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Don’t Look at me … Look at Him!

I have had two conversations this week with people who question what it means to be saved, because they have seen people who call themselves Christian and then continue to do things that don’t seem to be what Jesus would do.  Aren’t these just hypocrites, posing to be spiritual when they really aren’t? Are these people really even saved? What does a saved person look like? Why would I want to associate with posers?

The problem with this, from an outsider perspective, is that we have a credibility problem. This credibility problem is often times used as an excuse not to be a part of a church, let alone the Christian faith. The problem with this, from an insider perspective, is that, while we are not perfect people, we should be trying to live lives that are faithful to the witness we profess.

We live in a world that has been recently bombarded by allegations against politicians, movie moguls, and popular journalists not living lives that are congruent with their status, position of power, or influence, and with disgust, we cast them along the curbside as the dregs of society. It’s this incongruence issue that is troubling to us … we trust these people, they make more money than we do, and we give them the time of day only to be duped to find out that they are no better … in fact, a whole lot worse than we are. When this incongruence issue is applied to our Christian experience, then we have a real problem when our witness does not resemble our claim of being saved. Some of the research done tells us that the choices, attitudes, and actions of believers aren’t that much difference than those who do not make a claim of any kind of faith experience. That’s unsettling!

Jesus dealt with these situations a lot with the religious leaders of his day. These were the elite … first string pastors, if  you will. They were well respected in the community, and yet, Jesus called them out because He didn’t like the show they were putting on in front of others. Full of pride, greed, and self indulgence, Jesus called them “snakes, a brood of vipers,” and of course the word we so often here in reference to this discussion, “hypocrites.” Let’s be brutally honest, if you have problem with hypocrites, then you are in good company … Jesus had trouble with them, too.

In Matthew 7:21-23, he says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'” Can I tell you that this verse has always haunted me in a way, because I haven’t cast out any demons and haven’t performed too many miracles and if they don’t get into heaven, how in the world will I? Well, it’s not about that, is it? It’s not about our performance on the outside, but our performance on the inside that counts … and, in His own words, “doing the will of [His] Father who is in heaven.”

So plainly, Jesus had a problem with hypocrites. Those of us who are believers in Christ should be living a life of example, “walk our talk,” and not put on the cosmetics of Christianity simply to cover up the blemishes of our daily journey.

On the other hand, if you are one who always looks at believers and points out their flaws and labels them as hypocrites, then let me remind you that there is only one Perfect One, Jesus, who “understands our weaknesses, for He faced all of the same testings we do, yet had no sin.” We all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23 tells us. And if we do not admit that, then we are probably already consumed with the sin of pride. 

So, you don’t want to go to church because there are hypocrites there? You stay away from living a life of faith because there are people who call themselves Christians and don’t seem to match up to your standards of what a Christian looks like? With that in mind, this is what I want to tell my friends who constantly look at others (including people who call themselves Christian) to determine their own level of Christian faith indoctrination: don’t look at me, look at Him! I’m not your example of a perfect individual. Only Jesus is. I am flawed. I’m still on the journey with my life with Christ. While I have been forgiven and saved, I still deal with every day’s problems–ones that I give to Him every single day.

Why would you put your entire faith context in what my life is all about … put it in what Christ’s life is all about. That doesn’t get me off the hook for doing all I can in obedience to Christ, but why would you want to put your spiritual life and eternity in anyone else’s hands but Christ’s?  I still struggle and the Spirit of God is still renewing me day by day as I take up my cross daily and follow Him. I certainly do not need to act like I have it all together because I don’t. That is simply prideful living. Being saved means that I am not a slave to my sin and that I have the power to overcome it, but it is not because of me or anything I have done or can do–it is Christ in me and according to what He has done. So when you look at it that way, perhaps the church isn’t as full as hypocrites, but of people who are just like me–trying to work out my salvation day by day. Whatever the case, we should never use someone else’s spiritual experience as our only guide to faith. While people can encourage us and even discourage us from the faith, the only one we follow is Christ.

So while I will try not to be a hypocrite, don’t look at me … look at Him. Let Christ be the firm foundation and the full context of your Christian faith.

How Good Do I Really Have To Be?

I was recently asked the question, “How good do I need to be in order to get to heaven?” The thought was as long as my good deeds outweigh my bad deeds, then I’m good … right? Doesn’t God have a big book that He writes all the good stuff I do and all the bad stuff I do, and when I die he pulls out that to measure the good against the bad? A follow up question goes something like this, “Surely God won’t send to hell people who are good people, doing good things.” The temptation in answering a question like this is to simply play God for a moment and try to figure out whether a person has done enough good things or whether or not the person has a good heart. Surely if someone is a good person, they will go to heaven. Right? Have you ever gone to a funeral and, deep down inside, thought to yourself that the minister was “preaching the person into heaven” based on all the good deeds they did in this life? I have. It’s awkward when you never recall the person making any kind of decision to follow Jesus, never saw them darken a church door, and possibly didn’t even know that they were as good as the preacher said they were, but somehow they were going to heaven. You just kind of went with it, saying to yourself, “Well, God is the perfect Judge and it is, after all, totally in His hands. That’s true. So, we really shouldn’t worry about that because it is in His hands. Or, should we? We want so desperately to think that everyone will be in heaven, but, is that the message we want to teach? Is the criteria really about being good enough and doing enough good things? This question of what is good enough is often asked by a culture who desires so much to get into heaven after they die, but are challenged by the notion that going to heaven somehow has to involve Jesus, going to church, or being a Christian. As I will say with all spiritual questions … it is a good question.

