Category: Worship (page 1 of 2)

Motion vs. Momentum

As a pastor, there is no busier weekend than the one we just completed, a weekend filled to the brim with Good Friday and multiple Sunday gatherings to celebrate the resurrection. There was a lot of motion and activity around special songs, added sermons, and preparations for new guests.

For most pastors, this weekend was the high attendance mark for the year. There were more guests than any other Sunday, and for some, this meant more services than normal. If Easter weekend went well, everyone who served is feeling a bit tired today, depleted from all the responsibilities.

There. Was. A. Lot. Of. Motion.

What we need is an appetite for momentum, which can look a lot like motion unless you peer deeper. Motion is busyness. Momentum is miraculous. Momentum feels like cycling downhill with equal forces of mass and velocity working in your favor. Motion is energy spent, but not always with dividends paid.

Holy Week has always been the means to awaken the saints, to encourage the weak, to confound the cynics and to welcome home the prodigal. The darkness of the cross, joined with the ephemeral hours in the shadows of death, followed by the joyous actualities of the empty tomb is a story that awakens hearts and pulls us toward the deep.

Momentum is a gift from God to us, the extra push to get us off our spiritual training wheels. Momentum is Spirit working with the frailties of our will to engineer a better blueprint for living. Momentum is a cold breeze that makes us more alert, a warm sun on our face pointing us toward vigor. Momentum is a force grueling in its genesis but near unstoppable at its apex.

Motion is our attempt at getting systems right, to make the path easier by preparing diligently. There is nothing wrong with these things as long as the goal is clear. Let us not be so busy doing good things in good seasons that we forget to plant and water the spiritual seeds that bring us real life.

On this Monday, post-Easter, my prayer is for the millions who heard the narrative of Jesus last week to find themselves in a bigger story than any they could have written on their own. My prayer is for all the planned motion to point us toward real momentum, following the Way with renewed passion and strength. May the truth of the resurrection story cause us not to live busier lives with more motion, but to live resurrected lives with legitimate momentum.

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Some Truths about Sermons, Preaching and Preachers

You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. Acts 20:20

Since Christianity started, there have been men and women commissioned with the responsibility to preach the Scriptures to their congregations. Some have rode horseback through dangerous frontiers and others have left the comfort and familiarity of their hometowns to take the good news to distant lands. Many of us studied long years and practiced our craft wherever and whenever the opportunity to preach was presented. No matter how we arrived in the pulpits we now steward, preaching is energizing, frustrating, and exhilarating, sometimes all at once.

What does your pastor want you to know about them? How can we build up those called to speak? What should a congregation know about the sermon that takes up a portion of our weekend?

 

1. Pastors are really invested in the message.

Preaching is a serious matter to most pastors. Hours have been spent studying the texts, praying for the meetings, and thinking about innovative ways to engage people in a story that started thousands of years ago. When the weekend arrives, we are invested emotionally and spiritually in a 30-minute message that has the potential to change the destinies of those listening.

Or, it can be awful. Even then, the Holy Spirit can take the scraps of human effort and make something beautiful. This is a pastor’s work –  to teach truths that will probably offend, to encourage the discouraged saints, to compel the cynic to reconsider and to awaken the spiritual sleepers. Because we have poured ourselves into this moment of speaking and exhorting, we may need some space after the service to just be with people in prayer and conversation. Preachers feel really emptied after a sermon, which leads me to the second truth.

 

2. Preaching is exhausting work.

If you are not tired after preaching, you are not doing it right. When a sermon has ended, our adrenaline glands are depleted and the emotional energy that has been expended is not easily replenished. It’s when we feel the most vulnerable, even if everything went great. For many, we have to regroup and deliver the same message again in less than an hour to another weekend gathering.  Afterwards, we just need a good nap, a long walk and some sunshine to begin feeling human again. That usually happens by Tuesday morning. Seriously.

