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Expressive Praise and Worship: Is it Biblical?

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a guest post from Micah Bosworth, Music Pastor at Moses Lake Baptist Church in Moses Lake, WA

 
When I was a kid, and even in my teenage years, I would often make fun of, and mockingly mimic people who were expressive during congregational songs of praise and worship. It seemed to always get a laugh with my friends in the youth group since I grew up in a pretty conservative church. Whenever we would see “hand-raisers”, “swayers”, “shouters”, or the occasional “kneeler”, we would think of them as overly emotional. Because of our church’s culture, we would make sure to keep our eyes on the words, not get too emotional, and avoid being a distraction at all costs!

Today, as a music pastor, I evaluate praise and worship quite often. I watch videos of myself leading our church in praise and worship. I watch our choir to see if we are communicating the messages of the songs with true praise and worship. And I observe the congregation every service, as I watch and hear them joining me in our songs of praise and worship.

Then one day, I started to consider my personal walk with the Lord. I started to evaluate how I personally praise and worship my Saviour, behind closed doors. And I began to think about how I personally led the congregation in praising and worshipping. At first, I thought to myself, “I know all the songs! I’m confident in leading them. I’m consistent in reading my Bible. I’m praying constantly. I think I’m doing pretty well!” However, I couldn’t shake the conviction from God that something was missing. The Lord was trying to show me that there was more to praising and worshipping Him than just these things. And although I didn’t know it at the time, the Lord was about to show me that I was actually limiting myself in my praise and worship.

And I don’t think I am alone in doing so! I believe that there are believers all over the place that are limiting themselves in how they praise and worship our Saviour. Some do so ignorantly (they just don’t know what the Bible says). Some do so out of pride (they are afraid what others might think). And others do so out of tradition (I’ve never expressed myself that way, so I feel uncomfortable doing so).

However, the Bible tells us how to praise and worship the Lord. And although it does include music, it is almost exclusively expressive. But don’t take my word for it! Let’s look at what the Word of God says!

Bowing Down
Psalm 103:1
Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.

Psalm 72:15
And he shall live, and to him shall be given of the gold of Sheba: prayer also shall be made for him continually; and daily shall he be praised.
The words bolded in these verses are translated from the Hebrew word bārak.
H1288 bārak- to kneel; by implication to bless God (as an act of adoration), —(Strong’s Concordance)

Psalm 103:1 has always been one of my favorite verses! And after finding out what the Hebrew words translated “bless” mean, I couldn’t help but love it more! In fact, most of the times the word “bless” is used in the KJV, it is derived from this word. With this meaning in mind, that verse gives the connotation that we would be humble before the Lord. All that is within me…bow before his holy name. My heart…bow. My mind…bow. My soul…bow. My body…bow!

This isn’t necessarily a new concept! If you were to look up all of the Hebrew and Greek words translated “worship” in the KJV, they all allude to the act of crouching low, kneeling, and bowing. God is very interested in His people bowing before Him. In fact, Jesus said to the woman at the well: “…true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship (bow before) him.”

It’s a humbling act! But it’s a reverent act! Our heavenly Father wants us to praise and worship Him by bowing.

The Lifting of Hands
2 Chronicles 20:21
And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed singers unto the LORD, and that should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army, and to say, Praise the LORD; for his mercy endureth for ever.
Psalm 67:3
Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee.
In these verses, the word praise comes from the Hebrew word yādâ.
H3034 yādâ- literally to use (i.e. hold out) the hand; physically to throw at or away; especially to revere or worship (with extended hands) —(Strong’s Concordance)
This Hebrew word, yādâ, is translated praise, in our King James Bible, 52 times. We lift our hands to praise many things, and God desires that we would lift our hands to Him in praise.

Darren Whitehead says it this way: “Is there any more natural expression of excitement, wonder, or awe than raising your hands? Whether it’s the excitement that comes when your favorite sports team scores a goal, the joy of receiving an unexpected promotion, or the elation that comes with a declaration of victory in battle, aren’t we prone to expressing enthusiasm with upshot hands? It’s almost a primal instinct, something coded in our DNA. And regardless of the language you speak, the color of your skin, or your country of origin, haven’t you felt this urge?”

I would say that all of us have experienced this kind of praise at one point in our lives. And although Psalm 67 was surely written for the Hebrew people, verse 3 implies a broader meaning, for sure. Let ALL the people praise thee. We should all be raising our hands to God in praise.

 
Looking Foolish
Psalm 149:3
Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp.

Psalm 150
Praise ye the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power. Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness. Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp. Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs. Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals. Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD.

H1984 hālal- to be clear (originally of sound, but usually of color); to shine; hence to make a show, to boast; and thus to be (clamourously) foolish; to rave; causatively to celebrate; —(Strong’s Concordance)

Now, before I even speak on this one, let me say this: I do not condone, nor do I encourage people to be a distraction during church services. I do not believe one needs to head bang, run laps, or go into an all out dance frenzy to praise in the capacity in which this Hebrew word expresses. However, I do believe that this word challenges us to go outside of ourselves, go beyond our pride, lay aside our solidarity, get past our culture of lethargy, and praise our Saviour in a more fervent, passionate, and enthusiastic way.
I’ve seen men like evangelist Dave McCracken wave a hanky in praise! To some that looks foolish! Are we willing to praise the Lord emotionally and expressively, even if it might seem foolish?