I mean, who wants to believe that God will punish good people for not being a Christian? If I were to honestly answer that question, I would say, “not me.” I don’t want to see anyone punished! (Except the bad guys ….) Let all the good people into heaven… what a generous God that would be. But that’s something that I would do. Because of the fact that I know my own flaws, I would probably just let in everyone because I am no better than they are. Who am I to judge? But, I am not God. No, it would take someone who had no flaws to judge whether or not someone was worthy of entering the kingdom of heaven. You mean a human being without any flaws, sins, or short-comings? This is why Jesus is the answer to the sin problem. And this is why He is worthy of making that judgment call.

Does it ever make you nervous to think that your personal performance with regard to the commandments of God will be the total determining factor of you receiving eternal life in heaven? I don’t know about you, but I fail every single day … and I consider myself a Christ-follower, disciple of Jesus, a Christian, or whatever word you want to use for someone who has accepted Christ as his/her Savior and Lord. I feel that if my personal performance were the only factor by which I was allowed into heaven or sent away to hell, then I might have some ground to make up. Or, how would I even know that? What if I’m one good thing short of making it into heaven? I had better get busy doing more good things in order to make sure I offset the balance anything bad I might have done to make sure there is enough good. Can you begin to see where this type of sin management system could be debilitating? Can I just say that it takes a lot of emotional energy to worry about this day in and day out. Can I also say, that God doesn’t want me to have to worry about this day in and day out? I can see where this kind of thinking would literally spiritually wear a person out. God doesn’t want that for me.

You know, I will never be “good enough.” There are not enough good deeds I could do to get to heaven. God’s standard of “good enough” is perfection. Uh, I don’t measure up to that myself. Jesus indicated to the Rich Young Ruler (see Luke 18:18) that no one is good except God. James 2:10 says that if I keep all of God’s commands and break just one of them, I have broken them all. There is nothing I can do on my own to do enough good works or deeds to get into heaven. I can not trust my own goodness to get me to heaven. Now, while that may be scary, it relieves me. Why? Because I can trust God’s goodness. Because if my good deeds are not what is the final determining factor of me going to heaven, then there must be something greater than me and my personal performance that is the determining factor. And there is … His goodness.

That’s where faith comes in. Now before you go, “Oh, I knew he was going to go there,” let me just say that your church attendance, the amount of money you put in the offering plate, the number of ministries you are a part of, and the level of importance you have on church committees and Christian organizations are not what the determining factors are either. No, I’m talking about trusting God to forgive your sins so you won’t have to rely on your personal performance any longer. Is it more draining in life to stew about whether or not you have done enough good things to get into heaven, or to simply trust God that He forgives your sin and has saved you from your sins?

God put on the human experience and came into our world as a human. He knew there was nothing we could do on our own to get us into heaven. So, He, the only “good” One, came to earth as a perfect God/Man and settled into humanity and went through life just like you and I do … with the exception that He remained perfect. His personal performance was exemplary. He never sinned. Therefore, He became the only right and perfect possibility for humanity to pay the great sin debt that we all have … you know, the sin debt that would keep you and me out of heaven without it being paid. So, God as a man paid it for you. Get that. God … became a man, in order to pay your debt … a debt that was owed to Himself.

We call this the gift of grace. Jesus was God in human flesh and his death on the cross was the sacrifice that was needed to pay for all of humanity’s sins. Therefore, the way to heaven is through Him … He is the only one that paid the debt. It’s on His terms. Not ours. Thank God!

What’s our part? Our part is to rely on God, to trust Jesus and to accept this free gift of grace … to believe God’s love for you and to receive Jesus as your Savior. We then can relax, knowing that our possibility of heaven rests in Someone else’s hands far bigger than ours. And then … you will want to do good deeds on His behalf. Out of a grateful heart for your salvation, the good deeds that spring from your life are ones that now become life giving. Faith without works is certainly dead faith … but works (doing good things) in and of themselves will never pave the way for eternal life in heaven.

 

Who is on the Pitchers’ Mound?

Last week during our Spiritual DNA class at MPCC, we talked about how important it is to keep Christ at the center of our lives and to pursue him in everything. It reminded me of a little diagram that I picked up in my doctoral work that really helps me see what is meant by living a Christ-centered life. We all know that without Christ in every segment of our lives, that we are thrown out of alignment to his life, his ways, and his teaching. This diagram is called The Formation Field–and it is a model of your life. It is a concept that I learned from one of my mentors, Dr. Adrian van Kaam. godcentered_web

All of us has an Interior World.

In our Interior World, we experience things like our deep devotions, longings, and emotions. It is here where our hearts are touched with wonder, awe, joy, and other intense feelings. Our Interior World is also the place where we sense the call of God on our lives and is the well from which we express our love to God and to others. It includes our thoughts, our fears–it is the place that houses the true mystery of who we are.

