Nice vs. Useful

I began reading “Deep & Wide” by Andy Stanley this morning. What I’ve read so far has been really good. In the opening section of the book, Stanley tells the story of how his church, North Point Community Church came to exist. I would highly recommend reading the story, but make sure you find an account told by him or his father, Charles Stanley. Without going into the detail, I’ll just tell you that it was messy. The circumstances that lead up to the formation of what would become North Point was not a nice, fun story. As I was thinking about what I read, a passage came to mind, I’m going to paraphrase, but I would encourage you to read Psalm 40:1-3.

“I waited on God, on His timing. He pulled me out of hopelessness, out of the muck and showed me the way, giving me a firm path. He gave me direction and I worshipped Him. Many saw what God did and put their trust in him.” Psalm 40:1-3 (My own paraphrase).

I love this passage because it reminds us that God works through some of the most difficult, painful, and filthy circumstances. God’s grace and power are most apparent when things are the messiest. This morning in my devotional I read a few chapters out of the first part of Acts, the formation of the early church was not “pretty.” Men died. People were driven out of their homes and rejected by their community. And yet, despite the persecution, they persevered. Acts 5:13 says, “None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem.” The people were afraid to join them, some of the people even participated in persecuting them, but still they respected the church. They were drawn to the church, even though they were too afraid to join, they WANTED to be a part of the church.

Stanley points out in his introduction that when people say “they, ‘felt the Spirit moving,'” what they typically mean is that attendance was good, or the music was good (to their taste), or the sermon connected with them. While having good attendance, or good worship, or a good sermon, or all 3 is not a bad thing, it is not a good sign when that is what we consider “the Spirit moving.” When the Spirit moves in the New Testament, or the Old Testament for that matter, one of two things happens (or both): (1) people’s heart and minds are changed, (2) God brings people to know him.

I couldn’t get the question out of my mind this morning, do we focus on being a “nice” church or do we allow God to use the mess? While I don’t think God wants churches to go through the things Stanley describes his churches going through, I do think that a lot times we are so focused on preference and creating a “nice” worship service that we don’t give God the opportunity to pull us out of the chaos and create something that He can use to transform our community.

I picked this book, “Deep & Wide” because of its subtitle, “Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend.” I think a lot of times we (myself included) spend too much time asking question and working to create churches that reach the churched. What does a church look like that the unchurched in our community WANT to go to? God doesn’t call us to be pretty, but he does call us to be useful. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)

We Should Remember – A Song for Good Friday

I’ll keep this post super short. Easter is a reminder, a celebration of the day Jesus Awoke from the grave. This is what distinguishes Him, He died for us and conquered death. While Sunday is the celebration of the resurrection, today is the remembrance of His death. Listen to this song, reflect on the words. I would encourage you to read the lyrics as you listen. The link for the YouTube video is listed below and the lyrics are pasted in below.

Blessed Redeemer – Casting Crowns

Up Calvary’s mountain one dreadful morn
Walked Christ my Savior, weary and worn
Facing for sinners, death on the cross
That He might save them from endless loss

Blessed Redeemer, precious Redeemer
Seems now I see Him on Calvary’s tree
Wounded and bleeding, for sinners pleading
Blind and unheeding, dying for me

“Father, forgive them,” my Savior prayed
Even while His lifeblood flowed fast away
Praying for sinners while in such woe
No one but Jesus ever loved so

Blessed Redeemer, precious Redeemer
Seems now I see Him on Calvary’s tree
Wounded and bleeding, for sinners pleading
Blind and unheeding, dying for me
Dying for me

Blessed Redeemer, precious Redeemer
Seems now I see Him on Calvary’s tree
Wounded and bleeding, for sinners pleading
Blind and unheeding, dying for me

Oh, how I love Him, Savior and Friend
How can my praises ever find end?
Through years unnumbered on Heaven’s shore
My songs shall praise Him forevermore

Blessed Redeemer, precious Redeemer
Seems now I see Him on Calvary’s tree
Wounded and bleeding, for sinners pleading
Blind and unheeding, dying for me

Blessed Redeemer, precious Redeemer
Seems now I see Him on Calvary’s tree
Wounded and bleeding, for sinners pleading
Blind and unheeding, dying for me

Blessed Redeemer, precious Redeemer
Seems now I see Him
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Just Another Sunday Morning

Interesting fact…did you know that the first White House Easter Egg Roll was held at the White House today in 1877? In 1877, April 2 was the Monday before Easter, kicking off Holy Week. There are all sorts of theories on where the traditions of Eggs and Bunnies come from as it relates to Easter, what we do know is that the Easter Hare (Bunnie) like Santa has been used to connect the celebration to Children for a very long time. The first explicit reference to the tradition was made in Germany in 1682, but it is very likely that this tradition was at least several hundred years old at the time. We may not know exactly how the tradition came to exist, but we do know that its purpose, like the purpose of Lent and Holy Week, was to prepare people for Easter.

