God’s Call to Action

For decades now I have been praying the armor of God in Ephesians 6 over myself nearly every day, and today I realized something new.

Ephesians 6:14-17 (NIV 1984) says:

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Here are the components mentioned in the above passage, with my non-seminary observations:

  • Truth.  This is God’s perspective on anything and everything.
  • Righteousness.  This is right standing with God, which we receive only through the grace and sacrifice of Christ.
  • The Gospel of Peace.  The good news is that God has reconciled us to himself through his Son, Jesus Christ, thereby giving us peace with him.
  • Faith.  Hebrews 11 says “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (NIV 1984)  While my thought had always been that faith is the one “act,” if you will, that Christians “do” when they accept Christ as Savior, it was pointed out to me recently that in Ephesians 2:8 the grammar actually states faith itself is a gift of God.
  • Salvation.  Again, this is the work of God in our lives; we cannot save ourselves.
  • The Spirit, or the Word of God.  God’s word, the Scriptures, penetrates to the core of our soul and reveals God’s truth through the Holy Spirit.

In the past month or two I have become more aware of how every component of God’s armor is something he does for us.  This morning, however, something else became clear to me:

Our shoes, the gospel of peace, give the expectation that we will spread peace to each other and with God everywhere we go through the good news of what God has done in our lives.

Think about that for a moment.  Do you bring peace to every situation you enter?  Does your story of what God has done for you permeate everything you do?  When people look at your life, do they see someone responding to God’s gift of peace with him by acting peacefully with everyone, or someone taking advantage of the peace of God in their own lives but refusing to allow peace in their everyday relationships?

I would propose that putting on the shoes of the gospel of peace is similar to wielding the sword of the Spirit; they are both offensive, not defensive, parts of our lives.

  • We are to engage culture, not retreat from it.
  • We are to take steps of faith, not simply hold our position.
  • We are to enter into conflict, not avoid it.
  • We are to forgive, not hold a grudge.
  • We are to speak and act peacefully, and not just when it is convenient.
  • We are to share what God has done for us, not keep it to ourselves.

For me entering into conflict rather than avoiding it is something I regularly have to choose; it does not come naturally.  Sharing my faith outside of church is hard for me, not easy.  Taking steps of faith is difficult for me.  I am grateful, however, that God has been helping me to grow in these areas.

God will help you in your unique situation; all you have to do is ask.

In which of these areas do you need to grow?

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When God Becomes a Show-Stopper

What would it be like for the glory of God to fill our churches on a Sunday morning to such an extent that we would not be able to continue the service?

Exactly that scenario happened thousands of years ago when King Solomon dedicated the new temple.  His father, King David, had spent years preparing the plans and provisions for building the temple before Solomon became king.  After Solomon became king it still took him over four years to finish preparing to build the temple, after which it took another seven years to actually build the temple.

Once the temple was finally built the Ark of the Covenant was brought from the Tent of Meeting, which had been in use since it was constructed in the wilderness under the guidance of God and Moses, to the new temple on Mount Moriah.  On the way King Solomon sacrificed so many sheep and oxen that they lost count!  Then the Ark was placed under the tall, gold-plated cherubim in the temple’s Most Holy Place and the priests came back out to do their duties.

At that time all of the musicians along with 120 trumpeters led worship singing

“For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”

At that moment

“the house [of the Lord] was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.”  2 Chronicles 5:13b-14 ESV

Wow.  I have heard of people pastors and other people stopping a service because God told them to.  I have been present when services were stopped because of technical snaffoos.  I have even been present when services were stopped because of fire alarms.

But I have never been present in a service when God stopped the service himself by just moving in and making it physically impossible to lead in worship.

What would that be like?

The Contemporary English Version says “The light from [God’s glory] was so bright the priests could not stay inside to do their work.”  2 Chronicles 5:14

After Solomon prayed fire fell from heaven and burned up the sacrifices.

The people fell down and worshipped.  There was probably such a sense of awe from God’s show of power that the people could not help but bow down and worship.  I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the people were even terrified.  Imagine if God showed up on the platform at church and said to the pastor, “Move over, buddy.  I’ve got something to say.”  I think we all would be awestruck and terrified.

Isaiah sees a vision of the Lord in Isaiah 6 and he is immediately aware of his sinfulness.  I imagine some of the people became painfully aware of the sin in their life when the holy God of the universe showed up.

I expect that kind of encounter with God would be very emotional, the kind of thing that would make the your hair stand on end.  Any time you get 120 trumpeters and a large number of other singers and instrumentalists together in the same worship service you are going to get an emotional response simply because of the sheer volume.

Fortunately it was outside, but that barely lessens the sound.  Imagine the soundtrack for the yearly 4th of July fireworks display.  That’s probably the right category for this thunderous worship service.  In his book Worship on Earth as It Is in Heaven Rory Noland makes the comment that many of us may be surprised when we get to heaven by the volume of the worship.  It will not be quiet.  Millions of people singing and playing instruments at the same time makes for decibel-meter-breaking volume.

Shock can probably be expected.  People showed up that day expecting to see a ribbon-cutting ceremony, a lot of bloody sacrifices, and a lot of pomp and circumstance.  Imagine the local butcher putting the sign in the door, “Back in 1 hour,” and thinking the whole time of all the work that needs to be done, the carcasses hanging back at the shop waiting to be cut up and sold.

Then God shows up.

When God tears the fabric of time and space and physically appears, shock follows.  That kind of reality is a shock to the system.  Suddenly the work at the office isn’t that important.  Suddenly the argument with your friend or spouse seems trivial.  Suddenly your craving for the latest iThing seems really silly.

Then God.

I am thinking right now that my commitment to God can probably be measured by the size of the shock I would experience if God appeared before me.  If I am just doing my own thing then God’s presence would be greatly disturbing.  If, on the other hand, I am living a life that is, to use the words of Philippians 4, true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise, I really do not have anything to worry about.

Caveat: if you have not placed your faith in Christ for salvation, no amount of good living will prepare you for the presence of God.  Nothing you do can win you a place in heaven.  Good living just gets you a place at the back of the line.  God’s gift of salvation received by faith alone is all that guarantees a relationship with God and home in heaven.

So how about you?

How would you react if God appeared in your worship service and took over?

Practicing What I Preach

The trouble with giving advice is that eventually you have to follow your own advice.  Lately I have been reminded of my advice to others on creating space in their lives for themselves, and of how poorly I have been doing that myself.

Here is what I have often told others:

  • Meet with God often. God is your strength, not your own abilities. Just this morning our pastor was speaking from Galatians 3:1-5 and reminding us that everything – salvation, personal growth, and God’s miraculous work in and through us – is completely based on our faith in God. That faith cannot grow without time spent in the Word and in the presence of God. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.” Romans 10:17 (ESV)
  • Make yourself a high priority. If you do not take care of yourself you will not be of any use to others. In fact, you will drag others down. After your relationship with God you need to come next.

Our tendency as humans is to “white knuckle” our way through life. We see something that needs to change and we grit our teeth and try to make it happen. That is a recipe for failure. I tried that approach to saving my first marriage and failed. True change comes through Christ from the inside out, not by bootstrap determination. While there are things we can and should do to take care of ourselves, we cannot really take care of ourselves properly without a constant reliance on God.

Practically speaking and aside from time with God, here are a few things I am trying to do in order to keep myself a priority.

  1. Rest. Honestly, I don’t sleep enough. I get to bed late and then am not quite fully “there” first thing in the morning. Granted, I am not a morning person, but going to bed really late doesn’t help. This past week I went to bed twice after midnight, which is a serious no-no for me. I know some of you night owls can pull off pranks like that, but not me.
  2. Retreat. A week or so ago I took a partial-day retreat. Well, let’s say I tried. The goal was to get away from the distractions, spend some extra time with God, and then do some big picture thinking about work. I was able to do some of each, but family things distracted me. I was not able to fully unplug. I used to take these retreats every month but have gotten away from the practice. Next time I will be truly unplugging.
  3. Recoup. God established the Sabbath for a reason. He rested on the 7th day, but we motor right on through in our work and activities without a break because it all “has to get done.” Stop. Just today I had to remind myself not to do church work because I had the afternoon off. All sorts of details and plans were running through my mind, but I had to set them down so I could catch a nap and spend time with my boys.

These are just three areas where I need to improve.

How about you? How do you keep yourself as a priority in your life?

What Will Your Legacy Be?

On Wednesday about this time I imagine many of us will be glad the election is over.

Not necessarily because we will know who the next president will be (depending on the closeness of the race it could take some time to sort it out), but because we will finally be on the other side of the campaign media blitz.  Even my 7-year-old son mentioned he would be glad when the campaign ads ended.

During the campaign, however, much of the rhetoric from each side has been about what legacy a candidate has left or will leave if elected.

Which got me to thinking . . .

What kind of legacy do I want to leave behind?

I am currently planning a memorial service, and I expect to hear stories about a loved one who impacted their family in various ways before moving on.  Personally, I always enjoy that part of funerals and memorial services because the stories are usually beautiful and inspiring to me.

This morning, however, I was looking through the paper and came across the obituaries.  These statements were matter-of-fact recordings of birth date, date of death, survived by, moved here and there, and was a member of this or that social group.  In contrast to the services these statements were sparse and un-inspiring.

Granted, newspaper statements can be shortened and perfunctory at times, but I do not want my legacy to read like a newspaper obit.  I want to hear several things:

  1. God is pleased with how I lived and used what he gave to me.  Ultimately, his opinion is the only one that matters.
  2. My family is inspired to live more like Christ and to love each other and others well.
  3. Others are impacted in a positive way by the way I lived and used what God gave to me.  And by impacted positively, I mean they grew spiritually and personally, not that they had a good feeling or benefitted monetarily from me.  (Let’s be honest.  I am a professional musician; I doubt anyone is going to benefit monetarily from me!)

I find that defining my desired legacy often helps me put the present into focus.  If you know where you want to go you will be able to figure out how to get there and whether or not you are making progress in the right direction.

What legacy do you want to leave behind?

The Holy Trinity of Relationships

We have all heard about the theology of the Trinity in evangelical Christianity.  Whether or not you support this foundational belief is not the focus of this blog.

Did you know, though, that there is another trinity in life?  I call it the holy trinity of relationships.

Humans, by nature, were made for connection.  The statement, “No man is an island,” is foundational in many ways, one being the fact that every person needs relationship in order to thrive.

Before we talk about the trinity, the three relationships you need to have in your life, let me say this.  Without a meaningful, grace-based relationship with God these other three will be insufficient.  While interpersonal relationships are critical, a relationship with God is absolutely essential.

I am talking about this subject not because I have a psychology degree (the LAST thing I want) or because I am a counselor or because I have my life figured out.  I have discovered these relationships are necessary for me to lead a fulfilled and overcoming life.  Throughout my divorce and difficult times in life one or more of these relationships sustained and encouraged me.

The Holy Trinity of Relationships

Close Friends

Everyone needs two or three close, intimate, know-everything-about-you friends.  I am talking about friends who support you through thick and thin, who listen more than they talk, who cry and mourn with you, and who celebrate as loudly as you do when something beautiful happens.  Close friends have to be truly selfless people.  The trick is that you have to be truly selfless in order to attract those kinds of people to yourself.

Throughout my separation and divorce one friend of mine (you know who you are) met with me for lunch every Thursday and just listened.  He had been a pastor for many years and had a lot of experience encouraging people, but he simply listened and spoke only when needed.  He even picked up the tab often because he knew I was short on money.  I am eternally grateful to this man who continues to be one of my closest friends even though we are a thousand miles apart.

Mentors

A mentor is someone familiar with your walk of life and who is about 10 years older than you.  They have been down the road you are walking and can speak wisdom into areas of life you are still discovering for yourself.

Around 10 years ago God brought a mentor into my life.  This man is about 10 years older than me and has been in worship ministry for many years.  He also has a doctorate in composition and understands personal struggle.  Throughout my ministry life and throughout my separation and divorce we have talked and collaborated and encouraged each other, and he has guided me in many decisions.  I am so grateful for him.

Mentors and close friends are hard to find, but most people agree that you need them.  The next relationship, however, can be much easier to find; this relationship requires a lot of humility, however.

Counselors

Many of us could benefit greatly from some time with a godly, encouraging, but strong counselor who can speak into areas of life we do not understand.  Seeing a counselor requires you to admit you need someone, however, and you have to invest financially.

Warning: Once you decide to see a counselor, you need to be willing to open every closet and corner of yourself for your time to be truly worthwhile.  Some see a counselor but hold back certain pieces of information.  In that case you might as well take your cash and light it on fire.  The counselor will only be able to provide moderately helpful information if you withhold a part of yourself from him.

I will admit that I have been reluctant to see a counselor at times.  I can say unequivocally, though, that my relationship with my counselor is possibly the most influential relationship I have had in my life aside from my family.  He has given me encouragement and challenge, grace and firmness, truth and compassion as I have needed it, and I am eternally grateful to him.

Every one of us needs to have close friends and mentors, and most of us would benefit from having a counselor as well.  I know I have.

What relationship are you missing in your life?  What are you going to do about it?

3 Truths About New Beginnings

OK, so it’s after 11 pm on Friday.  I’m tired and I really want to go to bed, but I have this thing about following through on commitments and I have committed to writing three times a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  So here goes.

Recently I began a new position and I have been writing recently about beginning new things and growing a worship ministry.  Perhaps a little Friday retrospective is in order.

What truths have I learned about starting new things?

  1. There will be fabulous “head-in-the-cloud” times.  If you do not feel ecstatic about starting a new venture, ask yourself why you are doing it at all.  New things require enough of someone who is already psyched up.  If you are not pumped up about your new opportunity you are much more likely to crash and burn.
    1. Use these times to refuel your energy and your vision.
    2. While remaining practical use your fresh energy to scrutinize your path forward and make necessary improvements.
    3. Thank God and remain grateful for this beautiful moment in life.  Scripture says every good thing comes from God.
  2. There will be hard times.  For every up there is a down.  In other words, welcome to life as we know it.  If you are looking for an opportunity with no occasional down side, you will spend your life disappointed.  On the other hand, if you are in a situation where you are not experiencing occasional setbacks or challenges, I question your view of reality.
    1. Use these times to remember the fabulous times you have had.  Difficult times make the good ones even better.
    2. What can you learn from this difficulty?  You are ripe for learning when you are in a difficult place.
    3. Difficult times keep us humble and focused on the sovereignty, strength, and provision of God.  Instead of complaining about your situation, thank God that at least he knows what is going on and take comfort in that.
  3. It’s worth it.  Jesus says, “Consider the cost.”  Remember that every good thing is worth the sacrifice it takes.
    1. In order to be a good father you have to set your own needs aside as you care for your children.  The payoff is a healthy family.
    2. In order to be a good husband and partner you need to lead as a servant.  The payoff is a healthy relationship.
    3. In order to live debt-free you have to discipline yourself to live by a budget.  The payoff is a financially stress-free life where you have more money to give.
    4. In order to lead a ministry of any kind you have to take responsibility for hard decisions.  The payoff is seeing true growth in the lives of people.

This year has become the year of re-entry for me:

  • Re-entry into relationship
  • Re-entry into senior leadership
  • Re-entry into dependence on God

I am so blessed by what God has brought my way this year that the occasional challenges are gifts to embrace rather than mines to be avoided.  Challenges mean I am engaged and moving forward in life, and that’s the way I like it.

I would not change a thing right now.  That’s the truth.  God and life are truly good.

What have you learned this past week?