Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Are You an Extravagant Worshiper?

Dear Friends,

Some people complain that the problem with us Evangelicals is that we're just too expressive with our love for Jesus. They ridicule us for always talking about Him. They make fun of us when we tell them that Jesus is the answer to life’s difficulties. The problem, of course, is with those believers who are so filled with God that they are in danger of having Him burst out at any moment. Those are the extravagant worshipers.

She and I like jazz music – the smooth jazz sound. We will never forget that jazz concert years ago at the Pasadena City College in celebration of Black History Month. The top smooth jazz recording artists - our favorites - were there. Kurt Whalum, David Beniot, Jonathan Butler among others. The auditorium seats 1,500 on the main floor and it was packed. This was a fundraiser and the crowd was well-dressed, professional, educated, older and black. She and I were two of only six white people at the concert. The music was awesome. These guys played all their smooth jazz hits for the first hour. But, then something completely unexpected happened. 

This was a secular fund-raising concert, sponsored by a secular jazz radio station being held in an extremely liberal and politically-correct college. This smooth jazz concert should have gone smoothly. It didn't. The problem was that all these top jazz musicians happened to be Christians. And halfway through Jonathan Butler's set, he just started to sing a simple song that Kurt Whalum had written called FALLING IN LOVE WITH JESUS. Suddenly in the middle of that secular jazz concert, the Holy Spirit swept through the auditorium.

The crowd had been sleepily nodding their heads to the smooth jazz sounds, but in an instant, the atmosphere changed as if an electric current had passed though the audience. They spontaneously jumped to their feet with hands shooting in the air. Jonathan Butler gave a brief testimony and did an impromptu Gospel song. This was no longer a jazz concert. It was church. People were praising God and shouting “Amen” and “Glory!” 

The master of ceremonies (the jazz radio station personality) was off to the side talking to a college official. They were upset, frowning and shaking their heads. The reason for their dismay was apparent. When your secular concert falls apart and God shows up in the auditorium of your politically-correct, worldly, city college, how do you tell Him to go away?

It was clear that none of this was rehearsed and it was Holy Spirit driven. These guys took a risk and showed their own extravagant love for Jesus to a large audience of their fans; most of whom would not have known that these top jazz musicians are all Christians. Along with the college officials, there were a few people glaring in disapproval at the rest of us on our feet praising Jesus. I can certainly understand why an atheist would have felt disoriented that night. It was the most exuberant, extravagant, spontaneous explosion of worship I have ever experienced.

We read in John 12:3 where Mary spontaneously showed her unrestrained love for Jesus by anointing Him with costly perfume. She was immediately rebuked for her extravagant worship by one of the disciples. (John 12:4-6) And we must ask ourselves: are we showing our extravagant love for Jesus in our praise and worship like Mary? Or are we like Judas and criticizing others for being too loud, too emotional, too free, too extravagant? 

In our day-to-day life, do we play it safe or do we take risks? Would you feel comfortable singing FALLING IN LOVE WITH JESUS at the family Thanksgiving dinner in front of your atheist uncle? Would you feel comfortable telling the retail clerk that you will pray for her? Would you pray over your food in a restaurant at the risk that the politically-correct diners at the next table would disapprove? Would you risk telling a friend how your personal relationship with Jesus has changed your life? If you had been at that jazz concert, would you have leapt to your feet with your hands raised high in unrestrained praise to God or looked around in embarrassment at the extravagant worship taking place?
When Mary was rebuked for anointing the feet of Jesus, He told His disciples, “Leave her alone, she's doing a good thing here..” (John 12:7) Jesus approved of Mary's risky, extravagant, over-the-top worship. He approves of yours too. Amen?

+ + + + + + +
by Kirk Whalum

Falling in love with Jesus,
Falling in love with Jesus,
Falling in love with Jesus,
Was the best thing that I ever done.

In His arms I feel protected,
In His arms I'm not neglected,
In His arms I feel protected,
There's no place that I'd rather be.

Hear Jonathan Butler sing Falling In Love With Jesus

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Do it All in The Name of Jesus

Dear Friends,

Once upon a time, when I was a productive member of society, I had a nice “executive” type office that made me appear to be important. But as an indicator of my true importance, I needed to have a large brass nameplate on my desk in order to remind people what my name was. Think about it. Does the President’s desk in the Oval Office have a nameplate with his name on it?

But what I found to be constantly annoying about my nameplate was the nagging scripture that someone.. okay it was me.. put on the back. If my name on the front reminded people who I was, the scripture on the back reminded me of who God wanted me to be. And really..did I need to see the disingenuous dichotomy between the front and back of my nameplate? Apparently so. 

