The End of Me

I was reading in Luke 7 about Simon and the prostitute today.

It sounds like a raunchy novel, but it’s not.  I love what Kyle Idelman said about this story in the first video our Journey Group watched.  In his book (The End of Me), he asks a cool question I’ve really never asked myself before.

(If you haven’t read the story in a while, it’s probably a good idea to read it again before you try and answer this.)

Which person in the story do you want to be most like?

The real question we should struggle with is – not who you ARE most like, but who do you WANT to be most like?

Would it be the well respected religious leader (Simon) who seems to have his stuff together, the guy people look up, the guy who has VIPs over for dinner?  (OR) Would you rather be the broken prostitute who embarrasses herself but deeply experiences the love and grace of Jesus?

Simply put, many of us want to be made whole without having to be broken – but the truth is – JESUS TAKES THE BROKEN AND MAKES US WHOLE!


Joshua – what a man!

As I sit here studying for our next series (Journey of Faith), I can’t help but get excited!  Joshua was a great leader (notice I didn’t say a perfect leader).  In today’s world, we are quick to criticize and condemn due to imperfection, but I hope we remember we can be great without being perfect!

As Deuteronomy closes and the book of Joshua begins, Moses is dead and the Israelite’s are mourning his death.  As Moses’ right hand guy, Joshua is called on to step into Moses’ shoes and lead the people.  What a gift!  Joshua got a promotion, but the people he will lead are at the lowest of lows!  They’ve just lost their fearless leader… the one who led them out of Egypt’s bondage and across the Red Sea.  They had to question whether or not Joshua was “the guy” they should follow.

That’s the true test of leadership.  One of my doctoral professors told our cohort one day…  When you are in the midst of a crisis, don’t ask “why me” because leaders aren’t needed when everything is smooth and times are good.  Leaders show their true ability in a crisis – when everything is hitting the fan and it’s tough to see where to go or what to do.  That’s leadership!

Through a Christian lens, I’ll give you another clarity of what leadership looks like.  When you look at a Christian leader, you see straight through him/her… and see Jesus!  That’s the leader I strive to be!  That’s what a Christian leader should be!

Things Worship Leaders Shouldn’t Say

I ran across an article on Facebook from a website known as http://www.churchleaders.com, titled Top 10 Things I Wish Worship Pastors Would Stop Saying, link to article here.

Some might erroneously assume an article from a site called CHURCHLEADERS would have valid content.  Unfortunately, what you see is not always what you get.  I must admit on the forefront, I am biased.  I cringe every time I see something that opts to condemn or instill negative thoughts.  Rarely, do editorials such as this edify the church or Christ.  I usually fear it’s someone trying to instill their opinions on “what’s wrong with the church.”  Their musings tend to make you stop and think, but when compared to God and His Word, lack foundation and substance.  (In fact, the author does not reference Scripture at any point in his article.)

In this post, I’ll share my thoughts as a critique of the article.  Yes, it’s an opinion… But I hope this challenges you to dig deeper into the Word and let God shape your thoughts, not an editorial (his or mine).

To use his words – here are 10 things he wishes worship leaders would stop saying:

10. Are we ready to have fun this morning

  • Although this isn’t what I hear regularly coming from the church stage, it wouldn’t be inappropriate.  After all, doesn’t God have emotions… doesn’t He like to have a good time and enjoy fellowship, praise, and worship.  And when you enjoy something, why not have fun in the process… if we can’t, then where is our joy!
  • Ecclesiastes 5 hits the nail on the head.  (vv.18-20) “…It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life – this is indeed a gift from God. God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past.”  (and it’s repeated in chapters 2, 3, and 8)
  • Proverbs 15:13 “A glad heart makes a happy face…”
  • Proverbs 17:22 “A cheerful heart is good medicine…”
  • Psalm 149:3 “Praise His name with dancing, accompanied by tambourine and harp.”
  • Nehemiah 8:10 “…”Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!”

9. How’s everybody feeling?

  • Granted some of us are not morning people… so that question can be mistaken.  But the truth is, if the church truly is the body of Christ – then we should all “feel” welcomed and loved when we come together.  Regardless of how my morning is going or how much (sometimes) I’d rather be sleeping late… I never regret coming together with my brothers and sisters as the church.  Does the author assume this question is disingenuous?  If so, then there is a deeply rooted problem that needs to be addressed in his/her own church.  But when it is asked by our worship pastor, it is because he genuinely cares about you… and he wants you to know it… he wants you to feel it!
  • Matthew 11:28 where Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
  • John 10:10 where Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (ESV)
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:11 “So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.”

