Tag Archives: unity

Needy

16 Aug

Driving at 70 mph for a day and a half gives me time to think. A LOT of time to think about the previous week spent with a very dysfunctional family that doesn’t follow Jesus.

My heart aches for them to know Him. My soul feels so helpless… and worn out. I read the Word and prayed in the morning and in the moment constantly. I’m not sure whether I’m beat from the hard work of praying so much, the constant interaction of so many who need Jesus, the very, very long roadtrip… or maybe the combo. In any case, I need the family of God.

While driving I was also thinking about getting ready for Sunday.  Man, am I ready! I am needy. Having been in the fray all week, I need the fellowship of kindred hearts like all these cars going in the same direction have. I need perspective like the hawks have hovering above the tangled strings of highway. I need the family of God.

During the week I have not been apart from God. I have had to be close to Him. But I have been alone with Him.

I need to lift up His name with those who also love Him.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:23-25

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READY FOR SUNDAY

Sometimes I take worship for granted, or at least I value it more at times. This week is one of those high-value, can’t-wait-for-Sunday kind of weeks. How about you? When was the last time you deeply desired to worship God with your brothers and sisters in Christ? Why?

I can’t wait for Sunday! Until then, this is on… at 11!

 

 

 

 

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Dissing Unity

29 Mar

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Hobby Lobby. World Vision. Westboro Baptist. Noah. Chik-Fil-A. Duck Dynasty.

Is anyone else tired of talking about all this instead of Jesus? I know I am.

About mid-week my heart was so heavy, I wanted to scream: STOP IT! Of course no one would have heard me among all the other voices, so instead I thought and pondered, asking myself if there was anything positive I could do in light of all Christian messes in the news lately.

My search took me to John 17 – Jesus’ last words to his disciples. Jesus prayed for himself, for the ones surrounding him, and for us– those who will believe.

“I do not ask for these (the disciples) only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”  John 17:20-23

In his last moments with his friends, Jesus prays for unity. Why? Not so they will all feel good about each other and their relationships. Not so they will be emotionally healthy and fulfilled. Not even so they would have peace.

He says it twice: so that the world may believe and know God loves them.

Jesus could have said any number of things knowing that he would be arrested in a few moments. He chose unity; the if-you-missed-everything-else-I-said-get- this.

Christian unity is a big deal.

The main reason my heart has been so sick over the news stories lately is that more than the issues themselves, the disunity is what the world is noticing– the opposite of what Jesus prayed for right before going to the cross! Even in that moment he knew we would blow it, just as he knew Peter would. Yet he went forward to Golgotha for Peter… and for us.

Every facebook status, every blog post, every news report about these stories makes me ask: How can I be part of the solution? I’m not a player in any of these events. But I definitely have a part to play in the greater story. And so does every Christ follower.

Remember the principle in the Sermon on the Mount? “You have heard it said… but I tell you….”

Several times Jesus refers to the Law, then takes the issue further into the soul.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28

What does this have to do with unity? Jesus repeats this pattern in Matthew 5 indicating that he is concerned with all heart-attitudes not just the few examples he gives. He starts the New Covenant ball rolling expecting us to keep it in play.

External obedience is not enough. Not if we claim to follow Jesus.

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READY FOR SUNDAY

Unity isn’t a problem for worship teams…. right?

No one is ever jealous of another’s ability or opportunity.
No one ever thinks he/she could do a better job than someone else.
No one checks out what someone else is wearing on stage with a critical eye.
No one ever talks badly about another team member.

Especially not the worship leader.

Christian unity begins in the small interactions of everyday.

Team unity is a big deal. If we aren’t unified, will those in the congregation sense the love God has for them or be distracted by a spirit other than The Spirit?

And as the leader, I set the tone.

 

 

Sing Sing Sing

15 Feb

Last week a few high-profile followers of Jesus put forth their thoughts on whether we should “go to church”. Donald Miller began the conversation with  I Don’t Worship God by Singing… and his follow-up Why I Don’t Go to Church Very Often. Ed Stetzer posted his thoughts on Miller’s ideas: Should I Stay, or Should I Go Now. Carlos Whittaker responded to both with To GO to Church or BE the Church. These are all worth a read, and the comments are (mostly) civil and also worth at least a skimming.