“Hālal” is the primary Hebrew word for praise. Therefore, I believe the Lord would have us forget what others might think, get out of our comfort zones and “hālal”. We have a

God who is worth making a show of! We have a God who is someone to boast and rave about! We have a Saviour who was willing to look foolish, shameful, and scandalous for us as He took our place on the cross of Calvary. And yet, instead of looking “clamourously foolish”, we would rather stand still, stare at words, and sing within our comfort zones. Instead, we need to bow, dance (gasp!), shout, sing out loud, and raise our hands in praise and worship to our King.
There are other words in Scripture that tell us what praise is:
• H2167 zāmar has to do with making music (Psalm 144:9)
• H8426 tôdâ references extending the hands and a choir of worshippers
(Jeremiah 17:26)
• H8416 tehillâ talks about songs and hymns (Psalm 22:3)
• H7623 šābah gives the idea that we would shout (Psalm 145:4)
We say that our God is worthy of ALL praise. God desires for us to give Him ALL praise. And we offer Him our praise and worship through music, but often fail to lift our hands, shout, bow, and “look foolish” for Him. And I believe that for us to neglect these other aspects of praise and worship is to essentially offer insufficient praise and worship to God. Anything less than ALL praise is insufficient.
So let’s evaluate ourselves. How is our personal praise? How is our corporate worship? Let’s get past our comfort zones and personal thoughts, and truly offer our God the same passionate, heartfelt, emotional, and “foolish” praise that the people of the Bible did. He is worthy of it all!

How Giants Fall: Grace to Overcome

GRACE TO OVERCOME

Learn from the world’s best.  That’s the slogan of a new online tutorial website called MasterClass.  It’s a genius idea if you think about it: If you want to get better at something, who better to learn from than the best? If you want to get better at basketball, there are not many better options than Steph Curry. If you want to get better at cooking, there aren’t any better teachers than Gordon Ramsay.

But who would you learn from if you wanted to learn how to overcome your giant? David, of course! The last section of 1 Samuel 17 gives us David’s example of how he overcame Goliath, and it provides a pattern for those of us trying to gain victory over the giants in our lives.

SEE THE BATTLE FROM GOD’S PERSPECTIVE

What makes David stand out in this story is not just his choice of weaponry but the fact that he was the onlyIsraelite who seemed to take notice of Goliath’s blasphemous words against God Almighty.  While the rest of the army saw a giant, David saw an enemy after God’s territory.  The soldiers focused on the physical, but David saw the spiritual.

If you and I hope to win the battle over our giant, we have to see the battle from God’s perspective. Too often, all we see in our sin are the external issues: we don’t like the way it feels, we don’t want to face the consequences, or we want to earn the rewards of getting victory.  But the battle is bigger than that! The battle is about God’s glory and not about you.  Victory begins when our mindset shifts onto a purpose much bigger than ourselves.

PLACE FAITH IN GOD’S POWER

The scene of David walking down into the Valley of Elah to battle Goliath had to be dramatic.  Nobody else in the entire army was willing to step out there except for David.  They had to be thinking, “What is this guy thinking? Doesn’t he know he is gonna lose?

But I love the confidence David showed as he talked to Goliath.  Every word he spoke of victory was spoken with confidence rather than timidity, “I willsmite thee, I will give, this assembly shallknow.”  How did David had such faith that he would overcome? He had such great faith because David already knew what God had said about the Philistines. David knew that God had promised that piece of land to Israel, and that God was going to keep His Word.

As intimidating as sin can be in our lives, we have to realize that our giant is already dead. Your sin lost power over you the day that Jesus rose from the grave.  God has already made it clear, “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace”  (Romans 6:14). Because of Jesus, we don’t have to sin! His power has promised the victory to all who are willing to take it.

TAKE ACTION BY GOD’S GRACE

One of my favorite things about 1 Samuel 17 is the fact that Samuel spends 46 verses building tension for a battle that only lasted 4 verses. Why was the battle so easily won for David? Because David’s decision to fight for God’s glory guaranteed that he would be backed by God’s power.  David doesn’t deserve much credit for the victory in the Valley of Elah: he only won the battle because of God’s unseen grace accompanying him every step of the way.

It doesn’t matter how motivated you or I may be to kill our giant if we never take action!  For some, the stone they need to pick up is the decision to get honest about secret sin. For another, it may be as simple as deleting an app on your phone, seeking out counseling, or breaking ties with a friend.

But whatever action you must take, just remember that God’s grace will be there to help you.  When you are at a loss of words to explain your sin, God’s grace will be there. When everything within your flesh wants to tolerate this sin just a little longer, God’s grace will be there.  When you’re scared to pick up the phone and ask for forgiveness, God’s grace will be there.  When you fight for God’s glory, you will be backed by God’s power.

Did you notice the similarity between all three principles? Here they are again: See the battle from God’s perspective, place faith in God’s power, and take action by God’s grace.  There are no cute tricks to defeating your giant.  It all comes down to your willingness to let God do what only He can do.  And that will only happen when you pick up your sling and your stone and do what only you can do. Fight for God’s glory, experience His power.

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Graduating Bible College? Consider Helping a Church Planter

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I was facing most Bible college students’ two worst nightmares coming into my last semester:

I had no idea where I was going after graduation, and I was single.

Thankfully, God soon opened a door for me to go to Foundation Baptist Church in Sammamish, WA; getting married took a little longer, but that’s happening next month.

If you’re in Bible college, you might be like I was; I don’t have any advice right now when it comes to singleness, but I’d like to point your mind towards one post-graduation possibility: find a church planter, and go help him.

I know the feelings of fear and disappointment that come with not knowing what you will be doing after your senior year. It’s scary! It’s hard not knowing if you’ll have a chance to serve God in the way that you hoped for, after preparing for it for four years.

I think most students in this situation either go home, or simply stay at the church they’re at while going to college. Most Bible colleges, at least in the circles I run in, are heavily supported, if not run by, a local church.

I get it; I thought about going home myself, before my current pastor called me. Home is comforting (for many, at least); and if you don’t know what to do, why not go there? Same with your local church. At Heartland Baptist Bible College, where I graduated, almost every student goes to Southwest Baptist Church. It’s a great church, and most students come to love it! Why not stay there, if it’s comfortable, and you are already serving?

