Prayers and Possibilities in the New Year

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On Sunday, we looked at Colossians 1:1-8 and saw the Apostle Paul’s prayer for the church at Colossae. In Paul’s prayer, it is clear that the gospel had transformed the Colossian believers. Not only that, the gospel was spreading in their city.

In many ways, this gives us a vision of what we hope to occur in our church and city. We want to see people changed by the gospel, and we want to witness the gospel’s impact in our town and beyond.

In this passage, prayer is vital. Paul prays regularly for these brothers and sisters. Paul’s example reminds us of the necessity of praying for the Lord to move in our church and our city.

Not only is prayer central, but deep relationships within the church are essential. God uses fellow believers to help us grow in Him. However, forming these relationships takes time and effort. It is crucial for believers to gather weekly for worship and to meet regularly with a small group for Bible study and prayer. In these contexts, we challenge and strengthen one another in our faith. Imagine a plant without water for an extended period. It won’t grow and eventually withers. Similarly, we stunt our growth in Christ when we don’t prioritize worship and fellowship with each other.

Remember, the power of the gospel! Jesus doesn’t remodel us. He remakes us. He doesn’t do a renovation but a total transformation. We want to see changed lives! How should we respond to this passage? First, commit to pray for God to move in our church. Second, build worship and fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ into your family’s weekly rhythms.

I’m looking forward to an incredible 2019. Let’s pray for God to move in our church and city!

A Legacy that Lasts: Investing in the Next Generation

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If you went to church as a child, do you remember going to Sunday School or Awana? You learned about God and His plan. If you were blessed enough to grow up in church, I’d bet you remember Mr. Salazar or Mrs. Pollard. Of course, their names were different, but you remember men and women who taught you about Jesus and who modeled a deep love for Him and you and other kids. His impact or her impact runs deep in your faith formation. If this is your story, you know the importance firsthand of passing on the faith to the next generation.

In fact, the Bible is the amazing story of a great and awesome God who redeems a broken and sinful people for Himself. He rescues us from our sin, gives us life, and will one day take us to be with Him forever. David reflects on God’s incredible plan of redemption in Psalm 22 as he envisions the message of redemption being shared with generations not yet born, “… the next generation will be told about the Lord. They will come and declare his righteousness; to a people yet to be born they will declare what he has done” (Ps 22:30-31).

As a church, God calls us to pass the truth of the gospel faithfully to the next generation. This calling is undoubtedly among the most urgent given to the church. What an awesome charge! Of course, the Bible is clear that parents bear ultimate responsibility for their children’s faith training. However, the church comes alongside parents in this critical mission and ministers to children who come from homes whose parents aren’t believers.

Who will teach and disciple the next generation of kids who are growing up in the church? When our little ones are adults and many in our generation have gone on to be with the Lord, who will our little ones remember as that woman or that man who showed them what it means to love Jesus and to be shaped by God’s Word? Will it be you?

As you read these words, a thousand thoughts probably flood your mind. Reasons that it can’t be you. It is so difficult to commit to teaching a class every single Sunday or Wednesday night. You have this and you have that to take care of; you need to travel for this reason or that reason. Many of these things are truly important, but might the Lord be calling you to sacrifice for something that is even greater? Could you be that man or that woman who will be remembered by the kids for the rest of their lives? What a great and lasting legacy! Is God calling you?

Worship Wars and the Word

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Music in the church is almost always a hot topic. In many churches, tampering with the music is something like trying to deactivate a land mine. You can get into a whole heap of trouble in a hurry!

As we continue our search for an associate pastor at FBC to lead in worship, we took some time on Sunday morning to consider what the Word has to say about worship. My hope in thinking together about worship is that we will remain unified around the Word during this time of transition. We focused on insights from 1 Corinthians 14 with supporting Scriptures as well. Here are the main ideas from this message:

Christian worship is ultimately about glorifying God (1 Cor. 14:25, 1 Peter 4:11, Ephesians 3:10, 1 Corinthians 10:31). Since worship is about God’s glory, we recognize that God is the audience of our worship. For this reason, we place emphasis on congregational singing, not performance. Further, we lay aside our own agendas; for we seek God’s glory, not our own.

