Category Archives: Worship

What excellence looks like

This is what my daily sermon looks like.

Every morning after I drop Maddie off at school, I watch this crossing guard work the intersection of Benson and Arrow Highway and I am inspired.

I don’t know this guy’s name, occupation, or station in life, but for a few seconds before my light turns green he preaches to me, showing me what excellence really looks like. He is friendly, enthusiastic, decisive, and strong. He tells cars when to back off and when they can proceed. He takes extra time with the children and the elderly, and he gives wide berth to the skateboarders who nearly run him over, often throwing him a high five as they cruise by.

His outfit is crisp, his demeanor is clear, and perhaps even more importantly he seems to be having fun. I watch him monitor his intersection and I vow to be a better pastor. I watch him perform his crossing guard  duties and I vow to be a better dad.

There’s something about excellence–about a job well done and well expressed–that challenges our passivity and inspires us to greater heights.

He’s only a crossing guard but he’s teaching me about worship. He’s teaching me about life, and I’ve actually come to look forward to seeing his work each morning. I hope the hosts of heaven can watch you and me at our worship and work and feel the same inspiration and awe that this crossing guard evokes in me.

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Was our solar eclipse a “sign”?

Amid this week’s excitement surrounding one of the clearest solar eclipses in recent history, questions surfaced in many people’s hearts: “Is this a sign? Is this the fulfillment of some ancient Biblical prophecy? Is this more than a natural phenomenon—is this a harbinger of apocalyptic consequence?”

Not everyone asked these questions of course. Some people never even considered whether there was anything more happening than an object momentarily impeding our view of the sun. Others would find these questions laughable. However, questions like these are actually quite reasonable since human civilizations have always tried to prophetically interpret the movements of the heavens, and since many Bible prophecies are packed with predictions of astrological signs that arise at the end of time.

So what was it? Was the eclipse a beautiful natural phenomenon or a cosmic message in the sky? Regardless of how one answers those questions, I have three thoughts on how we can process moment like this week’s solar eclipse.

First, we should enjoy it! At the simplest level, we just experienced one of the most amazing astronomical movements of our generation. These moments should be lived, appreciated, and enjoyed!

Second, we should let our gaze linger upwards. Natural moments like these remind us of the vastness of our universe and give us a renewed opportunity to marvel at the intricacy, mystery, and beauty of our home on planet earth. In addition to the fun and excitement that these moments create, they also move us to worship as we consider the source behind our creation.

Finally, we should appreciate the Bible scholars and curious students who are re-reading biblical prophecy and their popular commentary books. Natural phenomena of this nature are always great opportunities to review the words of Scripture and to be reminded that we are more than flickering motes in an endless universe—we are a part of God’s plan for human history and we have work to do as long as time exists.

In every generation since Jesus’ ministry on earth people have viewed themselves as the terminal generation—the final generation before the return of Christ. I think that good can come from this belief. On a purely biological level we are terminal, and this awareness can drive us toward lives of greater weight and consequence; we want our remaining time to count! And on a theological level, the day will come when one of these generations is right. Jesus did promise to return, there will be a terminal generation, and until He does, there are people to love, causes to advance, and a beautiful king to serve. Let’s do this well. Let’s live faithful, Christ-oriented lives that positively affect people in our generation and in generations to come.

New songs and your supernatural goals

new-beginningsThere are two kinds of new songs: re-treads and originals. Which one is your soul singing?

Psalm 149:1 exhorts us: “Sing to the Lord a new song” but what exactly does that mean? Does it mean learning the latest Hillsong or Bethel tunes, or finding a contemporary way to sing the old hymns, or is it something more?

It’s okay to sing re-treads. It is good and helpful to re-package classic hymns for a new generation, and it can always be helpful to revisit the songs that sustained our soul in the past; however, those songs aren’t original. They aren’t truly new.

A new song is a song that flows out of a new encounter with God; new songs follow the fulfillment of our supernatural goals.

This month at Grace Church we are setting some supernatural goals—we are asking God to do some things in our lives that are beyond our natural ability to accomplish. We fully intend to change our lives via the strength and ability of our humanness, but we are also looking for something much greater than that. We want some new encounters with God that generate new songs and new expressions of praise.

Remembering the past is a crucial part of the Christian life. God constantly reminds us of yesterday to encourage us for today, but He is not stuck in our yesterday. Yesterday’s faithfulness is following us into today, and it will still be waiting for us tomorrow.

I wish I knew what new songs you will be singing at the end of 2017. They probably haven’t been written yet, but they will be. Whether your supernatural goals occur exactly as you want or not, there will be new things worth celebrating and singing about.

Worth-ship: understanding true worship

WorshipWhy worship? Why does the Bible so frequently tell us to engage in the art and practice of worship? Why is worship such an important arrangement between God and His followers?

And while we’re asking questions, what is worship? Is it singing? Shouting? Kneeling? Meditating? What does it mean to truly worship God? Is worship something that we do at church, or is it something we should be doing on our own? Do we do it for a few minutes during private devotional moments, or can we do it all throughout our days?

Why is worship such a big deal?

Three thoughts: first, of all worship at its simplest level can be defined as worth-ship, the ascription of worth. When we worship—whether we’re worshipping at church, a concert, a basketball game, in nature, or elsewhere—we are ascribing worth to the object that has captivated our soul. This leads to the second thought: we worship because we were created to worship; we are worshippers in the depths of our being.