Going home, or staying where you are, may be the right choice for some, and it’s certainly not my intent to denigrate anyone who does so; but it may be that you could be a greater blessing, and have a more meaningful ministry, by finding a church planter who needs help.

Let me use myself as an example. I went to Southwest Baptist Church, and was active in serving there. I enjoyed getting to work on their bus routes, and help in Sunday School classes. Certainly those are important things! But SBC has thousands of people attending; they had lots of people to draw from; they had so many people, that most did not have a chance to serve the Lord to the full extent of their abilities. It’s easy to get lost in that shuffle, and more young people came in every year through Heartland.

My church back home was similar; I would have had chances to serve there, but there certainly wasn’t a need for me to go back. I come from a wonderful church that’s full of people who are faithfully serving God.

On the other hand, I look at the church I’ve been at for the last three years. Foundation Baptist Church is a fantastic church, and I am blessed with a wonderful, faithful, church family. Our membership is not 500 or 1,000, however; it’s closer to 50. We don’t have a choir; we have 4 or 5 people in our music ministry. We struggle to have enough teachers. There is a lot to do, and not enough people to do it!

Our church isn’t alone; there’s church plants across the country that need faithful people who love the Lord. In fact, we started a new church almost two years ago; that church still doesn’t have a pianist, music director, youth director, or any staff besides the pastor. They need some faithful Christians to go and serve! In one year, we are starting another church in Seattle. That church will need faithful people, too!

I get that most people want to go to a church that has a lot to offer them, like full-time salary, an office, maybe even housing; but every church can’t offer those things. There are small churches that are still deserving of someone to go and invest in them. There are teenagers who need a youth pastor, even though their church can’t pay. There are congregations that need a faithful music director.

When my pastor interviewed me, he read me this wanted ad that Ernest Shackleton posted when he was looking for sailors on his voyage to the Antarctic:

Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.

That’s what a lot of church plants have to offer. You may get little (or no) pay; you may get no housing; you may not be full-time within two years. You may, in fact, never be full-time at all. You may not get recognition or attention. But you will have an opportunity to serve the Lord in a place where you are needed! You’ll have an opportunity to be used by God to make a difference in people’s lives. You’ll have an opportunity to see God grow and develop His church.

If you are graduating and need somewhere to go, think and pray about going to help a church plant. Don’t wait to be asked; call a pastor! If you don’t know any, ask your school to give you a list. Tell him you want to come out and visit; tell him you are interested in coming to help him, if he’s interested. You may not get any awards at graduation; you may not be a group member, or an RA, or have the best homiletics grade. But faithful pastors need faithful men and women. If you have four years of ministry training, you could be an incredible asset to a small church. You have no idea what a blessing you could be to a church planter just by serving faithfully.

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No-No’s, Scissors, and Meat: A Lesson on Spiritual Maturity

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I am the proud father of an 18-month old ball of energy, drool, and curiosity named Parker. Parker is at the stage where he is beginning to explore his surroundings and, in his own way, ask questions about them. He is also at the stage where whenever he decides he wants to do something, he throws his entire 30 pounds into it. He is a force to be reckoned with, and woe to the person who decides to get in his way when his mind is made up.