Christian worship is meant to grow and strengthen believers (1 Cor. 14:2, 3, 4, 5, 12, 17, 19, 26, 31). Worship should be guided by and saturated with God’s Word. Songs should be rich in Christian theology and instruction. Also, the elements included in the worship service should have biblical warrant or support. Further, all who lead in worship should be believers as unbelievers cannot yet worship God. In addition, all who lead in worship should strive to live a life that is pleasing to God since example and character are critical elements of discipleship.

Christian worship proclaims Jesus and the gospel (1 Cor. 14:22, 24-25). Every sermon should include a clear presentation of the gospel. Likewise, every service should include songs that are saturated with the rich truths of the gospel. Also, a desire to reach people encourages us to consider our mission field as we select musical styles with the ultimate understanding that glorifying God and strengthening believers are central in Christian worship.

Christian worship should demonstrate concern for the good of others (1 Cor. 14:1 6; 1 Cor. 11:18, 33-34). Musical style and song selection should be guided by a concern of loving each other. In our context, we strive to include both contemporary songs and hymns in a blended style. We must be committed to the Word’s instructions about worship but flexible about personal preferences.

Christian worship should present God’s truth in a manner that is understandable (1 Cor 14:2, 5, 6, 19, 23). Preaching should be text-driven, clearly communicating the truths of Scripture. Songs should present Christian truth with clarity, not ambiguity. Instrumentation should support, not overwhelm congregational singing as the words of songs should be able to be heard and understood.

Christian worship should be orderly (1 Cor. 14:33, 40). Worship should not be haphazard but emphasize awe of God. Preachers and worship leaders should not hinder worship by a poorly executed ministry, unnecessary displays of skill, or any other practice that might inhibit worship or distract from the substance (1).

Christian worship requires a right heart before God (1 Cor. 14:20, 36; 11:27-38; Matt 5:23-24; John 4:23-24). Christ-exalting corporate worship requires individuals to maintain a  lifestyle of worship throughout the week with daily prayer and Bible study. We should pray for God to prepare our hearts for worship.

When God’s people savor Him and exalt Him, He is glorified, and we are strengthened spiritually. Moreover, those who are not believers have an opportunity to turn to Christ as they observe God’s people treasure and adore Jesus. Undoubtedly, when the Word guides our worship, the wars will be over. Our focus will move from personal preference to that which is greater, glorifying God and furthering the mission! Let’s do this!

 

(1) John Piper, “What Unites Us in Worship at Bethlehem?” Desiring God (October 1, 2003), accessed January 23, 2017.

 

Busyness, Apathy, and Indifference: A Call to Actually Care

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On Sunday, we began a new series called Rebuild, a study through the book of Nehemiah. In the opening verses of the first chapter of Nehemiah, we saw the heart of a man who cared deeply for others. His example is challenging for us.

Nehemiah had a prominent position in the Persian government. He had a life of luxury and privilege. In fact, he was miles and miles away from Jerusalem and the Jewish exiles who had returned to Judah. But Nehemiah was interested in what was going on with his people, the Jews in Jerusalem. When a group from Judah came to visit, Nehemiah asked how the Jews were doing. He cared.

When he heard the report that the city was in shambles and the people were in trouble, Nehemiah wept. He prayed. He fasted. He was devastated over the condition of the Jews and Jerusalem. He had a broken heart.

In today’s fast-paced world, we’re tempted to ignore the needs of others. After all, we’re planning our activities, trips, and hobbies. We’ve got this to do and that to do. We just don’t have time to care. Not only that, we face a constant barrage of bad news from all over the world. Often, we grow apathetic and numb to the needs of others. Is this the way we are meant to live as believers?

Nehemiah’s concern for others speaks to twenty-first-century Christians in a powerful way. We are called to be a people who care. When people are hurting, it should matter to us, especially when fellow brothers and sisters in the family of God are struggling (Galatians 6:10). Of course, none of us can fix the problems of the entire world, but we can certainly help people within our circle of relationships and within our faith family.

If we’re going to care and get involved when others are facing difficulty, we will likely have to give some things up. We’ll probably have to lay aside some of the things that we enjoy or that take a lot of our time. Once again, Nehemiah’s example challenges us. He was willing to leave the comfort and luxury of a Persian palace for a difficult and dangerous mission. What about you? Will your life be about building your kingdom or about a driving concern for the good of others?

