Do We Really Worship?

Worship

Worship has received a renewed emphasis in Christian circles in the past decade. That’s a good thing. Anything that causes us to think about worship is good.

With that said, I wonder if the reason we talk about it more today than our parents or grandparents generations is that they had it but somehow we missed it. They didn’t talk about worship – they just worshipped. We talk about it but don’t. At least not like they did. Perhaps.

Several years ago Michael W. Smith wrote a song titled The Heart of Worship. It was made popular by a number of Christian artists including Sandi Patti. You can listen to Matt Redman’s version here.

The lyrics of the first verse and chorus are:

When the music fades

All is stripped away

And I simply come

Longing just to bring

Something that’s of worth

That will bless Your heart

I’ll bring You more than a song

For a song in itself

Is not what You have required

You search much deeper within

Through the way things appear

You’re looking into my heart

I’m coming back to the heart of worship

And it’s all about You,

It’s all about You, Jesus

I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it

When it’s all about You,

It’s all about You, Jesus

The song is true, as far as it goes. Worship is all about Jesus. It is all about what’s in our hearts. It’s true that it’s about blessing Jesus, not just being blessed. It’s true that we’ve turned it into something less than it is.

The shortcoming of the song (and this may never have been Smith’s goal) is that it tells us what worship ISN’T but it doesn’t tell us what worship IS. And that’s rather important. We won’t be able to worship until we know what the worship of Jesus is supposed to look like.

So let me offer some general thoughts on worship that I believe are grounded in a study of worship in the Word

  • Worship is more about how we live each day in the holiness of Jesus than it is about what we do on Sunday.
  • Worship is more about giving to Jesus than it is receiving something from Jesus.
  • Worship is more about who we are as sanctified people than it is about what we do (and it is about what we do).
  • Worship is more a life-style of obedience to Jesus than it is an hour spent with Jesus on the first day of the week.
  • Worship is more about the time we spend with Jesus every day than it is about the hour we spend with Jesus on Sunday.
  • Worship is more about serving Jesus than it is singing about Jesus.
  • Worship is more about Jesus than it is about me.

I don’t claim these statements define worship in its totality. Maybe you can add to them. But they are a place to begin the discussion.

So the question is: Are we really worshiping or are we doing something else?

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

It’s Time to Take a Hard Look at Ourselves

The Christian Response

There is something taking place in our country and it’s terribly wrong.

I’m not talking about the acceptance of same-sex marriage nor the push to allow anyone to use the public bathroom or shower facility they happen to choose.

I’m talking about how Christians are responding to these cultural issues.

You don’t have to read too many Christian blogs, Facebook posts or Tweets before you get the impression that we are M. A. D. We’ve had enough and we are not going to stand for any more!!!

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

But I believe it’s time for Evangelical Christians to reexamine how we react to our culture.

I’m not advocating for a change in our core beliefs – I’m suggesting a change in our core behavior. Because most of what I see on the internet from people who profess Christ is not Christ-like. Our behavior is toxic.

We justify our behavior in so many flimsy ways:

 They don’t respect our beliefs!

So what, the world has never respected the Christian faith. They threw the first Christians in jail for their beliefs (Acts 4). Later they fed them to the lions, cut them in pieces, burned them at the stake, drowned them, beat them, stoned them and basically abused them in the most grotesque ways they could think of (Hebrews 11). You shouldn’t expect the world to respect your beliefs.

 They’re taking over/changing our country.

This isn’t your country – you have a greater one. Abraham on this earth as in a foreign country (Hebrews 11:9) Why? Because he knew he was a citizen of something better – a city built by God. Keep your eyes on the prize (Hebrews 12:1-2).

 But it’s IMMORAL!

Of course it is – what did you expect?! Sinners act like sinners – you shouldn’t. To expect a moral culture run by people who have no moral compass is absurd. It will never happen.

It’s time to ask ourselves some serious questions:

 Since when is it godly for Christians to tell jokes that demean another person, even if they are gay or transgender?

 Since when is it godly to speak disparagingly of other people including, and perhaps especially those of the LGBT community?

 Since when is it godly to discriminate against another person based on their sexual preference or gender confusion?

 Since when is it godly to NOT love someone – even if they are confused about their gender or practice a brand of sexuality that is contrary to the Word of God?

But too often these are the ways we react.

I’m not asking you to agree with the LGBT lifestyle – it’s wrong. I’m not asking you to never speak up – you need to, but in love. I’m not asking you to change your beliefs. I’m asking Christians to get their beliefs in line with Jesus. To stop talking the talk until we can walk the walk.