 

3. Preaching should be more substance than style

In the Western world, our culture is saturated by entertainment and celebrities. Our personal time is entertainment time, therefore the culture shouts to pastors,”If I give my personal time to church, you need to entertain me!” That is a dangerous trap for many pastors. Sermons certainly need to be engaging, which means it is ok to have some fun and to laugh, but our messages are not a spiritual stand-up act. The moment style is prioritized over the weighty substance of Scripture, we and our churches are in trouble.

 

4. Preaching only starts the conversation.

People have huge expectations from pastors and their sermons. Almost everyone has pet ministry projects, social issues, the latest headline outrage or spiritual gift they wish the pastor would spend more time on each week. Neither preachers nor their sermons were  designed to answer all our questions. In fact, the best sermons teach us to ask better questions and then point us along the path for truthful answers. The most powerful sermons jump start our disciple-shaping journey, compelling us to study more, to lean into mature relationships and jar us free from apathy or deception.

 

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Are We Still Fascinated with God?

It began in mystery and it will end in mystery; but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between. – Diane Ackerman

 

The most dangerous Christ followers are those who have lost their fascination with God. No less than modern-day Pharisees who possess infinite knowledge ABOUT God but no real relationship WITH him, they become wonder-void wildcards who are unpredictable, unhelpful, often even outright harmful to their families, to the churches they call home, to the community in which they belong. Their eyes and hearts no longer blink and beat with awestruck reverence for their God.

Is this really the way of Christ?

Certainly we are to be grown up in our knowledge of God: we are to read about him, we are to learn about him, we are to talk about him, we are to be about his work. But to check the box of spirituality there—at that superficial point—and call it a day? Call it a LIFE? That is to miss life wholly, life as it’s meant to be lived.

God cannot be tamed by our sterile religious dogmas or caged in our closed-up-tight theological boxes. No, he is too fierce, too unwieldly, too OTHER, to be managed. Restrained? Never. But revered? Now we’re onto something. He is too wondrous to constrain with a single word, which means that those in intimate relationship with him can’t help but live life wonderstruck. We can’t help but be fascinated with God.

We are to come to God, come into relationship with him, as children. Not in the sense of childishness—immature, impetuous, demanding—but rather childlikeness. We come to him chatty, clingy, and in need. We come eager, excitable, and entranced. We come full of questions, full of awe.

LIKE, not ISH. This is where wonder begins.

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Building Strong Internships in Your Local Church

Recently, I sat down with Pastor David Perkins and talked at length about building a student leadership ministry in every local church or what a lot of people call internships. Pastor David leads our student ministry here at New Life, which includes the Desperation Leadership Academy. We talked about lots of issues, including the use of volunteers, empowering student leaders and keeping people engaged. I think this will be really helpful to your church if you are serious about building relationships and discipling high school, college and 20-somethings. Let me know what is working in your congregation in the comments section below.

 

Click here to watch the video.

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FOMO -The Fear of Missing Out

Ten minutes into our requested breakfast meeting, I regretted having said yes. The young man who had asked for the get-together—he needed some pastoral coaching, evidently—was sitting across from me at the diner, and now, there at the restaurant, with my full attention pointed his way, he had the gall to check his smart phone what seemed like every sixteen seconds. He checked it while I was ordering my meal, he checked it just after he ordered his meal, he checked it while I answered his questions, and he even checked it while he asked them. Unless the guy was waiting on word of an organ transplant—which I quickly learned he wasn’t—his lack of focus was totally unacceptable.

The world of psychology has a term for this annoying phenomenon of neglecting to pay attention to the person or situation immediately in front of you, choosing instead to see who else is doing something interesting or what else is going on. “FOMO,” it is called, otherwise known as the fear of missing out. FOMO is what causes us to “text while driving … interrupt one call to take another … and check [our] Twitter stream while on a date [or at a breakfast meeting with our pastor].” In short, we do these infuriating things because “something more entertaining just might be happening.”

I’m convinced that some of us could experience a visit from Jesus himself—live and in the flesh—and yet still we’d brazenly stick an index finger in the air and say, “Hang on, Jesus. Let me just check my Facebook wall real quick.”

There is an underlying fear motivating all this craziness; we don’t just want to be “in” on other people’s excitement, but we want them to find us exciting too. We want to be seen and heard and recognized and admired; we so desperately want someone to care. But what’s interesting is that when we shout along with hundreds of millions of others who are shouting, still we cannot be heard; our voice is simply lost in the others’ me-focused cacophony of sound.

After having considered the pace Jesus lived by, I arrive at an early conclusion: Jesus didn’t know FOMO very well. Actually, I don’t think he knew it at all. What concerned him was not being included on all the right lists, being retweeted by all the right handles, being known by all the right names. What concerned him was being hidden away in the character of his Father, and from there living life at peace.

John 15 contains a fascinating metaphor along these lines. Jesus is talking here to his disciples and explains his relationship to them in agricultural terms. “I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer,” he says. “He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken” (vv. 1-3).

He then goes on to say exactly how this fruit-bearing is going to occur: “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me” (v. 4).

So, it’s not that we are expected to live the Jesus Pace alone; he is the one who will get us there. He is the band leader in our quest for a rhythmic life.

“I am the Vine,” the passage continues, “you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples” (vv. 5-8).

As it relates to our present-day plague of FOMO, here is what I think Jesus is saying in these verses from John 15: “You’re only missing out if you’re missing out on me.”

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Does Jesus Need Us to “Take a Stand for Him”?

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 1 Peter 2:23 NIV

It occurred to me today while speaking about Christ on the cross, that he never once asked his followers to defend him or attempt some rescue. I’m guessing if he did not need defending that fateful Friday, he probably does not need our defense today. I am certain Jesus would much rather us follow him than defend him.

Heaven and its advancing kingdom are not under threat of siege or hostile takeover. Each generation has moments when it seems the world is about to suffocate the teachings of Jesus, but the light of truth always overcomes darkness. We are not the first Christ-following generation that has faced tough and complex questions about sexuality, marriage and violence. We will not be the last.

Yes, we should preach and teach the Scriptures and proclaim the coming kingdom of Christ. We should repent and teach others to live lives that are honoring to God, but the reality of Jesus, the fully human and fully Divine savior of the world, will survive and thrive despite any secular debate or scrutiny.

Historically, the church that humbly follows Jesus by loving each other and serving others has flourished and multiplied, while those who felt the need to perpetually protest were swept away by public cynicism. We have the same choice today. I choose love and serving. It was the radical new way of living that Jesus showed us on that bloody cross. He could have called for an angelic rescue and maybe a few generations would have retold that story.

Instead, Jesus joined us in our sufferings, gave up his life, and allowed the same Holy Spirit that is at work in us today to bring him from the grave. This story will be told for all time. When Jesus ascended a short time later, he went to an established kingdom that has no end and left behind a church that was built on an immovable rock. He needs no defense but he sure needs believing followers who will live as he did, maybe die as he did, but most certainly will be resurrected as he was.

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Feet on the Rock, Head in the Clouds

In N.T. Wright’s profound book, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, he writes, “The point of discourse is to learn with and from one another. I used to tell my students that at least 20 percent of what I was telling them was wrong, but I didn’t know which 20 percent it was: I make many mistakes in life, in relationships and in work, and I don’t expect to be free of them in my thinking. But whereas in much of life one’s mistakes are often fairly obvious—the shortcut path that ended in a bed of nettles, the experimental recipe that gave us all queasy stomachs, the golf shot that landed in the lake—in the life of the mind things are often not so straightforward.”

The reason I appreciate Wright’s candor here is that in my experience, those who suppose they have figured out all there is to figure out about God rarely are extravagant worshipers. We don’t chase what we’ve already caught. We don’t seek out what we’ve already secured.

Certainly, there are things we “know that we know” about God—creeds, for example, bedrock issues of faith that simply aren’t up for debate. But aren’t there thousands more things that we still wonder about, things we take strong positions on but in our heart of heart say, “You know, I really don’t know.”

Here’s an image that is helpful to me, a sort of visual goal I keep close by: I want to keep my feet planted on the solid rock of truth, while my head stays in the swirling clouds of mystery—those things I just don’t know about God.