Each of us also has a world that encompasses all our relationships.

Our Relational World is that place in us that deals with all our relationships with other people: our spouses, our children, our parents, our colleagues, our roommates, our loved ones, and even our enemies.

We all are situated within a context of time and space and situation.

Our Situated World is where you are currently placed in your life and also in history. It refers to your station in life, your economic situation, your actual address, your employment situation, your personal history or the time in which you live, and basically your entire current reality.

We are part of a global community.

Lastly, we are part of a wider world and we relate to it daily. Whether we are on the internet or we are considering the science of global warming on our planet, we realize that our actions and very lives affect the entirety of the planet. We might sponsor a child in a third-world country. We might do a short-term mission experience or read a book about a far away land. Whatever the case, we realize that we are not isolated from the entirety of the inhabitants of our world.
Does the above drawing remind you of anything you have seen before? Have you been to a baseball game? Sure you have. You see the image of this Formation Field model looks just like a baseball field with four bases and a Pitcher’s Mound. Notice the arrows that run to and from each base and through the Pitcher’s Mound. Notice who is on the Pitcher’s Mound … yes, that’s right–God. When God is firmly planted at the center of your Formation Field (life)–or on the “Pitcher’s Mound” all of these compartments of your life are properly oriented and aligned in him. But what happens when we begin to replace God/Jesus at the center of that field (life) with ourselves? What happens when we replace God with me? Isn’t this exactly what we see happening with Adam and Eve in Genesis, chapter 3!? Absolutely. We replace God with our prideful self, usurping the rightful place of God. And when we do, these quadrants become out of alignment with God.
Have you ever noticed that when you are having internal conflict with God, that it affects your everyday relationships? Or, what about your situated life? Have you noticed that when you are in a very negative employment situation that it is very easy to focus on yourself to the point of totally ignoring anything else around you? All four of these aspects of your life need to be in alignment with God or they will affect each other to the point that they all become out of alignment with God. Have you noticed that when you have a great devotional life, that your marriage seems sweeter? Sure. Or when you love your employment situation you are more friendly to your co-workers?
This little drawing helps me self evaluate all the time to remind myself not to get on the Pitcher’s Mound of my own life, but to have God/Christ/Holy Spirit (the Trinitarian God!!) take his rightful place. If I want to occupy any of that space that is reserved for him, I begin to get out of alignment with him; and when that happens, I become a fragmented person trailing off the path he has set before me. It also allows me to see how my life is integrated with all of these aspects working in harmony with each other: my interior world, my relational world, my situated world, and my global world.

“…. and in Him all things hold together.” –Colossians 1:17b

The Church that “Once Was”

My son and daughter-in-law attend a church in one of the more hipster sections of Indianapolis called Broad Ripple. As millennials, and new parents of my wonderful grandson, they make it to church quite regularly. It’s not every Sunday because they are often out of town, but when they are in town, they are usually at church during a weekend service. I’ve been to their church. It’s pretty cool. There are no fancy lights and the sound was not necessarily state of the art. They have a band some times, and other times just an acoustic guitar and some other alternative instrument. The pastor came out in a pair of destroyed jeans, flip flops, and a cool button down. People actually verbally interacted with the pastor as he welcomed the congregation. It was a very, what I would call, loose environment. Relaxed, comfortable, and undignified in the sense that there was no pretense. And yet it was very spiritual and I sensed a warm feeling of community. “Come as you are and be a part of us” would have been the general attitude among the people in attendance. I found it quite refreshing. The pastor’s message was theologically sound and very relevant, applying truth to real life. Their worship center was in an old converted church–you know the ones that had the long and narrow sanctuary with pews. There are no pews in this church today–just chairs, and yet the shell of what “once was” was still very visible.

I wondered about the history of the church that was once there. Why is it not still there? Where did it go?

I then began to appreciate the new and refreshing experience of the people of God inside this “once was.”  I wondered if they were somehow different than the people that used to gather in this space. I got the feeling that they were not in attendance because they felt like they should, out of a sense of guilt, or due to the fact that it was Sunday morning at the appropriate time. I sensed that their church attendance was almost a type of by-product of what was happening in their lives in spite of the fact that it was Sunday morning.

I found out that there is a high percentage of the people in attendance that are a part of, what they called, “house churches.” Another name for home groups, small groups, life groups–you name it–these house churches are smaller communities within the greater church that practice first century style Christian faith. They gather once a week for a meal together, share the teaching from the Bible, pray, serve together, and generally do life together. They are a “close-knit” family. When they get large because of the new growth in their house church, they start another house church. Kinda reminds me of Acts 2 doesn’t it?

The lesson for me today is this … in our culture, a culture that is currently set in what is known as a post-Christian society, church attendance is not the true measure of a church, but “engagement” is. Carey Nieuwhof, teaching pastor of Connexus Church outside of Toronto, says that it used to be that if people would come, they would eventually get engaged with the life of the church. He said that notion worked when people were flocking to church. But today, they are not. There are a lot of reasons believers are not attending church every Sunday like “once was.” From traveling sports teams to literally being a more affluent society, people’s regular church attendance seems to hover around the 1.7 times per month level.

