Seeing in the Mirror Clearly

“It’s not my fault for getting angry!  If my staff would just do their job I never would…”

“I would be a better husband and Father if the demands of the church weren’t so high.  I guess I just have to continue to sacrifice for the call.”

We live in a toxic realm within our minds as church leaders.  It’s the realm of natural excuse making.  We are excuse-makers. The real, present, poisonous nature of our gig as pastors is the fact that we are spokesmen for a perfect God and His perfect Word, and yet we are imperfect and constantly making mistakes.  However, if our knowledge isn’t deep, and our humility is lacking, we will struggle to see clearly in the mirror, and may even spiritualize our sin.

Our first ancestors were excuse-makers as well.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”(Gen. 3:8-13)

God had consequences for Adam and Eve for eating from the knowledge tree of good and evil- they ended up entering into a curse that would affect many generations of those who would follow in their footsteps of disobedience and self-justification.  But I love the fact that the natural consequence was also a restoration of the relationship, and Adam and Eve continued to love God through it and beyond it.

But there is a greater promise beyond drowning in the abyss of the curse.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Rom. 7:21-25)

So the next time we’re on the verge of justifying something that we know is wrong- and making it seem as if we’re following God in the process, we need to stop ourselves in our tracks, repent from it, look in the mirror clearly, and apologize to the offended before the toxicity of self-justification seeps in more deeply.

Jesus is Walking Through New England

When Jesus was on earth He spent a good amount of time with the religious people of His day.  But in one instance He had a journey to make that would pass through the town of Samaria, which was an area of the world that most “religious” people of His time labeled as “unclean” and full of despicable people who weren’t worthy of God’s love and truth.  Most religionists of Jesus’ time would have taken a longer route to NOT pass through Samaria, adding miles of walking to their trip, just to avoid this place that they deemed sinful and full of half-breeds.

But Jesus went straight through Samaria.  He didn’t avoid it.  He got there and had a conversation. The conversation was with a five-times divorced woman, who was likely living with a man that wasn’t her husband.  Though Jesus acknowledged this, His big message to her was that He, the Son of God, had come to the earth.  His message to her was that He would give her true life and joy that she had never experienced before.  He had come for her salvation.

The woman went and told everyone she knew, and before long many were believing in Jesus.  Such a crowd gathered that He stuck around for a few days, and many in Samaria came to know Him.  This whole story is found in John 4:1-43.

For years, many religious people in America have avoided New England.  Some think it’s just too tough of a place to do ministry.  And some even run churches in New England, and have a disdain for the culture akin to Jonah for the Ninevites, thinking that the culture of New England is far too distant from God to have a chance to know Him.  Churches like this quickly become ingrown clubs for the “holy elite”, instead of what they should be- hospitals for the wounded, hurting and dying.

Portsmouth, New Hampshire is similar to Samaria in some ways.  As far back as 1679, it was “a refuge for exiles from Puritan Massachusetts“(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portsmouth,_New_Hampshire) In the early 20th century, it was an area where a huge red light district existed for arriving naval ships, and prostitution was rampant.  Fast forward to 2014 and Portsmouth is way different, now it’s a cool bohemian town filled with progressive thinkers, artists and entrepreneurs.  But still, many Christians in America would view a place like Portsmouth much like the religious folks of the first century viewed Samaria, as a place where God isn’t as present.  After all, He’s more evidently present in places like Nashville, Tennessee, right?

But Jesus is walking right through the middle of Portsmouth, and engaging the hearts of many people.  They may not look typical to the religious.  But they are God’s very own beloved children who will soon enter into a beautiful, fulfilling relationship with Jesus.

So as we prepare for the launch of NLC Portsmouth, may we ask for God to direct us in the footsteps of Jesus.  May we have conversations like Jesus did with the Samaritan woman at the well.  May we see those whom the religious would cast out as exiles through God’s eyes- that they are truly beloved and belong to Him.

Hey man, I’m of a “Samaritan” background too!  Check out my story here:  http://goddrugsandrocknroll.wordpress.com/

Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson on the Gay Lifestyle and Christianity: A Christian Response

Duck Dynasty

Phil Robertson of the A&E mega-hit “Duck Dynasty” was recently interviewed in GQ magazine by writer Drew Magary in what erupted into an all too common media firestorm over his comments on behalf of Christianity and the Bible’s view toward the LGBT community.  These were his main comments about the general subject of “sin”, “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men… Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.” (http://www.gq.com/entertainment/television/201401/duck-dynasty-phil-robertson#ixzz2oVPZ4iI3)

Phil was re-quoting the apostle Paul, who wrote; “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor. 6:9-10)

Instead of focusing on a person, let’s just look at this from a Christian perspective.  I made the mistake in my original article of being critical of Phil, and I apologize.  It’s wrong to cut down anyone made in the image of God, and I’m working on never doing that.

But I think it’s important that we’re careful not to take point blank, rifle shots into unwilling targets (pardon the pun).  To put it another way, statements like these are black and white responses sent into a culture of grey.  Black and White becomes obscured in the color grey, and those in a grey culture can’t tell what is what.  One can’t make comments like that without some intense explanation, because people who don’t believe it simply just don’t understand.  I think it’s fair to add that we shouldn’t joke about gay sex as Christians, or even human beings, in 2013, or any age for that matter…  I’m not saying I haven’t been guilty of it myself. But I do recognize that I need to change.

It’s possible to present content that is biblical, yet have an approach that is un Christ-like.  We Christians do it all the time.  I’ve done it many times.

Our current society is in the throes of what many would label a Civil Rights revolution for the gay community.  After years in America of anti-Sodomy laws, and unfair discrimination against the gay community, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme.  November 27th, 1978 was the day that early gay rights activist Harvey Milk was killed.  Since then culture has been slowly but surely shifting. Now it is 2013, and fantastically well written and well performed shows like “Modern Family” and “Chicago Fire” (both I am a HUGE fan of because they’re so well done!) champion gay rights issues openly.  The greatest influencers in our culture have shifted in America towards being a pro-gay majority.  It is a time when any anti-gay comments made are viewed as bigotry.