Whether we’re talking about the silencing of women or the ordination of women or whether you can root against the LSU Tigers and still call yourself a Christian, I want to stay open, curious, eager to be swept away by the wonder that is God himself. Feet on the rock, head in the clouds. This is a very good way to live.


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The Praying Church

Most churches pray, but not all are praying churches. Most churches pause during their gatherings to pray, sometimes out of ritual, but certainly out of sincerity. But, how does a church make the leap to become a praying church, where prayer is the engine and fuel behind every spiritual advancement?

1. Prayer is modeled

Prayer is caught more than taught. Praying pastors model a prayerful life and those that are influenced by them tend to lead a prayerful life of their own. We just started 21 days of prayer and fasting with prayer meetings happening 24 hours a day. I am leading many of these meetings because I really do believe it is powerful when two or more gather to pray in unity.

2. Prayer is first

In a praying church, the first response to any difficult situation is to pray. When there is still no solution, the answer is to pray again. Repeat as needed.

3. Prayer is proactive

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he told them to first ask for God’s Kingdom to come to the earth. Later in the prayer, he told them to ask for daily bread. It is true that the most attended prayer services are normally after a national or local crisis and that is certainly warranted. However, we should be proactive in our prayers, asking now for the Kingdom to come.

4. Prayer is the assignment

In Eugene Peterson’s classic book, Working the Angles, he writes that many church members make it difficult for pastors to spend unhurried time in prayer.  It is easier to point to new buildings, compelling sermons and increased attendance as signs of their success. Instead, a praying church sees prayer as a primary assignment of their leaders.

5. Prayer is worship and worship is prayer

A praying church prays with a singing voice. Their songs are anthems, prophetic declarations and pronouncements of faith. We sing as we pray and we pray as we sing. A praying church believes in the power of words spoken and words sung. They believe God hears all of it and responds to all of us.

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The Night I Attended Church Again

Most pastors I know do not attend church. I just started back, myself. We are almost always in church on the weekends but we are there primarily to minister to others, which leaves little room for receiving ministry ourselves. Thus, it’s possible for a pastor to be caught up in perpetual church activities and still be spiritually dry or even burned out.

Last night, I attended church. I went to our Sunday night prayer meeting with my two kids and sat on the back row. Yes, I was that person. I never went on the stage, did not ask the pastor who was leading any questions and even took notes from his message. It was great to attend church again.

I had plenty of good excuses not to go. I had preached twice that morning, prayed for people before and after both gatherings, and greeted new guests for almost an hour after the last service. I was tired and the Olympics were on TV. No one would have been upset if I had stayed home. I am grateful I did not.

All of us need the fellowship of believers, even pastors. Especially pastors. When was the last time you attended church? If it has been awhile, let me invite you to come back, to sit, and to receive, like everyone else.

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Praying With a Singing Voice

Not long ago, my worship was radically changed, for the better. It was not because I was listening to better music or singing more songs, instead it was because of the way I sang the songs. Rather than singing just words on a JumboTron screen, I began to pray with a singing voice.

This is not a new idea by any means. For the past 2000 years, followers of Christ have sung songs that were rich in theology and they did so with the idea that the songs were psalms that were meant to be prayed. I just feel many of us may have lost this somewhere along the way as music and songs have been reduced to a “set” or a “list”. It’s what we do before the really important stuff like preaching and teaching happens. It has become a warm-up when it was meant to be the fire.

What if the song list became a prayer list? What if worship pastors paid attention and called attention to what God was doing among the people and then responded with selections that guided the congregation into prayer, reflection, and declarations of truth? Suddenly the fellowship is not a crowd waiting to be wowed, but a spiritual force praying in unity for what God is doing on the earth at that moment, at that very time.

I imagine more people would arrive early instead of showing up halfway through the “opening act.” Worship pastors and senior pastors would be required to meet and pray, and then listen. Then maybe, the song list would become prophetic anthems, speaking encouragement, comfort and strength to followers who are desperate for a cup of cold water.

Let’s arrive early for the next gathering intent on singing only words that we really believe. Let’s trust that praying in unity with a singing voice really matters.

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