Monday, April 14, 2014

On this day the church could have died

Kyle Idleman tells the story about the time his family house-sat for friends who were out of town. It was miserably hot and they were excited about using the above-ground pool their friends owned. On the second morning, however, the water level in the pool seemed a little lower. So Kyle put on his son’s goggles, dived in, and found a hole the size of a pencil eraser. He went to the pool store down the road and they sold him an underwater patch, and explained how to use it. Kyle put the heavy-duty glue on the patch, swam down to where the hole was, but as he pressed the patch against the side of pool, he watched in horror as the tiny hole started to slowly expand to the size of a basketball. Suddenly 18,000 gallons of water were rushing out and trying to push Kyle through the hole. He fought the current and managed to get out of the pool, grabbed towels and tried to stuff them in the hole, but there was nothing he could do to stop the inevitable. He watched helplessly as all the water emptied out of the pool and into the back yard. His kids came out with stunned and disappointed looks, and his youngest had tears in her eyes. One of his daughters said what Kyle was thinking: “Did that really just happen?”

Let me tell you about a day when the church and the Christian faith could have collapsed just like that pool did. I would argue that this day in history was bigger than when the Berlin wall came down. Bigger than when Germany surrendered in World War II. Bigger than your birthday. In fact, this day may have been bigger than anything in recorded history except for the three days when Jesus Christ was born, crucified, and resurrected from the dead.

I am talking about the day the Jerusalem Council met in or around year 53. The leaders of the church came together because of a controversy brewing in the church world. There were some Jewish believers in the twenty-year old Christian faith who wanted to require every Gentile convert to Christianity to first become a Jew. They said, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Do you get that? They were telling Gentile followers of Jesus that Jesus needed Moses to complete what He had done. They were saying in effect, “Hey, the cross was great, but it is the law that really matters.” They were teaching that salvation is not by faith alone but by faith plus works. So when the Jerusalem church leaders met to discuss the matter, it was the biggest day since Pentecost, because what was at stake was none other than the Gospel. If the Gospel had been changed, Christianity would simply have been added to the list of all the other world religions, each of which has as its unofficial motto, “Will work for salvation.”

You can read the story in Acts 15 and see how the matter was settled. It was a big day in Jerusalem. It was a bigger day for the church. What started as a small deception could have ended up in disaster, and changed history as we know it.

Thankfully, what threatened the church was quickly dealt with through godly leadership and biblical truth. The church did not lose its way or collapse like a cheap pool. The truth of the Gospel, that salvation is found in no one else but Jesus Christ, was not compromised but further confirmed.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Infographic: Square Inches Under Christ's Sovereignty

Your trusty blog author says "I use Grammarly for online proofreading because every time you use bad grammar theirs a kitten somewhere that dyes."

Recently, a lot of the cool blogs have been sharing some pretty sweet infographics. In an effort to not be outdone, I figured I'd try my hand at one as well. I hope this infographic can bring some clarity to an issue that, for many people, can be quite challenging. Enjoy!

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence  over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'”  – Abraham Kuyper

FEEDBACK: So, do you have any similarly abstruse and enigmatic statements that need some visual clarity? Can you think of any other quotes that could be imaged thusly?

For Further Reading:
Infographic: The Reliability of the New Testament Texts 
Infographic: The Messianic Genealogy

Monday, April 7, 2014

How we should prepare for church

How do you prepare for church on Sundays? I don’t mean laying your clothes out the night before, or making sure you have your Bible. I used to prepare on Sunday morning as a child by watching the cartoon, “Davey and Goliath.” Anybody old enough to remember that? I would sit on the sofa with my two brothers, all in our Sunday best with hair slicked down, or licked down, and we would watch TV and try not to fight during commercials, while Mom and Dad hustled around getting ready. That’s not what I mean, though, by getting prepared for church.