The goal for us today as leaders and as church people is to get ourselves and others engaged with the mission of Christ and His church. Attendance will follow … not as the most important measuring tool in the church’s arsenal of statistics, but as an indicator of the number of people who are serving, committed to discipleship, in a small group, inviting their friends, and being that peculiar culture of folks who are on mission and who are about changing the world.

Nieuwhof says, “In the future church, the engaged will attend because only the engaged will remain.” Are you engaged? Have you embraced the mission of your local church? Are you living it out in your everyday life? Are you inviting your friends to be a part of that mission … asking them to get engaged? It’s not enough to attend church. Don’t miss out on being the church. Get engaged! Let us not become the church that once was.” Let’s be a part of something greater than “what’s in it for me.”  Let’s be a part of that movement that will change the world one life, one family, and one opportunity at a time.

 

Why Membership Matters

I grew up in a church that did not have formal membership. I appreciated the fact that by becoming a Christian that I was already a member of the body of Christ, and thus, a member of the Church. That was big “C” Church. Over the past few years, I have come to appreciate, as well, the more intentional commitment to a local church (or, little “c” church) by means of church membership. Now, I find myself a pastor who is in charge of the membership process. I have come to the conclusion that membership in the local church matters–and I’ll tell you why.

Membership is nothing like joining a country club, a civic organization, or a branch of the military.

I have discovered that joining a local church has more to do with three very important things–all starting with the letter “c.” How appropriate. Being a member of the local church reflects the community that we already are. Becoming a member of the local church is agreeing with what the scriptures teach us–that we are a part of each other, need each other, and are joined together as members of a body–the Body of Christ–with Christ as the head of that Body. Being part of the local community is really part of my statement of faith.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. –1 Corinthians 12:12

Being part of a community means that I belong to something, or some others, that is bigger than myself. It means that I am able to partner with brothers and sisters in the gospel of Jesus Christ–just like the Apostle Paul did with the Philippians (and others of course). Being a part of a community means that there is a level of accountability that I have with my church. I’m held to biblical standards and as a community partner, can offer accountability to another. There is a mutuality rather than an individuality with regard to being a member of the local church. 

Perhaps the greatest reason I join the church has to do with the commitment that I make to my fellow parishioners.

Membership in the local church is a commitment to each other. It is a commitment that I make that states that I will live out my Christian experience with this particular local body of beliers. It means that I believe in this church, I support this church, and I serve with these in this church because I believe in the mission of this church and its vision. Living out our faith in a local context keeps our faith from becoming too abstract. Surely, I could say that as a believer in Jesus Christ that I’m a member of His Church. That is true. But if you never attend a local church, get involved in serving, and develop relationships with others, you are missing the point of the Church. When your faith is so abstract, your faith can become rather flimsy. (see James 2:17) Committing yourself to a local church is a healthy alternative to living out your faith in isolation. It’s putting your faith into action.

“…Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” –James 2:17

Third, membership in the local church helps you to engage with your calling. We are all called to follow Christ–to be His disciples and to make disciples. (Matthew 28:19-20) As a member of this local church, your desire to reach your neighbor for Christ becomes our shared responsibility as we partner, once again, with each other for the sake of the gospel. Being a member of the local church helps us to bring the full resources of that church into the work we are individually doing in our corner of the world. Being a member of the church helps us to put our calling into action with the help of each other. Many of us do not have the ability to preach a sermon, or to teach a class. But, there are people in your church who do. You might be able to serve in the children’s ministry or sing in the worship team–that might be where your calling is. Each of us, as a member, has a very important part to play.

November is Membership Month at MPCC …

Becoming a member at Mount Pleasant Christian Church is easy and it is biblical. First, you must be a believer in Jesus Christ, having accepted his offer of salvation in your life. Second, you must follow in obedience to Christ by being baptized by immersion. In the next couple of weeks, we will be helping our people at MPCC sign up for a Starting Point, which is our pathway toward membership. In this one hour event, we will explain our mission, vision, and values and help people get on track to become a member and get connected. There are two Starting Points coming up on November 6 and December 4 at 10:45 am in Room C103. You can register online at mpcc.info or stop by Guest Connections at MPCC to sign up.

Membership Matters

It reflects who we are as community, helps us to abide by the commitment that we make to each other, and helps us to engage with our calling to be disciples and to make disciples.

Being Formed by Social Media

This is not a blog against social media. I like social media. In fact, this blog is on a social media site. However, there is something that I would like to ask you. Are there times when you feel, even in the presence of others, that you can’t put your smart phone down? Do you feel that urge to check your Facebook page or post on Instagram? It’s addicting isn’t it? I love posting pictures of my grandson. I am like Mufasa lifting up Simba to the rest of the clan at Pride Rock. (Actually, I guess I would be Ahadi, Mufasa’s dad–hah) Pretty cool that I snuck a picture of him on this blog post, huh? As I held my grandson the other day, the TV was on and I could not get his attention bennettoff the screen and on to me. I kept saying his name, but he was intrigued by the vivid colors on the screen rather than the face of his grandpa. Well, actually, that may have something more to do with the face of his grandpa, but even his mommy said, “He is four months old and I can tell you that I am already going to have to limit his screen time.” I thought that was funny. But it made me wonder. I think sometimes, I too, am enamored with what’s on my screen to the point that I am probably shutting something very important out in order to text, post a picture, capture a moment, play on Snapchat, or check my Twitter feed. Hey, it’s fun! And hey, we live in a digital age and it is here to stay. We had better learn to deal with it in a positive way.