This independent spirit, unfortunately, leads to troubling and sometimes dangerous situations. For instance, he loves to point at and even touch wall outlets and items plugged into them, even being so bold as to say something like, “Dats a no-no” while touching them. He understands he is not allowed to do it, but does it anyway, of course not understanding the power that wall socket holds to deliver quite a shock! So we tell him “no,” and spank him if he persists, but still he rebels day in and day out.
Welcome to Parenting Life. All of us who have kids, especially young kids, can relate. They know what they are supposed to do, because Mommy and Daddy said “Do this,” or “No-no,” but they can’t possibly understand why. Can you imagine me trying to sit my eighteen-month-old son down for a lecture on electrical outlets, how they function, electrical engineering, and kinetic energy? That would go over about as well as trying to get him to sit down for an entire episode of Looney Tunes, or to stay in his highchair during an actual entire meal, usually goes.
Of course, he wouldn’t understand the why; he is only a child. He has not matured enough to be able to fully grasp the risks involved in playing with electrical outlets. But as parents, we have a concern (that he will be harmed), as well as a desire (that he live long enough to make it to school and learn about kinetic energy for himself), so we set and enforce a boundary – “No no!”
The Bible is full of boundaries. God gives us many clear-cut boundaries in His Word about things we are not to do as Christians. We are to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage, we are not to steal, or murder, or lie, or take the Lord’s name in vain, just to name a few. God sets these boundaries because He has a concern (that our lives and the lives of others not be hurt) and a desire (that we please and glorify Him).
However, there are also many things that the Bible does not specifically address. Your favorite TV show is probably not mentioned by name in Scripture, nor is your favorite genre of music. The address of your favorite date-night restaurant isn’t listed in the Holy Scriptures, and neither is the full name of your favorite actor/actress. How do we know what activities are right and what activities are not?
Well, there are some things that, while not specifically addressed in Scripture, can be addressed using Scriptural principles. For instance, using recreational drugs or smoking may not be specifically addressed, but keeping your body pure as a temple of the Holy Ghost is. The specific medium of pornographic websites may not be mentioned, but looking upon a woman to lust after her is.
But it gets better — as believers, the Holy Spirit lives inside of us, and as we study and read the Word, He guides us into “all truth,” so that we may understand what is right and what is wrong. Paul wrote in Galatians 5 that if we walk in the Spirit, that is, live a life yielded to His leading, we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh, and we are not under the law. In other words, if you “obey every impulse of the Holy Spirit” (as one of my Bible college professors worded it), you will not do anything contrary to God’s law, because God in the person of the Holy Spirit cannot contradict His own law!
But all of that is introductory to what I really want to get across today. I’m talking about the subject of spiritual maturity and the kind of lifestyle it brings about. The fact is, most Christians have no problem with anything I’ve discussed up to now. We fail and sin on a daily basis, sure, but we understand that these things are wrong. We understand the evils of lying, stealing, killing, and pornography. Those boundaries that are set, either directly or indirectly, through the Word of God, are usually not an issue.
However, in I Corinthians, chapters 8 and 10, Paul addresses another set of activities: those activities which God has not placed boundaries upon, either through His Word, its principles, or through His Spirit. In other words, those activities that, as being free in Christ, we have liberty to partake in and not be sinning per se. I am not going to get into too many specifics, but these could perhaps include a favorite TV show, movie, book, style of music, entertainment/activity choice, and the list goes on.
Unfortunately, these areas of personal standard choices can lead to disunity and contempt among brethren. If you want to hear some heated debate, just get around a group of three or more Christians and start talking about entertainment choices and personal standards, and watch the sparks fly! This is what was taking place in the Corinthian church. Certain believers were very weak in Christ and were very concerned about eating meat offered unto idols. They thought that somehow the meat was a wicked thing in and of itself because it had been offered to idols. Other Christians realized that offering something to idols did diddly-squat to it — those false gods are either long dead or completely non-existent entities. How can they bestow any significance whatsoever, either good or bad, upon someone’s meal? They recognized the liberty that they had in Christ — but they were flaunting it. They were looking down on the weak brethren as not being smart enough to realize they had liberty, and some of the weak brethren were giving in and eating the meat, and in so doing, committing what they believed was a sin, because the other brethren were doing it.
Paul wrote to straighten that problem out. He addressed it in chapter 8 by telling these believers who have liberty not to use that liberty to cause problems with a brother. Here’s the thing — if someone can not do something in full faith that it’s right, the Bible says they’re sinning in doing it, even if the act itself is not condemned by God! That’s what Paul meant when he said, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin” to the Romans when addressing the same subject in Romans 14:23. If you can’t do it in full faith, it’s a sin!
So therefore, if you do something around another believer that you feel spiritual liberty to do, but they think it might be wrong, but they do it anyway because you’re doing it — even though you may not have been sinning by doing the act, you have caused them to sin by doing something their conscience told them was wrong! Can you see how this is a serious matter? Someone can unknowingly be pressuring a fellow believer to sin! That’s why Paul said to pay attention and not be a stumblingblock to others, and to consider those weaker in the faith — in other words, before doing something, don’t just think, “Is it ok for me to do?” but think also, “Is it something that might cause a conflicted conscience in another brother watching me?” In other, other words, get your mind off just yourself and onto those around you!
Paul said, “All things are lawful for me, but all things edify not” in I Cor. 10:23. He was saying that even though there’s no piece of meat that in and of itself is evil and of the devil, partaking of it just might not edify, or build up, another brother. Therefore, Paul said he would eat no flesh as long as the world stands if it makes another brother sin. (I Cor. 8:13)
The phrase “all things edify not” also raises another valid point — not only should you consider whether or not that activity, TV show, movie, or choice would edify or harm other brothers, but also consider your own life. Can you honestly say you are drawn closer to God by that movie or show? I’m not saying we can’t ever enjoy good entertainment, but there may be times when something that may not be inherently wrong has started to put distance between you and God. In other words, is it hindering the growth or edification of myself or others? If the answer to that question is yes, according to the words of Paul, steer away from it.
If it’s something you feel liberty to do, but it bothers another Christian brother, then stay away from it when you’re in their view. You may need to turn off certain TV programs when you have another Christian brother over, or not go certain places with them. Also, don’t forget that in our hyper-connected world of social media, you’re more under scrutiny than you thought — posting or tweeting pictures of you doing those things that may hinder another could be a stumblingblock as well.
Now, let’s bring this full circle, because I started off talking about maturity, and I intend to conclude with that point. Here’s where it all comes together: Those who are immature focus on the boundaries — what they are allowed and not allowed to do, what the rules say and what they don’t say. Those who are mature understand the concern and desire behind the boundaries and rules, and instead focus on what best accomplishes the big picture. To sum up, the immature person focuses on what is allowed, while the mature person focuses on what is best, both for himself and others.
When a Christian says, “Show me in the Bible where it says I can’t do that,” that reveals something about their maturity in Christ. When a Christian says, “No, I’m not allowed to do that,” instead of, “No, that isn’t pleasing to God,” it reveals something about their maturity. It reveals a person focused on the rules instead of the relationship, the boundaries instead of the best course of action.
Imagine me as a twenty-five-year-old young man walking around my house playing with all the electrical outlets, running around with scissors for fun, and doing all the other dangerous things my son would love to do if I allowed him. Imagine someone coming up to me and questioning my actions, and implying that they were not good, and imagine me replying, “Well, there’s no rule that says I can’t run through my house with scissors!”
That’s ludicrous — of course there’s no law that says a twenty-five-year-old man can’t run around his house with scissors. My dad’s not going to drive hundreds of miles to my family’s house and spank me for “breaking a rule.” I have liberty — but by the age of twenty-five, I should have enough maturity to realize that running with sharp objects is dangerous, and be able to choose not to do so without having to be told. In other words, instead of asking, “Am I allowed?”, I would ask, “Is it best?”, and the answer would be — of course not!
I say all of that to say this — Christians, let’s have some spiritual maturity. Next time you’re confronted about an action you’re doing, stop thinking about what you want, and start thinking about how it’s affecting others. Next time you’re trying to decide on a course of action, don’t just think, “Is it allowed?” but “Is it best for me and for those around me?” I believe that if you have the Holy Spirit of God inside you and you truly seek to know the answer to that question, He will use God’s Word to guide you into the right course of action every time. Let’s be mature Christians, not “Dats a no-no!” Christians.

 

Why Should I Sing?

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NOTE: The following is a guest article from Micah Bosworth, Music Pastor of Moses Lake Baptist Church in Moses Lake, WA.

 

Why Should I Sing?

