Archive for November, 2011

“Shout with joy to the LORD, all the earth! Worship the LORD with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy. Acknowledge that the LORD is God! He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation” (Psalm 100:1-5, NLT).

Yesterday I posted some observations regarding Psalm 100. Within this call to corporate worship are five reasons why we should give thanks and offer our praise to God. The Psalmist’s list may not look exactly like your recently composed list of blessings from last week, but he certainly gives us plenty that we can agree with.

1. God has made us
The Psalmist makes no bones about the fact that we are not self made. The first declaration the Bible makes about God is that he is creator. As creator, he knows us intimately. But more than that, his work is ongoing. He’s not finished with his creation. Philippians 1:6 affirms that “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” It’s vogue to say, “I’ve never forgotten where I came from.” It’s better to say, “I’ve never forgotten whom I have come from.”

2. We belong to him
Using the imagery of sheep and shepherd, we need to remember that we belong to God. We belong to him because he has redeemed us. No matter what happens to us in life, we belong to God. He calls us his own.

3. God is good
The gods and idols of David’s contemporaries were brutal and exacting. Those pagan worshippers lived in fear of their gods. Their servitude to those idols was more about superstitious belief than true worship. But God is different…He is good! The first thing the Bible wants us to know about God is that he is creator, but the second thing it reveals is that God is also good. Our fundamental conviction about God is that at the very core of his being he is good.

4. His love endures forever
This is a hard one to get, because our love is generally conditional and performance based. Conditional love is love that says, “I’ll love you if…” Performance based love is love that says, “I love you because you…” God doesn’t love us that way. His love is unconditional. It’s not based on our performance. It is totally impartial. We can’t do anything to cause him to love us anymore than he does and we can’t do anything to cause him to love us any less.

5. His faithfulness never waivers
God stays with us, never abandoning us. He is not only for us, he is with us.

Psalm 100 is one of my favorites. It’s simple and direct, and reminds readers that while it is appropriate to give thanks for the wonderful blessings that come from God, we should also focus on the nature and character of the giver of every good and perfect gift.

Categories : Psalms, Thanksgiving
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Nov
27

A Call to Worship

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“Shout with joy to the LORD, all the earth! Worship the LORD with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy. Acknowledge that the LORD is God! He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation” (Psalm 100:1-5, NLT).

Your Bible probably has a subtitle to this text that says something like “A Psalm of thanksgiving.” While this is true of the content of the Psalm, the Psalm is really a Call to Worship. A Call to Worship is an invitation to the people of God to gather together in worship. It beckons us to put aside our distractions and to focus on the presence of God.

I remember when television preachers first became popular. Men like Oral Roberts, Rex Humbard, and Jerry Falwell graced our screens with eloquence and style. As a child I recall listening to those who expressed their fears that people would forsake assembling together for the opportunity to “have church” at home in their pajamas, complete with coffee. But people continued to worship corporately. Then came the advent of the internet and with it the online church. Again, people mused that the assembly would be forsaken by those who would favor of “having church” at their convenience. Neither the television or the internet has replaced the dynamic of gathering with others in a worship experience. Truth be known, it probably hasn’t even made a dent.

My community is still buzzing following the miraculous double overtime victory by Iowa State over the second ranked Oklahoma State football team. I watched the game at home, while my son attended the game in person. Watching the game at home in many ways is better. You can see each play from multiple camera angles. You can see if the ref really missed the call. The television provides a superior view of the plays in the game.

But if you go to the game in person you get the experience. You fight the traffic and strive to find a parking place. You enjoy the tailgating. You march to the stadium and wait in line to show your ticket. You feel the press of the crowd as you find your seat. You breathe deeply and take in the smells of the concession stand. You listen to the music blasting from the public address system. The band comes on the field and plays the fight song, and, if you know the words, you sing along with gusto. The team runs out of the tunnel and you cheer with fans and scream as they take the field. You stand and cover your heart for the playing of the national anthem. The game begins. You may not have the best seat or the clearest vantage point, but you have the experience of watching the game together with friends and strangers. You’ve not only attended the game, you’ve made a memory.

That’s the value of corporate worship. Their is a synergy that occurs when you encounter God with others who are encountering God. Private worship is important and necessary. But worshipping together is a valuable part of your Christian experience. Don’t be content to go it alone. Have the experience, and make a memory!

Categories : Psalms, Worship
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Nov
25

Lessons from Lepers

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As Jesus continued on toward Jerusalem, he reached the border between Galilee and Samaria. As he entered a village there, ten lepers stood at a distance, crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy. One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.”
(Luke 17:11-19, NLT)

This narrative from the life of Jesus is pretty straight forward. Jesus was travelling in a marginal area (after all, where does one expect to find marginalized people?) when he was confronted by ten lepers. Lepers were required by the law to announce their presence. They were outcasts from society, and had no opportunity for contact with their family, friends, or co-workers. Seeing Jesus, they seized the moment and pled for mercy. Jesus instructed them to show themselves to the priests, who had the power to pronounce them clean of their skin disease and free to return to their lives. As they turned to go, they discovered they were healed. Nine of them continued on their path to freedom, but one returned to personally than Jesus for what he had done. Here are my three observations from this simple text.