But, am I too buried in my screen to be intimately connected to the ones who matter the most?

That’s the question I want you to ask yourself today. I have over 1400 friends on my Facebook page. This blog will probably be readily available to over 4000 people. If one person shares it, it could go wherever. Some things people post go viral and reach thousands. Others have thousands of followers on Twitter. Out of the 1400 friends on my Facebook page, how many of them am I really close to. I mean, not to be morbid, but I wonder how many of them will be at my funeral? Probably not many. Don’t get me wrong, I love to interact with old high school friends and acquaintances, but the reality is, these are not necessarily the people I do life with every day. How could I? I haven’t seen some of them for over 30 years! It’s not that they don’t matter to me, but why would I sacrifice valuable time with the ones I’m with to check on what might be happening in the life of someone I haven’t seen since 6th grade? (No offense to all of those in Mrs. Byer’s class!)

Am I making myself fully available to my family and my friends when I am in the present moment?

I’m learning that when I’m around the people I love the most, I should try to give the kind of attention to them that they deserve. The older I get, the more I realize that this life is not forever. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I don’t want to miss a quality conversation, a fun game, or making a memory because my face is impaled in my computer screen or iPhone. Bill and Gloria Gaither wrote a song many years ago that, when I hear it, I always get a little sad. The words are, “We have this moment to hold in our hands and to touch as it slips through our fingers like sand; yesterday’s gone and tomorrow may never come, but we have this moment today.” Doesn’t that just rip your heart out? It’ true. As I look at my little grandson, he reminds me so much of my son. When I hold him, I see my son. It’s weird. It’s de-ja-vu. (For my daughter-in-law whom I love: yes, my dear, we see you in him too, but you have to admit, he looks a lot like his father.) I say to myself, where did the 30 years go? I want to give myself, my attention, and my love to those I care about the most–I mean, after all, they are the ones who will get up and speak at my funeral! Just kidding. Sort of.

I am not advocating a radical ban of all cell phones, iPads, and laptops!

No way! I love the ability to be connected. I just don’t want my connectivity to interrupt intimate moments with those I long to be with. Whether we are a addicted to our devices or not, all I’m saying is, “Can we be a little more available to each other?” “Can we enjoy the present moment we have to nurture relationship?” Studies show that most of us are starved for relationship. Just because we have so many Facebook friends doesn’t mean we have a lot of intimate relationships. I mean, social media has literally changed our understanding of the word, “friend.” I think if we simply go on about our business without asking these questions, then we will become a generation that is formed with a deficit of knowing how to deal with, communicate with, and understand people. People. Bottom line … that’s all we got … is each other. People. So, family, forgive me if I’m teaching online with my laptop or checking my Fantasy Football team’s scores when I’m supposed to be with you. I truly do love you. But, somehow, I have this urge to multi-task and try to get more accomplished in the time that I’m in your presence. Forgive me. It is a sign of our times, I’m sure. Yet, it doesn’t mean that it will help me be a better father, son, husband, or friend if I do that while I’m with you.
One of my favorite spiritual writers is Jean-Pierre de Caussade. He was born in 1675 … well before … well, anything. He writes about how to trust in God’s presence and active benevolence. In other words, God is always on the scene of our lives and if we can surrender to the present moment and what God is already doing, then we will begin to understand the depth of each and every moment of life. He says:

” The present moment is always overflowing with immeasurable riches, far more than you are able to hold.”

When we are fully attentive to God, we understand more and more that “every moment, the will of God is stretched out before us like a vast ocean which the desires of our hearts can never empty, but more and more of it will be ours as our souls grow in faith, in trust, and in love.” When we are fully attentive to each other when we have a moment together, the opportunity for our souls to grow and to be satisfied is much the same. We become richer people and the Christ and me has the opportunity to connect with the Christ in you.
So, enjoy your new iPhone 7 and your iPads, laptops, notebooks, fitness watch … whatever. But maybe, just maybe, put it away for a moment … a moment during the time you have with someone else. Try talking. It can be life giving.

 

 

