Americans’ Idol

american-idol-2013-tour

America seems obsessed with idols. For 15 years we have watched a show that would pick our next musical stars for us, and worse, would teach aspiring singers what to sound like. We have now produced an entire generation of singers who sound the same.

For years now, we have followed the technology of the culture to make sure we have the latest/greatest phone/tablet/tv/streaming service/apps at our disposal.

We watch the stock market, the news channels, the websites; that will tell us how we should spend/invest our money.

We have followed the cultural trends toward how we relate to each other: living together, same sex marriage, which gender we “decide” to be, etc.

We do all of these things (plus so many more), in order to be like everybody else. We want to be hip…popular…trendy…noticed.

Followers of Christ are given some amazing instructions about this type of existence. Paul addressed it in 1 Corinthians. Paul lays out four specific areas of life that we each should address–that we MUST address in our own lives.

He begins with a description of the Israelites. They began following God, but it wasn’t long before they took up idols. He said of them, “with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.”

I’ve thought a lot about that very phrase. Two distinct realities that I never want said about me. First, God was not well-pleased. I want to live a life that brings God great joy and pleasure. Second, I never want to be laid low in the wilderness–although I have been before. To know that God is not pleased with me and sets me aside from His great service is the worst possible thing. So how do we stay free from this pronouncement?

Paul lays out four areas of life to examine:

  1. Don’t follow idols (1 Cornithians 10:7). What is an idol? Webster defines it this way: “a representation or symbol of an object of worship; broadly :  a false god“. Simply put, anything that takes our attention off of God is an idol. Whether it’s a gold statue or a gold investment; whether an apple on a tree or an Apple iPad; whether it’s a woman bathing on a rooftop or woman at the office; any of these and more can be our idols.
  2. Don’t act immorally (1 Corinthians 10:8). The Word continues and says, “…as some of them did, and 23,000 fell in one day.” That’s a pretty clear picture of how God feels about immorality, isn’t it. What starts as a casual glance, can end up with the destruction of a marriage and all the families involved. When we exchange what God has designed for what we design, destruction is always the result.
  3. Don’t try God (1 Corinthians 10:9). Who would consciously put God to the test of the limits of His patience. Yet, we do that every day just by choosing not to listen to Him and do what He says.
  4. Don’t grumble (1 Corinthians 10:10). Ouch, this one hurts too! Who doesn’t sit around grumbling about situations that don’t go our way; about people who don’t treat us the way we expect? The problem with that is that we are turning to our own wishes (making ourselves/our interests the idol) instead of what God knows to be best for us.

You’re probably thinking about now, “this is impossible! Do you know the temptations that I face every day?!”

Well, that’s where God shows His way! He doesn’t just issue to us a list of things to not do, but He gives us the way and the power! 1 Corinthians 10:13 is a very powerful reminder for us: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

Christ, who was tempted in every way, never gave in to the temptations. He can relate to you! He knows what you face and will NOT let you be overtaken. He will provide a way of escape, BUT you must take the way!

“Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” (1 Corinthians 10:14). Paul tells us that in light of these four things to avoid, God will give a way of escape EVERY TIME, so you…FLEE!

As believers in Christ, let’s live differently, and in so doing, let’s show the world the hope that is found in Christ. Let’s live a life that well pleasing to GOD, and let’s not be laid low in the wilderness!

Words

words“I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”–Donald Trump

“If you like the plan you have, you can keep it.  If you like the doctor you have, you can keep your doctor, too.  The only change you’ll see are falling costs as our reforms take hold.”–Barack Obama

“We came out of the White House not only dead-broke, but in debt. We had no money when we got there and we struggled to piece together the resources for mortgages, for houses, for Chelsea’s education. It was not easy.”–Hillary Clinton

Words. We hear alot this season of life in our country. An election year always brings an onslaught of promises made that will never be kept. Empty words. Words with no meaning.

There is the alternative. The One who merely speaks and things happen. The One who spoke, and the world was created. Think about that. Without even lifting a finger, God created the heavens and the earth. Without lifting a finger, the land and sea were defined. Without lifting a finger; the sun, moon, and stars came into being. Without lifting a finger, Man was created.

Words. That is all God needed to make all that He made. No struggle. No construction. No starting with one thing to evolve into another. Just words. He said it–it happened.