Yet as followers of Jesus, we are left with the text of 1 Cor. 6:9-10, and others that clearly define any expression of gay sexuality, whether in committed monogamy, personal pornography, or promiscuity, as against the way of God.  It’s defined clearly.  Theological debates that try to contradict this are philosophical aerobics at best…

So what are Christ followers to do in a culture that promotes the gay lifestyle, while the scriptures call it wrong?

We’re called to live in the tension…  Don’t forget the words and way of Jesus…

In Jesus’ greatest sermon, He taught us to never retaliate against someone who hates or wrongs us, and to love our enemies. (Matt. 6:38-48) Granted, we are to be honest and share our convictions. But it should never be done in an insensitive, uncaring way.  I’d have to ask the natural question of every Christian who makes comments that will impact the gay community, have they ever had a real, substantive friendship with someone who struggles in the inward battle of same sex attraction?  Thats my advice to Christians.  Are you insensitive toward the LGBT community?  Make some friends.  I’m serious.  Start tomorrow.

I understand that some cultures tend to be blunt, matter of fact, and conservative.  I understand that, and take that into consideration.  I have friends in cultures like that.  The core of many of my convictions would naturally be labelled conservative.  But I still think as followers of Jesus we are all challenged to be continual learners of what it means to love God and neighbor.  It doesn’t matter if we’re rural, suburban, urban, first, second or third world.  It doesn’t matter if we’re rich or poor, or influenced by rigid Christianity or loose morality.  We can all learn and follow Jesus.  Those of us who claim to follow Jesus need to continually evolve in our faith, and not stay in any place of insensitivity and ignorance that could potentially harm our influence.

Jesus instructed his disciples to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matt. 10:16) We shouldn’t give fodder to insensitive legalists who have a hatred for culture and are desperately fighting for a comfortable, pressure-free American Christianity that allows them to blast out their convictions with a proverbial bullhorn.  We need to dig deeper, past our judgments, and see clearly the people who are broken and hurting… introducing them to Jesus so that their lives are forever changed.  We should never throw gasoline on the fire of ungracious Christianity.

The verse after 1 Cor. 6:9-10 is important to consider.  After giving a list of sins in 1 Cor. 6:9-10 that exclude people from eternity, Paul states; “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  Paul meant that before all these “sinners” left their lifestyles behind completely, they were touched by God’s grace, their slate was wiped clean, and God viewed them as a brand new creation because of the gift of Jesus’ Christ’s death for them.

The way the apostle Paul said it in 1 Cor. 6:11 leads us to believe that he was friends with people who were “sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, gay, thieves, greedy people, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers”.  In fact, we know he was.  The New Testament church of the first century had all of these people, coming out of the pagan Roman culture, as some of their founding mothers and fathers, alongside people coming out of an extremely judgmental religious culture as well!  Why wouldn’t Paul have actually loved and cared for people in all of these lifestyles?  Read the gospels!  Jesus most certainly did!  And Paul was very serious, to the point of risking his life daily while following Jesus.

Paul was also writing these verses to people who had already become Christians.  All of the New Testament letters were written to Christians.  In effect, Paul was saying; “You used to live like this when I met you, and then you believed in Christ, so now your life has to change!”  He wasn’t pointing at culture and saying “stop all of these things or you’ll go to hell”, even though that is true…  He was far more concerned with people getting to know Jesus, and having their lives revolutionized by His love and truth, and that was what could bring about the change.

We need to be tactful, loving, sensitive, and helpful to those who don’t follow Jesus.  We can share the truth and still do this.

For a good example of a public figure describing their view of the gay lifestyle, check out Bill Hybels’ comments here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFhSfr13Y6o

Revival in Northern New England is Happening… Right Now!

Map of the New England States. Showing, State,...

Map of the New England States. Showing, State, County & Town Boundaries, Post Offices, Railroad Stations &c. (Photo credit: uconnlibrariesmagic)

Type in the phrase “Revival in New England” in google, and see what happens… You’ll find a number of articles, some with vague optimism that a quiet revival is happening in northern New England through small churches slowly growing and conferences being put together.  These articles are true to some extent.  There are many small, faithful churches in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont that are quietly and faithfully plodding along, making a gradual difference for the gospel.  There are more significant churches in the Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island area that are plowing on as well.

New England is a region of the United States that many describe as “spiritually stagnant”.  The Barna group did a fascinating statistical study on America’s Most and Least Bible minded cities.  Cities in the New England region made the top six least churched cities in America (if we include Albany NY, which on the border of Vermont) (http://cities.barna.org/americas-most-and-least-bible-minded-cities/). Anyone who has done ministry in New England knows that legalistic, as well as lenient Christian Church bodies make up the likely majority of what could be defined as “Protestant” worship centers in the region.  Catholicism is extremely popular in New England, though it took a hit with the scandals of 2002.  This sets up two broad ends of a spectrum that leaves the general culture wondering what Biblical Christianity really is.

I am proud to say that I am part of a church, or rather a “movement” that is far different from these perceived “norms” of New England religious culture.  I’m talking about Next Level Church, whose main campus is in Somersworth, New Hampshire, and has two other locations in Portland, Maine, and Epping, New Hampshire.  Soon more campuses will be added.

Next Level is accomplishing what I knew was possible in the least-churched region of the U.S.  It is reaching people from all walks of life- addicts, people who grew up agnostic or atheist, ex-religionists, and more.  It is seeing revival in a place where many have believed it wouldn’t happen.  It’s Somersworth location opened on November 3rd, 2013.  That weekend alone, twenty-seven people met Jesus.  The next weekend, seventeen people came to know Jesus.  The momentum continues to build as people with no church connection are meeting Jesus and entering into the messy, wild life of discipleship.

No doubt there will be a great amount of work cut out for the wily, courageous, extremely fun, hard-working, faithful, determined group of people that make up the staff of Next Level!  Many people need to enter into deep discipleship.  Many leaders need to be raised up.  But Next Level is only beginning to make it’s mark on the New England region.

