This is a newsletter article I wrote about three years ago. It is as pertinent today as it was then, as we continue to struggle with perspective over our worship theology.
I have three girls, ages 2, 4, and 6. This morning, I came downstairs to find the two older girls drawing pictures for me. As I came close, the 4-year-old said, "Daddy, I drew this for you; isn't it good?" I said, "Abby, it's beautiful; thank you so much for drawing that for me." The 6-year-old promptly said, "Look at mine; I drew this for you. Don't you think it's prettier than hers?" I said, "Walker, I see that you've used lots of colors. It is beautiful; but I like both pictures." Walker said, "But she's only 4; I draw better than her." Abby was beginning to get a little rattled and reached over and grabbed Walker's picture, which made Walker hit her and begin to cry.
Where did things go so wrong?? After all, I didn't love either of their pictures because they were amazing works of art created by my child-prodigies. I loved them... LOVED THEM... because my two little girls had offered me something from their heart. Truthfully, they both are good at drawing, and appropriately so for their ages. But, we're still talking about a crayon-colored flower with four lop-sided petals and the 6-year-old's typical stick person with her ever-present background objects: a sun, a rainbow, and a cross. What disappointed me was that out of striving with each other that neither received the love I returned to them for such a heartfelt gift.
Because I teach and work with numerous churches, pastors, and musicians who are thinking through the theology of worship (or in the trenches of a "worship war"), I see this very scene played out again and again. A choir member, a guitarist, a man with a music degree, someone who earns a living playing by ear.... in their own way they offer up heartfelt praise and lead others in doing the same. Then they start to compare their work. "Mine is better than hers; theirs gets people too excited; theirs puts people to sleep; that isn't real music; that isn't relevant music." And I have to think God is disappointed, both at his children's striving and at the missed opportunity to bask in His pleasure at their offering. And surely to the Creator who made the stars and planets, who can hear the deepest rumble of a planet turning on its axis and the fast-as-light crescendo of a star going super-nova, our childish little compositions and ditties do not please him because of their extraordinary cleverness, but because he sticks them up on the refrigerator doors of heaven and tells the angels, "My child Robert drew that one for me."
May God give us humble hearts and ears to hear.
If you are new to this blog....
Monday, April 30, 2007
This is a newsletter article I wrote about three years ago. It is as pertinent today as it was then, as we continue to struggle with perspective over our worship theology.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
“For those parents… for the rest of their lives… their best days, their happy days… it’s all behind them now… all past. There will not be a day that is not tinged with… framed by this loss.”
Earlier this week, that’s what a friend said to me about the families of the Virginia Tech victims.
Right now, the country is still reeling from the shock of the tragedy at Virginia Tech. We can’t wrap our minds around it. I can’t imagine what it would be like for some one close in… for a close friend or a family member… or a parent.
Well, until I talked to my friend this week. If anyone else had said those words – about the best days being in the past, I would have kindly nodded, but thought otherwise. But he knows. He’s lost a grown child and it’s been some years now. And he’s a Christian. And he still said those words with all the conviction in the world. I have no reason to doubt him.
In the kind of world we live in, there is such evil, such pain, such sorrow, and such loss, that we can receive a heart-wound that leaves a permanent scar. There is part of me that wants to argue that God can heal all things with time and in His miraculous mercy. But maybe there are scars that we bear for a lifetime.
Jesus, after all, kept his.
Have you ever wondered why God raised Jesus from the dead and gave him a glorified body that could walk through walls and ascend into Heaven.... and didn't heal the scars from the crucifixion?
Is it fair to say that there is not a day for the rest of eternity that Jesus or any of those gathered around him will not see or touch those scars and remember the tragic event of his execution?
It is important to recognize that those close to tragedy deal with "open wounds" for a long time, maybe even years. It is also important to recognize that even after that, there may be scars. Jesus, betrayed and killed by evil and human sin, bears scars like that.
At that same prayer meeting where my friend said those words about the best days being behind, we went on to pray, offering prayers for those close to the Virginia Tech tragedy. That same friend, whose stark honesty surprised me, quietly went on to pray about hope and Heaven and God's ministering Spirit in a way that left me breathless. I have no doubt that he bears scars from the loss of his son, and those may last forever. I know that he also identifies with and looks in hope to a savior that knows his grief intimately and who offers him peace that is beyond understanding.
That is intense... and it is intensely comforting.
[This post based on THIS sermon.]
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
A church member and I were talking about lighthouse Christianity and we agreed that the word "evangelism" still makes people uncomfortable (both the evangelist and evangelee!). Fortunately, I think the main source of discomfort is a stereotyped picture of evangelism that doesn't resemble what I believe God actually wants us to do.