If there is one thing I’ve heard church music leaders talk about most it’s been the fact that there are some in the congregation who just won’t sing. And honestly, I’ve read and heard a lot of different reasons why. But instead of talking about why people DON’T sing, I want to talk about why we SHOULD sing. 

If you are one who does sing, doesn’t sing, or only sings every once in a while, I believe we can all be challenged today on why we should join in our church’s congregational singing. Because the reality is that our song preferences, our mood, our pride, and even our musical ability are all inadequate excuses for not singing to our Lord.

Each one of us have a responsibility to God, to our church family, and to ourselves to join in congregational singing! So why should we sing?

Our God Is Worthy
This should be obvious! But honestly, our God is worthy of our praise. 

We can see this all throughout Scripture:

2 Samuel 22:4
 –
“I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised…

“

Revelation 4:11 –
“Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.

“

Revelation 5:12
 –
“Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.”

Really, we could probably spend an entire day just naming off Scriptures that tell us that our God is worthy. But think about it. We don’t just know this from Scripture! We also know this because of how He has worked in our own lives. 

Many times in the Bible, people would start to sing because of something the Lord had done for them (Exodus 15:1, for instance). They couldn’t help but lift their voices together in praise! 

Now think about who God is and what He has done for you: His mercies are new every morning and will endure forever; He demonstrated His love for you on the cross while you were at your lowest and most despicable state; He has brought you through some rough times; He has spoken to you, challenged you, and encouraged you through His Word; He has created you with a purpose; He is watching over you; and He is sustaining you this very moment by giving you breath in your lungs. 

Doesn’t He deserve to be sung about? Doesn’t He deserve to be sung to? Doesn’t He deserve your participation? Of course He does! He is worthy of it all!

We Are Instructed To Do So
Throughout the Psalms, you can find a plethora of verses that mention praising, worshipping, or singing unto our God. However, something I find interesting is that a lot of them are worded in a way that is instructing us to do so. 

Psalm 66: 1-2
Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands: Sing forth the honour of his name: make his praise glorious. 

If you look at the grammar context of those statements, the subject is an understood you. That means these are imperative statements. YOU make a joyful noise. YOU sing forth. YOU make his praise glorious. It’s a personal call for each one of us to lift our voice to the Lord. Did you notice that there were no disclaimers on those statements either? It didn’t say “Make a joyful noise unto God, unless you don’t like the song”, or “Sing forth the honour of his name, unless you don’t think you can sing”, or “Make his praise glorious, unless you’re too tired in church today.” It simply tells us to do it.

It Edifies And Encourages Our Church Family
In Colossians 3:16, the Word of God says:
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”

Did you catch that last part? Teaching (edifying, discipling, helping each other to grow) and admonishing (building up, encouraging) one another. How? By singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. The way that you sing has a direct impact on the church family you are a part of. Is the way we are singing edifying and encouraging the person next to us? Is it helping the new believer two rows in front of you to grow? Is it encouraging the one leading in songs to see and hear the way I am singing?

Your voice may not be amazing. It may not be spectacular. But it is precious in the eyes of the Lord. It pleases the Lord to see his children lifting their voices in praise to Him. But it is also encouraging to those who see and hear it. There are people I know that have some of the worst singing voices ever. However, those same people are some of my favorite to listen to and watch during congregational singing. Why? Because they are singing with their whole heart to the Lord.

When you’re singing with your heart, and when you sing to the Lord, others are affected.

A few months ago, there was a man from our church, a dear friend, who was battling cancer. And one Sunday, he came in, and sat in his normal spot. Well, I got up on the platform with our opening ensemble and started the service with the chorus to “10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord).” When the chorus was ended, I asked the congregation to stand and join with us in singing this beautiful song. Our congregation stood! But not this man. His cancer was getting worse and he was too weak to stand on this day. However, the instant we started on the first verse, this man’s hands went straight in the air. And throughout the entire song, He sang with hands lifted in praise and tears in his eyes. Which, to me as a music pastor, is an awesome sight to see anyway! But as I sang together with this man on the third verse and chorus of this song, my eyes filled with tears. You see, that particular verse goes as follows:

And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousands years and then forevermore

Bless the Lord, oh my soul
Oh my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
Oh my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name

This man, whose life at the time was characterized by this verse and chorus, moved my heart, and the heart of every person who heard and saw him sing that day. It challenged us, it grew our faith, and it encouraged us.
You never know who in your church might need the encouragement. So sing! And sing with your heart!

It Prepares Us For Heaven
One day, for all of eternity, those who are saved will be in Heaven with Jesus, singing praises to His name forevermore. We will be singing to the Lord all day, every day, for the rest of eternity. Why wait until eternity to sing? We are going to be doing it for a LONG time when we get to Heaven.

Revelation 5:9 –
“And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou was slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;

“

So why not start now?


Now, obviously there are many more reasons we should sing. When we sing in church, we are spiritually strengthened for trials, we are rooted in God’s Word, and we are a witness for God to the lost. But I hope that each of us would be challenged to join in congregational singing, regardless of our preferences, fear, or pride.

Psalm 149:1-
“Praise ye the LORD. Sing unto the LORD a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints.”

How Giants Fall: Courage to Stand

Courage. It’s something we all desperately want to have, but something we lack greatly when facing our giant.  It’s not that we lack a desire to stand up to our giant, but we feel incapable of standing up to our giant.

That’s about how the army of Israel felt when they saw Goliath: they wanted to save their nation by standing up to Goliath, but they were convinced that they had no ability to kill the 9-foot Philistine.  Yet, we see in 1 Samuel 17 that Israel’s courageous military hero was the most unlikely person—a teenage shepherd boy.

But where did David find the courage to stand up to Goliath?

