Friday, November 29, 2013

Tribute to Joe Holt

We often wait until someone dies to pay tribute to them.  However, since my dad is fully alive, I want to pay tribute to him now. 

As the Duke football team approaches one of the biggest games in their history, there is not a more encouraging and loyal fan than Joe Holt.  My dad is a Duke graduate and he loves Duke sports.  Now, when I say that, you are probably thinking Duke basketball.  But no, I am talking Duke football.    Of course he enjoys Duke basketball, but Duke football is where his real devotion lies.  And the reason being?  Because Joe Holt is one of the most encouraging and loyal people alive.

Duke football has needed encouragement and loyalty, because historically they have been one of the worst football programs in the nation.  That is, until Coach David Cutcliffe came along in 2007.  When Cutcliffe took over, Duke’s previous four seasons had a won-loss record of 6-45.  So, you can see why Duke was not known for their football achievements. 

Duke struggled for several seasons as Cutclifffe worked to rebuild the program, but this year the stars have aligned!!!!  Duke plays North Caroline tomorrow, and if they win, they will be the champions of the Coastal Division of the ACC and play Florida State (#2 in the nation) for the ACC Championship.  Duke has already won more games than any Duke football team since 1941!  This year they have defeated nationally ranked teams such as Virginia Tech and Miami.

When Cutcliffe took over as Duke’s coach, my dad bought season tickets–for Duke football, not basketball, just to make sure you are still following this.  And he has had season tickets every year since.  He not only attends all the home games, but he also attends many of the away games.  If that is not enough, he goes to the spring practice game every year.  And if that is still not enough, and this is the part I will always remember:  he has written countless letters to both the players and Coach Cutfliffe every season.  Why?  Because he is an encourager.  He loves to find the good in people and encourage them to be even better.  And he writes these letters because he is loyal.  He loves the underdog and remains loyal to the underdog, until the underdog just might be the champion dog!  We will see if that is the case tomorrow.

Whether Duke wins or looses against UNC tomorrow, they could not have a more loyal and encouraging fan than my father.  I love you Dad, and go Duke!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Early Church vs. Today’s Church

Since I have been preaching a series on the New Testament church from the book of Acts, it has made me reflect upon the differences between the first century church and the church of today.  This is not intended to be a criticism but just a comparison and a challenge for all of us to think about. 

I am personally challenged greatly by this list because I am in the midst of planting a brand-new church in Athens, Georgia and strongly desire this church to be more like the church in the book of Acts than the church we often see today.

The following are some distinct differences.  I first list the characteristic of the early church, followed by the description of the modern church.  Obviously there are exceptions on both sides. For example, the church at Corinth had some serious sin issues, while there are many churches today that are exceptions to the list below.  My purpose in this list is simply to get the discussion and prayer started about how we might be a more kingdom church today!

1.    Participatory church versus spectator church.
2.    Worshiping God church versus entertained church.
3.    Reaching out to others church versus consumer mentality church.
4.    Word and Spirit church versus Word-only church.
5.    Praying church versus non-praying church.
6.    Radically generous church versus hoarding church.
7.    Serving church versus receiving church.
8.    Every day of the week church versus once-a-week church.
9.    Sacrificial church versus comfortable church.
10.Miracles happening church versus nothing supernatural happening church.
11.Great reputation with outsiders church versus bad testimony to the world church.
12.Persecuted church versus comfortable church.
13.Growing church versus declining church.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Transformation Through Worship

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”  2 Cor. 3:18

As we behold His glory, we are transformed.  Being transformed means that we are becoming more and more like Christ.  This is called sanctification:  the process of becoming Christ-like.  As we all know, this is not an easy process.  Often we become more like Jesus through trials and difficulties, as the Lord chisels away at our character and reveals things we need to repent of.  In light of this, it is easy to become focused on our sin and shortcomings more than the glory of the Lord.

But in this passage we are told that transformation occurs by beholding the glory of the Lord and not by beholding our sin. What is the glory of the Lord?  The glory of the Lord is the fully revealed character and likeness of God.  The glory of the Lord is the brightness of God.  The glory of the Lord is His wonderful beauty and nature, in its fullness. 