Our primary purpose in this life isn’t to make sure every law conforms to the Bible, nor to make sure that every person lives like Jesus (WE can’t even do that!). Our purpose is to share the love of God with sinners – the exact people that we are often guilty of attacking.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Listening to God

Listening-Blog-Post

One of my Facebook friends recently posted a story that’s making the rounds on the internet.

A man was sitting on the edge of the bed, watching his wife, who was looking at herself in the mirror. Since her birthday was not far off, he asked what she’d like as a gift. “I’d like to be eight again,” she replied, still looking in the mirror. 

On the morning of her birthday, he rose early, made her a nice big bowl of Coco Pops, and then took her to Adventure World theme park. What a day! He put her on ever ride in the park; the Death Slide, the Wall of Fear, the Screaming Roller Coaster, everything there was.

Five hours later they staggered out of the theme park. Her head was reeling and her stomach felt upside down. He then took her to a McDonald’s where he ordered her a Happy Meal with extra fries and a chocolate shake.

Then it was off to a movie, with popcorn, a soda pop, and her favorite candy, M&Ms.

What a fabulous adventure!

Finally she wobbled home with her husband and collapsed into bed, exhausted. He leaned over his wife with a big smile and lovingly asked, “Well dear, what was it like being eight again?”

Her eyes slowly opened and her expression suddenly changed. “I meant my dress size, you idiot!!!”

The moral of the story: Even when a man is listening, he is gonna get it wrong.

I think the women will appreciate that more than the men.

It’s a humorous story but it does serve to illustrate an important truth of the Christian life.

It’s possible to Hear God without Listening to God.

How often do we hear God but we don’t really listen? We don’t make a personal connection with what He’s saying.

It happens to all of us. You take time to read your Bible but right in the middle of the passage your mind has wandered off somewhere. You’re reading on automatic pilot. Hearing but not listening.

Or how many times have you read your Bible – and kept your mind on the text, but what you read didn’t change anything about your life? Hearing but not listening.

In the parable that Jesus told about the different types of soils (Mark 4, Luke 8), He concluded with the statement, He who has ears to hear, let him hear! What He was saying was If you heard Me, listen up! Pay attention! What He wants is for us to hear and to listen.

The point Christ was making was that you need to let what you’ve heard (in the Word of God) change who you are (compare how this phrase is used to the 7 churches in Revelation chapters two and three).

The Apostle James addressed this in his writings when he wrote, But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves (James 1:22). He was admonishing us not just to hear God but to actually listen to Him.

When you take the time to actually listen to God it will produce changes in your life. That’s the only way you can tell if you’re listening and not just hearing.

Unlike the husband, when we listen to God we can get it right!

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

The Pursuit of God

Pursuit of God

It’s no secret to those who know me that I’m a goal oriented person. I love to plan and execute the plan. For me the results are the prize. And therein is the danger. Too often I find myself pursuing the thing rather than pursing God.

As Christians we are not called to pursue numbers or programs or results, we are called to pursue God. This is to be the Christian’s noblest goal, our highest aim, our ambition, our deepest desire. With the Apostle Paul our longing should be to know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Philippians 3:10).

The problem is that life often gets in the way of our pursuit of God. We find ourselves too busy, too preoccupied, too burdened with life and God is left on the periphery of our existence. Too much of our day is spent in the pursuit of the things of life rather than in the pursuit of the Giver of life.

The Puritans recognized the possibility of relegating God to a place of unimportance in life. One of the Puritan prayers that has been handed down to us illustrates the tension they felt in their pursuit of God.

I hasten towards an hour when earthly pursuits and possessions will appear vain, when it will be indifferent whether I have been rich or poor, successful or disappointed, admired or despised. But it will be of eternal moment that I have mourned for sin, hungered and thirsted after righteousness, loved the Lord Jesus in sincerity, gloried in His cross.

We’re no different. If anything the tension for us today is even greater than it was for them. We have infinitely more earthy pursuits and possessions to distract us from pursuing God. In comparison to our lives, theirs were rather plain and unencumbered. That simply means that we have to work harder and strive longer. It is still possible to pursue God if that is our deepest desire. It’s a matter of the heart.

The Apostle Paul again points the way when he writes, what things were gain (IE important) to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:7-8).

Pursuing things is the easy path. Pursuing God takes infinitely more time, more effort and more energy. But the benefits are substantially more rewarding.

Take time this week to pursue God. Get to know Him, spend time with Him, sit at His feet. It will be worth the pursuit.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Searching for Mercy

Mercy

I think that’s a safe title. Strange but safe. Searching for Mercy.