Worship is God’s Idea … Not Ours

If you know me at all, you will know that I spent 32 years of my ministry life as a Worship Pastor. When I started worship leading, I was behind a pulpit with a hymnal in one hand and a microphone in the other. The worship team was the choir. The band was a pianist and organist. Every now and then, I threw in some brass players and occasionally a rhythm section. On big events, we would have an entire orchestra. By the mid to late 80’s, as we began to gaze at the horizon of the 21st Century, the landscape of worship began to change in the church. Songs that were not in the hymnbook were being included on the playlist for worship–songs written by the Gaithers, Andre Crouch, Dottie Rambo, and others had already made a mark in the worship music of the day. But by the end of the 80’s and moving into the 90’s, this thing called “Praise & Worship” hit big with Maranatha! Music and Integrity Hosanna Music supplying these new, moving worship songs that took our celebration of praise to another place. The use of guitars and drums were in use in church services, which challenged many who liked exclusively the strophic nature of the hymns and the sounds of the organ and piano. By the mid-90’s, the term “worship war” had been coined and was being experienced in many churches throughout the country. Now, this worship war wasn’t the kind of war you would expect. It was not a worship war over the object of our worship or who was being worshipped, it was a war that took place among the worshippers themselves … a rather odd sort of war in that the enemy–the great antagonist of God–wasn’t the one being battled; rather, the people who were on a mission to battle the enemy began to turn on each other. Why? Because of a preference of music and song used for worship. Since then, across the board, worship style (a term that I don’t really care for anymore) has changed to reflect the nature of the day in which we live, the context of our shared experiences … pointing toward reaching a new generation that grew up with computers, 9/11, and a increasingly distant awareness of any concrete sense of truth, living in a post-modern environment where there are few absolutes.

It was during this time when I found myself caught between two armies of people that I knew I needed more understanding of this thing we called “worship.”

Being referred to as a “theological idiot”–(yes, I have been called that and worse simply by being a worship leader) I leaned into that and began to study with those who were creating this “new worship paradigm” as well as diving into some of the theological greats and doing a lot of biblical study about the subject. I entered into a graduate degree program at Regent University with my worship professors being people like Don Moen, Michael Coleman, Pete Sanchez … those who were creating this new music from Integrity Hosanna Music. I desired to grow in my theology and philosophy of worship. At the same time, I got the opportunity to work with Maranatha! Music as the choir leader for their Worship Leader’s Workshops. Those were the days. Hopping from one place to another for Maranatha! events and back home late Saturday night to ready myself to lead worship at my home church was exhilarating! It was a hot time in creating new experiences for worshipers to encounter the manifest presence of God. Still … the worshippers–the ones doing battle against the enemy–continued to turn inward doing battle against each other over worship style and form. I mean, this was a head scratcher for me. Didn’t Jesus say that true worshippers would worship in spirit and truth … not through a particular style, form, or song choice?

And then I realized, what a great tactic the enemy is using to distract us from the primary activity of the universe … the worship of God.

I have seen so much division over this one topic in the church. It breaks my heart, and frankly, I wish we could just get over it. I think it is a scourge that the enemy has used to bring division to God’s people. I’m not saying that there is one right way to worship or a wrong way to worship. And I certainly respect anyone’s faith traditions. I certainly was formed by a strong, traditional, Methodist liturgy. That really isn’t the point. The point is that anytime worship becomes about us, it is the wrong way to worship. Worship is not about the song … it’s about the Son! When we worship corporately in our churches, we are literally in a grand rehearsal for what we will be doing in eternity … only then, we will be gathered around the Throne–the epicenter of the power of the universe, worshipping the Lamb who sits on that Throne.

Worship is God’s idea … not ours. He initiated the whole thing. It’s all about Him.

Dan Boone, President of Trevecca Nazarene University and former senior pastor of mine, writes, “True worship is the fellowship of the Father who sends the Son who gives the Spirit. And even as this shared life flows to us, it flows back as the Spirit empowers the sacrifice of the Son on our behalf, as a pleasing response to the Father … In worship we are not creating something new but rather stepping into a stream that began in God.” (The Worship Plot)
I don’t know about you, but I want to step into a worship experience (a stream) where God is already present. I want to be a part of a worship encounter with God where He draws me to Himself, speaks to my heart, and changes my life. Frankly, music does move me, but not nearly as much as God’s presence does. And I’m a musician. But my friends, it is not about the music. As much as I love music, corporate worship is not about music. When it is, we have missed the mark. Music is a tool for us to use to express our thoughts, desires, pain, excitement, etc. It’s not my worship. Worship has more to do with laying down my pride self and opening myself up to my Creator. My thanksgiving (thanking God for what He has already done) and my praise (praising Him for who He is) surely helps me to ready myself to encounter His presence. . .but worship is that moment that is all about Him “wooing” me toward Himself and taking the initiative to invite me to have a seat at His feet, to rest in his presence, and to encounter His glory so that I might experience life change ultimately–and then my response to that invitation.

Church … we need to surrender to each other and realize where the real battle is. “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12 NLT)

As we pass our faith experience to the next generation, we must realize that what we truly pass to them is to be bathed in God’s Spirit and Truth. The package by which we wrap that gift to our kids and grandchildren may not look like it did when I started 32 years ago, but thankfully they will have the opportunity to hear the Truth and experience the Spirit in a context that is befitting them so that their lives can encounter God in worship and their lives can be transformed. Let’s surrender our personal preferences, our stylistic inclinations, and our musical penchants in order that you, me, and our children and grandchildren can experience a church that is unified in Spirit and in Truth (John 4).

Lord, help me to lay aside my agenda, my preferences, and my attitude toward those that don’t see things my way. Forgive me when I make my worship something other than what you want it to be. May the song on my heart, whether a hymn, a worship song, a gospel song, or a classical aria reflect a genuineness and a purity that pleases you. May you be touched by the words on my lips and be ministered by the praise in my spirit. Amen.

