Archive for June, 2013

Jun
30

New Sermon Series

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Keeping in Stride

Here’s the artwork for my new worship series I began this weekend from the Book of 1 John. Stayed tuned this week for details.

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Thom Rainer posted the results of an unscientific twitter survey he conducted on the amount of time pastors spend in sermon preparation. Rainer is Southern Baptist, so I would assume the vast majority of respondents are from his tribe. Nonetheless, the results are interesting, including his interpretation of the data. You can find the post BY CLICKING HERE. It would be interesting to see how other evangelical groups, including mainlines, would respond to the same question. Further, it would be interesting to see if the preacher’s style (topical, textual, expositional, et al) would influence the allocation.

For me, an average sermon takes 12-15 hours to prepare. That amount of time is most influenced by pastoral ministry events such as hospital visitation, weddings, and funerals.

Categories : Preaching
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Jun
17

How Americans Spend Their Time

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Time

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Jun
16

Reflections on Father’s Day

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The older I get the more I appreciate Father’s Day. I turned 50 this year, and still have my father. I sent him and card and gave him a call, realizing that even at age 90 he’s still parenting. He’s always affirmed and encouraged me and still does so today. As we got ready to hang up, he told me he was proud of me. I don’t take that for granted because I know plenty of people who have never been blessed by their fathers.

My oldest has graduated from college and is in his first job. My middle child is in college and our youngest is down to her last two years of high school. I used to think that as soon as my kids would graduate from college I’d be finished with parenting. Nothing is further from the truth.

Father’s Day is a bittersweet holiday. Like you, I love my kids and I’m extremely proud of them. I’m humbled by their talents and achievements, wishing I could somehow take credit for teaching them or coaching them toward their accomplishments but I can’t. What they have and what they’ve achieved is of grace. God has blessed them with talents and gifts that I cannot take credit for. It’s all of grace and all a gift from God.

While I marvel at all of the good, I weep for my own failures. I don’t know of any father who can honestly claim to have gotten every single element right. As fathers we’re not bad, but we’re broken. The implications of the fall run deep and are most clearly revealed in our homes. We can fool people at work or church but we can’t fool our spouses and our kids. They know us and love us, often in spite of ourselves.

There are times I’ve over reacted and times I’ve under reacted. There are times when I’ve spoken when I should have been silent and times when I’ve been silent that I should have spoken. There have been times I should have said yes when I said no, and times I said no when I should have said yes. I’ve minored on majors and majored on minors. In short, I’m not planning on writing a book on parenting any time in the near future!

I think most dad’s really love their kids and want the best for them. No, we’re not perfect, and yes, love covers a multitude of sins. For what it’s worth, here are some things I’ve learned about parenting. Like my mentor Gary Taylor used to say, these are not commandments but rather suggestions for fellow weary pilgrims.

1. The best thing I can give my kids is a great marriage.
Americans are pretty good about making kids their priority. We go to ball games, concerts, plays, dramas, performances, dances, recitals and more. We are attentive to our kids needs, sometimes to the neglect of our marital needs. If you want to be a good parent, begin by being a good spouse. When your marriage is healthy, you’re kids benefit in ways that you’ll never expect.

2. Let your kids be who God created them to be.
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Unfortunately, a lot of parents assume that verse means that if we take our kids to church they will always love the Lord and follow him. That’s not what it means. The verse means that if we teach our kids to follow their natural bent, they will thrive in that bent in adulthood. One thing my wife and I tried to do was to provide our children with as many experiences as possible while they were young so they could figure out what their interests were. That meant we took our kids to piano, karate, soccer, football, gymnastics, upward basketball, art classes and more so they could identify their gifts and talents. We didn’t make them what we wanted them to be. Rather, we let them identify their interests and develop them. Our oldest is an athlete. Our middle is a musician and an artist. Our youngest is an artist, athlete, and musician. If you met our kids you might wonder how they could come from the same parents, but they did. You can’t play favorites or compare them to each other. You have to let them be who God created them to be.

3. Admit your failures.
My wife and I grew up in homes where our parents never admitted their mistakes. Neither one of us heard a parent say, “I was wrong, and I’m sorry.” We determined that we were going to be transparent enough to admit when we blew it. Is it hard? Sure. But I think our kids have appreciated the fact that we have always been willing to admit it when we’ve blown it.