1. God’s blessings are a result of His sovereign grace.
They asked for mercy but received something better…God’s grace. The simple difference between mercy and grace is this. Mercy is God withholding what I deserve. Grace, on the other hand, is God giving me what I don’t deserve and could never earn. The biggest battle we have in cultivating thankfulness is the battle against earning and deserving. How tempting it is for us to take the credit for our lives and our blessings! We earn them and we deserve them. Both attitudes work against grace and prompt pride instead of thankfulness.

2. The lepers reveal the importance of making more of the giver than the gift.
I’m sure the nine who left rejoiced in their healing. But the thing that distinguished the one was not merely gratitude. The difference I believe is that the one who returned made more of the giver than the gift. I’m sure you’ve seen that in small children. They grab their birthday or Christmas gifts and run off to play, uttering little more than a coerced “thank you” when prompted by adults. Children are prone to make more of the gift than the giver, because the gift is what the natural self wants. Sometimes as God’s children we do the exact same thing. We receive the gift and rejoice in the gift and forget about the giver of the gift. Part of Christian maturity is learning the difference between the gift and the giver and what is of utmost importance.

3. The leper who returned helps us to see that making much of the giver creates avenues to receive even more than we ask.
He not only received what he asked for, healing of leprosy, he received even more. His faith made him well. He hadn’t asked Jesus for the value added portion. He assumed that being healed of leprosy was gift enough. But Jesus gave him something spiritual to go along with his physical healing. He gave him the gift of eternal life. Focusing on the giver may be the difference between healing and wholeness. Nine lepers encountered Jesus and were healed. But one was made whole. Nine received a gift that would impact the rest of their physical lives. One, however, received a gift that would change his life for eternity. That’s the kind of thing that happens when we make more of the giver than the gift.

Categories : Jesus, Thanksgiving
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For the past several days I’ve been re-reading the book of Exodus. I’ve always been fascinated by Moses, and thought I would read Exodus through the particular lens of Moses as leader. His story is famous, beginning with the thrilling narrative of his narrow escape from persecution by the bold rescue of the persecutor’s own daughter. Those first four decades would be lived in the comforts of the palace, learning all of the protocol of government and high society. But something is missing in Moses life, chiefly his own God given purpose. As Moses set out on his own quest to find himself, he finds himself on the run from everything he had known. Everything, that is, except his own mother’s faith.

Moses would spend the second four decades of his life in the Midian desert, tending sheep and starting his own family. Everything seemed to be comfortable until one day when God interrupted his life. There was nothing spectacular about a bush spontaneously bursting into flame in the desert. There was something remarkable, however, about a blazing bush that wasn’t consumed. The purpose that seemingly eluded Moses now became evident. He was called by God to emancipate the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage. Moses was 80 years old.

Deliverance would be no easy task, for Egypt was a formidable foe. God promised Moses that He would bring the deliverance about. After all, God himself had heard the cries of his children, desperate for freedom.

Now the irony of the story is Israel itself. They had cried out to God and pleaded to Him for deliverance from their oppressive bondage. They said they wanted to be free. They had prayed for their freedom. God even provided them a leader. Yet in the story of Exodus, with each and every challenge they immediately defaulted to thinking like slaves, and yes, actually preferring slavery. With each obstacle the chorus rang out, “Were there no graves in Egypt??”

Maybe we’re a lot more like Israel than we’d like to admit. Yes, we say we want to be free…free from sin…from self-destructive patterns of behavior…from codependent relationships…from toxic power structures… you name it. We say we want to be free, but freedom comes with a price. Freedom requires us to be strong individuals, eschewing group think and consensus which values the power of “we” over the power of “right.” Freedom requires us to be willing to take risks, to be open to change, and to let character guide our decisions. Israel illustrates a lesson that we continue to learn throughout history: it’s hard to leave the plantation. One of my favorite quotations comes from John Maxwell, who nearly 30 years ago wrote, “People change when they learn enough they want to, they grow enough they need to, or they hurt enough they have to.” Even though Israel had suffered greatly for four centuries, they remind us how hard it is to actually follow through.

Categories : Exodus, Leadership, Moses
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Here’s an interesting post this week from Barna research which reveals 5 myths about why young adults are leaving the church. You can read the article by clicking here.

Categories : Barna Group, Church
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We have a treadmill in the basement. It’s a nice one, which means we spent a pretty good chunk of change for it. It doesn’t have all of those fancy electronics or a USB port that allows us to download some online workout program, but it has the most important feature, which is the biggest motor on the market. As a rule, I like the comfort of the treadmill. It’s easy on the knees, and it tells you how fast you are going and how far you have gone. Some people don’t enjoy staring at a blank wall while they run for 30 or 40 minutes but I don’t mind the mindlessness of that. It’s predictable and comfortable.

During the summer, though, I ran almost exclusively outside. I’m not a “public exerciser,” but there was something enjoyable about running outside. Sunrises, sunsets, sweat…its all good.

