Saturday, June 24, 2017

When You Worship

You may remember some time ago I referenced the writings of Robert Schnase from his book, "Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations."  Since I don't remember everything I covered in that blog article, some of what you read here today might touch on some things you have already read.  I recently picked up his book again when I was looking for some ideas on explaining the worship experience and found some input on the subject I wanted to share. 

Mr. Schnase states when he is called up to lead worship, his preparation is to aim the worship experience in two directions. One is to the intellect of those who attend the worship, and second, he wants to focus on the heart. 

When I mention the worship experience, you will understand the perspective from which I view worship carries with it the worship in the churches I have attended from my youth, and now into my old age. Make no mistake about it, if you are in the same church you were attending 50 years ago, there have been some changes.  Those who have moved to different towns and attended different churches will notice even more changes.

Those changes have also changed us. We may become less judgmental if we attend a church that is more forgiving when sins are brought to light.  We may rethink our position on miracles, or place more of an emphasis on missions, or we could even learn something we had never learned before that would change us.

Having said all that, think with me about how our worship experiences are aimed at our intellect.  You may then want to ask yourself what part of the worship has affected your intellect in any way?   Perhaps you will think of a verse from the Bible that opens your eyes to a new truth. Or it could be the testimony of someone which allowed you to realize your need to be more open to others about your feelings, your shortcomings, or your need for growth in knowledge.  Can you see how worship needs to touch us individually in this way?

The other focus is on the heart, and while invisible to us, the effects are more visible. Has an old hymn ever brought tears to your eyes during worship?  All of us will admit our hearts are moved with the reading of scriptures like the 23rd Psalm.  Baptism events bring smiles of love from us all.  Even patting your foot to the beat of a lively praise song can be a visible proof of worship affecting your heart. 

I want us to all be aware of the importance of intellect in worship as we learn and grow individually and as a church body.  I will be among the first to admit it's when the heart is touched, to the point of visibly noticing changed hearts, happy hearts, and excited hearts, that's when worship is changing us for the better. 

We are commanded to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord, Jesus Christ," and that sometimes begins with worship.  The experiential touching of one's heart and bringing him closer to God is one of the greatest accomplishments of our worship.  May God be praised; all glory belongs to Him. 


Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Movement

I receive notices about lots of conferences.  I have been to some and those I attended have always been uplifting, encouraging, and a tremendous learning experience.  I could easily turn into a "conference freak," knowing there is always something to learn and always an upward direction in which I can grow. 

Today I learned about a conference being held in November in Canada.  My immediate reaction was one of questioning someone who would schedule a conference in Canada in November!  I never gave it a second thought because  it's too far, and bound to be in colder weather than South Texas. 

I did a little more reading and began to understand a sense of urgency from those putting on the conference, a sense of urgency to proclaim a message which is constantly on their hearts.  The conference is aimed primarily at the age group of 25-35, an age group which makes a good target audience for the conference presentations.   Here is the statement describing what attendees can expect.

 I read the paragraph a couple of times and could only think about how that needs to be a priority of every Christian.  Especially the final sentence which I want you to read aloud, spend some time in prayer, and make an effort to accelerate that type of momentum in your daily walk with Jesus. 


Monday, June 19, 2017

I'm Frustrated

Frustrations are a normal part of life, and we have stories to tell to our friends about our frustrating circumstances. We get frustrated with Congress, with our spouse, with our kids, our boss, or just about anyone we come in contact with.  After all, some people just seem to be "called" to get under our skin and leave us frustrated. 

We often turn to the Bible to remind ourselves that we are to be people of patience, especially since patience is a virtue with biblical foundations. If you are like me, you read a few verses but still feel some frustration.  While there are things which frustrate us, there are a couple of things I want you to remember.  The first is a simple realization that each of us can be frustrating to others.  The second is a little more detailed, in that it identifies some negative results which happen if we are overcome with frustrations. 

Do you know someone that is a master of frustration?  Every time we see them all the bad things that could happen in a day has happened to them. A lot of the time, these people have been the cause of their own frustrations because of something called attitude!

The dangerous negative result of frustration is that it leads us to become judgmental of others. We know the Bible says,

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged...Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?...You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye…” (Matthew 7:1–3 & 5).

Jesus likens us to the Pharisees when we judge others with negative or cutting statements.  The Lord wants us to know before we can be the judge and jury for someone else, we need to examine our own lives.

This truth is further made real to us when we remember the Pharisees took a woman to Jesus, and this woman had been caught in adultery. These religious leaders were anxious to see the woman stoned to death because of her sin. They had judged her and brought her to Jesus to see how he would handle the situation. Jesus told those Pharisees, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

We may have frustrations that come our way, but the lesson for us to learn is one of loving others the way God loves us. That includes concern, forgiveness and compassion. Aren't we glad God doesn't throw stones when we deserve them?


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Test Me, Try Me

Vindicate me, Lord,
    for I have led a blameless life;
I have trusted in the Lord
    and have not faltered.
 Test me, Lord, and try me,
    examine my heart and my mind;
 for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love
    and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness.  
Psalm 26:1-3

First glance at this psalm might cause us to think David is writing these things from a boastful point of view.  Closer examination of the entire segment of scripture opens our eyes to the deeper meaning of integrity.  Who are the Christians at your church that you know to be people of integrity?  What is it about them that makes you classify them as such?

In the bold printed text above, David is establishing himself as a man who really desires to live according to the principles of God.  God's truth is primary to him and this has come about through David's total reliance on the faithfulness of God.  I often wonder if we would be as inviting as David when he asked the Lord to test him and examine his heart and his mind.  It takes a person of integrity to be that open. 