4. Love them unconditionally.
The final word I would offer is to love your kids unconditionally. They may not be champions. They may not be a starter on the team. They may not earn the big scholarship. That’s ok, love them anyway. Performance based love is a terrible scourge on the American family. Sometimes we love conditionally because we’re trying to vicariously live our lives through our kids. Sometimes we enforce demands on our kids that are unfair or unreasonable. Sometimes we tell ourselves that we’re doing our kids a favor. But performance based love places a severe amount of pressure on our kids that most cannot bear. Love your kids because they’re yours. Not because of what they do, but because of who they are.

Categories : Family, Parenting
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Jun
13

Worshiping Nehushtan

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Spring

Last week I was reading about King Hezekiah’s religious reforms in 2 Kings and came across this interesting verse. “(Hezekiah) removed the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke up the bronze serpent that Moses had made because the people of Israel had been offering sacrifices to it. The bronze serpent was called Nehushtan” (2 Kings 18:4, NLT) Interesting!

The story of the bronze serpent is found in Numbers 21:4-9. During their wilderness wanderings the Israelites complained against God and Moses about their lack of water and the limited variety of their diet. God punished them by sending poisonous snakes into their camp. When many of the people were bitten and died, the people repented and asked Moses to intercede on their behalf. God did not take the snakes away. Instead, he instructed Moses to create a replica of the serpent and place it on a pole. When someone was bitten, they could look at the serpent on the pole and live (cf. John 3:14-15). For nearly 700 years the Israelites had kept the serpent on the pole, eventually bringing it out of storage and sacrificing to it as an object of worship.

The greatest mistake we can make in worship is to demand that our likes, preferences and tastes be met to the exclusion of God. If there are elements of worship that we “have to have” in order to connect with God, we could be guilty of creating functional idols. There is a difference between being a worshiper and being a consumer of worship. Worshipers focus on God, while consumers focus on themselves.

Back in the 1990’s, Soul Survivor Church in Warford, England, was facing such a challenge. The pastor of the congregation was concerned about the apathy that had developed in the congregation. Fearing the church was unintentionally creating consumers of worship, he pulled the plug on the worship band and the sound system for a season of time. For weeks the church worshiped with only their voices. Eventually the instruments were introduced back into the service, but not until the church had learned a valuable lesson from the experience. Reflecting on what had happened, worship leader Matt Redman wrote the following lyrics:

When the music fades
and all has slipped away
and I simply come.
Longing just to be
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,
Your looking into my heart.

I’m coming back to the heart of worship
and its all about You, its all about You, Jesus.
I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it
when its all about You, its all about You, Jesus.

King of endless worth,
no one could express
how much you deserve.
Though I’m weak and poor,
all I have is Yours,
every single breath!

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,
Your looking into my heart.

I’m coming back to the heart of worship
and its all about You, its all about You, Jesus.
I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it
when its all about You, its all about You, Jesus.

If you feel as though you’ve lost your way in worship, perhaps its time to smash your Nehushtan. It could be time for you to rethink what worship is really about, or better said, to rethink who worship is really about.

Categories : Worship
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Jun
12

Jesus’ Two Tests of Worship

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Spring

Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:21-24, NLT).

The first test of worship is that it must be inspired from the spirit. The word “spirit” is a reference to the human spirit and not the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ emphasis here is that true worship is an inside out experience. My understanding of the New Testament is that we are composed of three parts: body, soul, and spirit. The body is easy enough to understand. The soul is composed of our mind, will and emotions. The spirit is the place where God takes up residence when we are converted.

The conventional wisdom of Jesus’ day was that external conformity to traditions and rituals produced internal righteousness. This is evident in the practice of the Pharisees and further revealed through Jesus’ dialogue with them. But lives aren’t transformed outside in. Sitting in a church building no more makes one a worshipper than standing in a garage makes one a car. We may worship imperfectly, but we cannot worship insincerely.

So how do we learn to worship inside out? First, worship from the spirit takes private preparation. No one should reasonably expect to have a life changing worship experience on Sunday morning when no thought is given to God for six days and 23 hours. Private worship prepares us for public worship.

Second, we must eliminate the obstacles that slow or detour our connection with God. Broken relationships, sins, attitudes, and a host of other things can impede our worship. As John the baptizer said, “He must increase and I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Jesus second test of worship is that it be informed by the truth. The Bible is a reliable and authoritative guide for our faith and practice. The written word reveals the Living Word, Jesus Christ. If we divorce the Bible from our practice of worship we will become like the Samaritan woman who worshipped a God she did not know (John 4:22).

Are you worshipping from the inside out? Is your worship informed by truth? Those are the tests Jesus offers regarding true worship.