You search for things that you’ve lost. If we’ve lost anything in our society it’s Mercy.

Justice – we have plenty of it. Generosity – we don’t do too badly. Compassion – there’s even some of that around. But Mercy. What’s happened to Mercy?

It’s safe to say that it’s been lost. Viewed as a sign of weakness. Not given to those we think don’t deserve it (get the irony here?).

It’s significant that the place God chose to dwell in Israel – in the Holy of Holies, on the Ark of the Covenant was called the Mercy Seat (Exodus 25). Not the Judgment Seat but the Mercy Seat.

God lives in a place of Mercy.

The Mercy Seat was the place where God would meet and speak to Moses (Exodus 25:22). Not the Judgment Seat but the Mercy Seat.

God communicates from a place of Mercy.

The Mercy Seat was the place where the High Priest sprinkled the blood of the sacrifices on the Day of Atonement as payment for the sin of Israel (Leviticus 16). Not the Judgment Seat but the Mercy Seat.

God deals with us from a place of Mercy.

Throughout the Bible and especially in the Old Testament – the testament of judgment, of punishment (isn’t that what people say?), we’re reminded that God is a God of Mercy.

  • He’s abundant in Mercy (Numbers 14:18)
  • He shows Mercy to multitudes (Deuteronomy 5:10)
  • His Mercy can never be exhausted (2 Chronicles 7:3)
  • His judgment is tempered by His Mercy (Nehemiah 9:31)
  • His Mercy is great (Nehemiah 13:22)
  • You can Trust in His Mercy (Psalm 13:5)
  • You can Rejoice in His Mercy (Psalm 31:7)
  • His anger is tempered by His Mercy (Psalm 103:8)

It’s easy to forget just how important Mercy is, not just in our theology but in our everyday lives.

We need Mercy. Can you imagine your life without it? Without the Mercy that others have extended to you?

Wow! Where would I be today without the Mercy that so many people have granted me over the years of my life?! I hate to think of it.

Our Worship Teams are learning a new song that they will soon introduce to our church. It’s got a great focus on God’s Mercy.

Mercies Anew
Every morning that breaks There are mercies anew
Every breath that I take Is your faithfulness proved
And at the end of each day When my labors are through
I will sing of Your mercies anew

When I’ve fallen and strayed There were mercies anew
For you sought me in love And my heart you pursued
In the face of my sin Lord, You never withdrew
So I sing of Your mercies anew

Chorus
And Your mercies, they will never end
For ten thousand years they’ll remain
And when this world’s beauty has passed away
Your mercies will be unchanged

And when the storms swirl and rage
There are mercies anew
In affliction and pain
You will carry me through
And at the end of my days
When Your throne fills my view
I will sing of Your mercies anew
I will sing of Your mercies anew.

You can listen to it here.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

The Power Behind Our Sin

selfishness

Sin has been in the news recently. Surprisingly it’s been one of the major topics of conversation. I’m not talking about murders, infidelity, robberies and political scandals. That kind of sin has been with us so long that we’ve become impervious to it. I’m talking about sin from a religious perspective.

For example there have been articles (again) about why Joel Osteen won’t address the topic of sin in his sermons. You can read about it here. Then there is the 261 page document released recently by the Pope titled Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”) that has a lot to say about sin especially in the context of marriage. If you don’t want to read the entire document you can read articles here and here. For such an unpopular subject people are suddenly talking about sin.

Admittedly, sin isn’t a popular subject. In fact it’s become so unpopular that it’s mentioned less and less in churches where you would expect to hear something about it. We would much rather talk about grace – and that’s not all bad. The problem is that you can’t have grace without sin and there’s no salvation without something to be saved from.

Even when we do talk about sin we often try to absolve ourselves and blame it on someone or something else.

We even try to blame Satan for our sin – as if he held a gun to our head and made us do something we didn’t want to do.

But the Apostle James had a different take on it. He said each one [of us] is tempted [and gives in to the temptation] when he is drawn away by his own desire and enticed (James 1:14).

The key words here are by his own desire. Here’s what James is saying in a nutshell: Sin is the result of our own Selfishness.

The power behind sin is the fact that we are selfish people.

It may be most evident in sins that we classify as the BIG ones: abortion, adultery, etc. etc. But it’s also evident in the sins that we wink at: lying, gossip, anger etc. etc.

We sin because there is an advantage that accrues to us in our sinning. It feels good. It benefits me. It simplifies my life. It removes a potential problem. Most sin (perhaps all sin) is the result of selfishness. Our focus becomes us.

