Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sometimes We Need to Worship in Order to Worship

I believe worship leaders have one of the most difficult ministries in the church on a Sunday morning. There is a lot of pressure on a worship leader, albeit much of it is self imposed, but nonetheless there is pressure. Some of this pressure comes in the form of discouragement as they look out over a zombie-like congregation who can hardly seem to manage an "amen" let alone sing the praises of God. I would like to take a moment to encourage the worship leader and the worshipper to a new and hopefully refreshing line of thought.

I have, in the past, heard a frustration expressed by some that it often takes two or three songs to get many in the congregation into the "grove" of worship. The idea is that the Christian should come in ready to worship and that they would certainly be more prepared if they walked closer to God all week. I must admit that I have sometimes subscribed to that line of thinking and it is certainly not without merit. It is true that the only time some people in the church spend time with God is in the church. However, I don't believe that is true of all those who don't rush into a spirit of worship at the first song.

In the Song of Solomon chapter 5, Solomon's wife is recalling a situation that happened between her and her husband that caused a bit of a rift between them one night. In verse 9 the other women of the palace ask her what makes Solomon so great as compared to other men and she goes on to praise her husband and all that he means to her. By the time she is done with her praises she's completely excited! The significance of this is that only a few verses ago (verse 3) she was so preoccupied and tired that she couldn't muster the strength to spend time with her husband. Now, at the end of the chapter, there's nothing that could keep her away from him.

The lesson here is that Christians (even ones who walk daily with God) can be beaten down over the week by all kinds of pressures. They may come into a Sunday worship service feeling like they have nothing left with which to give God. So much preoccupies their mind and they are weary from a long week. Then, as the sounds of worship begin and the words exclaiming God's greatness start to be sung, something begins to change. It may start out with the individual only mouthing the words he or she sees upon the screen but as the song ends and the next praise begins the child of God is being reminded of how great the Lord is and what an awesome God they serve. By the third song the troubles of the week are melting away and and the heavy laden Christian is starting to feel like worshipping. By the last song there is nothing that can stand in their way of reaching the Lord and spending time with Him.

Am I suggesting then that we need longer song services to allow for this process? Not at all. What I am pointing out is the importance of the song service in preparing the heart for the rest of worship and what God wants to impart to an individual that Sunday. Worship is about God, but it often benefits our ability to draw near to Him.

So to the worship leader I say, be encouraged. The next time you look out over a less than enthusiastic crowd at the start of the song service, realize the vital role you play in moving them out of that and focusing them on the greatness of God. The Lord is using you to remind them of Him!

To the worshipper in the congregation I say, be encouraged. If your week was rough and another looks like it is on its way, worship as you have opportunity to do so. You may not feel like it at first, but as you exercise control over your emotions and begin to worship you will start to remember the greatness of God above all your woes and then the "feelings" of worship will come!

Sometimes we need to worship in order to worship.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

To the Defense of Sin

I have noticed a disturbing phenomenon growing among Christians that has ignited their passion to speak out. No, I'm not talking about a passion to speak out and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ and fulfill the Great Commission to make disciples, nor a passion to defend the sound doctrines of faith found in the Scripture, nor a passion to speak out in pursuit of a holy life that is pleasing to God (and man), but a passion to speak out in defense of sin! What is taking place among the disciples of Christ is, in my opinion, the very "falling away" that the Scripture warns us about in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. The Bible also says there will come a time where people will no longer "endure sound doctrine" (2 Timothy 4:3).

I have noticed that if you want to get some Christians fired up (especially on the Internet) then address sin head on. A friend of mine once addressed some un-Christlike conduct of Christians who were publicly flaunting their sinful behavior. What he wrote was right on and good. However, I was amazed at how many Christians came to the defense of sin! He was rebuked by Christians telling him "not to judge" and to "allow them to grow in their faith" and other such nonsense. I say it is nonsense because it is completely unscriptural counsel! 

First of all, calling sin out for what it is is not judging. The apostles did it all the time and the Bible tells us to hold one another accountable. This idea that we should just let sin sit and simmer in an individual's life and that one day it will work itself out is ridiculous. I believe this has more to do with people's fear of confrontation than it does wanting to nurture. "But not everyone is on the same spiritual level and we have to allow time for growth," you may protest. I agree, but how will they grow if they are never taught?! Parents don't bring an infant home from the hospital after it is born and then lay it on the floor and say, "Now just let him lay there so he can grow. In a few years he'll be walking and talking and doing all sorts of advanced math problems."

