Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Politically Incorrect Worship

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. They have a problem with those Evangelical 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, 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 make Him 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 did? 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 any 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?

From the AMEN Corner Archives ~ originally published July 30, 2014.

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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, February 3, 2016

Are You Running Too Fast To Win?

Dear Friends,

The description of the first Christian church tells us that “..those who believed were of one heart and one soul.”Acts 4:32-33 The early church was spiritually united by their belief in Christ and intentionally united by their commitment to each other. They had become a family. A church family is there to love and care for each other and help one another. That’s why we call ourselves New Hope Family Church. Yet in today’s fast-paced life we too often find ourselves running through life so quickly that we never even stop to check on our family members. I know how easy that is to do. Racing along in life, I sometimes get a nudge from the Lord that I need to slow down and look around. In my rush to get to where I’m going, I may have blindly passed by someone who needs my help.

There was a 5k race that was held two years ago in Michigan. 19 year old Lance corporal Myles Kerr was on leave from Camp Pendleton and had gone home to visit family. On the day of that 5k race, he was running with some Marine buddies and they were all wearing their boots, fatigues and carrying a full backpack. When the Marines reached the finish line, Myles was no longer with them. His buddies started to worry because they thought he must have been injured along the way.

Here’s what happened. Nine year old Boden Fuches was also in that 5k race. Boden was running with his own age group, but he started to struggle and was no longer able to keep up. He soon found himself alone and barely able to run. His parents were waiting for him at the finish line and if he dropped out in the middle of the race, he’d become lost in the crowds. 

At this point, Lance corporal Myles passes Boden and sees that the little boy is struggling. He says to him, “Hey, little guy, are you all right?” And Boden looks at him and says, “Will you run with me?” And for the rest of the race, Myles never left Boden’s side and encouraged him every step of the way. The average time it takes to run a 5k race is 25 minutes. Nine year old Boden finished the race in 35 minutes 43 seconds. Marine Lance corporal Myles Kerr finished the race five seconds after Boden crossed the finish line.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:24 "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it." Life races are won, not by those who finish first, but by those who finish well. In a foot race, the goal is to pass everyone else and finish first to win the prize. Other runners and Boden’s friends had all passed him by and never looked back. They were running as fast as they could. But one man looked back, saw a struggling little boy and so he started running as slowly as he could. Because in a life race it’s not about how fast we’re going, it’s about how well we’re running.

Sometimes in our family at home and in our family at church we also need to slow down and look back. When we’re frantically running through life trying to get to someplace else, we can pass by a family member or Christian brother or sister and not even notice that they may be struggling with something. Sometimes we need to slow down, look at a loved one or friend and say, “Tell me how you’re doing.” And sometimes we need to quit worrying about how to get to where we’re going, and just walk with someone else to help them get to where they’re going.

A theology professor said that there are really only two options to us in our relationships with others. We can exclude people, maintain our distance and shut them out of our life. Or, we can embrace people, take them by the hand, do life with them and open our heart to them. I know too many people who have shut out and shunned family members. I’ve been in way too many church families who have shut out their Christian brothers and sisters. Sometimes, we need to slow down and look around us. Is there someone in your personal family or church family who is struggling? Someone you just need to walk with for a while? 

Embrace people. Take them by the hand. Do life with them. Open your heart to them. God’s grace is renewed every day. That means that every morning when you wake up, you have a fresh chance to make a difference in another person’s life. There will be a day when you pass over the finish line and come face to face with Jesus. He’s not going to be auditing your to-do lists. He won’t be reviewing your worldly accomplishments and counting your trophies. There is no clock – no timer – at the finish line of life. When we’re standing before Jesus, it’s all about how well we ran the race and who we helped along the way. Amen?