The original post by Miller, in short says that he doesn’t connect with God by singing and being in a large group. That for him, worshiping God is better done in nature instead of listening and singing since his learning style is kinesthetic.

Even before these posts showed up in my reader, I had been thinking about these aspects of worship, because I have a similar way of deeply connecting with God – in nature, reading the Word, by myself. Last week we talked about the large group aspect. Today the topic is singing.

Greenwood Festival

Last week’s closing paragraph:

Even severe introverts who want to run screaming from a room filled with lots of people cannot deny the power that emanates from a large gathering, especially when each individual is engaged in the moment doing the same thing as every other person in the group. In the 1980s I remember a news report in a secular paper on the Promise Keepers’ gathering at a the local stadium. Thousands of men singing Amazing Grace could be heard for blocks. Their unity demonstrated by singing together was noticed and noted.

Why singing?

Throughout the Bible we are exhorted to worship God by singing.

In the Old Testament:

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
.    burst into jubilant song with music;
make music to the Lord with the harp,
.    with the harp and the sound of singing,
with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
   shout for joy before the Lord, the King. Psalm 98:4-6

And the New:

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. Colossians 3:16

There are many other ways to worship God mentioned in the Bible (raising hands, playing instruments, shouting, among many others). However, like last week’s post, it’s not an either/or, but both/and. Some of us may prefer raising our hands to praise God, and we are also instructed, not exempt, from also singing His praises.

It’s clear that in the Bible God asks us to worship him by singing. But we haven’t answered the original question: Why singing?

Since I don’t know what was in God’s mind when He inspired the writers of Scripture, I can’t say for certain. But thinking about the qualities of singing may give us some hints.

1. Almost everyone has a voice to sing God’s praises.* We can all participate. Some are more skilled than others, but everyone has at least one note! This isn’t true of many activities. I can’t ride a unicycle, though I know several people who can. I am not strong enough to split wood with an ax. Though I tried while on a cheer leading team in high school, I have never been able to do a cartwheel. But everyone can sing.

2. There isn’t any special equipment required. No fancy amps or expensive instruments or specialized training needed. Singing crosses every line – socio-economic, race, gender, background, and nationality.

3. Since our voices are always with us, singing can happen anywhere – an impromptu offering or a carefully planned program. Voices are convenient and portable, always on stand-by for whenever someone wants to praise God.

4. Everyone can join in. Individuals, a handful of people, and large groups can participate in singing God’s praises. One person can sing on the side of a mountain, and thousands can sing in a cathedral. Singing is individual and corporate at the same time. There are very few other activities where this is true. I can sing a song at home by myself, and I can sing the same song as an individual in a large gathering, and my small contribution magnifies the corporate singing like the PK gathering mentioned above.

We’ve all been involved in a game with a set number of players when someone wants to join in. Three people can’t play chess. The third person either has to wait for the game to be over to play (and then one of the original players has to sit out), or she has to find someone else to play with. Singing doesn’t exclude.

5.  Each person can be present– in the moment– with every other person. When a large group sings together, everyone is essentially doing the same thing and unified as God is worshiped. Every person is engaged and needed.

6. Singing covers the gamut of emotion and intention. The tenderest lament can be whispered and the grandest proclamation can be declared in song. While emotions don’t determine our relationship with God, they help us connect with Him as we worship, and music can be a vehicle to help give them (literally!) a voice.

Several years ago we hosted a group of Christian men from a closed country in our home. After dinner, they asked if they could lead us in worship– they had learned a couple of songs in English just for us. They lead us straight to the throne of God in a matter of seconds and we stayed there the entire time we sang. In America we sing; these men SANG! Every atom in their bodies praised Jesus, and I’m sure anyone walking by outside on the sidewalk could hear us singing.

The men didn’t pause in order to decide whether or not they would best connect with God by singing. They just sang from deep within their souls. Their worship spilled over on us, carrying us with them as we all forgot ourselves and became lost in the presence of God.

God desires is that we sing to Him en masse.

He has asked us for this.

Why would we withhold it from Him?

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READY FOR SUNDAY

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” Genesis 22:15-18

Abraham did not withhold his only son – his special gift from God.

As worship leaders what do we hold onto? Our renown? Our voice? Our preferences?

