Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Not a Worship Leader

Dear Friends,

I sometimes wish I were a worship leader. I’ve really tried. I’ve read the books. I’ve even been to pastor’s conferences and attended the worship leader sessions. Here’s what  I’ve read and heard: If the budget will allow, hire professional musicians and worship leaders. People are accustomed to an incredibly high degree of professionalism in all entertainment venues. Church must be just as professional if it expects to successfully compete with the world. Prepare, practice and rehearse. Consider musical dynamics. Carefully modulate your crescendos and interludes. Never allow yourself to be “caught up” in the worship. You need to always have your full awareness directed toward the congregation to monitor their response to your leading. And always remember that worship is not “God-orientated” – it’s about using the dynamic of music to prepare people to hear the word of God preached.

As one worship seminar leader put it, “We worship to ‘plow’ up the ‘soil’ of the heart to receive the ‘seed’ of the Word.” Really? The purpose of worship is to just get us in the right mood for the sermon?

According to the way it’s supposed to be done, I’ll never really be a worship leader. And maybe that’s okay. Most of you have already heard me say that I’m not a worship leader – I’m a worshiper. And on Sunday, I just worship the Lord and invite you to join me. And yes, like last Sunday, sometimes I get so caught up in worship that I have to give myself a time-out before I can continue. At that moment, the only thing I could say was, “Thank you Lord for the weight of Your presence.”

Worship is not a musical interlude in the Sunday service performance. It’s not a prelude to the sermon. It’s not a concert of Christian music to make us happy and fill us with a sense of well-being. Our worship ushers in the Presence of God. Our worship invites the dominion of His Kingdom to descend and we feel the weight of His presence upon us. Psalm 22:3 says that God is literally “enthroned” in our praises.

When we direct our worship toward God, we take our day-to-day troubles, fears, cares and anxieties off the throne of our life and enthrone the Triune God in His rightful place. We welcome the King of kings with His power and authority into the very midst of our daily life. When we surrender ourselves to the full expression of worship, the Holy Spirit descends and meets us individually at our point of greatest need.

There are church traditions that look with disdain upon any involvement of emotions during worship. I remember being in a mainline church on Easter and the congregation was stoically singing Christ The Lord Is Risen Today as if it were a funeral dirge. This was a day of joy to celebrate the risen Christ and it appeared that no one in their church was very happy about it.

And while God loves those of us who do not unreservedly enter into worship of Him, the biblical patterns of worship involve normal and natural physical and emotional expressions of worship. In the brochure About Our Worship, I wrote: “At New Hope Family Church, our participatory style of worship mirrors the way in which people worshiped their Lord in biblical times and we believe this worship continues to honor God today. This is not a fanatical excursion into a false or contrived enthusiasm but a thoughtful return to a genuine, heart-felt expression of love for our Creator.”

One of the things I love about New Hope Family Church is that we are a church of worshipers. And, when we enthrone God in our praises, He reaches down and enfolds us in His arms.  Amen?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

God's Providence

Dear Friends,

Last Saturday I finished writing my sermon at 1:30, got up to stretch and went outside to get my mail. As I walked down my front steps toward the gate, I  knew that a very large tree branch was going to fall. In a moment I’ll tell you why I knew that, but at the time, I just knew it would be a heavy one that could damage anything it fell on. I moved my SUV out from under the olive trees to a safe place in my driveway. I walked out to my mailbox, got the mail and came right back inside. I sat down in my reading chair with a magazine and immediately heard a loud “crack” and a “whoosh.” A very large heavy branch had just broken off the  olive tree next to the mailbox and  fallen exactly where I had been standing just sixty seconds before. Olive trees produce dense, heavy wood. The limb that came down next to the mail-box weighed hundreds of pounds.

The knowledge that a large branch was going to fall was a prophetic revelation. Prophecy is a gift of God given by the Holy Spirit and means to “declare on behalf of” or to “foretell or perceive unseen things or events in the future.” (FYI: Fortunetellers use  “clairvoyance” which imitates prophecy and is given to a person by demonic spirits). While I’ve never considered myself to have the “spiritual gift” of prophecy, God has often given me prophetic revelations about people or situations.  

But if God was already going to orchestrate this so that I would be safe and protected, why did He need to reveal to me beforehand that a branch was going to fall? I believe He used this revelation to  remind me of His presence and His Providence. He knows how easy it is for us to experience a narrow escape from a potentially dangerous or difficult situation and think, “Whew! Was I lucky!” “How fortunate I was!” when of course luck and good fortune had nothing to do with it. By reminding me of His Providence, He showed me that He was right there. The branch had rotted and had structurally failed internally. Any moment it would fall. I had walked out to stand directly under it. And God had everything under control.

