Looking Back – Looking Ahead

clock_towerThe Christian faith is a paradox of time, possibly like nothing else. It is in this paradox of time, however, that we find great mystery and yet we also find a strong and lasting peace. We can see in Scripture the many times that God’s people have looked back at His faithfulness, and yet, we are “forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” (Philippians 3:13b).

To really live effectively in the present, it is helpful to have a biblical understanding of the past as well as our future. As we look back, we remember God’s faithfulness, not our failures. As we look forward we press on in the faith and power of the gospel–knowing that Christ has already accomplished for us, what we could not accomplish for ourselves.

“O God, Our Help in Ages Past” is a hymn that is a singable illustration of these biblical truths. Originally published as part of The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament in 1719 by Isaac Watts. It was also later published by John Wesley in his hymnal Psalms and Hymns in 1738.

It speaks of God’s faithfulness in the past as our assurance of His presence and power in the future. Take a few moments this week and write down moments of God’s faithfulness to you. As you take the time to reflect, I believe you will find that though life can often be hard, God is indeed good. No matter what state I may find myself in, I can know that through God’s faithfulness, I am so much better off than I deserve–and you are too!

A couple years ago, Tommy Walker did an arrangement of this hymn and added a chorus that really sums the whole thought up well–“O God Your are–You are our Help, You are our Helper! In all generations You will be–forever and ever–Our Shield and our eternal Hope, O Lord! You are the Ancient of Days and worthy of our praise!”.  As we sing this hymn, let’s remember the unfailing love and faithfulness of our Lord…He is good!

*An updated and tasteful arrangement of this hymn can be found at Red Tie Music (www.redtiemusic.com).

Enter the Sanctuary

photo courtesy of Lawrence OP on flickr.com

photo courtesy of Lawrence OP on flickr.com

What is your sanctuary? Have you every thought about that? We speak often of the large room where we gather in a church building as a sanctuary, and indeed it is. But what do you do on Monday when one of your work colleagues unjustly accuses you of losing that account or when your wife looks at you wondering where you will find the money for that avalanche of bills?

The truth is–we all need a sanctuary. Sometimes we need one a lot closer than the auditorium at our local church. I love reading Psalm 73 and seeing the radical change of perspective when the psalmist decides to make a conscious act of worship even when his circumstances seemed less than praiseworthy. For sixteen verses, a heart is poured out concerning the injustices in the world and those in his life, but in verse 17, something radical happens as a result of a simple, yet deliberate act of worship–“…until I entered the sanctuary of God, then I understood their end.”  After this his tune changes…BIG TIME!
Our psalmist here now realizes that the injustices and evil that he has observed in the world is not only temporary and subordinate to a sovereign God, but that he has been a contributor! He rests in God’s mercy, wisdom and power and can say from his heart “…but as for me, it is good to draw near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.” WOW!
I doubt that the writer was in the sanctuary long enough to see his circumstances change, but we can know that he saw them through an entirely new set of lenses–the lens of worship. He made the conscious decision that regardless of his circumstances he would praise God anyway. Why don’t you decide today to make your heart a sanctuary? From what I can tell, it seems to be God’s favorite kind.

How to Guarantee Success in Worship

We all love a guarantee, don’t we? It helps us to minimize the risk of otherwise vulnerable transactions or relationships. When we approach God, wouldn’t it guaranteebe nice to have a guarantee? When finite, mortal man approaches the infinite, omnipotent God of the universe, it can often feel like a “risky” endeavor, and probably, to some level it should.

However, there IS a guarantee that we can count on when we approach God with our worship. Psalm 51:17 says “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” There is one way to guarantee that when we approach God, we will be heard and delighted in. He wants to be our everything–our all in all. God finds the most pleasure in us when we find the most pleasure in Him.

So, no matter where we find ourselves, let’s put pride away, remind ourselves of how needy we really are and come to our Father like a little child, crying “Abba, Father”. When we do that we are GUARANTEED of His delight in us! Stretch out your arms wide in worship today and let’s renew our total dependence on Him!

Random “Linsanity”: What we can learn from Jeremy Lin’s recent media frenzy

photo © 2012 Some rights reserved by DvYang CC-NC_SA on Flickr

Ok. Yeah, I’ve caught the fever. Well, almost. As a natural contrarian, I’m typically not quick to jump on anybody’s bandwagon. But I’ve had a couple thoughts lately about Jeremy Lin and his sudden rise to the media spotlight. Just consider this my small contribution to the tidal wave of media that has fixated on this young athlete. While the future of his basketball career is still up in the air (7 wins a hall-of-famer does not make), I think his sudden rise in media attention can teach all of us something.

God is Sovereign

The past couple of years our family has had the privilege of hosting a couple of exchange students from mainland China. This has been an enriching experience for our family and has given me a sort of “insiders” view to the far east that I probably would not have had otherwise. While there have been many advances to the gospel in this region, the vast majority of the people have never heard the gospel message nor are they familiar with basic Christian doctrine. Jeremy Lin is helping to change much of that.