Throughout Scripture God’s blessing is pronounced on those who surrender it all. How can we expect the blessing without the sacrifice?

Lord, I withhold nothing.

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*I have several deaf/mute friends who use their hands instead of their voices to sing.

Numbers

8 Feb

This week a few high-profile followers of Jesus have put forth their thoughts on whether we should “go to church”. Donald Miller began the conversation with  I Don’t Worship God by Singing… and his follow-up Why I Don’t Go to Church Very Often. Ed Stetzer posted his thoughts on Miller’s ideas: Should I Stay, or Should I Go Now. Carlos Whittaker responded to both with To GO to Church or BE the Church. These are all good reads, and the comments are (mostly) civil and also worth at least a skim.

The original post by Miller, in short says that he doesn’t connect with God by singing and being in a large group. That for him, worshiping God is better done in nature instead of listening to sermons and singing songs since his learning style is kinesthetic, not auditory or visual.

Img_4557 crop

Even before these posts showed up in my reader, I have given much thought to these aspects of worship because I have a similar way to Miller of connecting  deeply with God – in nature, reading the Word, by myself. Next week, I’ll address singing as worship. Today the topic is worshiping God together in a large group.

Here are my thoughts….

1. Individual and Corporate

There is a difference between personally connecting with God and worshiping Him corporately, and both are essential to the Kingdom and to each individual in it. In Miller’s blog mentioned above, he emphasizes personal connection to God… at the exclusion of large gatherings. Throughout Scripture individual praise to God is commanded, and so is the corporate gathering to worship God. Both are required. We are to worship him at all times – as His child and as His Church.

From the Old Testament Tabernacle and Temple rites, to the Feasts in Jerusalem for the entire Jewish nation, to the new church in Acts 2. Jesus got away from the crowds to commune with his Father, but that wasn’t his only way of worshiping God. He went to temple worship, the Feasts in Jerusalem, and preached to thousands on hillsides. In short, followers of the Triune God coming together to worship him is God’s idea, and it’s not our place to decide whether that is for me or not.

2. Large and Small Groups

Again, it’s not either/or, it’s both/and. Small groups have their purpose in the Kingdom – Jesus, after all had a group of 12 disciples. Small groups are where deep, heart-connections happen– difficult in a large group. I’m not minimizing the small group– both are crucial to the Church.

The large group aspect has taken big hits lately. It’s impersonal. Half the world’s population is made up of introverts who’d rather stay home (see Facebook and Pinterest memes!) Large congregations look more like a business empire than the Kingdom. These and others may (or may not) be true, but gathering together in large groups to worship God cannot be dismissed as unnecessary, irrelevant, or “not for me, thank-you.”

As already mentioned, Jesus went up to Jerusalem to observe the Jewish feasts and taught in the Temple. The new Church met together in small groups, and worshiped God in the synagogue. It’s quite ironic that the end of Acts 2 is used to support the position for small house churches and to be critical of large worship gatherings, when Acts 2:45-47 clearly states that the early Christians not only met in each others’ homes– they attended temple together!

3. Critical mass is important

We cannot ignore the fact that large numbers are important to God. In the Old Testament lists of names and totals for each tribe, family by family, take up an entire chapter of Scripture. As the nation of Israel traveled through the wilderness setting up camp around the Tabernacle at night, the Israelites are numbered. In Acts 2, “they were all together in one place” as the Spirit came upon them – many spoke in tongues and several thousand believed the Gospel.

Descriptions of heavenly worship contain numeric totals: the angels are numbered as myriads and thousands upon thousands; the number of the sealed is 144,000; and the great multitude that no one can count worships God before his throne day and night… with the numberless angels!

If large groups are important in worshiping God, does that mean that three believers in the mountains of Nepal who meet to worship God are not following God’s command to gather together for worship? Of course not. Jesus said “wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Their worship is just as valid as a groups of thousands. In a countries hostile to the Gospel two or three people worshiping God is their large gathering. We are only responsible for what we have, not what we don’t have.

4. Individuality within the Kingdom

While it’s true that we come to the cross as individuals before God, there is also a time when individuality takes the back seat of the bus for community. The Word of God was written to an (often very large) group of people. The exceptions are some of the New Testament letters written to individuals, but even then the expectation was that they would be read to the church. (The fact that we have the letter to Philemon in the Bible strongly suggests that it was circulated through the church. Otherwise, the letter would have stayed in Philemon’s possession and remained obscure.)