8. You can do better than that!

  • The author calls this “nagging” and “shaming” but I call it challenging one another, encouraging one another, and pushing to move past the fear, timidness, and yes at some time laziness that we all fall victim to from time to time.  The bottom line is we need each other for encouragement, support, and accountability.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:14 “Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of thosew ho are weak. Be patient with everyone.”
  • 2 Timothy 4:2 “Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.”
  • Hebrews 10:24-25 “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another to acts of love and good works.”

7. I can’t hear you!

  • See above.

6. [Introducing a hymn] Here’s an oldie we dusted off.

  • Well… Amazing Grace, arguably one of the most widely circulated and best known hymns of our day was most likely written around 1772 and published in 1779.  We call songs from the 50’s and 60’s oldies but goodies… I tend to believe a song written in the 1700’s is the ultimate oldie but goody!  One word comes to mind with this dudes argument… really??!??

5. “Rockin’ worship”

  • I’ll refer to the passage above from Psalms talking about rockin’ worship full of dancing, tambourines, and harps!  I don’t know if you’ve thought about it before, but tambourines and harps usually don’t go together.  I picture a bride coming down the isle to a beautiful harp, and then granny brings down the house with her tambourine!  Okay, that’s a stretch, but you get the picture.  The music may not be my style, but I bet some good “Old Testament” pickin’ and grinnin’ praise and worship may not be this author’s cup of tea either.  The bottom line is simple – the methods may change or be different, but the motive is what counts (it’s a matter of heart).
  • On another note, isn’t it okay to give a descriptor that illustrates the talent God has given His people (whether musician or vocalist).  Sometimes we lose focus and lose sight of what it means to live in freedom from the bondage of Satan.  So much so, that we tend to live in bondage to the church, instead of experiencing the freedom we have to live with a joy we’ve never ever had before!

4. “Lord, we invite you to be here.”

  • Yeah, I would never want to say that… why do we want Him “in the house” during praise and worship!  The author argues it a bit differently, He’s already there… it belongs to Him, so why invite Him… I think of going to my aunt’s house and instead of her cooking dinner for me, I want to do something to show her how much I love her, so I cook dinner for her.  Once dinner is ready and on the table, I invite her to come to the table.  I could just sit down and start eating without her.  I mean, she’s there, it’s her house… she could come anytime she gets ready to.  But I want this to be all about her, so I invite her to the table.  That’s not a parallel illustration, but I hope you get the point.  Are we so self-absorbed that we think God doesn’t want to be loved… wanted… invited… Not because He’s in our face.  Not because it’s His house.  We do it out of an intentional unconditional love for Him.  So I’ll keep on inviting God to be with us because He’s the main attraction.  He’s the center of our praise and worship.  It’s all about Him!
  • Jeremiah 29:13 “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.”
  • Hebrews 11:6 “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to Him must believe that God exists and that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him.”

3. God showed up.

  • The author argues it gives a superficial emotional response to worship, instead of a deep seated heartfelt commitment that is required to follow Jesus.  He says it makes people feel as if God must be absent when they don’t feel good.  I argue, God is with us every single time His people come together, I don’t doubt that.  But there are times when His Spirit absolutely fills the room and when that happens, I’ve never had anyone come to me and say, “I just didn’t feel it today.”  It’s all based on a relationship – our relationship with God.  And like any other relationship, the relationship can be solid as a rock, but there are times we aren’t as connected as other times.  I think of a son and his mother.  The relationship is unquestionable.  He is the son, and she is the mother, nothing they can do will ever change that fact.  But there are times the mother is ticked off at her son, or times her son is ticked off at his mother.  They can be at opposite ends of the house, but they’re in the same house.  But there are other times when the two are close together, sitting in the same chair even, embracing one another.  If anyone believes our relationship with God is any different, then I’ve completely misread God’s Word.
  • Psalm 13 says such things as “O Lord, how long will you forget me?” – “How long will you look the other way?” – “Turn and answer me, O Lord my God.”
  • 2 Chronicles 5:13-14 – granted this was old covenant theology, but I love the imagery, “The trumpeters and singers performed together in unison to praise and give thanks to the lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals, and other instruments, they raised their voices and praise the Lord with these words: ‘He is good! His faithful love endures forever!’ At that moment a thick cloud filled the Temple of the Lord. The priests could not continue their service because of the cloud, for the glorious presence of the Lord filled the Temple of God.”  His Spirit is within anyone and everyone who has been saved, yet at times through praise and worship we are brought to a place where we remove any barriers to our fellowship/communion with Him.  When that happens and a large number of us respond, when fellowship/communion has been restored, the glory of His presence fills the place!

2. Let’s give God a hand

  • The author feels this is soliciting applause.  Bingo!  Websters defines applause as “a show of approval or appreciation… in which people strike their hands together over and over.”  Approval and appreciation in the body of Christ should always begin at the top, with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
  • Psalm 98:8 “Let the rivers clap their hands in glee! Let the hills sing out their songs of joy” to praise God…
  • Psalm 47:1 “Come, everyone! Clap your hands! Shout to God with joyful praise!”