The charge is being led by pastor Josh Gagnon, a driven, gospel-focused, hilarious and transparent preacher, teacher and visionary.  Next Level Church began as a dream in the heart of Lead Pastor Joshua Gagnon to start a church where people who were far from God would want to attend. He knew that God had called him to plant a church in New England, where less people go to church than anywhere else in our country. In spite of being told that churches couldn’t grow in New England, Joshua and his wife Jennifer believed that God wanted to transform the entire region through the love of Jesus. (http://nlc.tv/ourstory)

That vision that God put in the heart of pastor Josh has bled into the lives of a faithful staff of leaders- Executive pastor Daniel King, location pastors Roman Archer, Allen Robbins, Jud Blake, and Chris Boardman, NLCkids Director Sarah LaFrance, worship leaders Bruce Burger, and Annette Adams, and Care pastor Ed Wingren.

The worship at NLC is raw, unadulterated, sometimes reverent, sometimes raucous rock.  The message of the gospel is delivered in a way that connects with the world of 2013- using media, video, creativity, and preaching that is confessional, raw, open, and more centered on application to real life than high and lofty theological exposition.  Still, the theology of Next Level is centered in the scriptures.  Although their approach is anything but traditional, they believe in and maintain a conservative theological position. (http://nlc.tv/ourbeliefs)

Next Level is proof that a movement of young, fired up Jesus followers can present Jesus in a way to New England culture that is engaging and life-changing.  It is introducing Jesus to segments of New England culture that may have never darkened the door of a church before.  Along with many other great churches in the area, NLC is making an eternal impact in an unlikely place.

So the next time you have a conversation about what God is doing in New England, you can know that the gospel is on the rise here.  In the years to come, what was once the least churched region in the country will become more acquainted with the gospel.

(Below is a photo montage of the opening day of the Somersworth, NH facility on Nov. 3rd, 2013)

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Living Out of a Right View of God

"ὁ θεòς ἀγάπη ἐστίν" ó theòs agape e...

“ὁ θεòς ἀγάπη ἐστίν” ó theòs agape estín (Greek; trans. “God is love”) on a stele in Mount Nebo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

26 “With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
    with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
27 with the purified you deal purely,
    and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.
28 You save a humble people,
    but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down. (2 Sam. 22:26-28)

David was writing a song of victory when he wrote the words that are now known as “David’s song of deliverance” in 2 Samuel chapter 22, and modified as a public hymn in Psalm 18.  Verses 26 through 28 of 2 Samuel 22 are the pinnacle thesis of all that David is saying, and summarize much of what he learned through the trials of being chased down by his enemies.

The world of entertainment seeks to imitate and glorify heroes in the archetype of David.  Christopher Nolan‘s first in the famous series “Batman Begins”, depicts Bruce Wayne, before he became “Batman”, originally as a renegade outlaw who experiences redemption.  Bruce Wayne then goes on a conquest to find his true identity and destiny, which leads him to the league of Shadows (i.e. “Ninja Camp”).  Here he is trained by Ra’s Al Ghul, who later becomes his arch nemesis.  Bruce doesn’t know this yet, but when the Ninja camp burns down, Ra’s Al Ghul almost falls off a cliff, and Bruce saves his life.

This is an allusion to the kind of life David lived.  He was pursued by a mad King, Saul, who was convinced that it was God’s will to ruin and kill David.  Enraged by jealousy of David being destined to one day take his throne, Saul chased David through the countryside, forcing him into exile.  As the book of 1 Samuel describes, Saul threw spears at David numerous times, and David evaded death by the skin of his teeth.  At one point David had Saul trapped in a cave.  Saul was taking a leak and unaware that David and his men were hiding in the shadows waiting to ambush him, David gave Saul a free pass instead of killing him.  But David warned Saul that his wicked ways would come to an end at the hand of the Lord Himself.  David then shockingly displayed grace, forgiveness and pardon instead of the wrath and vengeance that Saul so deserved.  Mind you, Saul had tried to kill David numerous times, and David was letting him go.  David was risking his life to do the right thing, and dumping insane grace on Saul’s murderous, covetous heart.

With the merciful you show yourself merciful…

David understood the mercy of God on a deeper level through actually living it out in his life.  We, as followers of Jesus, can understand God’s ways in our skull.  But when the rubber meets the road, and we’re faced with an extremely challenging scenario- maybe a boss, or relative, or friend, or spouse or sibling, or stranger who betrays us or mistreats us, and we have the chance to get even…  What will we do then?  It’s only a God-ward perspective that can lead to the revolutionary response that David had to Saul.  God’s only Son Jesus summarized this when he said; “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt. 5:44-45)

Does this mean being a doormat?  Not at all.  When David spared Saul’s life, he warned him that God was going to deal with Saul’s transgressions.  David didn’t want to step in the way of God taking care of things and showing Himself to be who He is. David didn’t want to do the wrong thing in response to being wronged.  He understood God’s mercy.  God looks down at all of humanity and easily sees our imperfection…  I mean, He’s God!  So for Him, it’s not a hierarchy of who’s more messed up than who…  He sees wrong as it is, and we’re all loaded with corruption from our head to our toes.  But God desires all to get a shot at knowing Him.  He’ll even patiently, lovingly overlook some screw-ups in order to give people a chance to truly turn their hearts to him.  If we had it our way, we’d be reacting with immediate payback to every dumb thing that is done to us.  But God is not that way…  He is full of love and mercy.

with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
with the purified you deal purely,

David wasn’t a totally blameless man.  He was a polygamist.  He saw a naked girl on a roof, slept with her, and she became pregnant. He then had her husband slaughtered on the front lines of battle to hide the dirty deed.  But when David was called out on this by the prophet and sage Nathan, he admitted his wrong and accepted the consequences of being a bonehead.

And when we pursue to perfection and purity of God, we will be grieved at blowing it.  Hopefully none of us will ever do something as whacked as what David did with the pregnant girl and her husband.  But we all do stupid things, or think stupid thoughts daily that remind us we’re not God!  These are reminders to stay humble.

When we chase after God’s perfection, we begin to bask in His flawless ways.  We honor Him and love Him for all that He is, and we’re amazed by it.  We also progressively want more of His character infused into ours, and as we continually admit our shortcomings, He fills us with His love and His ways.

with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.

It’s funny that people in the midst of crookedness would see God as being “tortuous”. This is a common view of God- that He’s a wrathful, nasty old grandpa with a love for Baptists and a hatred for fornication.  It could be that crooked folks view God this way because His commands seem so impossible in the midst of confusion and bewilderment.  When one sees God as He is- loving, caring, fair, merciful, pure, holy, beautiful, etc., etc…, It’s easy to follow Him.  And one finds that when they do fulfill what God is asking, one also becomes more loving, caring, fair, merciful, pure, holy, and… well maybe not always beautiful, but you get what I mean!