The verses which follow give us more information about David, all of which are points of reference for us to make similar evaluations about ourselves.  David briefly proclaims he is not going to be influenced by those who live lives of wickedness and hypocrisy.  Instead, he spends his time and focuses his influence on proclaiming the goodness of God and sharing the news about God's wonderful deeds. 

My favorite picture of David comes in the next section of the psalm where he says, "Lord, I love the house where you  live."  Now let's ask ourselves if we really know where God lives.  He isn't isolated to one place, he isn't limited by borders, and he isn't bound by pretty structures of bricks and wood.  When we come to fully understand that God dwells inside us, we then grasp the truth that where we are, God is.  In the form of His Spirit, God makes his abode in the hearts and lives of his people.  This carries tremendous connection to the Christian and worship.  Don't think this means God lives in the church building.  That building is just a building until the people of God assemble.  Then there is a multitude of hearts, filled with God, joining together to worship and praise him.

The two lines which end Psalm 26 are these:

  My feet stand on level ground;
    in the great congregation I will praise the Lord.  
Psalm 26:12


Monday, June 12, 2017

At The River

Sometimes it's difficult for us to identify with Bible characters. I have confessed before my preference to study the teachings of Paul, and wouldn't it have been nice to actually witness the events of Peter preaching on Pentecost?  While we all have our favorites, we are separated from Bible characters by a couple thousand years at best, some even more than that.  They were people of different cultures, different backgrounds, different fact, how can we relate to them when we have almost nothing in common?

It's Jesus that makes us related to them. The Christian family includes those we read about in the New Testament, as well as relating us to those who sit in the pew behind us at church. If, according to God's plan, we are one in Christ, then we actually do have a lot in common with the people we read about in the Bible. 

In Paul's travels, he bumped into people that he did not know, and simply by speaking the truth about Jesus, Paul was able to bring his hearers to become members of the spiritual family. Here is one such instance from Acts 17:

13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.   Acts 17:13-15.

Paul and his band of travelers went down by the river, hoping to find a quiet place to spend some time in prayer.  There were some women there so they struck up a conversation. One of the ladies present was Lydia, who made her living by selling purple cloth. She worshiped God, but the Bible says the Lord "opened her heart" and she responded to the Jesus message of Paul.  Lydia and her household were baptized and then she invited this traveling band of Christian servants to come stay at her house. 

Lydia's story is one which illustrates the Great Commission. Her story is an echo of God's plan for missions, a plan that has worked well over two thousand years. It's a story which makes some of us ashamed of our lack of efforts in reaching others. 

Paul saw the importance of his message. It was a message simple enough to share with some people he met at a river, but it's also a message complex enough to defeat Satan and the grave and bring us to an eternity of living in God's presence. When you connect all that with the love that Paul had for those who were lost, you find all the necessary ingredients for successful ministry. 

Is there a riverbank you need to visit?


Saturday, June 10, 2017

Sunday Worship

Spiritual Sniffing

Any child which finds its roots in a Christian home where the Bible is front and center in all things, can probably tell you the story of Jonah.   I suppose most of us immediately think of Jonah and the time he spent in the belly of the big fish, but just like all the stories and events in the Old Testament, they have lessons to teach and truth to be believed, even for New Testament Christians.   Let's look at the story a little closer.

 "Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord."    Jonah 1:1-3

Jonah was a prophet now commissioned by God to deliver a sermon to the residents of Nineveh, to let them know God had issues with them because of their wicked and sinful lives.  Just how Jonah would accomplish this must have weighed heavy on his mind.  Put yourself in his shoes.  Suppose God told you to go into a city and start proclaiming to its residents, that they were sinners and viewed through the eyes of God as being totally wicked.  Jonah was no dummy.  He knew a message like that from someone unknown to the people of Nineveh would probably lead to his demise.  So he decided to do what we would probably do.  Go the opposite direction, away from Nineveh, in an attempt to hide from God. 

Jonah paid the fare for a trip on a boat headed for Tarshish.  Perhaps he could attempt to justify his decision by assuming he was saving his own life.  Like us in our unfaithfulness to God, Jonah could  feel safe if he just convinced himself he was doing the right thing. 

The verses that follow our text tell the story of Jonah running from God and the subsequent wind and storm that came up, the fear of the sailors, and how each one of them was crying out to their own gods for safety.   All the cargo was tossed overboard to lighten the load.  During all of this, Jonah found a comfortable place below the deck and went to sleep.  Ultimately lots were cast to determine who was responsible for the impending calamity.  The lot fell on Jonah.  This led to their questioning about Jonah, who he was, where he was from, who were his people? 

When Jonah revealed to them he was a Hebrew, and a follower of the Lord, the crew was terrified, because Jonah had already told them he was running from God.  Jonah then made the suggestion for them to toss him into the sea because he knew all this was happening because of him.  They tried rowing back to shore, but the waves were too great.  They then prayed for forgiveness for what they were about to do, and they threw Jonah overboard.  Verse 17 says, "Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights."
I don't know about Jonah's immediate reaction, but mine would have been, "It Stinks."  Fish smell bad enough on the outside, but I can only imagine how bad they smell on the inside.  And that teaches me, if I choose to run from God, and go in a direction opposite from the one he has chosen for me,  I can expect to know I am in the wrong place and living the wrong way because, "It Stinks."   Do a little spiritual "sniffing" in your life.   Learn the love of God as he directs your steps.