There are 1001 ways to share faith and I am sure that there is at least one of them that each person wculd be comfortable with! But I'd like to describe one scenario that I believe every church member is not only capable of, but would feel comfortable with. I'll number the steps to make it easier to follow. I wonder if a few of you would take me up on this and "test drive" this approach and let me know what you think and how it goes.
- Take a moment and answer this question: Do I like my church? (If the answer is no, this approach probably isn't for you, and you might want to address other issues!)
- Take a moment to carefully consider and answer this question: Do I know anyone family, neighbor, co-worker, friend who isn't actively involved with a church? (for any reason and limit yourself to ONE at this time)
- Realize this genuinely wonderful truth: at least half of all people that visit Good Shepherd return and/or stay at Good Shepherd, and most of those who don't return say that they enjoyed the people and the service!
- Here's the one proactive thing I'd like you to do: Pray and look for an opportunity to ask the person you identified in #2 to come with you to church one time. This interaction could go any number of ways. Here are just a FEW examples a) "Are you and your husband involved with a church anywhere?"... b) "I know you are new to Charlotte if you'd like to know where we go to the doctor, dentist, church, etc I'd be glad to share that info. with you."... c) I know you're not really into the "church thing" but I wonder if you'd like to come with us one Sunday to our church it's very laid-back and different from what you might have experienced before. ... d) My kids are doing a play at church this Sunday; would you like to be our guests for church and lunch?
- If they say no, don't look at them like burnt barbeque just let it go and see if the opportunity to ask doesn't come up again sometime. If they indicate some interest, try to pick a definite date so it doesn't get lost as a "sometime" or a "maybe." If the door seems closed with this person or family, go back to #2 and see if another door might open.
- If a neighbor or friend does come to church with you, I think you can count on Good Shepherd folks to show them the love of the Lord, for them to hear the Word spoken clearly and simply, and for them to experience church and the presence of God in an inviting way. For someone to experience that is a huge thing! It is not salvation, but it's sure a lot closer than many people allow themselves to get.
- What will likely happen at that point is that God will gently lead your "visitor" into the life of the church, and may lead them back to you for the personal touch. You might be asked, "Why is this church so different?" or be told, "I'd like to come with you again." You don't have to be ready to provide a twenty-four point defense of Christianity just to say why you love your church and perhaps how it has strengthened your own trust in God.
- For the tough questions, we have classes, books, sermons, a pastor, elders, and members gifted to respond in those ways. But what every Christian is called to do in service to Christ is to invite and show others the love of Christ and it is nowhere more clearly seen than in our church worship and life together.
Saturday, April 14, 2007
On beginning a church study of Philippians...
As we study Philippians and as we continue in our life together as holy family and holy friends, I hope that we will grow in the understanding that we are not just here to worship together, eat together, or even to support one another in tough times, though all of those are vitally important to each of us. We are also bound together here as holy friends because of Jesus Christ. And as we learn to love one another with the affection of Christ – the very heart of Jesus Christ – we will learn more and more how to encourage one another to grow spiritually.
That means we will need to learn how to dip beneath the surface questions. We will need to ask the harder questions like, “What is God doing in your life? How are things with you and God? Can I pray with you? What can I pray for you about?” It may be that we need to add our discernment when our friends’ seems clouded. We need to find ways to cheer one another along and keep one another from stumbling. (You’ll notice in Philippians that in addition to the plant-growing imagery, Paul will later use the race analogy to describe spiritual growth.)
Warning: It can be easy to take the goal of spiritual accountability and see it devolve into judgment and gossip. “Oh, so and so isn’t living the straight and narrow – she really needs to get her act together.” That’s not holy friendship; that’s the devil at work.
Holy friendship – spiritual accountability – must begin with loving with the heart of Christ, and I think we understand what that might mean. When we have that perspective, we begin to see one another not as competitors but like family. And we are interested in growing together toward God.
Let’s think about the sequence Paul prayed for in chapter 1, vv.9-10:
1. Love abounding: How can we help one another grow in love for God and others?
2. Real knowledge and discernment: How can we teach one another and grow in knowledge of Jesus and clear understanding of what is good and godly?
3. Sincere and blameless before God: How can we turn from sin more often and more completely, and keep our eyes focused on the God-who-goes-before-us?
And finally, how can we be a “searchlight” so that those who do not yet know Christ may become “friends of God?”
Philippians is a “letter to my friends” from Paul. I hope to encourage you as a brother so that your love might grow into real knowledge of Christ and discernment in your lives, that you might stand sincere and blameless before God. I hope, too, that you will find ways to encourage one another (and me) in the same ways.