There are crooked religious people of course.  I’m talking of the Christian sort here. They have a jacked up view of God.  Particularly sourpuss religionists view God as a nasty lawgiver who makes demands that no one can live up to.  The religionist outwardly appears to fulfill these demands, while inwardly they waste away in guilt, duplicity, frustration, and hidden misdeeds that go on unannounced.

Could it be that King Saul viewed God as tortuous?  Saul claimed to know and obey God.  At times he was seen even falling on his face before God, getting caught up in worshipping God, and even seemingly, though probably not genuinely, repenting of his wrongdoings.  Could it be that David was thinking of Saul when he wrote this? God only knows.

May we be ones who view God as He is…  loving, merciful and good.

Liz and Mary Cheney Could Get Along!!!

Vice President Dick Cheney is sworn in for a s...

Vice President Dick Cheney is sworn in for a second term in office. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When we look at the conflicts like the one between Liz and Mary Cheney over gay marriage, one thing is clear.  Some issues in our culture are hot buttons.  The rift between these two sisters proves to me that no matter how respectful people can be in “agreeing to disagree”, some offenses will happen no matter how tactfully the debate is communicated.

This article is not a rant about my opinions on Liz and Mary Cheney, or gay marriage for that matter.  For more information about Liz and Mary Cheney’s Facebook dispute, visit http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/video/cheney-sisters-liza-mary-feud-gay-marriage-facebook-20933916.  The Cheney debacle simply reminded me that as human beings, whether republican, democrat, religious, irreligious, rich, poor, educated, uneducated, blue collar or white collar, etc., etc., we are bound to disagree.  How is it that we can communicate disagreement to others, even when they hit our “hot buttons”, in a tactful, loving, thoughtful way?

I suppose I’m asking the question as well as trying to give the answer!  When I was in my early twenties, I was an incessant loudmouth.  Now, at the age of thirty-two, I still struggle with being too blunt.  Just ask my wife.  We get up in the morning at about 5 a.m. everyday because our daughter is seventeen months old.  I’m the worst before a cup of strong coffee at this time.  I walked by a couple of “baby-gate” fences this morning and they fell over.  Sarcastically, I asked Sarah, my wife, “so, are you always going to keep those things there or are you going to like… move them where they’re not totally in the way?”  I had to quickly apologize, as I often do!

But I also run across people day to day that say things I totally disagree with.  Of course, I want them to see what I see…  whether it’s wrong or right!  How do you deal with these scenarios?

If anything, I’ve learned to listen first… “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19)  When we give others time to express their opinions and views, no matter what they are, those people feel validated, cared for, and even understood.

On top of listening, body language is everything!  Even if someone were talking to us about eating pig poop while playing electric synthesizer and smoking crack, we should keep our body motions and responses calm and collected.  We shouldn’t express shock, even at things that are bizarre.  After all, God Himself is not shocked in any way by anything that we do, even the weirdest stuff. He’s seen it all, hasn’t He?

Also, it doesn’t mean we’re giving approval to destructive behavior when we don’t roll our eyes, or flinch, or get wide-eyed at the wild rantings of madmen!  It just means that we’re doing our best, by faith, “to Judge not, that we will not be judged.” (Matt. 7:1) After all, getting someone to feel guilty and force behavior modification on them in our presence will not help them to change.  Instead, it will make them feel condemned, and they’ll probably turn off anything good we have to say.  Worst of all, they’ll think we’re jerks for no good reason at all, and we’ll miss out on being able to be-friend them, serve, and honor them.  I know we don’t want to be friends with everyone we encounter!  But, “If possible, so far as it depends on us, we should live peaceably with all.” (Rom. 12:18)

Amidst listening well, and not having poor body language, we need to respond.  I’d recommend that we first try to find things we have in common with others…  every day things like sports, music, news, weather, interests, personality similarities, etc.  We should take the time in every conversation to affirm things in others, be warm and inviting, laugh when appropriate, and build and encourage people. This wins us a voice with others.

After all of this, we may have a moment to share something with someone that contains truth, or may even challenge what they’re saying.  This is important.  We can’t be fakers and patronizers, or we’ll go on into a life of bitterness.  We also can’t just open our mouth and spew out verbal vomit, for “no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:8) The Holy Spirit can tame our tongue, but if we say everything we think, we’re bound to burn some bridges and scar some hearts.

So we should say everything in a tone of understanding.  If we don’t understand where someone is coming from in their opinions, or we’re uneducated about their perspective, we should admit it.  If we have a strong conviction that we want to communicate which challenges the other person, we should say it in a way that we’re personally relating to where they’re at.  Recently, I was talking with someone who embraced a view that all religions lead to the same god.  I know that Jesus was exclusive in His claims.  However, I once believed that all religions lead to the same god.  I stepped back into the past when I used to believe that, and talked about how I felt at the time, and then shared the initial thing that made me start to consider Christianity alone.  The guy I was talking to received this well, and we had plenty of laughs about other less serious topics as well.  But I said it in a way, God help me, that was simply sharing a piece of my story.

There are obviously other ways to communicate things graciously, but these have been some pointers that have helped me on the journey from being a total loudmouth to actually being tactful!

God Can Save Homer Simpson and Ned Flanders

"It's always the person you least expect!...

“It’s always the person you least expect!” (Photo credit: Vaguely Artistic)

I’m a huge fan of cop/crime TV shows like Law and Order, Bones, Ironside and Covert Affairs.  All these shows have heroes who do amazing, brave things to save lives and uphold justice.  But usually each character also has personal issues- they’ve got to occasionally get drunk, or sleep with someone, or flip out and beat someone up for no reason.  That’s human nature of course.  But where’s the hero who does brave things, saves lives, upholds justice, has huge compassion for hurting people, and also lives a pure life?