This past week he is reported to have been the number one search on Baidu, the Chinese (and highly censored) equivalent of Google. His profile lists his religion as “Christian” with a link to a common article on “Christianity”(a Chinese Wikipedia-type source), which based on my poor Google translation, seems to be a fair representation of the historical claims of Christianity (and its various strains–mainly, Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox).

There are enough articles out there describing Lin’s background, so I won’t retell that here, but the point is this: If God wants to take an American born man of Taiwanese immigrants and make him 6’3″ tall (much taller than his parents), allow him to be Harvard educated, have him go predominantly unnoticed by NBA scouts, and then send him to the peak of media attention in the world’s largest media market in a couple short weeks, then God can do just that. And if all that comes of Lin’s career, whether it be long lived or short, is being a high-profile light of the gospel for almost 1.5 billion people that otherwise may not even consider the claims of Christ, then I believe he is hall-of-fame caliber in a different book, regardless of his long-term basketball statistics. But that’s the cool thing about this hall of fame–there is only one Member (hint: it’s not Lin), and from what I can tell at this point, Jeremy seems just fine with that.

The Gospel is for everyone

Part of what makes this story so unique is the stereotype killing that is happening as a result of the media hype. He is the first Asian-American to play in the NBA. He is Harvard educated (I guess not ALL Christians are uneducated and ignorant [smile]). AND he has “unified” China/Taiwanese relations in that they both claim him as their own. (I say this somewhat tongue in cheek and you only have to do a little historical research to know the tensions that have existed between these two countries).

If you would have asked any sports analyst half worth his salt 10 years ago if he/she thought the most talked about player in the NBA would be an Asian-American, most probably would have laughed at you in the face. So, before you laugh too hard at your prospects of considering the claims of Christ as true for yourself–don’t laugh so fast, the gospel is for you as well. [For a short explanation of what I mean by “the gospel” click here].

Every Christian has a responsibility to live “the gospel”

In a recent interview, Lin was asked about how his outlook has changed with all of this new-found fame and he said “I’m thinking…how can I bring God more glory?”. This is much different than how most of us would respond. Many at this point would be thinking “how can I cash in on my new found fame?”, or “Yeah, it’s about time everyone sees how great I really am”. But seeking God and His glory first, gives Lin a unique perspective that, though counterintuitive, actually will make him more successful–more successful in the things that really matter, anyway. Will Lin score some big endorsement deals? Probably. If people dig deep enough, will they find “dirt” on this young athlete? Probably. I don’t mean this as derogatory to Lin’s testimony, however, the beauty of the gospel is that we’re all fallen and broken in some way, and that’s why we need redemption. However, the power of the gospel makes our shortcomings and failures as blood-stained patchwork on a quilt that is infinitely valuable and already purchased by God.

Regardless of who you are or what pinnacle of “success” you may or may not have achieved at this point, we all have a responsibility to bring God glory from our lives. In his book Soulprint, Mark Batterson states “…You were created to worship God in a way that no one else can. How? By living a life no one else can—your life. You have a unique destiny to fulfill, and no one can take your place.” Ephesians 2:10 states that “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus”. We are all unique and infinitely valuable to God and to the “worlds” we live in. While my fame may never reach “Linsanity” status, I have a responsibility to live the gospel in my “world”, and in doing so, I can have eternal significance by loving those in my world, because I am loved by a King with an eternal Kingdom.

You are exceptional too

I wish the best for Lin and his basketball career. I hope he breaks all sorts of records and goes down in history as one of the best ever. But even more than that, I’m thankful that, regardless of his basketball success, he is exceptional in that he is “finding greater ways to give God glory”. I’m glad for the reminder that I am exceptional as well, because when God made me he broke the mold. He broke the mold when he made you, too. If we can find our identity in that fact and live in constant pursuit of knowing God and allowing the gospel to redeem our lives daily, we too can experience a kind of success that is unexplainable.

The Joy of Utter “Hopelessness”

“Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable”. –Psalm 145:3

Have you ever set out on something you thought was a lost cause? Maybe it was the class ring you lost while riding on a ten mile wilderness trail, or maybe it was that time you tried to convince your father to borrow the car “one more time” only two days after you wrecked it? In any case, whatever the situation, it looked dire and almost hopeless. Well, there is another “hopeless” pursuit that we are called to as believers–one in which the full paradox of the Scriptures comes into full realization. This “hopeless” pursuit is unlike any other you’ve been on, though, because in this pursuit, the more “lost” you feel, the more “found” you realize you are; the more that you pursue in “vain”, the more meaning you actually find; the more thirsty you are, the more satisfied you become; the more persecuted and rejected you are, the more you find real acceptance—and the list could go on.

The pursuit that we’re talking about here is the never-ending pursuit of God. In Psalm 145, we see that His greatness is unsearchable.  It’s not that God cannot be found, because it is God’s very desire to have a relationship with you for He says, “…and ye shall seek me, and find [me], when ye shall search for me with all your heart” – (Jer 29:13).  The thing is, that once you are found in Him, you begin the never-ending journey of discovering how unsearchable and endless God’s love and character truly is. This one “hopeless” pursuit is the only thing in life that can actually provide real and lasting joy.