Many languages, including ancient Greek, make a distinction between the singular and plural “you”. In English, however, they are one in the same. This makes understanding the corporate nature of Scripture difficult for us to grasp. Several years ago, a friend encouraged me to assume “you” to be plural when reading Scripture unless there is a solid reason it should be singular. Since most of us can’t read the original Greek, this is good advice. Try it and see how the meaning of each passage changes slightly when it is understood as being addressed to a group of believers instead of to an individual. In the Old Testament and early Christian church, the community came first, the individual second. Our culture is the opposite. Somewhere in the tension of the middle is the truth contained in the Bible. We are individuals within the Kingdom community.

Even severe introverts who want to run screaming from a room filled with lots of people cannot deny the power that emanates from a large gathering, especially when each individual is engaged in the moment doing the same thing as every other person in the group. In the 1980s I remember a news report in a secular paper on the Promise Keepers’ gathering at a the local stadium. Thousands of men singing Amazing Grace could be heard for blocks. Their unity demonstrated by singing together was noticed and noted. More about singing next week.

Is worshiping God in a large group the only way to worship him? Definitely not.

Is worshiping God in a large group something he desires from us?

Absolutely.

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READY FOR SUNDAY

As worship leaders, we have a responsibility to make sure we connect with God on a deep level. For those of us who are able to do that in a large group, Sunday morning can provide that. But if, like me, being alone outside in nature with the Word is how you connect with Him, we have to make sure we plan time for this in our schedule during the week.

If a corporate worship experience doesn’t provide you with a deep connection with God, figure out your worship style and engage with your God. Check out Sacred Pathways, by Gary Thomas for ideas.

We can’t lead people into a place or a relationship where we haven’t been.

According To

5 May
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.  Ephesians 3:20-21
 

First, a little bit of grammar and logic.  Stick it out, I promise it will be short and worth it.

The almost overlooked phrase according to forms a one-way bridge.  Two little words often glossed over between two hefty concepts may seem inconsequential, but they define the relationship between effect and source.  The Book of Ephesians has a bunch of them all pointing to God’s inexhaustible stores of every quality and force we need as His followers.

My favorite one is at the end of Chapter 3, quoted above.  Here’s why.

The first part of the sentence declares that God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.  This phrase contains two words (huper and perissos) that mean over and above, beyond superfluous, abundantly surpassing what is necessary… you get the idea.  Megahugemungous ginormous!

That would be enough.  But the sentence goes on: according to his power….  The Greek word used for power is dunamis – the root for the word dynamite.  More big-ness!

And it gets even better: that is at work within usThe gargantuan deeds that God will do according to His explosive power will be… through us!  Fragile clay vessels, useless and powerless on our own, become conduits of unlimited power when He dwells in our hearts.

Why would He do this?  For His glory in the church throughout all generations.

Notice that this is a corporate, not individual, promise.  Paul uses the pronouns we and us, not I and me*.  Imagine local churches, and ultimately, The Church, allowing, embracing, and exercising this power– together, generation after generation.

This is the holy temple of the Lord.

This brings glory to the Father.

This is impossible without unity.**

The last few days I have been trying to understand, deep in my soul, that according to my seemingly inconsequential  attitude for or against unity, God’s colossal power can do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine through my church– or not.  Make no mistake, this power and the results are not from me.  I merely have the opportunity to choose or reject them according to my attitude and actions.

What could be so important to me that I would choose disunity?  That I would throw away seeing God do immeasurably more than all I can think or imagine?

Right now?  Nothing.  I suspect, however, that the Holy Spirit will have an opportunity to show me soon.

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Heart check for Sunday

Holy Spirit, reveal attitudes in me that lead to disunity and enable me to choose correctly!

Father, forgive me.  Change my heart and work through me with your explosive power to do exceedingly, superfluously, over and above all I ask or imagine… for your glory in the church and in Jesus Christ throughout all generations, for ever and ever.  May. It. Be. So.

——————–

*The entire Letter to the Ephesians is written to a body of believers, not an individual.

**Unity is a major theme throughout Ephesians.  See 1:10; 2:11-22; Chapter 4; and 5:21.

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