Paul wrote to the Romans about the history of self-liberation through numbing yourself that led to the culture he lived in- Rome.  And the Romans were wild, but they were pretty much as wild as any culture that gets power.  There is an emptiness that comes from liberating ourselves through numbing ourselves…  It’s a fact.  It’s not just that God is an angry judge waiting to punish our failures.  It’s also that the natural world is set up in such a way that self-destructive or other-destructive behavior has consequences.  In Romans 1, Paul is telling the history of a word that rubs us the wrong way- “sin”.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice.  They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:18-25;29-32)

Before I was a follower of Jesus- I was a drug addict, and I used to feel that I had to sin somehow before I went to bed everyday, just to get to sleep.  So I can relate to this passage, because I lived it.  The reason why I was hooked on sin is because inside my soul was basically empty, and I had to keep myself numb on a daily basis because I didn’t want to come face to face with myself… I was trying to get free through drugs, and sometimes other stuff.

We live in a culture that says we’re really free when we’re having fun- when we’re high, when we have a bunch of money and stuff, when we’re drunk, and when we’re doing wild sexual stuff.

We’re basically trying to be God when we do that, because when we let those things run our lives, we’re acting as if we can escape the consequences of them.  We know better, because we see how these behaviors affect others, but we tend to do them anyways because they feel good for the moment.  For a second they may make us numb to reality.  But when we’re caught up in the wrong emphases, and make the wrong things “little gods”, we end up destroying things that matter- like relationships, personal responsibilities, and choices that enrich and fulfill our lives.

I hope now you’re saying; “Yeah Ben, what about religious jerks though?”  Paul covers that too so it’s time to flip to the other side of the problem, which is actually no different than “sin proper”, because religious pride is just as bad as heroin addiction and prostitution in the eyes of a perfect, loving God.

When we look on TV, movies and the internet for a “Christian”, what we usually find is a self-righteous, judgmental, arrogant goodie-two shoes that is socially awkward, unfriendly and ignorant.  I’m thirty-two years old, so I can’t help but think of the SimpsonsNed Flanders.  Ned was the typical “evangelical” in the eyes of pop culture.  He was judgmental, plastic, happy-go lucky, clean-cut, seemed to have it all together, and was constantly trying to convert the working class hero Homer Simpson.  It’s important to say that Ned’s attempts to convert Homer were always obnoxious and aimed at behavior-modification, and not pointing lovingly and humbly to a God of amazing love, truth and grace.

In the Bible, Paul addressed people like this too- those who make up the mainstream of “Christians” in America.  These were people that were trying to liberate themselves by being self-righteous and moralistic.  I think it’s almost helpful to replace the word “Jew” here with “religious person”, because the Jews of the time were the most prone to being religious and moralistic.  It’s also helpful to replace the word “Gentile” with “irreligious persons”, because they were those outside the normal boundaries of God’s kids in the first century.

17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Rom. 2:17-24)

I’m guilty of this attitude that Paul speaks of all the time as a Christian in my heart.  But I know better now not to open my mouth and spout out the crap that is in my heart before I ask for God’s help to weed out the garbage in there.

Remember, the term “Christian” wasn’t really a normal part of religious talk in the first century- so Paul’s really just talking to religious people- What Paul was basically saying is that if we are a religious person, we need to live up to all the standards that we hold others to.  Here’s what we’ll find if we do that- we’ll realize how messed up and in need of help we are, and that we’re really no better than anyone, no matter how much “righteousness” we’ve attained.

And here’s another fact- if you’ve overcome some kind of bad behavior in your life for real, the last thing you’ll do is be condemning to someone who’s struggling with it.  You’ll want to help them out of it, right?

So I’ve got to ask myself, am I sitting under all the stuff I preach about?

This is also a way to act like I’m God- as if I know better than Him.  As if I’ve got it so together in my Christianity that I can tell others how messed up they are, but never have to look in the mirror!

So both numbing ourselves to get free and being self-righteous and religious to get free are intentionally or maybe unknowingly taking the place of God in trying to save ourselves…

Paul talks about this too by quoting the Old Testament:

We have charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,

10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Rom. 3:9b-18)

So whether you’re a crazy party-addict, greedy businessman, or self-righteous religious person- you’re doomed.  Ok?  See ya later!

Now it’d be crazy if I just left it at that, wouldn’t it?  Churches are all to often guilty of that.  Churches sometimes send a message of total condemnation and rule-keeping, with no hope for grace, forgiveness and love.  The Bible doesn’t do that, and neither should we who call ourselves its’ adherents.

Here’s what Paul said way back in Romans 1 before he even started his rant:

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Rom. 1:16-17)

The gospel says that Jesus saved us…

In the Greek, the phrase “righteousness of God” can actually also mean “righteousness from God”.  It’s a double meaning.  It’s easy to read these words and think that Paul is saying that the gospel is pointing to the righteousness of God.  In other words, it shows human beings how supremely screwed up they are, and shows how God is perfect, and if we live by faith, we’ll gruelingly learn to live perfectly too, to no complete satisfaction in this life, but we’ll at least skim the edge…

All of this is true.  The gospel of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection does surely reveal how messed up we are, and points us in relationship to a holy, perfect God who demands total and complete obedience and allegiance to Him from His followers.

But we don’t accomplish this obedience in one fell swoop.  It’s not possible.  We fail constantly every minute, day, week, hour, month and year of our lives.

When we understand the secondary meaning “righteousness of God” also being “righteousness from God”, it changes everything.

Christ was a gift.  God allowed Him to be sacrificed for us so that His perfection and flawless obedience to the Father, followed by an unjust, excruciating punishment of death, would take the place of our imperfect, flawed obedience to the Father, and our just punishment of death.  When God looks down at the Christ-follower, He sees Jesus instead of that person.  Me, Ben White, full of all my ridiculous, bizarre, ungodly thoughts…  God sees Jesus’ perfection instead of my garbage.  That is an insane gift friends.  Do you really understand it?  Do you really know it?

So for those of us entrapped in irreligion and self-destruction, as well as those of us sucked into the vortex of self-righteous religion and pious pride- the gift of possible freedom is the same:  Rest in what Christ has done, and live out of that peace and assurance.