But that’s not all. When He told Moses to drop his rod it became a serpent. When he told him to raise his hands, the waters parted.

Further in the Word, when Jesus said to the sea, “Be still,” it was. When Jesus said to Lazrus, “Come forth.” He rose from death to life.

This is far from an exhaustive list of God’s speaking and things happen, but it gives a clear and accurate description of the power of God’s voice.

God still speaks. God gave His Holy Spirit to speak to us. Henry Blackaby, in Experiencing God states, “God speaks by the Holy spirit through the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church to reveal Himself, His purposes, and His ways.”

So, the choice is yours. You can listen to the empty, feckless words of the world around and hope it changes, OR you can listen to the voice of God, which causes everything to change.

It’s what I do. I turn every day to hear God speak through His Word. I pray and listen for Him. I watch the circumstances to see what God is doing. And I always hear him. You can too.

At Ease in Zion

At Ease in Zion

Mediocrity, complacency, laziness. They have commonality. These are conditions of the heart that reveal the callousness of a man’s heart. His lack of care for his world are exemplified through his attitudes, and his attitudes are reflected through his actions.

Consider the Israelites. Amos addressed the impending disaster for Israel. After imploring God’s people to return to Him, Amos told them what God thought. Concerning their complacent worship, the Lord Himself said,

“I hate, I reject your festivals, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your failings.

Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like and ever-flowing stream.” Amos 5:21-24

Can you imagine God saying that to you of your worship? Can you imagine God saying that to you of your work? Can you imagine God saying that to you of your family life? What an indictment! And what brought that about? It’s explained in just a few short words.

“Woe to those who are at ease in Zion and to those who feel secure in the mountain of Samaria…” Amos 6:1

Complacency does that. A student pastor once asked his youth group on a scale of 1 to 10 in your relationship with God, “How many of you are a 10–on fire for God?” A couple of students raised their hands. “How many are a 1–you couldn’t care less about God? A few raised their hands to this inquiry. How many of you are more in the middle with your feelings toward God? Almost the entire group raised their hands.

The youth leader read, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.”

Yes, those are the words of our God in Revelation 3.

Complacency, mediocrity–they don’t occur naturally in our lives. No, instead we are quietly lulled into that state by turning our thoughts from God to ourselves. As Dave Ramsey says, “mediocrity is not the norm.”

So how do we turn that around? Well, the Lord continues in Revelation 3 with the answer. “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.” You see, God is love. He is not sitting on His throne just looking for an opportunity to strike us, but as the perfect Father, He disciplines us back to good relationship with Him. He continues, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to Him and will dine with Him, and he with Me.”

Our loving Father desires fellowship with us. But who wants a relationship with someone who is apathetic about that relationship? God wants ALL of you. If you’ve been treating Him like a foreigner while sitting back lapping up a life of self-centered luxury, turn your attention back to Him.

“Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,

giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:17)

You CAN Go Home Again

You CAN Go Home Again
A Celebration of All Things Renewed

Thomas Wolfe made the phrase “You can’t go home again” with his bestseller. But unlike the fiction that he penned, the truth is you CAN go home again. After all my children left the house, I accepted and then adjusted to the “empty nest syndrome.” Then, my son asked to move back in. He stayed home for a little more than a year.

I had the pleasure (usually) of living with him and trying to be an influence on him. He moved out this summer as my youngest daughter, Laura, asked to move back home. Upon her arrival, God gave me the opportunity to have a greater influence in her life too. From changing to private school to becoming active in church life, Laura’s life has drastically changed. What a blessing that God would allow me this privilege.

Just last week, my middle daughter Melissa moved back home. These moves are nothing less than blessings for me, and I trust they are for my children. Some had been told by others that I would never let them move back in–that they could never finish school. What lies is the Enemy telling you?

Once again, my home is filled with laughter, friends coming over, and well, piles of laundry. Truth is, as much as I wanted my children to be back at home with me, our Heavenly Father wants that with us so much more.

Scripture shows us how our Father God wants us to come back home to Him. So much so that He willingly gave us His only Son to be killed–crucified on a cross–that our relationship might be restored. The Lord wants to be your Father experientially as He already is positionally. Have you been away from home for far too long? Are you ready to go back home? The prodigal son, in Scripture, was. He was willing to do anything to be back in relationship with his father. In reality, all he had to do was to return. That meant to turn away from where he was and turn his heart and direction to that of his father.

