  The goal is to gain your vote so that they can win and then, after they've said enough of the right things to the right groups of people they can take their schizophrenic convictions into office and change things. ;)

(To be fair, not every single politician lacks true conviction it is just that they are clearly in the minority.)

We want our ears tickled and the first victim of ear tickling is authenticity.

Could it be that we have become an entire generation that can only handle leadership that thinks like we do?  Perhaps we are so concerned with what we want to hear that we don't consider what we need to hear.

A word to the wise: politicians are more interested in wooing you than leading you.

Perhaps this isn't just about politics.

Have you ever read something in the Bible that you didn't believe was true or even a right way of thinking?  If you were offended, hurt or disgusted by it what did you do about it?  Did you look for another verse that sounded more agreeable?  Did you try a new translation?  Did you look for a cultural explanation?  Do you wish it just wasn't there?

We love to be affirmed in our beliefs much more than we like being challenged in them; we prefer harmony over dissidence.  The same is true when it comes to our spirituality which is why Paul gave Timothy this charge in 2 Timothy 4:1-5, In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.  For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 
 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. 

These are two distinct arenas of our lives and yet they carry the same challenge when it comes to our attitudes and actions in response to leadership.  Are we willing to follow what's right even when it isn't what we want?  If we want great men and women to lead our country then we must become great people ourselves and be able to sift through campaign rhetoric to the substance of the person and their policies and their integrity.  If we want to become the church God has always intended for us to become, we must allow the Bible to change us rather than trying to change it.

Yes, there is probably someone out there preaching a message that confirms everything you've always believed.  Maybe you've just found a kindred spirit but perhaps it is just because they've learned to tell you what you want to hear.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Before You Give Your Heart to the Seahawks...

The latest big news out of the NFL is that the St. Louis Rams are heading to Los Angeles.  While there are contributing factors, the main one is greed.  Greed on the part of the owner, Stan Kroenke, greed on the part of the rest of the 31 owners (because yes, they will all benefit as a result of this), and greed on the part of the NFL in general.  They are a business first and foremost and while they profit from the loyalty of fans their allegiance lies squarely with their bottom line.  I'm not saying that all NFL owners or organizations are completely calloused.  I'm saying that sports fans need to think about how head-over-heels in love with their teams they have become and that their level of passion may not be reciprocated.

The Seahawks have achieved a status resembling sacred here in the great northwest and it is no wonder as to why - a championship team delivers to a winning-starved fan base and we all go gaga over them.  We, my fellow 12s, are easily swept off our feet at just the hint of Seattle success.  We will buy stuff, even useless stuff, just because it has their logo or their colors.  We felt ecstasy when we won the Superbowl and many of us were gloomy WAY TO LONG after they lost.  We have become emotionally invested into our team - and maybe some of that is okay but I am concerned for us - concerned that perhaps we've given our hearts to a team, an organization.  I'm concerned that they've taken too great of a place in our hearts.

Look at our friends in St. Louis.  One of the fans interviewed on TV this morning was hugely disappointed, he'd "poured his life into this team every Sunday for 20 years".  Now it's gone.  I hope he didn't give up too much for his team - I hope that he was exaggerating at least a little.  I mean, can you imagine if the only thing you lived for on Sundays was football?  I'm a huge football fan, I get it, but if that was what got me up in the morning what kind of life is that?  Imagine if football became more important to me than my family, or my church family?  Or my faith and growth with Jesus?  What would that say about me?  More than that, what would I have gained after giving my team so much of my time, emotional energy, money, and devotion in general?

I know, I know - you're not that crazy of a fan right?  I'm glad to hear that - but just in case things start getting a little fuzzy as to what's what - let me remind all of us of what Jesus said when it comes to who and what we entrust our hearts to ...

19 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
~ Matthew 6:19-21

Thursday, June 18, 2015

21 / 9 / Too Many

I guess this is my numeric response to yet another deadly tragedy.  The man who walked into a Charleston church and unleashed his own form of "problem solving" is just 21 years old.  The sole offense of the victims didn't have anything to do with behavior, evil plots, past transgressions or money.  They just happened to have the wrong skin color.  The shooter is just 21 years old.  That means he was born over 30 years after Martin Luther King Jr's famous "I Have a Dream Speech".  This isn't some old curmudgeon who couldn't handle a new worldview and suddenly snapped.  This is a young man so filled with evil and hate that killing somehow made sense to him.  I don't know where that evil came from or how often he consumed it but it is present.  And not just a whisper of the stuff either - this is the strong stuff.