COURAGE COMES WHEN YOU REALIZE THE BATTLE IS ABOUT GOD’S GLORY AND NOT ABOUT YOU

Too often, people think that the focus of this story is on the stones that went into David’s sling, but that’s not really the focus of the biblical account.  The focus of 1 Samuel 17 is on a shepherd boy who didn’t just hear a giant challenging Israel’s army, but a giant who defied the name of God!

David realized the fight was more about God’s glory than military dominance, “who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”  That’s where courage comes to fight our giants, too.  It comes when you and I realize that life isn’t about us!

You were created to bring God glory, and the presence of sin in your life hinders your ability to bring Him glory.  If the root of all sin is when we make life about us: how then can we overcome sin when our motive for doing so is all about us? There’s more at stake in your battle with your giant than just your marriage, your reputation, or your health.

But unfortunately, not everyone around you will be as excited as you are about conquering the giant within you.

WHEN OPPOSITION COMES

On one hand, I find it strange how Eliab and Saul opposed David’s decision to fight Goliath, but I also find it hard to blame them! Who could blame someone for doubting a teenager’s ability to kill a war hero? But David’s response to his criticism packs so much truth for those who doubt their ability to slay their giant.

Many times, when preachers talk about David’s rehearsal of how he killed the lion and the bear, they focus on the skills that David might have developed with his sling as a shepherd boy.  I find two things to be interesting about David’s words in 1 Samuel 17:34-37:

  1. David didn’t even use a sling to kill those animals.
  2. David’s ability to kill a lion or bear hardly qualified him to face the best warrior in the Philistine army.

What was the point of the story, then? Why would David talk about his experiences with the lion and bear?

COURAGEOUS PEOPLE REFUSE TO FOCUS ON THEIR ABILITY BECAUSE THEY TRUST GOD’S ABILITY

The point of David’s sermonette is stated in verse 37, “The LORD that delivered me out of the paw of the lion…he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine.”  David had already experienced that God was able to deliver him from seemingly invincible enemies.  When David was in the pasture, God wasn’t developing his skill to fight as much as He was developing David’s faith in the greatness of God!

Let’s be realistic: like David, you and I have no business fighting our giant in our own power.  We’re helpless.  We’re weak in the flesh, and we have a losing record.  But let me remind you that when you step out into the valley to face your giant, you are not there alone.  Fighting on your behalf is the LORD of Hosts, God Almighty, and the Great I AM.  The God who stands beside you is far more powerful than the giant that stands before you!

How do you gather the courage to fight Goliath? Courage comes when you realize why you’re fighting and when you realize Who fights for you.

 

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Faithfulness – Necessary for Ministry

What makes someone great at what they do? Talent? Knowledge? Passion? Hard work? All of those things are crucial! However, none of those things is the most important quality someone can have in serving the Lord. That distinction belongs to faithfulness.

Paul writes in I Corinthians 4:2, “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” A faithful man is one who is trustworthy and diligent in executing his duties; he’s someone who can be relied on! Faithfulness is not just a good quality to have – it is a necessary quality for those who serve God! Paul writes in the preceding verse, “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.” As believers, it is our duty to be ministers of Christ and stewards (caretakers) of the things of God; and it is required of us that are faithful.

Think about it; if someone is extraordinarily talented but can’t be counted on to do their job, how helpful are they? I would much rather have someone less talented who I can count on to faithfully fulfill their duty. Whether you are a pastor, staff member, or lay church member, let me challenge you with a few ways you can show faithfulness in your ministry.

  1. Communicate well

My high school basketball coach taught me a valuable lesson – communicate with those you are serving under. He expected us to let him know if we were running late to practice – even if it was only a few minutes! Faithfulness requires us to be diligent in communicating with our fellow laborers in the ministry. If you are a leader, make it a priority to communicate clearly about your expectations for those serving under you; it’s frustrating and challenging for people to minister under leaders who withhold vital information. Give your people the information and direction they need!

If you are serving under someone, keep your leaders apprised of how things are going. Staff members, don’t try to hide problems because it’s uncomfortable to tell your pastor you made a mistake. Church members, let your leaders know if you are not able to fulfill a job you have responsibility for. Not able to make it to church for your ministry? Communicate as soon as possible! Don’t wait until the morning of (if possible), or worse, fail to show up without saying anything.

2. Be diligent

Proverbs 10:26 says “As vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to them that send him.”

I would hate for this verse to apply to me! As a staff member, I don’t want to be an irritation to my pastor because I’m not diligent to fulfill the expectations he’s given me. If I’m given a responsibility and fail to keep it, I can cause more trouble than if my pastor had just done it himself! Of course, we all make mistakes; but being faithful means learning from those mistakes and trying to keep them from happening again.

Sometimes we may find that we are not able to meet the expectations placed on us. If you find yourself in that situation, communicate that to your pastor or ministry leader; better to ask to be relieved of that responsibility than to continue causing frustration and problems by not meeting the expectations!

3. Take ownership

If you take (or are given) a ministry, own it! Take responsibility for it and make it yours. Don’t simply do the bare minimum; develop a passion for it, see it as your job, and do your best to make it the best it can be!

At my church, we are blessed with many faithful members who take ownership of their ministries. I could give many examples, but one man in particular comes to mind. He’s one of our piano players, and he really takes ownership of that ministry! Despite working 70 hours a week at a high-pressure job, he finds time every week to practice; he looks at what we are singing on Sunday and works on it; he comes to services prepared. When I see how faithful he is, I’m challenged to learn from his example in the things I do!

It was said to me once that after three years, no one in your church will care about your talent; it’s your character that will count. That may be a slight exaggeration, but the point remains: talent is great, but it means little if it’s not accompanied by faithfulness!

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How Giants Fall: Identify Your Giant

Antoine Yates, a resident of Harlem New York, said his ownership of exotic pets was his way to escape the “hell on earth” environment of Harlem.  His passion for exotic pets seemed strange, at the best, and illegal, at the worst, until one day he was attacked by his pet tiger.  Amazingly, Antoine survived, and checked into the hospital for “dog bites”.