Psalm 84 reminds us of how good it is to be home:

How lovely are Your dwelling places,

O Lord of hosts!

My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the Lord;

My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God…

How blessed are those who dwell in Your house!

They are ever praising You.

Remember, You CAN Go Home Again! What’s keeping you from going?

What’s Your Story?

What’s Your Story?

Over the past two weeks, Senior Pastor Stephen Byrd and I have done what I’ve never heard of any other pastor/staff doing. We have been meeting with each of our church family members, in 30 minute segments, to hear their stories. You know, where were you born? how did you all meet? how did you come to know Christ? how can we pray for you?

To date, we have met with around 150 people. Daunting task? You bet! But it has been so worth the time and energy. What we thought would be a great time to minister to our church family boomeranged on us. I have been so blessed to hear the stories of God’s faithfulness in each person’s life. Through amazingly difficult struggles and setbacks to victory and joy through Jesus Christ, the stories have been consistent! Jesus Christ is sufficient for our needs.

At times (because we have spent approximately 13 hours per day plus Saturdays doing this) a tiring challenge, this has been a beautiful walk with the Lord. So, how about you? What is your story? So often we cross paths with our friends and family members, but we never stop to talk about all that God has done in, through, and for us. Acts 4:20 says, “for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Isn’t that the way it should be. The family of God should be sharing with each other and with our unsaved friends the greatness of God constantly! Can you imagine how many church fights and how much gossip would dissipate if our churches spent more time with each other rather than against each other?

In God’s Word, Paul told Timothy, “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:8). Never be ashamed of your testimony! It is exclusive to you, because it is the reflection of what God has done for you! In fact, you are the only one who can tell (testify) to God’s activity in your life.

Although we’re not yet quite halfway through our meetings with the family, I look forward to hearing the other stories from our church family. In fact, I can’t think of any better way for a Pastor and pastoral staff to minister to their church and show love and care than to do this. What an investment! Small group Bible studies, families, discipling groups, should all listen to each other and make the concerted effort to really know each other. For it is in this way that we can know how to pray, and we can encourage and edify the Body of Christ!

From a worship standpoint, I will never again do worship planning without remembering some of these stories and knowing fresh how God may use the songs we sing to minister to His people and to give each of us a fresh expression of praise for God through His attributes displayed.

What’s your story? Why not take a minute right now and write a few sentences in the comments section below and testify to God’s goodness in your life. You will be a blessing to countless others around the world!

Blessings!

ENGAGE: Commitment to the Ministry

ENGAGE: Commitment to the Ministry

“Now these are the singers, heads of fathers’ households of the Levites, who lived in the chambers of the temple free from other service; for they were engaged in their work day and night.” — 1 Chronicles 9:33

The singers, members of the Levites, were engaged in the worship ministry 24/7. Because of their commitment, they were released from all other duties. This really is a great indication of the importance of their role in kingdom work. So it is with the choir in the church today. Often, many other activities clamor for our attention. Many of these things are really good things too. One must remember to follow the Lord to the best things–that is, paying attention to the things that God has called us to and being faithful in those things.

Proverbs 37:3-5 states,

“Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He will do it.”

Trust, Delight, and Commit. That’s what these verses tell us. Trust in the Lord, and mimic His faithfulness. Delight yourself in Him. Stay in close fellowship with Him through the Spirit and the Word. Commit your way to Him. Follow and obey Him and He will do it! What a promise. But just what does that look like in Worship Ministry? How do I apply this?

Here are some helpful guidelines for committing yourself to the Worship Ministry:

1. Commit to be regular in rehearsal attendance.

Attendance is important. We cannot skillfully sing without rehearsing together to learn the songs and to interpret them together. Being regular in attendance means not only showing up, but showing up on time and ready to rehearse. Being alert in rehearsal is part of regular attendance. That means marking your music, singing–Engaging in and not being spectator to rehearsal.

2. Commit to Home Worship.

What happens publicly on Sunday should be the overflow of what has happened privately during the week. Are you spending time with God during the week? At FBC Mableton, we have provided an incredible resource to all our worship team. Planning Center Online is a great tool to not only look at the worship plan but to listen to the audio files of songs and view the charts to practice. Using those songs in your quiet time is essential to worship growth and leadership in the church.