Also like Santa Clause, the tradition has largely been lost by commercialization. It has become so secular as to have very little religious imagery left. But the tradition itself isn’t important. What matters is the preparation for Easter. Before I ask you the question, I’ll admit that so far this year I have not done enough to get my heart and mind ready for Easter. But let me ask, what have you done to prepare yourself for Easter? What have you done to prepare your family for Easter? If we are not careful, Easter is just another Sunday. Maybe we get a little more dressed up, maybe we put on some new dress clothes, maybe we spend time with family, but what is really different? Do we…do I…do you…really consider the cross of Christ and His resurrection any more than any other Sunday?

I love the song “Be Thou My Vision.” It is one of my favorites. As I was sitting in my office this morning, Ascend the Hill’s version of this song began to play and I took the time to look up the song. The words to the song date back to the 6th Century, somewhere between 550 and 598, to Saint Dallán Forgaill, an Irish Saint. I took the time to read a translation of the original Irish poem and like the song, the main theme of the song is absolute dependence and love for God. Listen to some of the lines from the original poem.

Be thou every good to my body and soul. | Be thou my kingdom in heaven and on earth.

Be thou solely chief love of my heart. | Let there be none other, O high King of Heaven.

Till I am able to pass into thy hands | My treasure, my beloved through the greatness of thy love.

Be thou alone my noble and wondrous estate. | I seek not men nor lifeless wealth.

Let me put that in my own words, in the form of a prayer: “God, you are everything good in my life, you are all I need now and forever. You are the love of my life, there is no other, King of Heaven. Until I die and see you face to face, you are my treasure and my great love through the power of your love for me. You alone give my life value, I will not put any relationships or worldly treasure ahead of you.”

Please take time over the next few days…everyday over the next few day and prepare your heart for Easter. If you have kids, take time to help them understand what Easter is all about. Otherwise, it’s just another Sunday morning.

New Music – April Edition

Music is an important part of who I am and a large part of how I express my faith and love for God. I spend a lot of time listening to music, playing, and singing. iTunes tracks how many times you play individual songs, I have one song, “Ruin Me,” by Jeff Johnson that has been played over 2400 times in the last 4 years (when I bought the song). Songs help me express myself before an omnibenevolent (all good), omnipotent (all powerful), omnipresent (everywhere), omniscient (all knowing) God who loves me anyways.

A couple times a month, I dive in to iTunes and youtube to find new music. Sometimes I discover songs and artists that are new, sometimes I find artists and songs that are new to me but have been on the scene for a while, and sometimes I am reminded of songs that I once love but hadn’t listened to in a while. I thought I would share some of what I’m listening to with those of you who are interested.

Before I share though, understand that buying whole CDs in rare for me, I usually buy a couple of songs that I like off of a CD and leave it at that. Each year I probably purchase 5-10 whole CDs. Maybe that sounds like a lot, but I have 2,404 songs in iTunes, so you have to understand that 5-10 CDs (40-100 songs) is really not that much. So when I tell you I’ve bought 5 whole CDs in the last month, you have to understand that is unusual for me. Of the CDs I bough this month 4 are Christian music: Third Day‘s “Lead Us Back: Songs of Worship,” Passion’s “Passion: Even So Come,” Matt Maher‘s “Saints and Sinners,” and Lauren Daigle‘s “How Can It Be.” The one non-Christian CD I bought this month was The Piano Guy‘s self titled CD, “The Piano Guy’s.”

Those CDs represent about half the track I bought last month, it was a heavy month even for me. Here are a couple of song  that I purchased independently last month that I’ve really enjoyed: Songs are listed Song Title” | Artists | Album Name | Genre

  1. “My Heart is Yours” | Kristian Stanfill | Passion: Take It All | Christian
  2. “Touch the Sky” | Hillsong | Empires | Christian
  3. “This I Believe” | NewSong | Faithful | Christian
  4. “Let Them See You” | JJ Weeks Band | All Over the World | Christian
  5. “Baby I’m Right” | Darius Rucker | Southern Style | Country
  6. “Believe” | Mumford & Sons | Wilder Mind | Alternative
  7. “Trouble” | Imagine Dragons | Smoke + Mirrors | Alternative

One other track that I would like to mention is “It is Well” done by the North Point. The add a little to the traditional chorus, it’s definitely worth listening to. You can find it on youtube.