But the Christian life is the exact opposite of selfishness. It is not about me, it’s about others. Even Christ did not come to be served (it’s about me) but to serve (it’s about others (Mark 10:45).

We’re taught to be others focused.

Philippians 2:4: Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

1 Corinthians 10:24: Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.

To put it into perspective, selfishness is one of the predominant sins that the Apostle Paul lists (in fact it’s first on his list) as characteristic of a sinful world in the last days: men will be lovers of themselves (2 Timothy 3:2). A clear condemnation.

When we realize how serious selfishness is and the grip it has on our lives – when we begin to recognize that it is the power behind our sin we have taken the first step in leaving the me culture and gaining some degree of control over sin in our lives.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Will They Come Back?

Visitors B

As a pastor of a small church one question that is always on my mind (probably more than it should be) is Will they come back? I’m referring to people who visit our church. We like guests at our church and we do our best to make them feel comfortable. We want them to come back; to enter into worship with us; to become part of our family; to mature in God’s Word; to have their lives changed by the power of God.

But the reality is that many and perhaps most visitors don’t come back. For whatever reason (I’ve never found an unobtrusive way to get this information) they come one or two Sundays and we never see them again.

So I’m always looking, researching, trying to learn. One person who has a great deal of experience and knowledge on church issues is Thom Rainer who blogs at www.thomrainer.com. He has written several articles in the past year on the issue of churches and visitors.

In a blog titled Seven Things Church Members Should Say to Guests in a Worship Service he lists things we should say to someone who is visiting our church:

1. “Thank you for being here.” It’s just that basic. I have heard from numerous church guests who returned because they were simply told “thank you.”

2. “Let me help you with that.” If you see someone struggling with umbrellas, young children, diaper bags, purses, and other items, a gesture to hold something for them is a huge positive. Of course, this comment is appropriate for member to member as well.

3. “Please take my seat.” I actually heard that comment twice in a church where I was speaking in the Nashville area. The first comment came from a member to a young family of five who were trying to find a place to sit together.

4. “Here is my email address. Please let me know if I can help in any way.” Of course, this comment must be used with discretion, but it can be a hugely positive message to a guest.

5. “Can I show you where you need to go?” Even in smaller churches, guests will not know where to find the nursery, restrooms, and small group meeting areas. You can usually tell when a guest does not know where he or she is to go.

6. “Let me introduce you to ___________.” The return rate of guests is always higher if they meet other people. A church member may have the opportunity to introduce the guest to the pastor, other church staff, and other members of the church.

7. “Would you join us for lunch?” I saved this question for last for two reasons. First, the situation must obviously be appropriate before you offer the invitation. Second, I have seen this approach have the highest guest return rate of any one factor. What if your church members sought to invite different guests 6 to 12 times a year? The burden would not be great; but the impact would be huge.

Wow! When was the last time you said one (or several) of these things to a visitor in your church?

In another blog titled Ten Commandments from Happy Church Guests he listed comments from people he interviewed after they visited a new church. Here’s what made them feel positive about their experience:

1. People introduced themselves to the guests. “Several people introduced themselves to me. I did not get the impression it was either contrived or routine.”

2. Someone asked the guest to sit with her. “You know, as a single person, I can feel pretty lonely sitting by myself. I am so glad Joanie asked me to sit with her. We plan to get together for coffee.”

3. There was clear signage. “From the parking lot to the children’s area to the worship center, everything was clearly marked. It was sure easy to get around.”

4. There was a clearly-marked welcome center. “It made it real easy for me to ask questions and to get some information on the church.”

5. The kids loved the children’s area. “My kids were so happy with their experiences. We will be back for sure.”

6. The children’s area was secure and sanitary. “That is one of the first things I check when I go to a church. This church gets an A+!”

7. Guest parking was clearly visible. “From the moment we drove on the parking lot, I could find the guest parking. It was marked very well.”

8. The church did not have a stand and greet time. “My wife and I just moved to the area and are visiting churches. If we visit one with that fake stand and greet time, we don’t return.”

9. The members were not pushy. “They seemed to really care about us rather than just making us another number on the membership roll.”

10. The guest card was simple to complete. “Some of the cards in other churches ask for too much information. This one was perfect and simple.”

Again, he has some thought-provoking ideas.

Whether or not visitors return to our church is not just about how we treat them or how they feel after the service. There are many dynamics that play into such a personal decision. However, we need to do all we can to make sure that we, individually or collectively, are not the barrier that causes them to look elsewhere.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve