I sensed this was the week that above all weeks was to be set aside for the journey into death. I knew the worship of the church would take me by the hand and lead me step-by-step into the experience of death and rebirth, if I would allow it to do so. I resolved then and there to walk in the way of the cross. I purposed to make this the week God intended it to be for me, a week of intense spiritual struggle—and reward!

-Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year

Living Out Joy

I’ve been thinking about the ways that we live out JOY in our lives.  One of the ways we do that as believer is through praising God.  That could be through singing, but it doesn’t have to be.  But when we PRAISE GOD, we are living our his role for us in creation AND finding a better quality of life.  Let’s talk and drive…

 

Worship Is Singing

If you know me, you know that I believe all of life is worship, but singing is also worship! Think about it, besides 50 commands to sing, the Bible would be a lot thinner without any singing or songs in it. So let’s talk…why do believers sing?

Creating Art Helps Us Become More Like God

When we create art, we become co-creators with God. We also help people see the beautiful world God made in a new way.

[In Holy Communion] There is a symbolic communication involved in our very taking of bread and wine, our eating and drinking. . . . Bread and wine are to be consumed. They are to be taken into the hand, put into the mouth, and digested in our stomach. This is the human side of the Table, the response that the signs of bread and wine call for.  When we receive that bread into our mouth, bite and chew it, we are claiming God’s work. We are saying,

“You paid the price; you did the work; you achieved my salvation; I accept it.”


-Robert Webber, Worship Is a Verb: Celebrating God’s Mighty Deeds of Salvation, Second Edition

Who Invented Worship?

It’s easy to think that going to worship God is our idea…or at least our choice.  But, who invented worship?  Who calls the meeting between us and God?  We walk and talk as we think about who invented worship.

For This Child I Have Prayed…

Isn’t it funny how our lives, and history itself, move in circles?  Names and stories trigger memories and we see meanings emerge that we were blind to before.

As I think about my name, “Samuel”, and as I read the story of his mother, written thousands of years ago, I notice that my wife had a similar experience to my own mother who had a similar experience to Hannah.

I obviously don’t remember, but my Mom and Dad struggled to have a child for 4 years.  She’s told me that she longed to be a mother and never dreamed, when she was married, that it would be that hard.  Both of my parents continued to pray for a baby and I was born in a doctor’s office in the hills of western Pennsylvania.  They named me Samuel because, like Hannah, they prayed for a child.  That is what “Samuel” means.

Years later, Sara and I were in a similar situation, but we knew that there was no biological way for us to have kids.  So we prayed and pursued adoption.  God gave us a baby girl.  We named her Eliana, which means, “my God has answered”.

So this week, as we approach Mother’s Day, I’m thinking about Hannah, Samuel’s mother, who lived thousands of years ago.

First off, I’m reminded that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away.  He is a loving Father who cares for us even when it doesn’t feel that way and we don’t understand what is going on.  I have lived in the tension multiple times in my life.  Infertility.  Cancer.  The death of a child.  But it’s true.  Job is the one who first said this, but it’s true.  Blessed be His Name.

I also see that people will misunderstand you, adding to the pain of your experience.  Eli, a priest of God, thought Hannah was drunk when he saw her praying to God.  People told Sara and I that we were too stressed and needed to take a weekend away with a bottle of wine to make things happen.  We laugh about it now, but, people will mis-understand you.

Even when that happens, bring your pain and anguish to the Lord in prayer.  That’s my third thought.  Whatever you are going through, bring your pain and anguish to the Lord.  For a woman who desires to be a mother, this is deeper than I know.  But God hears you when you call.  God hears.  God answers.

Lastly, I am incredibly thankful for the example of these amazing Godly women.  Hannah prayed, trusting that God would answer her prayer.  And THEN, she fulfilled her vow, giving her little son back to the Lord.  Incredible.  My mom prayed to the Lord for a baby and I was born.  Since then, I have watched her continue to live a life of faith, even in the midst of hard times and hard questions.  My own wife has also showed me what deep faith looks like.  She also struggled, prayed and continues to do so.

Isn’t it funny how our lives, and history itself, move in circles?  Names and stories trigger memories and we see meanings emerge that we were blind to before.  As I think about my name, Samuel, I realize that it’s a reminder of the faith of women throughout history who have taken their pain to God and afterwards said,

“For this child I have prayed”.

 

Who Is Worship For? – Prt1

On my book shelf are two pictures.  I keep them there because they remind me of what it was like to start as a worship leader at age 25.  I look back and think, “Wow. I’ve been doing this worship pastor thing for a long time!”…18 years to be exact.  And in the worship world, that is a long time!

In that time, I’ve noticed that people have different ideas about who a worship service is for. (That is “worship gathered“!)  Many times we want to focus only on one audience.  Now, (Don’t email me yet!  Hear me out!) I don’t mean to create a problem with the word audience!  I just mean our focus AND the first audience is obviously the Lord himself, right?  But after that, there is the audience of both the church and the world.  We’ll get to these eventually, but for now let’s talk about what it means to focus on the Lord in worship.

  • First, God is the one who makes worship possible.  We need to remember that the work of Jesus is what makes it possible for us to worship in spirit and truth.  Before we are saved by God’s grace, through faith, we worshiped other things. (Ourselves?!?)  But Jesus is the one who makes worship possible!
  • Second, God is the “who” we worship.  I think this is important to remember because it keeps our focus on the content of what we preach, pray and sing.  God, and specifically Jesus who made true worship possible, is always the object of our worship.  It’s tempting to sing about how much we love God and what we are going to do with our hands, but the focus needs to be on God himself.
  • Next, (and these last two are for me) too many times we forget that God has all power.  The God who created the universe, causes demons to tremble and will come again by riding on the clouds is the same God we worship.  He can do all things.
  • Lastly, I forget about God’s Presence.  He has promised that he will never leave us or forsake us.  Remember the first point?  Jesus is the one who made worship possible and now we have a God who will always accept us  There is nothing you have done that can separate you from the love of God.  Nothing!

As I look back at those old photos, I am reminded that these things were true then, have been true for 2,000 years and will be true until Jesus comes again.  So when we come to worship as a community, let’s seek God, knowing that as we worship, we are promised God’s presence and power…now and forever.

_______________________________

Ever wondered why we worship in community?

For more on this, check out Mike Cosper’s book, Rhythms of Grace.

7 Cancer Lessons

Once again, I will be sitting in the doctor’s office looking through the blinds at people in cars passing by as their lives raced ahead of them.  The steps and muffled sounds of nurses and doctor’s will filter through the door.  Then my heart will starting to race and I will identify what is happening to me…

It will be fear.

It’s been 13 years since that April 5th when I was diagnosed with Stage 3 testicular cancer.  In those first days and weeks, I knew fear intimately as an evil twin who was trying to kill me.  Twelve weeks of chemo left me so weak that some days I couldn’t get off the couch to get a glass of water.  The chemo not only ate the cancer, but also destroyed my stomach lining, brought on migraine-like symptoms and damaged the nerves in my fingers and ears.  And all the time…fear.

The strange thing was that it took me years to identify the fear and anxiety that comes before my check-up.  Some years, I would feel it grab me from from behind weeks before.  Other years, it snuck up on me.  But I never saw it coming and then wondered why I was in an emotional funk.

Now, I am able to remind my fear of what I’ve learned because of cancer…because of fear.  I’m not always able to respond clearly.  But now, before a check up, I try to speak these things to my fear.  I tell it what I’ve  learned from cancer…

1.

Freedom from fear is a process.  Some people might be able to defeat fear and never face it again, but not me.  While it’s hold on me is less, I still have to wrestle with my fear!  (If you’re fighting fear, here here are some further thoughts on fighting it.)

2.

I am thankful for going through cancer.  It changed me and gave me so many things that I couldn’t have learned any other way.  And knowing myself better now, I realize I would have run from the pain and suffering so God made me face it head on…

3.

We all die.  I sat next to some amazing people in chemo.  One man was a life-long smoker and had brushed shoulders with the Russian mafia, or so he said.  Another woman was a worship leader and new mom facing breast cancer.  Another man was a life-long farmer newly diagnosed with cancer and you could see the fear in his eyes.  Some survived and some died.  We are all mortal.  Don’t waste your life.  There is bigger story than just your life and you can join that story.  It might mean you get cancer.  It might mean that you son will die, but get in the game for God’s glory.  You are on limited time.

4.

Having your life destroyed will either make you withdraw into your own self or you will learn to  trust God.  We all the desire to control our world, but this is the truth.  YOU CAN’T CONTROL YOUR WORLD.  We are 100% guaranteed suffering in this life and we are promised that God is 100% faithful to meet us there.

5.

I have hope in eternity.  I am looking forward to it.

6.

Facing cancer has deepened my love for others.  I’m crazy selfish and I’m guessing I’m not the only one.  When facing pain, the temptation is to focus even more on yourself.

7.

Cancer helped me know Jesus better.  Before cancer, I tended to love Jesus for what he gave me.  I loved Jesus because a lot of family and friends loved Jesus.  Cancer destroyed that world and taught me to love Jesus for Jesus.  As author Tim Keller writes, “Sometimes God seems to be killing us when he’s actually saving us.”  It’s a life-long process, but he is saving me from myself.  It’s becoming less about me and more about him.

…And all of that will take place in my brain in the space of 15 min.  Because after 15 min, the door will open and my doctor will walk in.  He will asked me the litany of questions…

“How would you rate your pain?  How are your side-effects?  Any more pain in your fingers?”

As he is leaving, I can almost guarantee that he will forgot to tell me about the lab results from my blood work.

But you can’t be too hard on him.  It has been 13 years.