One of my favorite songs of the last couple of years is “Greatness of Our God” (track 11 on the ChurchLife Worship Band CD). In this song there is a line that says “..and no sky contains, no doubt restrains all You are, the greatness of our God”. Not only is this excellent songwriting, but this is an incredibly simple phrasing of a profound eternal truth. The God that you and I serve is greater and stronger than our most challenging trials, and whether or not we choose to believe Him, He is still the same God and still loves us just as much. The flip side is also true–there is no skeptic or doubter that can make God any less than, well, God. He is God and we are not. The end. Fine. And because of this, I plan to continue my “hopeless” pursuit today of the unsearchable riches of God. I hope you will join me, and in doing so, let us find lasting joy in the journey.

God as Creator: Implications for Gospel Creativity (Part 1)

In a recent discussion with one of our church staff, we were speaking of God as Creator and what it means for us and the local church. In many churches, and especially within the Independent Baptist movement (of which I am most familiar), we often hear of many attributes of God–holiness, grace, judgment, mercy, and so on. Of course, in children’s Sunday School we’ve been faithful to teach on the seven days of creation and that God “created the heaven and earth…”, but I have found that, often, very little application of this is made to our lives personally, as those created in His image. If God is creative and we are made in His image, then it seems that gospel-centered creativity should also be encouraged and developed as part of our formation as those who are God’s image bearers.

We are God’s image bearers

Man was created in the image of God (Gen 1:27). As such, we possess unique qualities that differentiate us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Though we may share common genetic code with the rest of the animal kingdom, we are distinct and different–creativity being one of the principle differences.Through reason and language, man has the capability of forming original thoughts and acting upon those thoughts. Though, unlike God, we do not create ex nihilo (out of nothing), we do have the capacity to see, think, reason, feel and respond to our surroundings while adding something very unique to it.

Lessons from the Creator: Creation is not God–neither are we our “creation”

God, through His own volition and desire created because He wanted to. We are not able to fully know the mind of God outside of what He has revealed, however, we know that God must have a purpose for His creation, though we may not fully understand every aspect of it. God is very distinct and separate from His creation. His creation reveals some things about Him, but it is very separate from Him.

In a similar way, we are not our creation. It is unhealthy as creative people, to wrap our identity around our “creations”. They may reveal a part of our character and be an expression of who we are, but they are not us and this is a very important distinctive. We must find our identity in our relationship with Christ Himself, because this is the only identity that is complete and fulfilling. As His creation, this is what we were created for. To find our identity in something else, whatever it may be, is unhealthy, unfulfilling and less than what God intended for us.

This fact also frees us to create imperfect creations. This may sound a little counterintuitive, however, as imperfect creators, this is all that we can produce. Creativity for human beings can be (and should be) a constant pursuit of excellence for the sake of the gospel, however, “perfection” will always elude us because we are not perfect creators. This is when we rest in the grace of the gospel to redeem our art because of the finished and perfect work of Christ. Christ frees us to create imperfect creations out of a pure heart and offer them to a perfect Creator as an act of worship for Him. The gospel frees us and gives us the ultimate reason to offer our very best, while at the same time, freeing us from perfectionism. We are free to create and, yes, even make mistakes, because we are not our creation and we find our identity in Christ who has already finished the most perfect work on our behalf on the cross.

How has the gospel influenced your creativity and what would you add to these thoughts?

Worship Management vs. Worship Leadership

As a self-admitted “all-things-Apple” fan boy, I’m a sucker for just about any quote by Steve Jobs, Apple’s co-founder and CEO. In John Maxwell’s new book, Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, he offers an interesting quote from Steve Jobs. Quoting Jobs, he says:

Management is about persuading people to do things that they don’t want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.”

I’ve been thinking about how this applies to those of us who lead worship on a regular basis, whether we are a worship pastor, worship leader, choir member, band member, praise team member, or whatever our role, I think there are some interesting parallels here.

How many of us often feel like we’re “raising the dead” when we approach corporate worship (am I the only one that feels this way sometimes?). Maybe you feel like you’re just keeping the ship afloat…managing schedules, charts, bands, budgets, and divas. Or, how many of us feel more like cheer leaders rather than coaches–jumping up and down and making a lot of noise, but having very little influence on the outcome of the game? Before we enter into one of those “those people” rants, maybe we should look inside first and ask ourselves a few questions. (These have not been easy for me).

Am I “just getting by” in my approach to planning, leading, and more importantly–my relationship with God?  Am I being dominated by the tyranny of the urgent? Do I have some good things that I need to say “no” to in order to make room for the best?

People will follow an inspired leader who knows where they’re going and has been where they (the people) want to be. There is no greater place that we can be than in the presence of God. Whatever your methods, whether you plan meticulously months ahead of time, or “go with the flow”, whatever you do–get in the presence of God and the people will follow. (Jude 21-25)

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