 

The Guest in Our House

“If there is any concept worth restoring to its original depth and evocative potential, it is the concept of hospitality.” –Henri Nouwen, “Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life”

Okay. I’m going to step on some toes … including my own. Have you noticed that we all are very screen-oriented? Our “devices” have taken over family gatherings, lunch dates, and play time. Our faces are buried in our iPads, cell phones, and laptops to the point that we are missing a lot of conversation, interaction, and relationship building. I was at a local restaurant and even the process of my receiving the bill for my dinner, my transaction with my debit card, and my assigning a tip to the server was all done on a little box. Once my meal was brought to me and the server made the obligatory “check back,” he was finished with me and moved on. The rest of my experience was handled on a device with a screen. Just a few years ago, my wife and I took a vacation to Rome. We wanted to go to Florence for a day trip and thought we would catch the train. When we got to the train station, there were no attendants to help us find our way. We meandered our way through, figured out the system by means of a overhead screen, and made our way to Florence, Italy without saying a word to a single soul–with the exception of my own panicked conversation to my wife as to which direction Florence would be. And just the other day, our family was together sitting in a large family room, and everyone was on their own devices. I even think some were texting each other in the room! I love technology, and like I said, I’m a guilty party here, but what I have noticed is that our digital world we live in has affected our hospitality quotient. There are many times when I would rather just e-mail someone rather than picking up the phone or setting up the meeting. While it is much more efficient to probably just e-mail, I miss the opportunity to engage with another human being.

Some of you are saying, “Indeed … that’s why I text and e-mail.”

That may be true, but can I raise an issue here? The lack of engagement with human beings is what I think allows our ability to be hospitable slip away from us. Please hear me. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have our devices and use them effectively, but I am saying that we should not allow them to consume us to the point that we are no longer engaging with each other in conversation and relationship … because when that happens, we are no longer offering ourselves to each in Christian hospitality. We are losing our ability to relate to real people. Those of us in the ministry … that’s what we are all about! (And by the way, if you are a believer in Jesus, you all have been called to be a minister in some way.)

When we think of hospitality, we don’t think first of welcoming guests.

We generally think about having a family meal, putting on all the appropriate festive ware, and making sure the food is prepared adequately. Or, we think of the hospitality industry who are very hospitable to us … as long as we have our Visa cards with us and a few dollars available for tipping.  We recently were on vacation and found ourselves in a very nice hotel. We are mostly Hampton Inn type people, but this time, we found a good deal at a really nice hotel–one that had valet service, concierge, and bellmen. I thought to myself, these people know how to roll out the red carpet and welcome guests. Of course they do! They have been trained by the best people in the industry and their livelihood depends on it.
How would you feel if I said that hospitality is a spiritual obligation? Or, an expression of our Christian love to a guest? We in the church should know about true hospitality better than anyone because we have been richly trained by the scriptures in how to reach out to our guests … without the expectation of a tip.

The Apostle Paul says throughout his letters to the church that we are to “greet one another with Christian love.”

What does he mean by that? I think one thing he means by that is that we are to see Jesus in the person who is our guest and to allow our guest to see Jesus in us. Mother Teresa was asked how she was able to reach out, to touch, and to bring healing to the destitute of Calcutta as she did throughout her ministry. Without hesitation, she responded, “I see Jesus in each one of them.” This is true Christian engagement. Every person who walks through the church door has a name. Every name has a story. Every story matters to God … and they should also matter to us.

“When we offer hospitality to [guests,] we welcome them into a place to which we are somehow connected–a space that has meaning and value to us.” — Christine Pohl, “Making Room”

Christine Pohl in her book, “Making Room” acknowledges the fact that hospitality in the church early on was a fundamental expression of the gospel. This should not be totally left to those who are greeters in the church or on the Welcoming Team (or what we call our Ambassador Team.) This is all our responsibility. In the early church, hospitality was a spiritual gift that those in leadership in the early Christian communities needed to possess. When we invite someone into our space and are personal to them, offering respect, acceptance, friendship, and a comfortable environment, even if it is for a brief moment, we have extended Christ to another. This requires having an openness of the heart, attentive listening, mutual sharing, time, and resources.

Here at MPCC, we are becoming a more hospitable environment for new people–our guests!

Those of you a part of the MPCC family, you will notice that we are setting some things up in our main parking lot. First, there are special guest parking for those who will be arriving to our church as guests, looking for a place to park their cars. Secondly, there will be a designated Guest Connections area outside (on most weekends) where people can be appropriately greeted on their first visit with us. You will see more activity in the Commons area, all to help make people feel welcomed and a part of what’s going on here as they enter our spaces. Third, we ask everyone to see themselves as an Ambassador, greeting anyone carrying a bright “blue folder.” If you see someone with a bright “blue folder,” they have a lot of information they need to know who we are, a coupon for a drink in our Connections Cafe, because they are our guests for that day … and who knows, may become part of our family. We want MPCC to be a safe place for new people.

Let’s not lose our ability or desire to engage just because we live in a digital world.