I am reassured that as we participate in God’s growing process that “He who began a good work in [us] will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (1:6)
Friday, April 13, 2007
Joe Crawford and his family just came down for the afternoon from Kannapolis. Our families started up a friendship when the Austells stayed in their house for the renewal weekend last February. It was a joyful reunion and exciting to hear Joe catch us up on what the Lord is doing in their church. They really seemed to latch on to the lighthouse/searchlight metaphor as they seek to join in God's mission to the developing "village" in downtown Kannapolis.
Joe told me that for Easter Sunday he bought 200 small pewter lighthouse keychains and had the children hand them out during the service. What a great reminder (daily!) that we are to shine with the light of Jesus, both inside our churches and outside... everywhere we go.
More significantly, Joe told me that this Sunday begins what he hopes will become a regular occurence in the worship service: a layperson sharing the story of what God has done and is doing in their life.
Pray for and if you are in Kannapolis, check out this church that is becoming God's lighthouse for the "Village" in Kannapolis!
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
On Acts 2:22-36...
Having said all that, the big question that remains is to ask, "Where are you?" Where are you in relation to THIS JESUS? Maybe you know him and trust him and follow him. If so, consider what kind of witness you are. It may be that your words and actions become part of another person's journey to faith.
If you don't think you get it, begin where Peter began. Start with Jesus the Nazarene, Jesus the man. Read everything the Bible has to say about him. Read Josephus, a Roman Jewish historian who wrote about him from an outside perspective. As you read, also consider the testimony of the witnesses. The New Testament was written by eye-witnesses to Jesus' resurrection. Talk to some modern witnesses people you know trust Jesus Christ and try to follow him. Consider the core story about Jesus that he was God's Son, sent to die and be raised so that we might be restored to a relationship with God. And talk to God ask for help and ask for faith.
If you are here today, it is because of Jesus in some way. It is worth asking the question, "What is Jesus to me?" Consider what it means that THIS JESUS is Lord and Christ. Is he that to you? If not, what stands in your way? It may be less than you thought.
May God give you ears to hear and hearts to respond to His Word.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
On Acts 2:22-36...
Finally, Peter says in vs. 36:
know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ
First, what is it we should know for certain? It is that Jesus was not just a man, even if he was a documented man in history with profound influence on the world around him. Jesus is more than that. Jesus was also raised from death by the power of God. That makes him much more than a man; it indicates that he is part of God working in the world. Believing that is a stretch of faith, but there are still eyewitnesses that God is at work in the world and in our lives. There is more than the routine of our daily lives; there is an active God.
But Peter asserts the real truth that we should know for certain. God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ. Jesus is not just a Nazarene, a man; he is the demonstration of God's power, anointed by God as "Christ," chosen one, Messiah. He is also Lord; God Himself at work among us.
What we should know for certain is that Jesus is Lord and Christ both the way that God chose to restore us to Himself and give us life, but also the one we believe, worship, and follow. THIS JESUS is Lord and Christ the way we look to, trust, and obey the God of the universe.
Second, how can we know this for certain? It is by faith, to be sure. For one cannot trust, obey, worship, and follow except from the spirit and by faith. We might trust a teacher, and even obey and follow, but we dare not worship anything less than God. If we could document, bottle, examine, and describe God, then our worship would be misplaced. Only a God who reaches out to us and whom we trust in faith is worth worshiping in the first place.
Yet, faith is not as blind or "mindless" as some would imagine. It is grounded in our experience. We have, after all, the historical record of Jesus the Nazarene. We have the testimony of eye witnesses, whether first century followers like Peter and Paul or contemporary followers among our family or friends. And we have the declaration of scripture purporting to be God's self-revelation and describing an infinite God who has acted in history and the world to make a way for us to return home to Him. If you read it with an open heart and open mind, you will find a God worth worshiping.
Yes, faith is required to really "get it" but faith isn't as elusive as it's made out to be. Peter gives us a road map to faith and grounds us in a clear description of God's mission to the world.
Monday, April 09, 2007
On Acts 2:22-36...
Listen and look now Peter calls witnesses for what he says next. Jesus the crucified Nazarene wasn't the end of the story. Nor was that the end of his life. THIS JESUS, Peter says, God raised up again. And Peter doesn't just claim it on pure faith, sight unseen. He is surrounded by others who witnessed a living Jesus themselves. He says that in v. 32 " we are all witnesses." Twice he says it: "God raised him up again." Peter witnessed God at work and he claims the legal and practical support of an eye-witness.
We, unfortunately, are removed from the eye-witnesses of the Jesus raised from the dead. And yet, there are eyewitnesses of God at work, even today. Jesus is in Heaven with God the Father, ascended back to his Heavenly home. But he left the Holy Spirit to remain with us. The Spirit, says Jesus, is invisible, but like the wind blowing the leaves of the trees, it can be seen when it is working among us.