Rather, what’s your mindset about going to church? Two common mistakes are to come either as a spectator or as a worker. Jordan Kauflin writes, “We come with the expectation, spoken or assumed, that everyone else needs to make sure we have a good time. I need my kids to be taken care of. I need people to seek me out. I need the music to sound a certain way. I need the preacher to stop speaking on time so that I can get on with my life. As for Jesus? Hopefully he shows up by his Spirit so I can have a spiritual, emotional experience that carries me through my week. We come as spectators, expecting to be served.

“For some of us, we prepare for our Sunday gathering as workers. You might serve in your church as a children’s ministry worker, usher, setup team person, greeter, or hospitality person. We prepare much like we prepare for work (and for some, it really is work). We make a list of all the things we need to do. We make sure we leave on time. Our mind is filled with logistics and details. We remind ourselves how important our role is.”

I would suggest that both of those mindsets are me-centered. Instead, let’s tune our hearts to sing His praise, as the hymn writer said. Go to church to meet with God and to worship Him. “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise.” We go to receive from Him, so pray with expectation that you will not miss what He is saying that day through the songs, sermon, and sharing.

Expect also to be challenged to respond to what God says to you. The Creator doesn’t speak just to hear Himself talking. He communicates through the preaching of the Word in ways that will change your life and mine. Prepare to hear from Him and prepare to respond to what He says. Why do some Christians seem to stagnate and stay in the same place spiritually for years while others explode with growth in maturity and wisdom? It’s as simple as the math formula, “time times rate equals distance.” With what rate do you apply what you learn from God and obey it?

Finally, come to church with the expectation that the body needs you. The Bible says the body of Christ grows “when each part is working properly.” The lady sitting in front of you needs to hear you sing with all your might because she’s just not feeling it this morning. The young man in the parking lot who is questioning his faith may just tell you the truth if you ask how he’s doing. The family behind you has suffered a tremendous loss and they need to know you care.

The truth is, you and I have work to do at church that often makes our jobs pale in comparison.
Going to church tomorrow? I hope so, for all the right reasons.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Beware! Here be idols! (worship team edition)

Hello CIC friends! Things have been busy for me lately, which is why I've been absent from the blog, but which is also why I post this today! Because the thing I've been busy with has also finally led to blog content! I've joined a small group of other worship leaders in the Omaha metro area and we've formed a group we're calling the Omaha Collective (Shockingly creative, I know).

Our goal is to equip and train local and regional worship team members to better serve God, serve their church, and serve their team. We've begun recording some EPs (I shared our Christmas EP and will let you know as soon as our Easter EP is available) and our training events consist of both workshops and a worship concert.

But to keep this from being simply a shameless plug (too late, you say?) there was some content from our latest workshop that I thought would be beneficial to a broader audience.

NOTE: I freely admit I took cues from Mark Driscoll's conference message "Ministry Idolatry" and asked myself, "What would this look like in the context of a worship team?"

Fight ministry idolatry. - Idolatry is the biggest barrier to healthy change and growth. When protecting idols, change becomes offensive, frightening, angering, or just plain annoying.
"We think that idols are bad things, but that is almost never the case. The greater the good, the more likely we are to expect that it can satisfy our deepest needs and hopes. Anything can serve as a counterfeit god, especially the very best things in life." - Tim Keller 
  • Success / response idolatry - Do you measure your satisfaction in your role at the church by how many pats on the back you get after each service? Do you measure your sense of acceptance in the body more from pats on the back after a service or a resounding round of applause after a song than you do from simply being a child of God? When you see your congregation raising hands in worship during a particularly powerful moment, what does your heart do? This kind of worship member is never willing to take big risks, and is always just playing to the crowd.
  • Gift / role idolatry - Do you find your primary identity in the body of Christ in a role or particular gifting? Is your first response "I am the drummer" or "I am the worship leader" over "I am a child of God and part of the body of Christ"? How would you respond if someone showed up at your church who was even more gifted in the same area? How would you respond if you had to begin splitting time with someone else in your particular role? This kind of worship team is rarely inclusive, because adding new people and elements to the worship team are always threatening to the existing hierarchy.