The front of the nameplate had my name in  polished cast bronze letters. Formal. Solid. Conveying the weightiness of authority. The reverse side displayed that pesky Bible verse: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:17) and constantly reminded me of when the front-facing image I conveyed to others did not match up with my stumbling Christian walk.

When the Apostle Paul said that we need to do everything in the name of the Lord, he really, really meant that. The Greek original can be rendered literally: “And everything, whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything (note the repetition) in the name of Lord Jesus..” This was not a slip of the quill or a careless repetition. Paul wants to make sure we truly get this.

You and I obviously know we’re not supposed to lie, steal, engage in sexual immorality and murder people. That’s the easy part! But then Paul threw in this commandment to cover everything else. To show us how to handle the gray areas in life. Things that are legal and lawful for us to do. Things not sinful. Things that are acceptable for society to do. But how about for me to do? Is it okay to tell that joke? Flirt with the waitress? Eat that extra piece of cake? Make that snide comment? Pretend I don’t see Jose walking through the plaza because I’m tired of listening to his complaints about his unloving wife and spoiled kids? Too many times I’d want to take the satisfying or easy way and that intrusive verse would remind me that everything I do is done in Jesus name. And that changes things.

All of life is embraced in our words and actions and a true follower of Jesus lives their life in His name being conscious of His authority. Living in accord with the name of Jesus means being in harmony with His revealed will for our lives.

The bottom line is this: When evaluating those “gray” areas in our speech and behavior, we should not permit anything in our lives that should not be associated with the name of Jesus. Think about the enormity of that for a moment and you’ll see why I keep referring to this one verse as “pesky,” “annoying” or “intrusive”!

Everything is done for His glory and in His name. Paul also wrote something similar to the Romans when he told them that we offer ourselves as a perfect living sacrifice to Him and glorify Him with all that we are and all that we do. (Romans 12:1-2)

And then after we are reminded that all our words and actions must line up with His perfect will for our lives, we read that we must do so with thanksgiving to the Lord. Let's thank God for His grace and mercy when we do miss the mark, and thank Him at the same time for so clearly telling us what our Christian walk needs to look like!  Amen?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Is Your Church High? Pop? or Folk?

Click on Image to Enlarge

Dear Friends,

An expert on American culture described it as existing in three variants. “High culture” is like a meticulously prepared gourmet meal prepared by trained chefs. This is where tradition reigns and connections to the past are diligently maintained. “Pop culture,” the prevailing culture today, is fast, fleeting and faddish. Like the latest food truck craze, this culture features what's new and exciting to engage an easily bored generation that seeks continually changing experiences. “Folk culture” is like the home-cooked meal using grandmother's recipe. There’s a connection with the family's past and there is care in the making of the meal, but the emphasis is on the family who sits around the table to enjoy it. Each family member is personally engaged in an enjoyable, endearing experience. 

Churches also fall into one of these three categories. The HIGH CHURCH are those liturgical churches who use traditional hymns with an occasional “contemporary” Christian song from the 80's. Meticulously written liturgies are prepared by seminary trained pastors who deliver a ten minute sermon to keep the service time to one hour. The POP CHURCH attempts to engage contemporary culture with cutting-edge concert experiences that feature dance club lighting, fog machines and ever-changing video effects to engage the spectators. A brief motivational feel-good message is the spiritual fast-food delivered by the Pop Church. The FOLK CHURCH emerges from a community of Christians who come together because their family gatherings engender their love and worship of God and love for each other. Worship songs engage the heart and bring them into the presence of God. The message is based on scripture and relevant to their lives. The service is prayerfully planned but open to a Spirit-led change of direction to minister to a specific need or situation. (Yes. I’m biased.)

Last night I was looking at the website of a mainline liturgical denomination and saw a statement that their liturgy performed today (think Catholic or Lutheran liturgy) goes back over two thousand years and was what Jesus’ “services” looked like when He was in the role of the priest and teaching His disciples. Really? I laughed as I pictured Jesus standing before the altar as Mary Magdalene passed an offering plate among the disciples and the organist played Hymn 103. 

(Fact Check: It’s well documented that the earliest liturgy resembling a service today is St James Liturgy which a majority of scholars agree was most likely written 300 years after Jesus walked the earth.)