For a split-second, I wanted to feel bad for Antoine. But I also thought what most sane people are thinking right now, “Why would anyone have a pet tiger?

Here are the series of events that led to a man in Harlem down the path to owning a 500-pound Bengal tiger: Antoine bought his pet tiger, Ming, when it was a just a small tiger cub.  No doubt, the furry little cub was small and playful, entertaining, and very endearing.  Antoine even suggested that he and Ming began to form a “bond”.

Then Ming grew up.  The cute and cuddly tiger cub became a 500-pound predator.  And this predator eventually did what it was created to do—attack.  Antoine is fortunate to have survived.

PET GIANTS

It’s not much different with our giants—the habits, behaviors, and the same old broken ways we’re accommodating in our lives.  Our giants start out as cute, cuddly habits.  They’re harmless, small, and easily manageable (or so we think).  But these same pet sins have a tendency to grow.

The day will come (if it hasn’t already) when they show their true colors, and they will no longer be cute and cuddly.  They will become giants in our lives—savage killers that threaten our testimony for Christ and seek to enslave us—just like the renowned Philistine in the valley of Elah.

IDENTIFY YOUR GIANT

Here’s the dangerous thing about our sin: some of us have yet to realize the threat it poses to our life.  Our bond with our sin has clouded our judgment.

I think that’s one of the mistakes Israel made with the Philistines: God had told them to wipe out the inhabitants of the Promised Land, but they disobeyed Him.  Maybe they were scared to fight the advanced military of the Philistines or maybe they thought that they were a contained threat.  Regardless of their motive, they still disobeyed God’s command, and their freedom as a nation now hung in the balance.

Regardless of where you’re at in your walk with Christ, chances are that there is a giant that is seeking to enslave you.  There is a sin that you are tolerating in your life that, left unchecked, will destroy you.  We do well to take heed to 3 principles to help us identify our giant:

YOUR GIANT IS AFTER GOD’S TERRITORY

The Philistines already had strongholds in Judah by the time 1 Samuel 17 took place.  Naturally, they weren’t satisfied with the ground they already had, and they were seeking after more.   Their battle in the Valley of Elah would have put them one step closer to securing key cities in the Southern part of Israel: Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Hebron.  Here’s the problem with what they were doing: they were taking ground that belonged to God! God had already set the boundaries for His people, and any external threats against that were threats directly against Him.

Whatever sin you struggle with, it is after territory that already belongs to God.  The giant of discontentment calls you hoard more when God says that we should live with enough.  The giant of lust wants you to seek sexual gratification outside the boundaries of marriage when God has already established the boundaries for that territory.  The giant of fear wants you to worry about what may be, causing you to totally disregard the trust and faith you ought to have in God’s sovereignty.  The giant of approval wants you to find approval in how you dress, how you act, and in what people think of you on social media, when the Bible has already spoken that Christ has “made us accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:6).  No matter your giant, it is after God’s territory.

What if you struggle with more than one of these sins? How do you identify your giant?

YOUR GIANT IS THE ONE SIN THAT THREATENS YOU ABOVE THE REST

I find it interesting how most Biblical accounts of war are very careful to note the size of the two competing armies, yet Samuel’s attention in 1 Samuel 17 pivots toward the single behemoth that challenged God’s people.  Goliath’s height of 9 feet, his 125-pound coat of mail that covered his vital organs, his 10-foot spear with a 20-pound brass head, and his massive shield carried by his armor-bearer would have been enough to frighten the most battle-tested soldiers in Israel.  The same army that had their swords drawn, ready to fight the entire army of the Philistines (v. 2), was now cowering in fear at the sight of just one Philistine.

I identify with the fear of the Philistines.  Like you, I struggle with many sins, but I know that there is one sin that threatens me above the rest.  It’s the sin I most often confess on my knees to God, and it’s the sin that seems to haunt me with guilt more than all the others.  Perhaps you know what I’m talking about: you find yourself intimidated by the power of that one sin that seems to have a unique grip in your life, and you’re not sure how to get rid of it.

YOUR GIANT IS THE ONE SIN YOU’D RATHER RUN FROM THAN FIGHT

In the valley of Elah that day, Goliath issued a challenge: a one-on-one fight where the winner would literally win the war for their country.  The stakes were high, and the reward from King Saul was even higher to the man who could successfully defeat Goliath.  Despite the incredible rewards, nobody dared step down into the valley to challenge Goliath.  Rather than fight Goliath, they decided they’d rather camp out for 40 days, hoping that somebody else might take care of the Giant.  At the sight of their giant, they went from being in battle array to camping out on the safe side of valley.

I’ve found that my giant is the sin that I’d rather run from than fight.  It’s not that I have forgotten the importance of the battle: I just can get discouraged because it’s been so long since I’ve tasted victory.  Consequently, I run.  I try to do whatever I can to avoid confronting this sin, and I eventually begin to wonder, “Maybe a life enslaved to my giant isn’t so bad, after all.  Maybe this is just a part of living in a fallen world.  I guess I’ll just have to wait until heaven to be done with this battle.”

Don’t believe the lies of Satan! Your giant may be big, but it’s not more powerful than Jesus! Your giant may be a product of your own disobedience, but that also means a life of obedience, empowered by the grace of God, is all it will take to rid your life of this giant.  You. Can. Live. Free!

I hope to explain in two future posts how 1 Samuel 17 gives us principles to help us defeat our own Giant.  Until then, don’t give up.  The freedom God offers is far greater than the life enslaved to your giant.