Let’s ask God to break our hearts over the pain in the lives of people. Let’s ask Him to help us care, to help us focus not on the furtherance of our own kingdom but of the Kingdom that endures.

Me or We? The Challenge of Looking Beyond Ourselves

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Water. We have no trouble explaining or describing water. We buy it, drink it, swim in it, and the list goes on. What about a fish? How would a fish explain water? It seems evident that fish take water for granted. For water defines a fish’s very existence like air in our environment. Why am I writing about fish and water? Because, as water is taken for granted by fish, we often take the values of our culture for granted. It just happens.

In fact, social psychologists who study sales and marketing strategies differentiate between cultures classified as individualistic or collectivist. Marketing strategies for an individualistic culture like America focus on benefits to the individual while collectivist cultures emphasize the collective good or the good of the whole community.

Clearly, America is driven by an individualistic mindset. In everything, we are so often concerned for ourselves. What impact does this have on me? What benefit do I get? It is strange in our culture to ask the kinds of questions that a collectivist culture might ask. How does this impact others? What effect will my decision have on the community or the group as a whole? These are the very questions that Christians are called to ask; just consider the example of the early church as seen in the book of Acts.

Like a fish doesn’t recognize water or think much about it, we simply don’t realize how much our culture influences our perspectives. While we live in this individualistic culture, as believers we must allow God’s Word to change our thinking and attitudes. Instead of thinking primarily of ourselves, we must think of others. We must be concerned for the good of the church family.

What about you? Will your attitudes be shaped by our culture or by God’s Word? Will you give your time and energy to contribute to the good of the whole or will you be dominated by this individualistic “what’s in it for me” mindset? May we be a community of believers who sacrifices for the good of others, the whole church, and ultimately for the glory of God!

Puzzle Pieces, Church Membership, and the Glory of God

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When I was a boy, I enjoyed putting jigsaw puzzles together, especially in the winter when it was too cold to play outside, which I always preferred. Until recently, it had been years since I put a jigsaw puzzle together. With a little girl who is nearly four, I have had several opportunities to help with Dora and Diego puzzles and Minnie too. Most of the time, with a few minutes of effort my daughter’s puzzle comes together, creating a colorful picture of Dora with her map and Boots walking through the woods. Usually, my daughter is delighted with the finished project and just as excited to disassemble it as well!

From my perspective, the biggest problem with jigsaw puzzles isn’t the time that it takes to put them together though I am certainly reluctant at the thought of assembling a 1000 piece puzzle! The real problem with jigsaw puzzles is those pieces that inevitably disappear. No matter how careful I was as a boy, it always seemed as if a piece or two or three vanished. I could look under the table, in the cushions of the couch, under the recliner, but no sign of the missing pieces.

Why am I taking the time to write about jigsaw puzzles? Because a jigsaw puzzle is a picture of the way a church should work. Each piece of the puzzle is important in the ultimate goal. What is the ultimate goal of the church? The church is meant to reveal the glory of God (Ephesians 3:10-11). When each member is in place, walking with God and serving Him, the puzzle comes together beautifully, and God’s glory is displayed in the church.

The apostle Paul compared the church to our human bodies, “So the body is not one part but many” (1 Cor 12:14). He reminded the Corinthian church of the importance of each part, “But now God has placed each one of the parts in one body just as He wanted. And if they were all the same part, where would the body be? Now there are many parts, yet one body. So the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ Or again, the head can’t say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’” (1 Cor 12:18-21).

Each member of the church is important to the ultimate goal of displaying God’s glory. What happens when pieces of the puzzle are missing? With merely a glance at a jigsaw puzzle that has missing pieces, our attention is drawn immediately to what is absent, and the beauty of the intended scene is missed. In our own church, this underscores the importance of meaningful membership. To be the church that God has called us to be, we need each member to attend regularly, to walk close to Christ, and to serve faithfully. In this way, we will most accurately display the truth about who God is.

Missing members leave gaps and holes. What about you? If you are a church member, are you fulfilling your role in the body by faithfully attending and serving? Or are you one of those missing pieces? If so, I encourage you to jump back in. Let’s quit looking for reasons to stay out of the picture, and let’s fill in those gaps. Let’s display God’s awesome glory to a watching world!