The Christian witness to the world is that God is still at work both in the world and in our lives. Are you a witness of God at work? Have you seen or heard God? Think your first answer might be, "No." But consider how you "see" God. You who are Christians are the eyewitnesses that God answers prayer, that the Holy Spirit is living and active in your life, and that God has indeed rescued you from death into life. God speaks through His written Word, the Bible. God acts through the Holy Spirit. God meets us in worship and goes before us in His mission to the world.
How will someone who has not trusted in God hear news of THIS JESUS God raised up again? It will be because you who are Christians are witnesses to God's presence and power.
Sunday, April 08, 2007
On Acts 2:22-36...
Easter morning... I'm going to tell you the story of Jesus as clearly as I know how to do. People are here for different reasons. Maybe it's your first time back to church in a long time. Maybe you are here visiting a relative or friend. Maybe you are a long-time church member and you are here like any other Sunday. Whoever you are, in some form or fashion, you are here because of Jesus Christ. It is Easter because of Jesus; we're in church because of Jesus. So, if you've heard it before, listen again, you might hear something new. If you haven't heard it or it's been a long time, listen, this is the story that is at the heart of it all.
Listen: Jesus the Man (v. 22)
"Listen to these words." That's how our text begins.
Listen: Jesus died on a cross.
Jesus the Nazarene the miracle-worker crucified at the hands of the Romans.
The starting place is the historical Jesus. He's a figure in history, mentioned not only in the Bible, but also in other histories of the times. If you could time-travel, you'd find him there a first-century Palestinian Jew, a wandering Rabbi-Teacher, a man with a following. While you might question the miracles, you'd find a trail of people who would tell you they'd been healed, freed of demons, and confronted with a man like no other.
Whatever else he is, Jesus is not a figment of our religious imagination. He is not a Zeus or Apollo, created by human minds to explain the unexplainable. He is at the least a man who lived and died, with a life documented by eye-witnesses who were his followers and some who were not.
To claim that he was less than that is to not be honest, or at least be deceived.
Listen, Jesus was a real person and even two thousand years later, that cannot be convincingly denied.
On Mark 16:1-11...
"He is not here he is risen go tell the world!"
That is the essential message of Easter morning and what I've focused on in past years. You'll read a summary of that in the most recent church newsletter. We do not worship a dead human being, whose body might be dug up or venerated. We worship a risen God-man, who even now is in Heaven as our representative and our Savior. The women and then the disciples were charged with telling this news, and we are charged with telling this news.
All of that is true, and this morning I want to add to that and focus on one particular phrase in the Easter story. After the angel tells the women to "go, tell his disciples and Peter," he tells them this:
He is going ahead of you (v. 7)
I highlight that phrase for several reasons. For one, it's just plain exciting, great news that we are not sent out to tell the world on our own steam, but that God goes ahead of us. But, it also ties in to some things we have been talking about at church for some time now.
First, there's the lighthouse/searchlight theme that we've had all Fall and Winter. As we explored that theme, we saw that we are on a mission, not for God, but with God. The light we bear is that of Jesus Christ, the light of the world. And God sent Jesus into the world to seek and to save the lost. We are to be salt and light, a city shining on a hill, so that people might be drawn to God through Jesus and even rescued from darkness. All along, as we've explored this lighthouse/searchlight theme, we've realized that God is still on a mission to the world, and our opportunity and responsibility is to join in with that mission. God still goes on ahead of us.
And then, during Lent, these past six weeks leading up to today, we have followed the people of Israel as God led them from slavery in Egypt to a new land, the Promised Land of Canaan. God was on a mission to rescue and deliver to save His people, and that story is recorded in the Old Testament in Exodus, Numbers, and on through Joshua. And as we read those stories, we hear the same thing: God is on a mission and God is going ahead of His people. It's there in Exodus and Joshua, when an Angel of the Lord "goes ahead of them." It's there in Numbers, where a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night "goes on ahead of them."
Later, in the New Testament, we have this story, of Jesus "going on ahead" of the women to see the disciples. Later, in Acts, the Holy Spirit "goes on ahead" to lead the early church in God's ongoing mission to the world.
The point is that God has been and continues to be at work in the world, rescuing those who are lost and apart from him and restoring people to a relationship with Him. God has accomplished the means of that rescue once and for all through the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. But God continues to move among us, bringing people to Himself through trust in Jesus.
And so, we share in the mission the angel gave to the women: "Go and tell."
But our mission is God's mission, and we may be encouraged that God's Holy Spirit goes on before us, preparing the way and showing us the way, that we might join ourselves to what God is doing even now through Jesus the Son.
Be on the lookout for what God is doing. Seek opportunities to join yourself to Him and follow after Him. We do so because God desires to rescue those living apart from Him and because our joining in God's mission honors God's name.
Go and tell, for God goes on ahead of us!