1. Turn to your neighbor and ______________.

  • Fellowship is Biblical and it is an outward expression of the love we have for one another (saved and unsaved alike, church member and non-church member alike, sinner or saint).  One phrase is repeated over and over in Scripture that teaches us one powerful way we can demonstrate this unconditional love, by greeting each other in Christian love.  Can you imagine the way Jesus will greet you when you meet Him face to face?  That tells me, if I truly want to be His hands/feet/ambassador, then I should do what He would do… not just talk the talk, but walk the walk!
  • Romans 16:16 “Greet each other in Christian love…”
  • 1 Corinthians 16:20 “…Greet each other with Christian love.”
  • 2 Corinthians 13:12 “Greet each other with Christian love.”
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:26 “Greet all the brothers and sisters with Christian love.”
  • 1 Peter 5:14 “Greet each other with Christian love…”
  • 3 John 14:15 “Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends, each by name.” (ESV)
  • Hebrews 13:24 “Greet all your leaders and all the saints…”
  • Romans 12:13 “…Always be eager to practice hospitality.”
  • John 13:35 “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

I may not have hit every nail on the head so-to-speak, but I’ve tried to give you a contrasting view to counterbalance the opinions in the article.  Personally, I believe if we take the stand of edifying one another, not criticizing and condemning one another, more people would see Jesus in (and through) us.  I’m not angry with the referenced editorial, but I am disappointed, just as I am with every “church-help” article that focusing on the negative and are quick to throw stones at what they feel is being done wrong.  It begs the question – Is being different wrong?  The litmus test must be – who or what is the focus of your actions.  If it honors and glorifies God while ushering people into His presence, then it is not wrong (even if it is different).

My challenge to you is simple.  Don’t make brash decisions about things you read just because the author is a good salesperson.  Look at both sides, study God’s Word, and come to your own conclusion (while pleading for guiding discernment from the Holy Spirit).  Instead of criticizing or questioning, choose to edify, encourage, and support ministry leaders.  Some things in life are simply a matter of taste, but I found out a long time ago that something I strongly dislike (such as liver… I don’t eat organs), other people love (my wife loves liver, ugh), but that doesn’t make it a bad thing.

So my unsolicited advice for the author of “Top 10 Things I Wish Worship Pastors Would Stop Saying” is simple – stop wishing!

Pope Got It Wrong

In a world where so many people revere the words of the Pope, I have to shake my head at his divisive comments regarding Donald Trump.  I am not using this as a chance to advocate for or against a candidate – my purpose is to simply clarify a misstatement on behalf of a religious leader in our culture.  According to news outlets Francis said, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the gospel.”  He went on to say that if a man says things like that, he is “not Christian.”

Although a polarizing issue, it is not black and white.  One cannot authenticate a generality that building a bridge versus a wall uniquely applies to every situation in life through the gospel lens.  I can testify that in my own life, I’ve had to “build walls” to protect me and/or my family, yet as I did, I never stopped trying to build bridges – at times subsequently, at times sequentially.

To illustrate – I can build a security gate (wall) around my house.  That doesn’t mean no one can enter, or leave.  It means I control who enters and who leaves.  It means I take responsibility for who enters and who leaves.  The last time I checked, the gospel does not address this specifically, nor am I condemned to an unchristian life if I choose to employ this at my home.

Those statements are divisive, inflammatory, and politically motivated.  Endorse or don’t endorse a candidate, that’s a right we all have.  But do not attack a candidate’s system of faith and beliefs based on an unfounded accusation that is misaligned with Scripture.

2016 Year of Second Chances

I’ve been sharing with our church that I am praying for radical change in 2016!  I believe this to be the year of second chances for many people.  It’s a time where regardless of how bad the bad gets, or how bad your past was, you don’t give up.  You don’t give up on God because God never gives up on you!  And you don’t give up on yourself!

That sounds easier than it really is.  We ended the series yesterday with a powerful example of how one person overcame many obstacles in their life, and maintains a positive attitude and outlook on life!  This person sees life as something to be thankful for, not consuming himself with being negative or living in the past.  It’s a great reminder that our past does not define our future – and anyone, including you, can start over right here, right now!  This could be your second chance!

Use 2016 to make relationships right in your life.  If someone has offended you, forgive them.  If you’ve offended someone else (whether intentional or not), ask them to forgive you.  It’s not about forgetting, it’s not even about trusting again – those are part of restoring a relationship – but it’s all about shaking the heavy load off your shoulders and letting go.  Then, God can lead you through steps to reconcile and restore the relationship.  Some relationships can’t be restored, but all relationships can be reconciled.  A couple of definitions of reconcile are: to coexist in harmony; restore friendly relations between…  It’s essential, but you can never reconcile a relationship until there is forgiveness.