• The gunman allegedly told the victims before the shooting, "You rape our women and you're taking over our country. And you have to go," said Sylvia Johnson, a cousin of the church's slain pastor. She cited survivors of the shooting and was quoted by CNN affiliate WIS.Full article here

Twenty-One.  How does someone get this messed up, racist and angry by that age?  This may be the case of someone who just lives in their own head but the most reasonable explanation is that he didn't get this way on his own.  That means evil hasn't left us.  Racism has staying power.  We have a problem.

Nine families are now grieving.  They shouldn't have to be - in a just world this wouldn't have happened.  Nine people came into a sanctuary to pray in peace but were violently killed.  Lord, have mercy and compassion for those who grieve.

Too Many.  I firmly believe that this will not mark the end of these tragic episodes that force their way into our lives.  I hope that it will be but I don't think so.  Various solutions will come forward including the usual suspects: gun control, education about mental and psychological health, and warnings to pay attention to our surroundings.  Each solution has value but each one falls short.  None of these things have the power to actually change us.  We're broken beyond whatever fixing comes about through demonstration, conversation, or legislation.  

Only a changed heart can produce changed behavior.  Only One can truly change a heart.

Friday, March 13, 2015


Let me riff off of that bastion of profundity, Forrest Gump, "Life is like a fast-food burger, it's not all that it appears to be in the commercial."  Now if you happen to be one of those folks flippin' burgers or taking orders at a drive-thru please know that I'm not firing in your direction; I've been in your spot and on occasion I may still steer my travel your way.  It's just that, no matter how you slice it, or stack it, fast-food is more about a hunger fix than a taste experience.

Back to my point: life is not always what it appears to be.  This week's sermon prep had me paying attention to Daniel's story and as I looked at his story I noticed a brief moment in the life of a king named Belshazzar.  As long as we're keeping track, Belshazzar's followed Nebuchadnezzar, yes that Nebuchadnezzar after a little shenanigans to get situated.  When you're king of an empire you're inclined to hold the perspective that you can always get what you want; the world does, in fact, exist for your happiness.  Belshazzar wasn't a great conqueror but he sat on the throne of a great nation.  He lived in luxury and enjoyed what he wanted when he wanted it and most importantly he enjoyed the very best protection available.

Belshazzar was in the midst of throwing a party for 1000 or so of his companions when he got the grand idea to grab those lovely goblets that were taken from Solomon's temple when Jerusalem was conquered.  You know, might as well party with the good stuff right?  Spoils are meant to be enjoyed and who cares if they came from a holy place, Babylon crushed Judah so doesn't that mean Yahweh is also impotent?  Drink up!

And then it appeared.

No warning, no announcement, nothing.  Just a hand writing four clear words in the plaster of the wall.

Someone noticed Belshazzar's behavior and apparently didn't agree that the universe owed him a favor.  Panic ensued.  What could the woulds mean?  Who could provide the full understanding behind them?  No one except Daniel, the man from Judah who prayed to and worshiped the "impotent" god from that conquered nation.  Daniel relayed the message from the King of Kings to a drunken throne sitter.

“ This is the inscription that was written:


“This is what these words mean:

Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.
Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.
Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”

~Daniel 5:25-28

Life isn't always what it appears to be.  For Belshazzar this was clearly a bad thing, he was killed later that night.  Everything that seemed secure was not.  The spoils of war used for pleasure produced only pain.

How many times are we totally convinced that we know exactly what is going on with our lives?  How often are we so engrossed in our perspective that are barely acknowledge that another one might be possible?  Let's face it, we want to know what's going on when it pertains to us.  All of us can be fooled.  All of us have gone through moments when we've discovered that something we were certain was true just wasn't.

Sometimes the disaster isn't as disastrous as we thought.  Sometimes the appearance of health is hiding disease.  Sometimes the apparently faithful are far from it.  Sometimes the quietest person in the room has the most to say.  Sometimes we're just not as right as we think we are.

Knowledge is there to be gained but before we dub ourselves experts of anything, it may be the better part of wisdom to exercise humility and acknowledge just how much we don't know.  When it comes to life, it's best to consult the One who gave it.

 "All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." ~ Psalm 139:16b

Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." 
 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Inste
ad, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will,we will live and do this or that." 
 As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.
Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins. ~James 4:13-17