Finally, my song of the month… “Because He Lives (Amen)” Matt Maher.

It’s Time to Wash Feet

FBC Blue Print Effect

Why do you go to church? The question is one that most of could answer with very little thought in 5-10 seconds. Many of us could certainly provide a more thoughtful answer if we needed to, probably one steeped in tradition (our faith ancestry) and theology (our beliefs about God). We could tell all about how we come to church to fellowship with other believers, worship God, and learn about Him. We might even talk about our belief that the church is meant to reach out to the community around it and to take the gospel (our belief that Jesus Christ is the only way to have a relationship with God) to the world. But knowing all of that, knowing everything we know about God and church, why do we really go to church??? Do you really go to church for all the reasons the Bible tells us to?

I was challenged last night by Isaac Denson at our Monday night community Holy Week service. He preached on John 13, where we find Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. It’s a frequently used passage, but no less powerful because of it. In John 13, Jesus first takes of his robe and ties a towel around his waist, then he gets on his knees. Before we even get to the actual washing, recognize that the position adopted by Jesus is on of complete weakness and servitude. Can you imagine a more vulnerable and humble position than being on your knees in a towel? Then Jesus moves on to washing people’s feet. This is a disgusting task even today and as Isaac pointed out it would have been considerably worse then. Imagine what washing someone’s feet would have meant back then, its not just dust and dirt and sweat. They had not sewage at the time, there were no cars driving the roads only animals which have a totally different form of exhaust. All of that filth would have been on the feet of the disciples when Jesus knelt to wash them.

What does it mean to serve others? Why do we go to church? The whole time Isaac was preaching I couldn’t help but consider these questions. Do I go to church because I get something out of it, or because it is my desire to serve others? Would you…would I…still go to church or my church if it could do none of the things that I like? If law or disaster or circumstance changed the way your church had to do things, would you still go? What if going meant you would be ostracized from your community? What if your church didn’t have air-conditioning or sound systems? What if your church could do none of the things you enjoy most? Would you give up everything and humble yourself as Jesus did, to put yourself it the lowest position and serve those around you? Would I? I need to ask myself everyday, how am I called to serve today? Who and I called to serve today? Who are you called to serve today? What are you called to do to serve Monahans or wherever you live? Are the needs of others and is the goal of reaching others really higher than your own happiness and your own desires?

It’s Holy week…what is God calling you to change in your heart this week?


How reading Leviticus is like doing Student Ministry…

Leviticus and Student Ministry

I am working on a reading plan right now and currently my Old Testament reading has me in Leviticus. A lot of times, Leviticus and Numbers are the books we grip about when we try to read through the Bible. They are treated as a necessary part of reading through the Bible, read grudgingly because we feel like we need to read through the Bible. This is the first way reading Leviticus is like doing student ministry.  It is perceived as something that is a laborious obligation rather than as something that could be the foundation of revival or a fundament part of church. There are a number of things in churches that are perceived that way at times, quite often reaching younger generations is treated like reading Leviticus, something we feel like we must do. But its treated grudgingly because it’s a lot of work and sometimes we see little fruit.

I have witnessed a couple of problems in the conversation about reaching “young people.”  One of them is the term young people. Remember, Gen X and the Millennials are the last two labeled generations and Gen Xers can be as old as 50 while Millennials can be as old as 35.  Young people are a lot older than we sometimes recognize. We have to understand the values and the motivations of these generations rather than just seeing it as a necessary evil, something that is a lot of work for very little reward.  Students and “young people” make up more than 1/3 of our communities, what appeals to them and what draws them in so that we can teach them the gospel?

Another way reading Leviticus is like student ministry is that a lot of times we read Leviticus (and Numbers) to get through it to the meat and to the good stuff. We end up missing the value of student ministry because we treat it as a side project rather than as a fundamental part of what we do. We do student ministry so that we can get to the good stuff, the adult part of their lives, later. We ask our student ministry team to build worship and Bible study and entertainment that appeals to students or “young people” but we want them to do it over there and leave us alone. Ever wonder why most student ministries run 3x-5x more on Wednesday than Sunday? It’s not just because Sunday is earlier and its not just the students that we’re missing on Sundays, to a great extent, its their parents as well.  Many of their parents by the way are Gen X or even Millennials…the things they value and look for are much more similar to what their parents value and look for than we often credit.