God’s Providence is one area in which Christians and the contemporary worldview part company. Providence means that God has not abandoned the world that He created but works within His creation to manage all things. The world at large, even if they acknowledge God to have been the world’s Creator, think that God does not now intervene in human affairs. They think that miracles do not happen, prayers are not answered and things just happen as a result of circumstance and coincidence.

But the Bible is filled with the promise of God’s Providence. God has been described as a “holy, benevolent, wise and omnipotent Being who exercises sovereign control over all His creation.”

God is in control over your life.(1 Sam 2:7-8) He cares for you and watches over you. (Ps 139:14-16) He provides protection for the righteous. (Ps 4:8, Rom 8:28) He supplies the needs and wants of His people. (Matt 6:26, Phil 4:19. 1 Tim 6:17) He provides answer to our prayers. (1 John 5:14-15) All that we have comes from Him. (1 Chr 29:12) God rewards the righteous (Ps 73:24) and punishes the impenitent. (Ps 1:6) And, God may give us a well-deserved smack-down when we think we’re in control and deny God’s Providence! (Dan 4:30-31)

And sometimes He drops a tree branch where you were just standing and tells you, “Don’t you fret none about your life, Bubba. That was just a little demonstration to show you that I AM in control...”  Amen?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Shocking Resurrection

Dear Friends,

People seem to fall into one of two extremes when it comes to scary movies. You either love them or hate them. In 1996, an American horror film called Scream started the genre of horror and slasher movies with serial killers. The movies are intensely gory, frightening and shocking. I confess that I only know that from reading about them because I’ve never seen one. Watching a psycho in a Halloween mask carve up a screaming teenager with a chainsaw just doesn’t seem like it would be that much fun. Maybe you have to be there... 

I remember when entertainment was watching Roy and Dale chase down the bank robbers on horseback. White knuckle excitement was when Sky King and his cute teenaged niece Penny are flying in a low cloud and fast approaching a mountain peak. Movie violence was when the Lone Ranger shoots the gun out of the bad guy’s hand. And romance was when Zorro kisses the girl on the lips before leaping over the balcony, landing on his horse and riding off into the night.

You may be one of the many people who love to be scared out of their wits at the movies. But 2000 years ago there were no movies or faked reality shows. There were just real-life events. And in New Testament days, the crucifixion of Jesus was a true-to-life horror story. 

As He hung in agony on the cross, there was a three hour period of darkness in the middle of the day. It was in that darkness that He took on our sins. God lifted His hand from the Son of God, who had known no sin, to now be filled with the sin of the world. At that moment, Jesus cried out: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” And when the sacrificial Lamb of God had become the Light of the World, Jesus cried out, “It is finished.” By His death, He became victorious over all the powers of darkness and death. No movie could possibly convey the horror of being filled with every sin that mankind would ever commit.

But while there is nothing more horrifying than the crucifixion, there was nothing more shocking than the Resurrection. Two women approach the tomb to tend to the dead body of Jesus and have no idea they’re about to get the scare of their lives. An earthquake strikes with incredible force. Then they meet an angel – this was no ghost but it was not human either. Their hearts pound in fear! And to finally top off this Sunday Fright-Fest, Jesus, who they had seen killed and who had been dead for two days, now suddenly pops up on the road in front of the trembling women and says, Boo! 
(Okay...Jesus actually said “Rejoice!” but it would have had the same effect !!)

Imagine watching a loved one suffer a horrible and disfiguring death and you are there when they seal the body in the crypt at Forest Lawn. Two days later you come home still reeling in grief over your loss and find your loved one alive and well and sitting on the couch in the living room. The word “shocking” would not even come close to describing that moment. 

The Resurrection was meant to be so shocking that we’d still be talking about it 2000 years later.  It turned life upside down. It was God’s plan for our salvation and powerful proof of God’s victory over death. And through the reality of the Resurrection, we are moved from shock at the horror of His death by Crucifixion to joy and thanksgiving for His awesome work. Jesus is alive! There is now everlasting life for all those who believe in Jesus and confess His name as Lord and Savior. The Resurrection of Jesus gives us assurance of our own eternal future of joy and happiness.

The Crucifixion of Jesus marked an end, but the Resurrection of Jesus marked our new beginning. And there’s nothing scary about that. In fact, the Resurrection brings the peace of God because we can see our future clearly now. And the reality of our eternal tomorrow is our hope for today.  Amen?