Therefore, this passage teaches us that one of the best ways to grow as a Christian is to focus more on God than our own self and shortcomings.  As we see God for who He is (beholding His glory), we will fall more in love with Him and desire to be more like Him.

How do we behold His glory?  One of the best ways is through worship.  Worship is adoring God for who He is.   Worship is meditating on His many attributes.  Worshiping is repeating back to God who He is.  Worship is singing songs to the Lord that exalt His great nature.  Worship is surrendering our lives to Jesus!  The best way to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus is to worship God for who He is.

Finally, as we behold the glory of God, we will be transformed by His Spirit.  It is God’s Spirit that ultimately transforms us from the inside out.  We can rest in this great truth. 

One more thought on this awesome passage:  the only thing we are to do in this verse in order to be transformed …. is to behold God’s glory.

Behold God’s glory through worship, and watch God change your life!!!  

“Like the eye which sees everything in front of it and never sees itself, faith is occupied with the Object upon which it rests and pays no attention to itself at all.  While we are looking at God, we do not see ourselves – blessed riddance.  The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One.”  A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

More Worship After the Message

I have a growing burden about the order of worship services in most churches.  First of all, let me make it very clear that I am not suggesting that what I propose in this blog is THE only or THE BEST method.  It is simply something to pray about and consider as another approach to consider, if not every week in a church, at least from time to time.

Most churches do musical praise and worship at the front of a service, then have the sermon, sing a song, and we all go home.  Notice I said “musical praise and worship.”  Worship is ultimately all that we do when we are walking with Jesus and living for Him.  Worship is a lifestyle.  Worship is Romans 12:1-2 – a life totally yielded to God.  In my book Pastoring with Passion I define worship as, “surrendering to the absolute claims of Jesus Christ upon our lives by living a life that is characterized by holiness, love, obedience, thanks and praise.  When we are living under the lordship of Christ, everything we do is an act of biblical worship” (p. 209).

At the same time, God’s Word often mentions music as an important means by which we can express our thanks, praise, and love for God. This is why I specifically use the phrase “musical praise and worship.” 

The book of Psalms speaks much about musical praise and worship, and it should be an important part of our worship gatherings.  “Come before His presence with singing” (Ps. 100:2 KJV) … “I will praise God’s name in song” (Ps. 69:30) … “come before Him with … music and song” (Ps. 95:2).  In the book of Acts the early church “met together in the temple courts … praising God … and the Lord added” (Acts 2:46-47).

Since musical praise and worship is an important part of our corporate gatherings, we should seek to be biblical and practical in our approach.  I believe it is not only more biblical but also more practical to do a significant part of our musical worship after the Word is preached. 

I find this pattern in the book of Nehemiah.  Nehemiah is about rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem, as well as the people of God.  Physical and spiritual walls needed to be rebuilt. After the physical wall was completed, lives needed to be rebuilt.  The same is true today.  In Nehemiah 8 the Word was read and explained to the people.  This resulted in people confessing their sins and getting right with God in Nehemiah 9.  Finally, Nehemiah 12 says they “celebrated joyfully … with songs of thanksgiving and with music of cymbals, harps and lyres” (v. 27).  Could this be a pattern we should follow today?

I suggest we consider having musical praise at the front end of a service, and musical worship after the message.  Musical praise is one significant way to “enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise” (Ps. 100:4).  This is a great way to start a corporate service.  After this praise time we are ready to hear an anointed message from God’s Word.  Through the Word our hearts are challenged, stirred, convicted and encouraged.  At this point we are in the best position to confess our sins, get right with God, get prayer from others, and worship at a heightened level.  Prayer and worship can be a response to the Word.  Therefore, if we allowed more time for musical worship and prayerful response after the Word is proclaimed, I believe people would encounter God and worship Him at a deeper level.