God’s Layout For Married People

Wedding

Wedding (Photo credit: 蓝上弦)

So I want to charge all married people to remember and live by these words that the apostle Paul wrote, and whenever you’re going through struggles, meditate on Ephesians 5:21-33:

Let’s look at verses 21 through 24 first…

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” (Eph. 5:21-24)

Now let’s stop here for a second.  A lot of people think that these verses mean that Paul was saying wives should be doormats and cook and clean and do laundry and be at their husband’s beck and call.  You ready for that ladies?  Well good news, that’s not it!  To submit means simply to trust, honor and respect someone- and the rest of life’s duties you can figure out together.  It may sound like a swearword in our culture, mostly because of dudes that may even call themselves Christians and abuse this- expecting their wives to be pretty little perfect slaves for their every need, or guys who work all day and then sit on their butts and order their wives around when they get home.  But it’s not an ugly thing, biblical submission is a beautiful thing.  God created men and women equally, but they each have different roles to fulfill in marriage, and when you both fulfill those roles, things will be flowing and your life together will be full of joy and meaning!

On the flip side, some ladies have read these verses and reacted strongly against them.  A feminist in 1969 was quoted to say; “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle .”  Unfortunately this spirit of reactionary hate has bled into the mindset of our culture, to the point where women (and some men) view women as superior, and not equal, to men.  Interestingly enough, marijuana usage became commonplace in the late sixties.  “Marijuana reduces the level of testosterone in men; however, it increases the amount of testosterone in women.” (http://www.uhs.uga.edu/aod/marijuana.html)  I don’t find this to be a strange coincidence!

The sixties mentality of feminine superiority over males was also a reaction to the chauvinism of the 1950’s as typically portrayed in commercials such as this 1957 ad for Pepsi:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=113mRmchumY  There’s nothing awful about the ad, but it does stereotype women in ways that don’t personify femininity.  This whole mentality, that was portrayed well in movies like “Stepford Wives” and more deeply disturbing in “Revolutionary Road”, was reacted against strongly with some of the radical feminism, bra-burning, and practically testosterone infused womanhood of many in the boomer generation.

The scriptures, when interpreted correctly, offer a rational, balanced view of femininity and masculinity.  Women and men are equal (Gal. 3:28-29), but have different strengths and weaknesses, as well as roles that they will thrive in if fulfilled well.  This is impossible to believe unless one puts trust in God and believes that He set things up with our best in mind.  When put into practice, these things really work!  I can attest to it, because I’ve had both feminist and chauvinist leanings in times of error, as both a non-Christian and a follower of Jesus, and neither mentalities functioned well in reality, or brought peace and harmony into my relationships.

Ladies- men need Ephesians 5:21-24 from you to feel fulfilled as men of the Lord, and you’ll fill them with joy and love for you if you’ll respect, honor, and trust them to point you to Jesus in everything.  Dudes are gonna blow it and you’re going to have to forgive them!  What scripture is actually asking you to do is to love your men and honor them despite their mistakes.

Wives should be bragging about all of their man’s good qualities to people that they know!  Get behind him, support him.  Encourage him, believe in him.  Marriage and life brings people tough moments, and guys need their wives to make them feel strong, and to know without a doubt that their trust and support is always there.  This helps guys to flourish, and this is why God’s Word says that women need to submit to their husbands.  It won’t come natural!  It doesn’t to anybody!  Maybe some a little more than others, but it’s against human nature!  God has it there because it’s the way that wives were meant to love husbands.  It’s an act of faithfulness- like it is to do what Jesus is asking you to do.  We don’t always feel like doing everything God asks either, but when we do, it brings peace and blessing and joy.  And that’s also why Paul compares this submission to the church submitting to Christ.  Now, no man is Jesus, but as with most things of God, we’re being challenged to the highest level of respect and devotion, which is totally impossible of course.  We’ll mess up all the time!  But Christ will give us strength to do even what seems impossible!

Now men- check out all these extra verses for you!

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.  However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” (Eph. 5:25-33)

Now too many in our culture have heard those verses about wives “submitting” to their husbands, but have never heard what the Bible says that husbands are supposed to do!  It’s a much bigger deal, and a much higher responsibility.  I think God just knows that men are so ego-ed out that they really need to be reminded to be loving, self-sacrificing, gentle and humble!  Believe me, I’m the first to admit it!

Speaking of ego, some Christian guys misinterpret these verses.  They think that they’re the ones that are going to make their wives holy and blameless by their sacrificial love.  But notice what Paul says at the end; “This is a profound mystery- but I am talking about Christ and the church”…  It’s a lot like the passage to women- the word of God is setting up the highest standard possible.  Husbands should strive to imitate Christ and His sacrifice for the church in their relationship to their wives.  And guess what?  We’re going to blow it all the time, because we’re not Jesus!  There is no way that we could ever do what Christ did for the church- He was with God from the beginning of time in heaven, then came down to the earth in human form, lived a perfect life, and then was willingly murdered so that He could take the punishment for all the sins of humankind, and so that instead of having that punishment, we get to have the love from God that He has for Him!  But the more we admit that we’re not able to be like Christ, the more that Christ will be our strength to be the husbands we’re called to be.

See here’s the way of Christ men- for our wives to be able to submit to our spiritual leadership with joy, we’re going to have to give up our rights for them!  This will draw them closer to Jesus!  We’re to serve our wives with all our heart and lift them up.  We’re to make them the most important thing in our lives besides Jesus Himself!  We’re to always make them more important than friends, passions, hobbies, our jobs, and yes, I know it’s tough, but even our kids (who come in at a very close third place behind our wives second and God first!).

We’re to strive always to provide for our wives spiritually, emotionally, and financially.  We’re to stay strong and pour ourselves into the Word!  We’re to make our wives our number one ministry- the number one person that we are serving and loving, even more than kids if we have or will eventually have them.  We’re to pray with our wives, serve them, love them, and ask them what they want to do on Friday and Saturday nights!  We’re to value their opinions and always consider them!  We’re to give them the best of what we have!  We’re to put them first in everything.  I’m not talking about being miserable and not doing anything that we love guys, I’m talking about being considerate of our wife’s needs, her dreams, and her desires, as well as gently leading by example and word.  We need to do all we can to put our wife’s needs before ours!  They’ll be free to follow Jesus if we love them recklessly!  Care for them!  We need to be our wife’s shoulder to cry on!  We have to always be there to listen to her.  And yes- just like Jesus cares for His kids- the church- so we should care for our wives.  We must strive for it!  We’ll miss it all the time, take it from me!  I’m no expert at this!  But if we always keep our eyes on Christ and His love and sacrifice, and we’ll continue to grow!