Running outside is different than running on a treadmill. Outdoors is harder, stretching a runner beyond what they think is possible. The pavement is less forgiving than the spinning mat of a treadmill. Temperatures can vary outside and in Iowa there is usually wind. There are obstacles to run around, intersections to run across, and an occasional dog to run from. I like running outside, but lets be honest: it’s harder to run outdoors than indoors.

Kind of like the Christian life.

Christianity is a lot easier in the safety and security inside our houses of worship. Like a treadmill, our church facilities provide predictability, comfort, and security. But outside the doors of the church facility we find the same difficulties and challenges that outdoor runners experience. It’s harder to get on our knees and pray, and there are often obstacles to our faith that slow runners down. Yeah, it’s hard to be a Christian outdoors, but that’s where the growth happens. Outside the church house we find ourselves stretched in ways beyond what we think we’re capable of. And, it’s also where the reward is the greatest. After all, no one was ever awarded a medal for staying inside.

Categories : Running
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Nov
10

Lessons from Happy Valley

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Along with you, I am deeply saddened by the events that have transpired this week at Penn State University. It troubles me as a sports fan and as a father who has entrusted two of his children to undergraduate schools for their education. But most of all, I am concerned as a pastor who is charged with the responsibility of providing a safe and protected environment for children.

This year our church committed to two practices in our children’s ministry. First, we wanted to make sure that we placed two adults in each classroom. Even though class ratios may be small, we felt it was important to provide this layer of protection for our children as well as to safeguard the integrity of our faithful volunteers. The second practice we implemented was to ask each adult volunteer who works with children aged birth through 18 to submit to a criminal background check. Granted, its a difficult ask to make, and it comes at no small expense. But taking every step possible to maintain the safety of our children is well worth it.

A lot of talking heads are working hard to find every possible angle to the story out of Happy Valley. I think one of the most practical voices I have read today is the blog post by Dr. Thom Rainer, President and CEO of Lifeway Resources. If you’re in ministry leadership, I encourage you to take the time to check it out and to use this as a guideline to evaluate your ministry practices. You can find the article by clicking here.

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Nov
03

Book Review: The Element

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The Element is the second book by Ken Robinson I have read this year. The other book, Out of Our Minds, was recently reviewed on this site on October 5.

Robinson describes The Element as “the place where the things we love to do and the things we are good at come together.” In order for a person to identify their element involves four processes that are explained in four simple phrases.

1. “I get it!” This is one’s aptitude.

2. “I love it!” This is one’s passion.

3. “I want it!” This is one’s attitude.

4. “Where is it?” This is opportunity.

To be in one’s element is to discover the convergence of aptitude, passion, attitude, and opportunity.

The most helpful aspect of Robinson’s book is his discussion on vocation. He acknowledges that many people assume that finding their element and living in their element will somehow translate into job opportunities. He does a wonderful job of clarifying the difference between the amateur and the professional. Society assumes that to be an amateur means to be sub standard in quality. This is not the case. It is possible and perhaps even probable that one can identify their element and enjoy their element and never earn a living from it. That does not diminish the validity or the contribution that living in one’s element can make.

I recommended this book to a friend this week, for no other reason than the stories and testimonials that are contained within its pages. In a Chicken Soup for the Soul kind of way, Robinson spells out how to find and live in your element and documents the journey with inspirational stories of people whose lives have been transformed simply by aligning their lives with their element.

Categories : Books, Purpose
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Recently I’ve been teaching on generosity as a part of our annual stewardship promotion and budget adoption campaign. Through the years I’ve enjoyed teaching on stewardship, and according to my record keeping I could comfortably present on this topic more than I do. I’ve hit all the major passages on stewardship, and a few obscure ones too. But the one thing that I’m convinced of is this: the most important principle in understanding stewardship is that God is the owner of everything. If we can grasp that, much of what follows falls in place.

I believe the Bible teaches that God is owner of all things. Every blessing we have has come from Him. We can’t take credit for anything or claim that we possess anything because we have earned it or deserve it. It’s all God’s and all that we have is from God. God is owner and we are stewards.

Stewards? What does that mean? A steward is a person who manages the owner’s possessions in a way that is consistent with the owner’s wishes. A steward doesn’t manage based on what he or she sees fit, a steward manages in a manner that is consistent with the goals and desires of the owner.

Last Sunday I illustrated this principle by placing 10 apples on the communion table. The 10 apples represented the blessings of God in our lives. If you’re like me, you grew up hearing about stewardship in terms of tithing (the practice of giving God 10% of your household income through the local church). God gives us 10 apples and wants 1 in return. That’s simple math that any elementary student can understand.

The problem with teaching stewardship that way is that it seems to suggest that if we give God His “one” apple, we have 9 remaining that we can use however we choose. That’s simply not how it works. They’re ALL God’s apples. You can give one or none, but they’re all His. Furthermore, people like you and me are accountable to the owner for how we use all 10 of them, not just whether or not we have given one to Him on Sunday.

James 1:17 says that every good and perfect gift we have has come from God. He has entrusted those gifts to us, and we’re accountable to Him for how we use each of them. If we can wrap our minds around that, we’re on the way to good stewardship and free to be generous.

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