Knowing My Role

“A religious mentality, characterized by timidity and lack of moral courage has given us today a flabby Christianity, intellectually impoverished, dull, repetitious, and to a great many persons, just plain boresome.  This is peddled as the very faith of our fathers in direct lineal descent  from Christ and the apostles.  We spoon-feed this insipid pabulum to our inquiring youth, and to make it palatable spice it up with carnal amusements snatched from the unbelieving world.  It is easier to entertain than to instruct.  It is easier to follow degenerate public taste than to think for oneself.  So too many of our evangelical leaders let their minds atrophy while they keep their fingers nimble operating religious gimmicks to bring in the curious crowd.”  — A.W. Tozer, 1955

“I’m afraid too many churchgoers today are listening but not learning.  They are spectators, not students.  They are passive, not participating.  Why?  Because we who teach often give them cut flowers that easily fade and wilt, rather than showing them how to grow plants for themselves — to discover firsthand the truth that God has revealed in His Word.” — Howard Hendricks

Each week that I teach the youth at my church I have the temptation to “ease up” a bit on the Bible study and focus on making sure the students are having a good time — that they are enjoying it.  Then I look back on these two quotes and am reminded of my task — I am here to teach the Gospel.  If that is boring to them, then I need to keep teaching it because they obviously are still not getting it!

Thoughts on Church and Worship

Because I can’t seem to stop talking about it.  I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve had some thoughts running around in my head lately regarding church and worship.  This is me expanding on those thoughts.

If you travel between Waco and Austin on I-35, you may have seen a building with a banner advertising 30 Minute Worship services.  The last time I went home to visit my parents I saw it, but I kept forgetting to look it up on-line.  I finally did today — here is an exert from their website:

Sundays @ 9am offers you a brand new way to go to church…30 Minute Worship. This innovative service is for anybody who is tired of the way traditional church has been done, has limited time, or has to work Sundays. The high energy, focused package will creatively engage you to personally connect with God. Our church website is www.vlcwaco.com.

  • Worship (10 minutes) Each service will have praise and worship lasting 8-10 minutes to connect you with God, lead by our full worship band.
  • Word (12-15 minutes) The most important part of the worship gathering is God’s Word! Listen to an actual message online.
  • Response (5 minutes) Every service gives you an opportunity to respond to God through prayer and giving. We know prayer is essential* for life!  (*– so essential they have devoted 5 minutes to it!)

I half expected it to be a gimmick — a jab at how commercialized the Church is becoming but apparently these guys are serious.

While most churches aren’t as upfront and honest as this one is, I think there are some similar (and dangerous) trends.

1.  Worship equals music.

Most churches would never say that worship is just the singing part of the service, but what they do every week speaks louder than what they say.  I think this has become more evident as the “contemporary” services have grown in popularity.  Even the titles we use seem to imply that worship is equal to music.  We no longer have music directors, we have worship leaders.  Instead of choirs we now have worship bands.  I have been a worship leader — I know I have lead people in music but I do not know if they were worshiping God.

2.  Worship happens during a finite period of time and it is a tool to connect us/focus us on God.

This one is a two-parter.  First, regarding time. This church may serve as an extreme example of this, but if you’ve ever been a part of planning or leading a church service you know that time is important.  For most churches the entire service is designed to last for about an hour.  This means that if the message or sermon takes up 30 minutes, everything else has to be done in 30 minutes.  I know, time is important and we’re all very busy (and there by important) people, but what if we are missing out on something by limiting our services to an hour?  I spent an hour with my buddy Felipe at AHOP and realized how short an hour can be when it comes to prayer and worship.

Part two — referring to worship as a tool to connect/focus us on God.  Something about this bothers me.  If worship connects us to God, then once we are connected do we cease to worship?  If worship focuses me on God, what am I suppose to do once I am focused on Him?  Worship!  Worship is the response.  We worship because we are connected to God.

3.  Church is something we “do” as Christians.

This church proudly proclaims that you can “do” church in 30 minutes.  If church were something you could do, I suppose there would be a minimum amount of time one could do it in.  Maybe there would be contests to see who could do it the fastest.  The average church, while not as blunt, broadcasts the same message — that church is a time and a place, like a college course or a club meeting.  LifeChurch.tv invites you to “try church online”.  This seems to contradict the idea that we, followers of Christ, are the Church.  We can say with our lips that church is not a building or a time all we want, but our actions reveal our true beliefs.

Okay, this may sound like I’m just getting worked up over semantics (and sometimes I do), but I don’t think that’s the case this time.  It’s not just about words, it’s about actions.  If we say we are the Church, do our actions reflect that?  If we say we worship God in everything we do, do our lives show it?