For all of us married folks- we need great people in our lives that we can be open and transparent with.  These are people who will challenge us to walk with Jesus.  They’re people who won’t judge us or condemn us for the things we’re struggling with!  Tough times happen in marriage, and when we lean on others who love Jesus for strength, we are encouraged to keep moving forward with mercy and grace.  We need to get a great community of friends like this around us and keep em’ close!

Parents must be reminded what verse 31 says; “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  Out of respect for married couples they have to understand that their kids are becoming one flesh- which in one sense means that they’re a new family.  Not that parents won’t be there for their tots, but they’re going to have to let them make a few mistakes!

I know this is hard when you love your kids, but you need to respect them as adults now, trusting that the Lord will always continue to work in their lives and put people in their midst to speak truth in love to them!  Believe me, I’ve got a cute little baby daughter named Charlotte and can’t IMAGINE what this day is going to feel like when she gets married!  In so many senses you’ll always be their parents, but in so many other senses you’re going to be their friends and supporters now.  You have to let them live their lives out on their own, and you need to do the thing that’s going to seem impossible without faith and Christ’s help.  Let them go- and don’t try and control their lives in any way!  Just support them and be there for them.  Don’t try and get in the middle of their problems and have a sermon for every thing that they do wrong, but by the grace of Christ, love them and support them.  You guys will grow closer and closer as a family if you all play the right role!

Ultimately for all of us, both married and single, it’s good to be truthful with each other, and it’s ok to be angry.  But it’s not good to sin in anger, and it’s not good to say anything at all that doesn’t build another person up, and shower them with God’s grace.  Ultimately, we need to let go of bitterness, wrath, anger and slander, and be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving each other as God in Christ forgave us.

When we live, operate, breathe and walk in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ- that He laid down His life and shed His blood as a free gift after living a perfect life, and took the punishment for us when it would have been fitting for us to bear, we will create a LEGACY of the gospel that will be handed down to our children and their children’s children.

How Should Christians React to Miley Cyrus’ 2013 VMA Performance and “Wrecking Ball” Music Video?

Miley Cyrus

I recently caught wind of the controversial performance that Hannah Montana, aka Miley Cyrus, did at the 2013 MTV VMA’s, as well as her new music video “Wrecking Ball”.  From what I heard described, I honestly thought the VMA performances were going to be some kind of S & M display of craziness.  My wife and I watched the performance, and I wasn’t really surprised at all by it.  As for the video, “Wrecking Ball”, in perfect honesty, I watched it for a minute and then turned it off, because I only want to think about my wife in any way like that, and intentionally guard myself from anything that would deter me.  But one conscientious observation I made of the video was the obvious sadness of the tune.  I tried to imagine if my daughter, Charlotte (now 14 months old- we love the little peanut!), were the star of the video.  I realized it would shake me to the core if that were the case.   No doubt, record sales and popularity will soar for Miley in the days to come.

Many Christians seem to be flabbergasted by their darling little Hannah Montana, who “In a 2007 interview, said that her faith is “the main thing” in her life, and (sounding like her father) she told USA Today that God wants her to be a “light, a testimony” in Hollywood (“Miley Cyrus Fulfills Her Destiny,” USA Today, January 1, 2007). (http://suite101.com/article/is-miley-cyrus-a-christian-a107568)

But honestly, isn’t Christianity a cultural phenomenon in America?  Being a “Christian” in some areas of the world can get someone socially ostracized, or potentially killed or imprisoned.  But in America, according to a recent gallup poll, seventy-seven percent of people identify themselves as “Christian”.  (http://www.gallup.com/poll/159548/identify-christian.aspx)  This includes people who would identify themselves as Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Protestants and Catholics, as well as Evangelicals, etc…

So I would first say to Christians that it shouldn’t be surprising at all when someone claims they’re a “Christian”, and then does things that seem contrary, or hypocritical, to that statement of faith.  After all, probably a majority of people that attend “Bible-believing” churches, especially in overly Christianized areas of the U.S., still say they believe that Jesus died for them, and yet don’t really act like it.  The difference between them and Miley Cyrus is that they’re not famous, and have a smaller sphere of influence.

It’s not appropriate, or biblical for Christians to make heavy moral judgments on Miley Cyrus, and tweet or Facebook about it.  I would point them to the fact that Jesus didn’t treat a prostitute, who was to receive death by stoning according to Mosaic law in the time of Jesus and before, with disdain and condemning hatred.  Rather, He offered her compassion coupled with forgiveness and an offer for repentance (and only Jesus can offer repentance!). (John 8:1-11)  What Miley Cyrus has done was no way even near to prostitution.  Rather, it was more likely a publicity stunt to boost record sales and public image.  Pop artists do things like she did all the time, and no one bats an eye, because it’s not someone who was formerly Hannah Montana.

I’m sure plenty of Christian religious folks will still label Miley a prostitute.  I would respond by saying that what the prostitute did in John 8 was definitely prostitution- i.e.- selling your body sexually for income, and any form of adultery was punishable by death in the Mosaic law (Lev. 20:10-21).  But grace and mercy trumped the law in God’s eyes, and Jesus reached out a hand of love and forgiveness to her.  Christians sadly desire to verbally “stone” Miley Cyrus, and speak hateful words about her.  They are proving that they would not respond with love and grace to a prostitute.  In this they are not responding like Jesus, whom they claim to worship as Savior and Lord.  And I will say it again, what Miley did was not prostitution.  It was certainly risque.  It certainly was sexually explicit.  But it was not prostitution.  I am reminded here of the story of one of my current Christian heroes, Annie Lobert, who was in fact a former prostitute, and now runs a powerful ministry to the Vegas Strip called “Hookers for Jesus”.  You can watch her story here, and if you have a tender soul, be prepared to weep and praise God because of her:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMyrkXj1kF8.  I really only wish that more believers in Christ had love for Jesus and people like Annie does.  She inspires me to be more faithful!