We can still have our iPhones and be connected to our Facebook pages and Twitter accounts … but let us be aware that, even though there are creative ways to utilize these in reaching people, there is nothing that can replace a smile, a warm handshake or embrace, and a true eye-to-eye greeting with another, welcoming them and ushering them into the very presence of the Living God.
If you are a part of the MPCC Ambassador ministry, here is a video link of what I talked about during our training on Sunday, August 28, 2016.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-rtgT1CsxqY&feature=em-upload_owner

 

Knowing Your Spiritual DNA–Thanking God For Who You Are

This past week, Pastor Chris Philbeck at MPCC spoke about how we need to be a people who are more thankful. What if we were more thankful? What would it change? There is empirical evidence to suggest that gratitude will help a lot of areas of our lives. Gratitude makes us happier people overall. It can make us healthier; we sleep better and our blood pressure is lower. Being a person that is grateful can even boost our career, because we are people who are seen as leaders and have that magnetic personality that people are attracted to. Being a thankful person can even help our marriages and relationships. But it is difficult to be a thankful person when we do not like ourselves at our core. That’s a problem.

A Look Into Our Spiritual DNA

Having a poor self-worth and having a sense of worthlessness is often the case when we fail to understand how we are spiritually formed. One of the Connections classes I started at MPCC is called Spiritual DNA. We are currently in the middle of this class…if you missed it this time, you can catch it next time. Knowing our Spiritual DNA helps us to discover God’s call on our lives, and that call is a call to relationship and a call to purpose.  Knowing your Spiritual DNA ignites in you an understanding of how God has uniquely shaped you to accomplish His purpose in your life–how your spiritual gifts, passions, and personalities form together to complete the “masterpiece” God has created in you. Let me give you a little taste of what we have been talking about in Spiritual DNA, and, if you are needing a dose of being thankful for who you are today, let this scripture feed your soul:

“Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes.” –Ephesians 1:4

I don’t know about you, but I cannot fathom what God was doing or thinking of before He made the world. We know that, according to the whole of the scriptures, that God always was. Psalm 90:2 says, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or every You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.” To think that, before He made the world, that you and I were on His mind is astonishing! Not only were we on His mind, He knit us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139) with such intricacy–did you know that your physical DNA has over 3 billion characters! If you were to read each character of your DNA code, one per second, it would take you 96 years to read the description of who you are! You are a big deal to God. You are fearfully and wonderfully made and we should be grateful for that in itself.

“Your Essence Precedes Your Existence.”

When I was doing my doctoral work at Asbury, I bumped into the spiritual formation science/theology/anthropology of Dr. Adrian van Kaam, a dutch priest who had survived the holocaust during that terrible time of 20th century history. As he formulated his thinking during this time, when humanity’s value in the case of the Jews was seen as despicable, He founded the idea that each one of us has a truest form shaped by God. It lies deep within us, and he called it our essence. You might strip everything away from us: our clothing, our health, our wealth, our dignity, our spirit, but deep within us all there is an essence that you can not take away. Some might refer to this as one’s soul. But according to van Kaam, it is even more than that. Your essence is the single most identifying nature or “perfect form” about you–and it precedes your existence into this world. It is exactly what Paul is talking about as he writes his letter to the Ephesians saying, “…before the foundation of the world, God loved us and chose us to be holy and faultless in His eyes.” If being a thankful person begins with having an appreciation for who you are–the fact that God loved you and chose from the very beginning should boost our spirits a bit. He initiated within us with the ability to have a relationship with Himself. That’s how much He cared for you and for me. Feeling thankful yet?
Deep within your essence, you have a life call: a call to relationship and a call to purpose. All of this is in tact before you are even born. Do I have your attention? This life call is very unique in the sense that, like a snowflake in a winter storm, there is none like you. You are an original. Your life call is also, according to van Kaam, communal, meaning that you are created with a purpose that is for the benefit of others, not just yourself. Do you know your life call? Have you stopped to pay attention to it? Ruth Haley Barton says, “God’s call on our life is so tightly woven into the fabric of our being, so core to who we are, that to ignore it or to refuse it would be to jeopardize our well-being.” Well, we don’t want to do that! So what is our life call?

You are more than what you do.

Our life call gets to our true purpose. Can you state your purpose in life? Clue: it is not your job. My purpose is this: I, Fred Meadows, exist to help people discover God’s presence in their lives.” Short–simple–to the point. I believe this is why God made me. This is what He calls me to. My purpose is fueled by my vocation. There is a lot to be said about one’s vocation in life, but think of it this way–it is what makes your purpose happen. For me, my vocation is spending my life serving the church as a pastor/leader/teacher/shepherd. It’s how I do my purpose. My job is what I do to make a living. In my case, all three of these are linked up very nicely, but one’s job does not have to be, necessarily, one’s vocation. My job is that I am the Connections Pastor at Mount Pleasant Christian Church. While I love this place, and while I feel called to be here, if I didn’t have this job, my vocation would not change (unless God changed it) and my purpose in life would never change. It is at my core.

So you can see, there is a lot to be thankful for…you are a masterpiece in the making!

So, when you are in the dumps of despair and depression is knocking on your front door, remember that there is so much about you that you can hardly comprehend. God has created you in such a way as to give you a purpose and the ability to know Him. That should be enough.
God, thank you for making me … me. Help me to see all the wonderful things that you are doing within me, not that I might brag about myself, but only to give me the fuel to ignite a thankful heart in knowing that you created me for a purpose. Amen.