Categories : Worship
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Jun
11

Worshiping in Spirit and in Truth

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Spring

The larger picture of John 4 details the dialogue Jesus had with “the woman at the well.” As you read through the story, you come to a twist in the conversation where Jesus confronted the woman with her personal morality. Rather than respond to Jesus’ insight, she changed the subject to religion.

“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?” (John 4:19-20, NLT)

Credit the woman for looking for the right method of worship. Unfortunately she only saw two options. The Samaritans only accepted the first five books of the Old Testament and rejected the rest. They were enthusiastic about their worship, but lacked all of the truths of salvation history, most notably the Davidic line that would trace all the way through to the Messiah. Their worship could be characterized, if you will, as heat without light.

The Jews, on the other hand, had at their disposal all of the Old Testament scriptures. They had the “truth,” but lacked any kind of joy or enthusiasm. Their worship could be characterized as light without heat. Their barren orthodoxy is what led Jesus to remark “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Mark 7:6, NLT).

It was from that backdrop that Jesus not only responded to her question, but also gave us two important tests to discern appropriate worship. True worship, according to Jesus, is inspired by the spirit and informed by the truth.

Categories : Worship
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Jun
10

Worshiping in Spirit and in Truth

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Spring

I grew up in a small Baptist church in a time where music was simple and uniform across denominational lines. My “home church” worshipped faithfully, led by volunteers who gave their time and talent to lead the people of God in the enthusiastic singing of hymns. No one thought anything about it because that was a common, across the board experience. Bigger communities may have had bigger choirs or newer organs, but other than that, we all sang the same songs from the same hymnal, using the same order of service printed on the same bulletin paper.

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, contemporary music crept onto the scene. Christian artists wrote songs and sang them in churches and eventually broke into the recording studio. With recordings came radio, then the emergence of contemporary styles of worship. For the longest time the divide has been between traditional worship and contemporary worship. But today we see the development of many other nuances to worship make their way to the forefront, including the “hip-hop church,” the “biker church,” and the “cowboy church” to name a few.

Can we do that? Is that right? Is it possible to be wrong? How can we discern what constitutes appropriate worship? I think we can find the answers to those questions from Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well in John 4. That’s the subject of this week’s posts from my series on worship.

Categories : Worship
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Jun
06

What Americans are Reading

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Barna Research has released a new report on the reading habits of Americans. You can find the research HERE. The research takes into special consideration books that have been made into movies. It is worth noting that fiction outsells non fiction and that Bible reading remains popular across political and religious divides.

Categories : Barna Group, Books
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2 Chronicles 26 tells the story of King Uzziah. He took the throne of Israel at the tender age of 16 and ruled for nearly four decades. By and large, Uzziah was a good king. He led the nation to return to the monotheistic worship of God, and as a result the nation was greatly blessed. He was a good king and a capable leader. The national vibe could be characterized with words like peace, prosperity and strength. But when Uzziah became strong he became arrogant. His pride led him to presumptuously offer incense in the Sanctuary of the Temple. When confronted by the priests, Uzziah “raged against” them. As a result he was infected with leprosy which would send him into quarantine and cause him to abdicate his throne to his son. The incurable skin disease would eventually take his life. Uzziah’s demise was tragic and left the nation reeling. One can only imagine the disappointment and anxiety the nation must have felt! “Who will lead us?” “Who will protect us from our enemies?” “Who will keep the economy churning?” are examples of questions on the minds of thousands. From that historical backdrop we come to Isaiah chapter 6, which opens with the phrase, “In the year king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord.” In the context of national tragedy, Isaiah entered into worship. Despite his disappointing circumstances, he found himself drawn to the presence of God.

Isaiah is one of several examples of people who turned to God on tough days and during hard times. You may recall the ancient story of Job. Job was a man greatly blessed in every possible means of measurement. Suddenly, it was all gone: his wealth, his children and even his health. Yet in the midst of his tragedy, Job bowed in worship (Job 1:20-21).

King David is another who worshipped on a tough day. Following his adulterous sin with Bathsheba, the child they conceived died. When servants informed David that the child had passed, the Bible reports that David rose from the ground and went to the Tabernacle and worshipped (2 Samuel 12:20). I’m sure you can think of other examples…Paul and Silas singing hymns in prison at midnight…Jesus retreating to a place of solitude for prayer after a hard day of ministry…the apostle John worshipping in the Spirit on the Lord’s day while exiled to the island of Patmos to name a few.

Here’s the point. Don’t let all that is wrong with life keep you from worshipping all that is right with God. The King is still on His throne!

Categories : Worship
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