On the flip side, it’s not good for Christians to display how “spiritual” they are in reaction to the situation.  “We should pray for her…”  “I’m just really disappointed”.  “I hope that she knows that God loves her”.  I know many of you will be offended at this, but let me ask you this question.  Think of a close friend of yours that claims they are a “Christian”, or maybe don’t even say they are, but you know they’re doing things that aren’t right…  Would you put out a tweet about them asking everyone to “pray for them”?  If you wouldn’t do that about someone you know, because you’d want to lovingly protect their integrity, then what gives you the right to do it about someone you don’t know at all?  Let’s face it, Miley will likely find it offensive that a plethora of Christians are tweeting about how we ought to “pray for her”.  My advice is, if you’re going to pray for her, follow Jesus’ advice about it; “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)

My point is, as followers of Jesus, we should want whatever is good for Miley Cyrus.  We shouldn’t want anything to deter her from the love, beauty and purity of Jesus.  So there is a time to keep quiet and not act all high and holy, or deeply pious with a plastic facade of being “loving”.  We should leave it up to Miley’s friends that truly love and follow Jesus to reflect Jesus to her.  If we can’t be in her life to be a shoulder to cry on, or someone to take her out to coffee and listen to her, then we have absolutely no right at all to speak into her life.  And I think that also goes for pretty much everyone else.  Let’s focus on loving, serving, being an example to, and telling the truth about Jesus to those that we find ourselves in contact with in our day to day lives.

Practical Tips For Worship Leaders

The Lonely Church

The Lonely Church (Photo credit: Stuck in Customs)

 

As worship leaders, our priorities are in this order:

  • To give God glory (Ps. 106:47; “Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.”)
  • To draw the congregation into God’s glorious presence (Ps. 42:4; “These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.”)
  • And to express our creativity and style passionately through excellence in musicianship (Ps. 33:3; Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.”)

When you think about the congregational melody of a song you want to do, think of the tone-deaf person who can’t sing, and doesn’t like to sing!  Can they sing it and learn it?  If not, don’t do it.  If you remember anything from this little essay, remember this- Always consider the least common denominatorThink of the person who wandered in and has never been to a church.  Think of the outcast in the corner that feels marginalized by Christians.  Think of the stubborn religious person who doesn’t want to express any emotions to God.  If you plan your worship set and approach worship leadership with people like this in mind, you will likely reach everyone else also.  This doesn’t mean focusing only on the least common denominator, this means including the least common denominator as priority, and not a throw away, in your worship planning.  A good school-teacher doesn’t just cater to the smart people in the class, no!  A good teacher captivates the failing student who is a class clown, and inspires them to learn and earn a good grade.  So it is with worship leaders.  Inspire the least of them, and you will more likely reach the rest of them.

Yet when you’re up there on a Sunday morning, I’d recommend focusing on the people in the congregation that are the most excited to be there!  They will minister to you while you’re up front.  Look for the person/people who is/are really engaged in worship with their eyes closed, belting it out.  Or maybe the person that has their hands raised or is doing a little dancing.  This focus encourages a worship leader to be excited to be there.  If you look at the person that is sitting down asleep, or the one who is standing up with their arms crossed and a grimace on their face, then you’ll get discouraged and potentially feel that God is not using you, or you’ll get frustrated and potentially say something to the whole congregation that is offensive.  It may be in an effort to challenge people towards greater worship passion, but remember, it’s probably the least common denominator!

When putting together a set of music, think of the variety.  Would a 10 year old boy be engaged in any part of this?  Would a 93 year old lady enjoy any part of this?  Would a 53 year old ex rock n’ roller be engaged by any of this?  Blended worship is a shotgun approach to congregational worship.  If anyone sticks to any one preference too much, they’ll alienate certain people in the congregation.  For example- if you do all stuff that young people like, then older people will feel excluded.  But it you do stuff that all older people will know, young people or people who grew up outside of the church will be excluded.

I would add that it’s wise, maybe even imperative, to only do one new song a week, and then rotate that song (unless it totally flops) for at least two more weeks after, maybe even three or four depending on how well it’s received.  After you intro a new song, it then becomes part of the repertoire, and can be pulled out again at a later time if desired.  All the other songs done on a Sunday besides a new one should be a part of a repertoire that you’ve developed.  It’s not wise to assume that “everyone will know this one!” Remember the least common denominator!  What about people who have never heard it?  What about people who are Christians but don’t listen to any Christian music?  You’ll never engage the majority of the congregation until you learn to patiently teach them songs slowly but surely.  The great thing about a powerful worship song is that when more people are singing it, there is more power in it as an offering to God.  When shy singers sense that everyone around them is lifting up a joyful noise, they may be more inspired to belt out some notes as well!

With planning of every service, think of these things;

  • Will a new person that’s never been to a “church service” be engaged in this set of music?
  • Will a person that is totally uncomfortable singing in a worship service be compelled to sing?  Even just a little bit??
  • Will a new believer who doesn’t know music well, especially Christian worship music, be engaged in this and inspired to sing?
  • Will people who have been in the church since the 1950’s feel that they are included in this song selection?
  • Are people spectators at a performance, or are they being led into the presence of God?
  • Is the set too boring and low tempo?  Or I’m sorry…  “reverent”?
  • Is the set nothing but up-tempo with the potential to make everyone break into a sweat?  Or I’m sorry…  “passionate”?
  • Are the melodies too repetitive?
  • Are melodies too complicated to follow?
  • Are any of the songs corny and irrelevant?  Obviously some hymns and oldies are worth preserving and redoing, but some are ok to throw in the trash. J
  • Are all the arrangements of the songs based on the same formula?  (V, Ch, V, Ch, Bridge, quiet chorus, loud chorus, tag, etc…)  Keep things interesting and it will keep you on your toes as well.  It’s ok to challenge yourself!

Please remember always- leading congregational worship isn’t a chance for people to come and listen to your sweet music skills.  It isn’t a chance for people to think that you’re deeply spiritual as their worship leader.  It isn’t a chance for people to hear your favorite worship songs and how awesome you do at leading them.  It’s about them encountering God.  The job of the worship leader is to make that as easy as possible.  Worship is easy melodies to sing that are rich with biblical, theological meaning.  Worship is low distraction presentations of music that point to the awe and wonder of our King.  Worship is not boring, but highly engaging and excellently done with creativity, variety, tact, and taste.

Live in all of these tensions constantly as leaders of worship!  It’s definitely a process of learning.  That may be the best thing about it!  You never arrive, and can only constantly be refined and made to be more effective!