  • Tradition / innovation idolatry - These are opposite sides of the same coin. Are you convinced that "I/we can't connect to God if we don't do things the way we've always done them"? Or, conversely, "The new ways are the best ways, the old ways are outdated and don't work any more"? When you decide that either tradition or innovation is the new mediator between God the Father and his body (rather than Christ), Beware! Here be idols! This kind of worship is often playing to just one demographic in the church to the detriment of the others (which are often the majority). This idolatry turns a blind eye to the diversity of the body.
  • Routine / comfort idolatry - This is much like tradition idolatry, but without a grounding in church history and liturgy. Are you afraid to venture away from what has been tried, true, and worked before? Would you rather just stay in the pocket and do safe worship for the lowest common denominator? This kind of worship never pushes a body to grow and mature, and never presses in on the places where a church body might be in pain, in sin, or simply lethargic.
  • Leader / ministry idolatry - Do you find think that one particular worship leader, band, or church just has it nailed? Are you trying to do everything they do? Same instruments, same song selection, same band line-up, same hair cuts? This idolatry forgets that you have been placed and gifted to serve your church body, not theirs. What works for their body may not always work for yours, and your church may need something different from you than what they need.
QUESTION: Ask this of yourself: what is the thing at your church, that if it changed or was taken away, you’d be ready to quit?

Monday, March 31, 2014

The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart

What if I woke up one morning and noticed a puddle of water on the floor in the bedroom, and I took quick action by looking up, and there I noticed that the problem was something in the ceiling. Yep, I tell my wife, there’s a leak up there somewhere. Then I address the problem by putting a bucket on the floor, promising to be faithful to empty that bucket whenever it’s full.

That would be just plain dumb, wouldn’t it?

That would be like telling someone with an anger problem just to take a deep breath when the rage is at its peak. Or telling someone with a pornography addiction to put a better filter on his computer. Or telling someone whose marriage is failing to buy a dozen roses and a box of chocolates for his spouse. Or telling someone who is morbidly obese to start an exercise program and go on a diet. Each of those suggestions is a bucket that catches some of the leaks and keeps the mess at a minimum ... maybe. But none of those suggestions fix the problem.

The leaky roof is not solved with a bucket, but with a repair. You have to get to the source. The anger problem is not solved by behavior modification, but by heart change. Neither are any of the others. The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. And, as John Calvin said years ago, “The human heart is an idol factory . . . every one of us from our mother’s womb is an expert at inventing idols.”

One of the best books to come along in a long time to address the problem of heart idols is “Gods at War,” by Kyle Idleman. He suggests we ask ourselves the following questions to see what false gods we have raised up in our hearts.

What disappoints you? When we feel overwhelmed by disappointment, it’s a good sign that something has become far more important to us than it should be. Disproportionate disappointment reveals that we have placed intense hope and longing in something other than God.

What do you complain about the most? Ask someone close to you about your typical complaints. If you constantly complain about your financial situation, maybe money has become too important to you. If you constantly whine to your spouse about your sex life, maybe sexual pleasure has become a god. If you constantly complain about a lack of respect in the office, maybe what other people think about you matters more than it should. If you constantly complain about what kind of year your sports team is having, maybe sports has become your god.

Where do you make financial sacrifices? Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Where your money goes shows what god is winning your heart.

What worries you? It could be the idea of losing someone significant, or losing your job or your house or your talent. It could be the fear of being ridiculed. Whatever it is that wakes you — or for that matter keeps you up — has the potential to be an idol.

Where is your sanctuary? Where do you go when you’re hurting? After a terrible day at the office, where do you go when you get home? To the refrigerator for comfort food? To the phone to vent with your most trusted friend? Do you seek escape in novels or movies or video games or pornography? Where do you look for emotional rescue?

I challenge you to ask yourself these questions. It may change your life.