I don’t have all the answers, in fact I have very few answers.  This is the interactive portion of this blog post (you know, the part where you say what’s on your mind regarding the topics mentioned).  I don’t expect you to have any answers either, but I hope this stirred up some thoughts for conversation.

Heart Issues

I was listening to a Mike Bickle sermon a few years ago where he mentioned seven longings of the human heart.  He has since gone on to co-author a book on the subject.  He was clear to say that these are not THE seven, but merely seven which he observed in life and scripture.  Here they are:

To be fascinated
To possess beauty and feel beautiful
To be great and successful
For intimacy without shame
For the assurance of being enjoyed
To be wholehearted and passionate
To make a deep and lasting impact

When I first heard these (and even still today) I felt something well up inside of me.  It hurts to think about these things; I want them that much.  This life has much to offer, but it is not enough…

Love Vs. Fear

I think there are really only two motivators in life, love and fear.  Every action I do and every thought I have is motivated by either love or fear.  I’ve observed that my natural or “default” motivator is fear.  Fear of what others will think, fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of the unknown will direct every aspect of my life unless…

I change my motivation.  Simple concept; swap out ‘A’ for ‘B’, and this has been something that has been a bit of a frustration to be honest.  How do I do something out of love instead of fear?  I can’t just decide to love someone.  I can do kind and loving acts for someone — but to really love them?

I have it all wrong.  My motivation should be love, yes — but not my love for others.  My love for others changes at a whim and is not even something I control.  My motivation is derived from the love I receive from God — His never changing, steadfast, perfect love.

“There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  We love because He first loved us.”  – 1 John 4:18-19

I am only capable of love because He first loved me.  Step 1 — Receiving God’s love.  I mean REALLY receiving God’s love.  How will I know that I’ve done step 1?  When I do things not because I fear what others think nor because I love them, but because God loves me — I mean really REALLY loves me!

He loves me so much, He gave me a desire to be healthy and fit and a body that is capable of more than I can wrap my head around.

He gave me taste-buds that make eating ENJOYABLE.  Let me tell you, I really enjoy eating.

He gave me a mind that is capable of soaking up knowledge — one that is creative and capable of solving problems.

Most importantly, He paid my debt by dying on a cross so that I could spend eternity with Him forever.

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” — John 15:13

Heart Condition

Eyes are healing nicely. X-ray vision still doesn’t work and my ability to see the future is foggy at best. I am now able to finally “see that one coming”. The doctor said that the lame vision jokes should subside with time but there is a rare chance that they will be permanent. I think it was a pre-existing condition…

“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” Matthew 15:18-20

I’m reading Matthew and this was a verse that I clung to this evening. It made me ask the tough question “what is the condition of my heart?” Initially I felt a bit unprepared or unwilling to answer that question because all that came to mind was my bent towards selfishness and my tendency to boast. But as I wrote the question down I asked two more. After studying the verse and jotting down some observations I asked myself:

How do I talk to other people?
Am I encouraging or discouraging? Am I selfless or selfish? Am I humble or am I seeking attention? Do I know what I’m worth to God or am I seeking approval from others?

and

What are my consistent actions like?
Are they selfish or selfless? Are they boastful and proud or are they humble? Are they done out of anger or with grace and mercy? Are they done because I fear man or because I fear God?

I actually drew those sub questions as little continua (I had to look that up, the plural for continuum); they became tools that I can use to evaluate the condition of my heart. I can look at individual actions, thoughts, comments (all of which are indicators of my heart condition) as well as an entire day to see which way I’m leaning; which direction my heart is headed. Much better than my current method that measures my spiritual growth by how much or how little I’m sinning. It was seldom accurate and always led to false heights and very real depths. It’s kind of like a drunk measuring his sobriety – if he has gone 120 days without a drink but every ounce of his being craves alcohol, is he really free? Or if he has gone a year without a drink and relapses does that mean his progress was in vain?

With the “sin level” formula you’re either perfect or your not; and we’re not. We stumble and fall but as the great philosophers of Chumbawamba said “I get knocked down but I get up again, You’re never gonna keep me down”. So when we stumble and fall, we get up again and dwell in that reality that is God’s grace, mercy and love for us – in the fact that He is never surprised nor caught off guard when we sin. I think when we really start living in that grace then we finally allow God to change our hearts. Without grace I keep trying to “do better” and fail miserably every time. But on the days I remember who God is and who I am, there’s no room for guilt and shame or pride that tells me to “do better” – only a growing love and desperation for a God who loves me.