Worship isn’t a church thing; it’s a human thing. Whether you are religious or not, worship is a part of your life. There is always something in our lives to which we ascribe ultimate worth or value. It can be a relationship, an object, our God, or even ourselves, but regardless of what it is we worship it. We prioritize it and ascribe ultimate worth to it.

Third, God asks us to worship Him because it is the healthiest, most logical thing for worshippers to do. Since we are worshippers innately, God asks us to direct that worship at the most life-giving of sources, Him. He’s not an egotist; He doesn’t need our worship. He’s not up in heaven hearing our praise songs and saying, “Tell me more!” Worship connects us to our purpose—remember we are worshippers—and it connects us to God, the ultimate source of worth. Thus postured—worshippers worshipping the ultimate source of worth—we begin to touch true life.

The Audience or the Conductor?

symphonyWhose eye does an elite orchestral musician most want to catch, the audience’s or the conductor’s?

For a brilliant symphony musician, audience applause is a desired outcome, but it is not the central aim. The focus is on following the conductor’s lead. What would happen to a violinist or a cellist who gazed at the crowd while missing the conductor’s cue? Were that to become a common occurrence their career would undoubtedly be short-lived.

Musicians hope for applause but they follow the maestro regardless of how the audience responds. If the house is silent they keep playing as they’re led, and if ovations become deafening they do the same.

For followers of Jesus our mindset should match that of the orchestral musicians. We want to win and draw and move as many people as possible, but our ultimate goal is to please the one who called us.

The love, favor, and acclaim of men and women can be wonderfully fun and affirming, but it can never replace God’s “Well done good and faithful servant.”

Whose applause are we working for? Whose “well done” do we crave? Is our gaze fixed upward toward an audience of one or are we looking to every passing face to find our approval and worth?

It isn’t easy to secure this kind of focused devotion, but it is worth the effort. When heaven affirms you its effects will touch and heal the deepest recesses of your soul.

How to have a spiritual retreat

spiritual retreatJesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray.” (Luke 5:16)

If Jesus did it shouldn’t we?

If the Lord Himself “often” withdrew for prolonged seasons of connecting with God through prayer then shouldn’t those of us who follow Him make time for spiritual retreats too?

If you’ve ever done it—if you’ve ever carved out an afternoon or a day (or longer) for the sole purpose of focused worship, Bible meditation, and prayer—then you know how healing, centering, and inspiring those times can be.

Focused times of spiritual engagement can restore our perspective, clarify our purpose, and reconnect us with the presence of God.

I want you to experience this. At Grace Church this year, we are going to set a goal to have every member of our congregation experience a personal spiritual retreat.

Here are a few practical pointers to get you started:

  1. Start small and build from there. Don’t start with a week-long silent retreat at a monastery—start with an afternoon at the beach or in the desert, and branch out from there.
  2. Choose a setting that you find peaceful, beautiful, and calming.
  3. Don’t fast. Hunger pangs will distract you from what you’re there to do. Fast on a different day.
  4. Start with worship. As you walk along the beach or a mountain path, sing along with some worship songs on your iPod. Worship restores perspective, heals emotions, and invites a closer sense of the Lord’s presence.
  5. Pray the Scriptures. Pick a few psalms and use them as a road map for a time of focused prayer. Slow, thoughtful prayers through a handful of psalms can easily fill an hour of time.
  6. Pray about everything that’s weighing on you. Make sure everything on your various prayer lists gets off loaded onto God.
  7. Get ready to listen. As you pray, prepare to journal the thoughts, impressions, and insights that come your way.
  8. Don’t read spiritual books—stick with the Bible. Skip the latest spiritual bestseller and instead read multiple Bible passages or an entire book of the Bible, recording your major observations or anything that you sense could be a “word” for you from the Lord.
  9. Don’t be disappointed if nothing dramatic happens. Sometimes a spiritual retreat is a simple discipline without a lot of immediate fruit. However…
  10. Don’t be surprised if God changes your life. Your time away with God could quite possible become a holy moment like when Moses saw a fiery bush, turned aside to see, and was forever and completely changed. (Exodus 3:1-6)

Nothing good happens after midnight (unless it’s this)

streetlightA parenting coach once remarked about curfews: “Nothing good happens after midnight.”

It’s probably good advice since most deviant behavior occurs in the late night hours when shops are closed, streets are empty, and everything is cast in shadow. However, what do you do when it isn’t a curfew you’re discussing but your life? What do you do when you’re in a midnight season of life and no matter how much you look for it you can’t find any evidence of a sunrise?

That’s the state of many people in our country today. From economic woes to international crises to general feelings of instability, a bleak outlook on the future seems to be the norm.

It’s hard to see a lot of good after midnight…unless it’s something like this.

In Acts 16 Paul and Silas found themselves locked in the inner cell of a prison with their feet painfully chained up in the stocks, and in verse 25 it says: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.”

That’s a powerful sentence: “About midnight they were praying and singing to God.”

The safest, most powerful place to be at midnight is in the place of worship and prayer. That’s where locked doors burst open, inhibiting chains fall apart, and the darkness of midnight gives way to the morning sun.

Midnight prayer and worship sessions always end with a sunrise.