*There are some messages we hear that we can’t help but allow to shape our life-long perspective of the passage they were based upon.  While many of the thoughts in this post and the message it’s based upon are my own, some of the wording and principles were shaped by a powerful message from Wayne Hardy at a men’s conference I attended years ago.  I can only hope that my attempt to preach this passage provided the same kind of help I received from it back in 2012.*

 

 

Book Review: Crucial Conversations

Do you ever come away from a conversation thinking, “I wish I would have handled that better”? I think we all do at times. When tempers get hot, most of us tend to say things we shouldn’t; sometimes we even begin to fight about things that don’t really matter to us! Communication is not always easy; sometimes it’s just downright hard! It can seem impossible to have open, honest, productive communication with certain people; maybe it’s a spouse, boss, or family member. When the conversations are crucial, it becomes even harder!

A group of researchers wanted to find a way to help people with these problems; they wondered if there was a way to help people learn to communicate more effectively. In particular, they were interested in what they termed “crucial conversations”: conversations that were highly important in terms of their ramifications; possibly even life-changing! They noticed that a few highly influential people seemed to handle these conversations with great finesse, and after careful study, they wrote a book to help the rest of us blockheads communicate more effectively.

I have no idea where I heard about this book; I got it for Christmas, from someone who saw it on my Amazon book wishlist. I suppose I must have heard it about somewhere, but I can’t recall where for the life of me. So I was nonplussed when I opened the book; I had no idea where it came from; I wasn’t immediately interested in it, and in fact, I started reading it simply to help pass the time on my long flight back to Seattle.

That being said, I’m incredibly thankful that I read this book when I did! I have found it to be one of the most helpful books I have read. I got engaged shortly after reading the book, and the lessons and methods I gleaned from it have been of immense value in my burgeoning relationship. I’ve said some really dumb things, and used these methods as damage control; and they’ve also helped keep me from saying even more dumb things!

Crucial Conversations is not about cheap tricks to get what you want; you can’t use these methods well if you’re intent is to be deceptive. Rather the goal is to help you come to positive, mutual resolution and agreement on things that truly matter to you. In fact, the very first section of the book is about the necessity to “start with heart”; get out of the headspace of simply trying to win the argument. Think about what you really want instead! Find mutual purpose, and seek to be honest while also maintaining your relationship with the other person.

With a book titled Crucial Conversations, you need to know when a conversation actually becomes crucial. That requires learning to recognize when others, or yourself are resorting to silence (withholding information) or violence (forcing their meaning). When you learn to recognize these signs, you are positioned to guide the conversation to something healthful and beneficial. One of my takeaways was learning to identify the unhealthy methods I tend to move toward when conversations get heated.

My personal biggest lesson from the book was “changing your story”. When we begin to react emotionally, it’s often because of the story we are telling ourselves: “I can’t believe they did that! What a selfish idiot!” It’s very difficult to control your temper when you think someone is a selfish idiot! Instead, focus on identifying where the story you’ve created is wrong. For example, is that person who inconvenienced you really a selfish idiot? Or do they just need your help? It’s much easier not to be angry with someone who simply needs a helping hand.

If you want to have fruitful conversations, I would highly recommend you pick up a copy of Crucial Conversations. It’s been incredibly helpful to me; I think it will be to you too!

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Living Life Open-Handed

“Give and it shall be given unto you.”  I don’t know how many times and in how many contexts I’ve heard those famous words of Jesus repeated.  I’ve heard them in missions conferences, messages on tithing, and basically any sermon on financial generosity.  Usually, it was in one ear, out the other.  I heard it, I knew what they were saying, and, yes, I knew givers didn’t go broke.  But what good is a generous giver if they are tight-fisted with the other areas of their life?

Oops, what about the context?

What’s interesting about the principle in Luke 6:38 is that it wasn’t really given to encourage people to be financially generous.  While material generosity is certainly a part of Jesus’ commands in Luke 6, there’s much more to the chapter than that.  This section of Luke is more focused on generosity with our lives.  Jesus commanded his disciples of all ages to be generous with their love, generous with their forgiveness, generous with their prayers, and generous with their mercy.  He has called us to live life open-handed.

This is hard for us to do because we are born with a mine mindset, aren’t we?  We are always looking out for #1—my money, my time, my wife, my kids, my food, my priorities, and my life.  We live life with a scarcity mentality, with fists clenched tight around the illusion of our possessions.  I don’t think that Jesus looks on our giving with appreciation if he sees the remainder of our life flowing from selfishness.

Generosity that goes beyond the offering plate

Here’s the truth: Jesus isn’t after your money.  He’s after your life—all of it.  Jesus is still calling His disciples to live lives of irrational generosity.  There are so many ways to carry out generosity beyond the offering plate.

Generosity is often irrational in the world of business, where the primary goal for most business owners is profit margins and sales goals.  Irrational generosity is setting aside the pie charts and focusing on making a difference.  Steve Jobs was no disciple of Jesus, but a simple reading of his philosophy was that his main focus was not for Apple to be a valuable brand.  He wanted to make a difference with his products, and it turns out he created a valuable brand in the meantime.  It should be no surprise how Apple has been the beneficiary of “give and it shall be given.”

Unfortunately, generosity is even scarce in the one type of relationship where it should be exhibited the most—marriage!  No wonder so many marriages are crumbling.  You know what the real problem is in most marriages? One (or both parties) stop thinking about what they can give to the relationship and start thinking about what they can gain.  Turns out Jesus was right again.  You get more from your marriage when you give more to your marriage.  Give and it shall be given.

Strangely enough, Jesus even seems to pay our generosity back with the currency of time.  I often struggle with the temptation of putting the needs of others aside because I can feel so busy and seem to have so much to do.  But I’ve found that the greatest enemies of my time at this stage in my life are not needy people around me; the greatest enemy of my time is the flesh within me.  Usually, when I take care of slaying my own dragons of distraction and disorganization, I have enough time available to live life open-handed.  And, as it turns out, people are more than happy to return the favor when the time comes.  Give and it shall be given.

I’d like to hope that 2018 is the year of many things for me.  But, more than anything, I hope it is a year of living life open-handed.

 

 

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