I have a friend in another state who has humbled me so much.  He is the great example I mentioned above.  His character, courage, and strength absolutely blow me away.  And in the midst of hell itself, he remains positive and thankful.  If we could all just get a hefty dose of that in our lives.

My first challenge to you is simple – repair broken relationships in your life.

My second challenge comes from my friend – reach out to someone who no one is reaching out to, and pour out the love of Jesus in their life.  Be the hands and feet of Jesus to them.  Life really is all about relationships!

College/Seminary Selection Advice

Recently, I have had a number of people ask me about which college or seminary I would recommend.  Some have even asked the difference between a college and a seminary.

Typically, undergraduate college results in either an Associate or Bachelor degree while a graduate college results in either a Master or a Doctoral degree.  Seminaries exist to specifically educate people for ministry, much like medical schools exist to specifically educate physicians.  For pastors, the most common seminary degree is the Master of Divinity, while some pastors continue their education and pursue either a professional or research doctorate.  The minimum cumulative time to complete college/seminary leading to a terminal degree (doctorate) is 8-9 years.

While I don’t endorse a specific college/seminary, I do have some important reminders.

First, accreditation.  Your education is an investment into your future.  As such, it needs to hold value both professionally and academically.  I recommend you select an academic institution that is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools/Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) and/or the Association of Theological Schools/The Commission on Accrediting (ATS).  If your school is not accredited, chances are high your work there will not be transferable to another institution should you desire to continue your education.  Schools that are not accredited are not held to specific standards and it makes you ask the question: Why are they not accredited?

Second, reputation.  Some theological schools are considered liberal, and others conservative.  While teaching may not affect your particular beliefs, your school of choice may affect future job opportunities.  Schools that have a campus and offer on campus and online courses are typically reputable, if they are conservative and accredited.  Schools that do not grant college degrees, or perhaps they grant only honorary degrees, are neither reputable nor accepted professionally.  An honorary degree is offered as a gift to someone who has made a notable societal contribution (e.g. distinguished philanthropists, musicians, politicians, authors, and scientists), but it is not an earned degree and does not allow a person to claim they have earned a particular degree.  (For example, Kermit the Frog was awarded an honorary doctorate degree in 1996 from Long Island University; Bill Gates received an honorary doctorate degree from Harvard University in 2007, yet he dropped out in 1975 without earning a degree.)

It is well known that you can “buy” a degree or in some cases get one for free.  In 2015, we are more astute to a genuine academic process whereby a degree is earned from an accredited institution, perhaps more so than ever before.  There are wonderful free and low cost educational opportunities out there, and they should be valued for what they are, and understood for what they are not.  All educational processes do not result in a diploma or degree, nor should they.  Obtain quality education, and judge for yourself the true quality, but search scrupulously before making an investment in your future by selecting a respectable college/seminary.

February Update

Happy February!  I shared with our church yesterday that God slapped me upside the head two weeks ago.  One person approached me and said I needed to join him on the Daniel fast for February.  I had just spent the morning message sharing with our church about the connection between physical and spiritual health.  In my head I had my doubts about doing the fast.  It wasn’t that I was questioning my faith, I have fasted before and know I could do it.  The question was whether or not I ‘wanted’ to do it.  But he played the GOD card (you know… it’s the one I play every week) so I didn’t really have a choice.  That evening another friend challenged me to go to the gym with him regularly.  My thoughts went back to 1997 when Lori and I lived in Macon, Georgia, and we joined Gold’s Gym.  Notice I said “joined” instead of “worked out at.”  I paid them for a year in advance, but only went once or twice.  So I could just see my money flying away… But then I remembered a time in 1999 when I intentionally worked out and lost 30 pounds in a month.  As a flight medic I had to weigh under a certain limit, so I did what it took to lose the weight.  But when I stopped flying, I stopped exercising and eating right.  So now God was telling me through two people in one day that I needed to refocus my life and practice what I preach.  I’m in!

My daughter Camryn and I are on the Daniel fast, and so far it isn’t that bad.  When I crave something I can’t have, I go to God through prayer and reading His Word.  When I want to waiver, my accountability partner holds me to the line.  Man, I really don’t see how people live life without a church family!  I need the accountability.  I need the support and encouragement.  I need Godly people in my life.

This week’s message was about setting goals that will be blessed by God as we are transformed for Him!  It isn’t a resolution because resolutions are quickly broken.  My goal is to get healthier in 2015 and let that be a beginning to a lifestyle change full of radical transformation – physically and spiritually.  Are you in?  Will you join me?