Finally, in both cases, both in reading Leviticus and in doing Student Ministry, we miss a lot of the richness that comes from both. When we read Leviticus with open eyes, we see a God who love and values His people, who desires a relationship with them and who desires to care for them. We see a God who wants us to believe so that by believing we might see. There is also a lot of richness in Student Ministry that is highly undervalued. Young people bring a desire to change the world that has not been seen in sometime, probably since the GI Generation. They want to make a difference and they want to connect, but all the church seems to be able to see is the activity and the electronics.

We need to pray for revival and that we would reach students, kids, and “young people,” but if all we ever do is pray, then God will use someone else. We must start with belief, then pray, then move. I love the quote from Field of Dreams, “if you build it, they will come.” There is so much truth in that statement. People, especially the lost are not going to come to the church and then ask the church to make changes that will help reach them, the church must make the changes in faith and confidence. It’s a scary thing, it requires a lot of work and a lot of faith on the part of the church and the current generation of the church is having to pay a higher price than generations had for sometime, but the cost doesn’t take away the mandate. There’s no easy fix or standard stamp that work either. Each church must look at their community, at the young and the lost that live around them and figure out what it will take.

This Sunday Morning

A prayer for this morning,

“God, you are amazing! Your works are incomprehensibly full of grace and your Word is unmeasurably rich. I am weak and undeserving, easily distracted and constantly wandering away from you. But I pray that this morning you would hold me fast, teach me through your spoken Word and through song. Awaken my soul from its sleep and soften my heart to your will. I have failed many times to give over all of me, but this morning belongs to you, take my heart oh God, it is yours. Amen.”

As we prepare for church this morning, I would challenge everyone to spend a few minutes preparing their heart and mind for worship. I was reminded of an older MercyMe song this morning,

I look forward to seeing our FBC family this morning!


Month 10, Month 44, and Month 60 – Reflections on Being Blessed

I have been at FBC Monahans for 10 months on Friday.  In someways it seem like I got here yesterday and in someways it feels like I’ve been here forever. As always, the first year has a steep learning curve, but I’ve started to get settled in.  In addition to marking 10 months at FBC, this month makes 44 months in a full-stime staff position and 60 months of staff ministry experience.  I have officially been on staff at a church for a total of 5 years.  I’ve come a long way in 5 years.  I’ve learned a lot and changed a lot.  Many of my opinions have gotten much weaker as I’ve learned that there is more than one way to do things.  A few of my opinions have gotten stronger as I’ve learned God’s purpose for His church.

Since the fall, I’ve been taking the students through the major characters of the Bible, highlighting the stories associated with these characters.  So far we’ve spent 1 week on Adam & Eve, 1 week on Noah, 4 weeks on Abraham, 1 week on Isaac, 1 week on Jacob, and this will be our 3rd week on Joseph.  This is the second time I’ve done this type of study with students.  Both times I’ve observed that very few of the students really know these stories.  While this lack of knowledge most certainly concerns me, what really concerns me, is that even those students who grew up in church and who know the stories do not understand the stories.  To them, these are stories, much like what you would find in Grimm’s Fairy Tails or a book of short stories.  Cover 7 - Blank

There are cool stories, boring stories, fun stories, and sad stories, but that’s all they are, stories.  We have missed the point of the stories.  I started teaching my students the “metanarrative” or the big picture story of the Bible.  As we have walked through the Old Testament characters our focus is two fold, learn the stories and then show how these stories point us towards Christ.  The last few months, we’ve obviously been dealing a lot with covenants.  I love to show students how God chose to bless Abraham so that he could be a blessing to others.  I love it when they begin to understand that what Joseph’s brothers intended for evil, God intended to use to bless not only Joseph, but through Joseph much of the world.  We have missed how these stories point to Christ and how these stories and the life and death of Christ teach us that there is a greater purpose to life than enjoyment or being happy.

The challenge for me, for my students, and for every believer is to stop seeing the church as something that is meant to bless their lives.  I hear all the time, “I am so blessed to have such a great church!”  The purpose of that blessing is not so that you can be blessed and enjoy going to church, but so that you may pass that blessing on.  It is our responsibility as believers not to be blessed by our great churches, but to make sure that our churches are great and blessing others.  “Take up your cross,” “go and sell all that you have,” these are the words Christ uses as he talks to people about following God.  How is God calling you to use the blessing you have?  What comfort might he be calling you to give up to “take up your cross” so that others might be bless?  We cannot allow ourselves to get complacent.  We cannot allow ourselves to get so comfortable, to be so blessed, that we cannot make the sacrifices we need to reach the world around us.