If you remember from the book of Hebrews 5:2 the church was chastised for being stagnant in their spiritual growth and was told they needed to be taught the elementary principles of Christ all over again. If that particular church would be here in our modern time we would have Christians saying, "Leave them be so they can grow," and the author of Hebrews would have been labeled as judgmental.

The most insulting defense of sin however is not in the labels of being judgmental nor in the passiveness of confronting sin, but in the idea that we should just ignore sin (in Christian and non-Christian alike) and "show them the love of Jesus." How can any disciple of Christ show an individual the love of Jesus by not confronting the sin that has separated them from Christ?! Jesus came to reconcile man to God by taking the penalty of sin upon Himself who committed no sin. Yet we now have the mindset (doctrine) floating around out there that we can allow people to remain in their sin, even say it's okay and good, and then just tell them God loves them and all is well with their eternal soul. Sounds more like a Beatles song than the Gospel.

The real love of Jesus confronts sin and exposes it for what it is. The real love of Jesus leads an individual to the cross of Christ where the awful penalty of sin was paid for and the gift of salvation is offered. The real love of Jesus provides repentance for the sinner and brings new life to the man and woman who makes Jesus their Lord and Savior. The real love of Jesus makes one a new creation, but if an individual is told that their sin is well and good by the very people who carry the Gospel message why would they want to be made new?

It's time to stop defending sin which separates man and God. It's time to get Biblical and forsake this worldly attitude. It is not kindness or love to act as an agent of deceit and cause others to remain in their sin all so you can make them feel good for the moment. I guarantee they will not applaud your political correctness and passive attitude in the Day of Judgment.

So as the "falling away" continues, which side will you be found on?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Volunteer or Laborer

"Then He said to His disciples, 'The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.'" - Matt 9:37-38

I believe that a certain term has crept into the vernacular of the church that has crippled the effectiveness of God's work. That term is volunteer. A volunteer is an individual who, by choice, decides to give of their time and resources to a particular cause or project. However, the other side of that term gives that same individual the option of not participating in said cause or project. Another way of putting it is that the individual is lord over whether or not they will do the work.

I believe that's why Jesus did not call for volunteers. He called for laborers and servants. When a disciple views himself or herself as a volunteer a mentality can be produced that causes them to see the work of the gospel as optional. Such an attitude may even progress to the point of the individual seeing their participation in the work as a favor to the church. However, when a disciple views himself or herself as a laborer or a servant they see clearly that Christ is Lord and that He is commanding (not suggesting) that we engage in His work.

Some differences between volunteers and laborers:
1) Volunteers can opt out if the work becomes too hard or too time consuming. Laborers are committed to see the work through to the end.
2) Volunteers work for personal rewards (even if it's just feeling good). Laborers work when rewards are few and far between.
3) Volunteers can place other priorities above the work. Laborers organize their priorities according to what the master says is important.
4) Volunteers reserve their rights. Laborers lay aside their rights for the good of the work.
Of course, as members of a democratic and free society we get very uncomfortable at the idea of being commanded to do anything. We tend to view God as more of a councilman in our lives who gives us advice, but we hold the veto option open at all times. Yet, the fact remains that He is Lord and we are His people. This fact compels us to be servants and laborers, not volunteers.

Let me clarify that the compelling we receive is not at the point of a sword like Simon of Cyrene (Matt 27:32), but rather as Paul was compelled in Acts 18:5 out of His devotion to the Savior who showed him so much grace. We are compelled out of love and a grateful heart. We are compelled in thoughts for our fellow man. We are compelled because we have acknowledged God as God.

You may protest that I am suggesting that God has taken away our free choice. On the contrary, I am putting our free choice in a proper and Scriptural perspective. Perhaps an illustration would help. The United States has the largest volunteer military in the world. These brave men and women voluntarily join the service. But take not of that term service, because once they join they are compelled to serve. By volunteering to join the military they have chosen to lay down their rights and subject themselves to the authority placed over them and to the mission they are given. Once they volunteer, they cannot simply voluntarily leave when they don't like something. They have volunteered to be committed.

Such is the way each disciple of Christ should see himself or herself. We have willingly given our lives to the Lord in a commitment to Him and His work. I would encourage you today to throw out the volunteer mentality with its "escape hatch" option and embrace the Lord's call for laborers. Together, as laborers, we can handle the heat and work of the harvest field and please the Lord of the Harvest who has been so good to us.