The cultural church today that most closely resembles the church experience in the days of Jesus is the Folk Church. Pop Churches focus on an entertaining emotional experience but the constant diet of religious fast-food does not generate good spiritual health. Liturgical churches tend to highlight the cerebral and disparage the experiential, but liturgical main-line denominations are fast leaking their church members to experiential Charismatic churches. An article in Catholic News states that Catholic losses to Spirit-filled churches are severe and every hour 400 Catholics convert to Pentecostalism. Our church culture is shifting in the world today as people leave liturgical churches that sing hymns about God and join churches that sing worship songs to God and create a spiritual environment that draws people into His presence where their lives are changed. 

The Apostle's lives were changed not because they read about Jesus or heard a lecture about the Son of God. They were changed through their personal experience of Jesus. And, God sent the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17) to dwell within us that we would continue to personally experience God.

More than ever, people today crave participation experiences. Whether immersing themselves in the boutique coffee shop where the sights, sounds and smells of roasting coffee engage all the senses or immersing themselves in participative church experiences where all the physical and spiritual senses are engaged, people are seeking authentic experiences that add value to their lives. People are not seeking an intellectual understanding of God. They seek a personal experience with their Heavenly Father. They long for the overwhelming love of Jesus and the indwelling and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.

God can be found in both “High” and “Pop” churches but not in lifeless liturgy or in shallow church entertainment. Our Spirit-filled liturgy needs to be where an authentic expression of our worship takes place. And when we simply come before God with open hearts and invite Him to lift us up into His presence, He always does. Amen?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Not Ashamed of the Gospel

Dear Friends,

Independence Day! No other nation celebrates their birthday like we do ours. It seems like all of America unfurls their flag and proudly sticks it in the rusty flag holder on the porch. Throughout our own valley, Realtors stick little flags in the lawns of  houses until everywhere you look you see “Old Glory.” The day is filled with parades, marching bands, patriotic music, family gatherings, hot dogs, watermelon and ice cream. Fireworks light up the sky and our heart swells with pride when we think of our wonderful Country. America the Beautiful! The greatest nation on the Earth today!

Or maybe that's just you and me. A recent Pew poll revealed the jaw-dropping statistics that 44% of the people in our country are not proud to be Americans. And only 28% of our nation's citizens believe that America is the greatest nation in the world! Predictably, the poll showed that we are divided by our ideology. 60% of progressive liberals are embarrassed to be an American. They are ashamed of their country and believe that other countries are better places to live than in America. On the other side of the political divide, 80% of steadfast conservatives said they often feel proud to be American. Perhaps our new national motto should be “Disunited We Stand.” 

A psychiatrist believes this is not just a political problem but psychologically a “public health calamity.” I believe that there is a strong spiritual component as well. Ronald Reagan said, “If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be gone under.” Is the current political effort to drive a wedge between faith and our daily life in part to blame for this new disunited America? Does the growing political movement to eliminate God and religion from our national conscience explain the rapid disintegration of morals and values in our nation’s culture?

If it's disturbing that almost half of all our nation's citizens are not proud to be an American, it's even more disturbing that among our nation’s Christians, there is an increasing number who are no longer proud to be known as a follower of Jesus Christ. Why does it seem like we’ve collectively become ashamed of the Gospel and embarrassed about our faith? When I was in school, it was cool to be a Christian. Today it’s cool to self-identify as an atheist, transgender, pagan vampire!

We love the unabashed boldness of the Apostle Paul. Preaching the Gospel message guaranteed persecution, torture and death as it still does in many parts of the Mid-East today. Just identifying as a Christian invited persecution. Paul was cruelly whipped a total of 195 times. He was beaten three times with sticks and was nearly killed after being stoned with large rocks. He’d been shipwrecked three times and physically suffered many times on his journeys to spread the Gospel message to the Gentiles. For Paul’s boldness as a passionate follower of Jesus Christ he was punished with many years in prison. (2 Corinthians 11:24-28) And after all of that, Paul declares, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel!” (Romans 1:16)

While Christians are not beaten or killed in America for their faith, they are often mocked or ridiculed. That’s why I was recently so proud of one of our church family, John B. His unbelieving peers in the Millennial Generation are among those who can be the most intensely cruel toward Christians. John recently was graduated from CSUN and got a job with one of the world’s largest video game companies. That’s a segment of the highly secularized entertainment industry known for being contemptuous to people of faith. Being a Christian in the entertainment industry is definitely not cool and understandably many believers go to extremes to hide their faith – particularly those starting out who are anxious to be accepted and do well. But like the Apostle Paul, John B. is not ashamed of the Gospel and has decided that he will wear a visible cross that will clearly announce his faith, values and beliefs to his new co-workers. 

Please join me in prayer for John that his unashamed boldness for Christ will be rewarded with opportunities for him to share his faith and be a light in the darkness. Amen?