“I cannot sing before I have seen. All worship is a response to a revelation - it's only as we breathe in more of the wonders of God that we can breathe out a fuller response to Him."
Matt Redman, Facedown (pg. 98)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Lessons from the “Perfect Storm”

Recently I had what some would call “the perfect storm.”  In a matter of two weeks my computer was stolen, all my data lost, and I bought a replacement computer, only to learn it was stolen.  The stolen computer was returned to its rightful owner (good news), but I am still out $900 (bad news).  The thought of having to recreate so many documents that I use in ministry and life is almost overwhelming.  Today I finally had the clarity of mind and spirit to record my lessons from this ordeal.  Here they are:

1.    Eternal Perspective. 
Hebrews 10:34 says you “joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.”  Wow.  If we really believe that what we have on earth is temporal, and what we have in heaven in eternal, then we will grip loosely our earthly possessions, even those as helpful and “needed” as a computer.  I want to be able to have joy in the midst of my stolen computer.  This is certainly possibly if my focus is on what is eternal.  Perhaps this is when it is especially important to “set your mind on the things above, not on earthly things” (Col. 3:2).
2.    Forgive Others.
If we truly understand that we have been forgiven a huge debt before God, then we must forgive those who sin against us.  Eph. 4:32 says to “forgive as you’ve been forgiven.”  If I don’t forgive the one who stole my computer, and the one who sold me a stolen computer, then bitterness and resentment will conquer the joy of my walk with God.  In the end, especially in this case, since the individuals who wronged me don’t even know me – and certainly don’t know that I am angry with them – the only person suffering over my anger and un-forgiveness is me!
3.    Pray.
When someone mistreats you, your flesh wants to get angry, dwell on the wrong, get revenge if possible, and feel sorry for yourself.  But Jesus said to “bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you” (Jn. 6:28).  This is not easy to do.  Because it is so contrary to our flesh, we can only do it with God’s power.  Thus, my next lesson:
4.    Be filled with the Spirit.
The only way I can do any of the above is by the power of the Holy Spirit.  God’s Word assures us that the moment we receive Christ we receive the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead (Rom. 8:9-11).  In other words, I have the very power of God working in me.  This means it is possible to live a supernatural life.  These commands in the Bible to do such things as forgive, rejoice, and pray are actually possible, but only possible if I am filled with the Holy Spirit.  Hard times are designed to push us toward greater dependence upon God.  God allows hard times into our lives to accomplish His purposes.  We may go through difficulties in this life that we will never understand this side of eternity.  But what we can know for sure is that God is working in us, that which is for our good and His glory.
5.    Testing of our Faith.
We don’t talk enough about this, but God’s Word speaks often of our faith being tested (Jas. 1:2-5; Rom. 5:3-5).  Many verses speak of God testing His people (1 Chron. 29:17; Ex. 20:20).  I believe God is sovereign over all of our circumstances.  I don’t believe anything happens that hasn’t first been sifted through His loving hands.  Therefore, I believe what has happened to me over the last few weeks is a direct test from the Lord.  Like tests we take in school (to determine our knowledge and application of the material), if we pass the test we advance, and if we fail, we either have to retake the test or we get demoted.  I desire to pass this test.  I need to prayerfully determine what God wants me to learn from this.  I need to be filled with the Spirit in order to pass this test.  I certainly don’t want to have to retake this test, that’s for sure!
6.    Be Wise.
One lesson for me in this is to be more careful in the future.  I am about a plant a new church in a rough part of Athens, Georgia.  Perhaps God wants to use this to toughen me up and make me wiser in my actions as I minister in this part of town.  Jesus said, “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Mt. 10:16).  I know one thing: I will NEVER leave my computer in my truck again!  And now the ultimate lesson in all of this:
7.    Joy in God.
Whenever we go through tough times, it is a great opportunity to see if our joy is rooted in God Himself or our circumstances.  If I can have true joy in the Lord, amidst some really tough situations, then that means my life is coming from Jesus and not my circumstances.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6).  Many of us know Jesus as our way and truth, but how many of us really know Him as our life?  “Whom have I in heaven but Thee, and besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth.  My strength and my heart may fail, but you are the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:25-26).

I pray that one of these lessons from my “perfect storm” will somehow benefit you.  If that happens, it will make my pain a lot less severe.  Let’s all seek to live more totally sold out to Jesus, and get our life from Him, no matter what comes our way!!!!