3. Commit to Being Present in Worship.

Part of the Worship Team’s ministry is visual. Before a word is spoken or a note sung, the atmosphere of the worship service will be set by the fullness of choir, worship team, band, and the demeanor of each member as they step on the platform to minister. A half-empty choir loft tells the congregation, some of us skipped out today because this service isn’t important today.

Conversely, a full choir loft, all band in place, and vocalists in place translates –Wow! God is about to do something here! Everybody is here, so they must know what’s about to happen. They’re excited about this!!


Here’s a little review for you. Think about your service over the past year. Take some time to scrutinize your commitment to the Worship Ministry. Ask yourself these questions:

  • How much help were you to the choir?
  • When did you put a little extra time in to help the director prepare for a major event?
  • How regular were you with your attendance, both rehearsal and worship?
  • How often were you prompt?
  • How often did you support the choir with your sincere prayers?
  • What an awesome privilege God has given to those who serve in Worship Ministry! Will you commit yourself and ENGAGE in ministry?
Jim Elliot said, “Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be
the will of God.”

ENGAGE Through Singing

(NOTE: I’m very grateful to Bob Kauflin for a wonderful article in a recent Worship Leader Magazine. Many of the thoughts here come from Kauflin’s article.)

Singing…you don’t find group singing just anywhere. But no matter your denomination, no matter your worship style, you almost always find group singing in Christian worship. Over 50 times in Scripture we are commanded to sing. Psalm 47:6 says, “Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King! Sing praises!”

Bob Kauflin says, “God evidently wants us to do more than simply declare His praise. He wants us to sing it. And because God is infinitely wise and loving, His commands are always for our benefit. As Psalm 147 puts it, ‘It is good to sing praises to our God.'”

There are four ways that singing affects our relationship to God and with others.

Singing Enables Us to REMEMBER God’s Word

Colossians 3:16 reminds us to “let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” as we sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Have you ever noticed that some songs get stuck in your mind (By the way, to clear that song out, simply start singing “Kung Fu Fighting.” Works every time for me!). How about that college fight song (“Rocky Top, you’ll always be…”) OK, you get the idea. We remember what we sing. God designed music that way for our benefit. Check out Deuteronomy 31:21. Allowing the Word of Christ to dwell in you richly is the purpose of our singing. Sometimes a fresh new arrangement or a new melody to those familiar words we sing will give birth to a fresh expression and will recall the texts of the songs anew. What a great experience in worship!

Singing Enables Us to RESPOND to God’s Grace

Colossians 3:16 tells us that as we sing, we do so with thankful hearts.

John Piper states, “The reason we sing is because there are depths and heights and intensities and kinds of emotions that will not be satisfactorily expressed by mere prosaic forms, or even poetic readings. There are realities that demand to break out of prose into poetry and some demand that poetry be stretched into song.”

Emotion is one third of who we are (mind, will, emotion). Music affects our emotion. It is meant to move us. Think of how “your song” affects you and your spouse/lover. It always conjures a special feeling to which we respond. Because of God’s great grace, music is the God-created medium to offer expressions of thanks to God. Kauflin says that singing allows us to connect:

  • doctrine and devotion
  • intellect and emotion
  • truth and response

Singing Enables Us to REFLECT God’s Glory

Look at the examples of God Himself.

Zeph. 3:17 – God the Father sings over us

Heb. 2:12 – God the Son sings the praise of the Father

Eph. 2:18-19 – Being filled with the Spirit leads to “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.”

When we sing together, the Holy Spirit is here with us inspiring our songs. That’s why you often hear people report at how they could sense the presence of the Holy Spirit in a worship service. “In the Presence of Jehovah” (Geron Davis)

Romans 15:5-6

Singing Offers a Glimpse of Heaven

Read Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4. These are perfect pictures of perfect worship. The worship of heaven is described in both. Our worship–this side of heaven–will never be perfect. But with the example from Scripture, we can certainly strive for that perfect activity. We will be made complete, and our heavenly worship will be perfect–offered eternally to a perfect God.

So, when you go to your church this weekend, remember what God has created through music. Remember the command to sing to Him. Remember the benefits of obedience to Him through singing His praise. I can’t wait to join you as we sing His glory and magnify His name.