“I’m glad you came:” Coming to worship FOR someone else

You may or may not be familiar with the British boy band The Wanted (I had no idea who they were, just familiar with the song), but there is a familiar sentiment echoed in the chorus on their hit song, “I’m glad you came.” Whether in a party, club, or worship service, there is familiarity that doesn’t bring contempt. In fact, just the mere presence of someone familiar, or even familial, can bring comfort to the weary soul. Not just when you join “forces” or rather voices in song, but afterwards.

At the request of a member who has been unable to attend worship for some time due to health reasons, we have decided to live stream the services through the Facebook Live feature. After 3 weeks, and an engineer who purchased, placed, and positioned the correct apparatus for my Iphone, I think we have most of the ins and outs nailed down. I love this possibility for those who can’t make it to worship due to sickness or travel.

I’m a pastor, so obviously I highly encourage all Christians to find a place to worship on Sundays (or Sat services). I’ve yet to meet one who doesn’t. I’ve written of many reasons why I believe putting yourself in the path of grace on a weekly basis is important, but one such elusive reason seems to have hit me like a foul ball. Your presence in worship could be just as vital for someone else faith as it was for your own.  

Let me explain. After worship concluded a few weeks ago, it was business as usual: people chatting, kids bouncing balls (we meet in a gym), folks stacking chairs. But in one corner of the gym, I noticed a circle of people huddled together praying. It was our missions team praying over our plans for the new fishing ministry, asking for guidance and blessing.

A homeless man came to church that week because we had given him a gas card to look for work. One of our leaders wasn’t at worship, so I simply passed this gentlemen on to another more equipped than I to discern the need. Another leader soon joined in the corner by the pool.

This past week a gal had a really rough week and another dear sister came with hugs and a listening ear.

Sometimes you may not feel like coming to worship, but another may be very glad you came. Have you considered that you’re not coming simply for yourself. Maybe it’s your kids, or maybe the kids or parents of another? A single, a widow or widower? Your availability is all that it takes for you to play a major role in someone’s life that day or that week. Maybe they needed your story more than mine, or more than his, or hers?

On Sundays when the only thing stopping you is “I don’t really feel like it,” would you do your brothers and sisters in the faith a solid, and consider someone may need my singing, hands, ears, tears, or my prayers? Consider that someone may say to you in one way or another, “I’m glad you came.” At the very least, when you are able to come, you’ll mindset will move from consumer of grace to a conduit of grace as the service concludes.

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Worship: A time when familiarity doesn’t breed contempt

Fishbowl, Fish, Immersion, Environment, Surroundings

I haven’t blogged in a really long time. And I’m not coming out of the “blog fog” simply because I had a wonderful epiphany, or anything like that. I just felt like it was time to “come back.”

Two good friends offered to preach for me the two Sundays after Christmas, so I decided to take them up on their offer and finish out the calendar year with a stay-cation. On the first Sunday after Christmas…. (sounds like a song, but it’s not-I checked), I headed to Harbor. On the 2nd Sunday after Christmas….I headed to worship out East, the opposite direction of the Magi.

I rarely have the time to go see how the Lord is working outside our “own” four walls, so this was a fun opportunity. I was amazed by how well this church had “decorated” the school in which they met. The music team, at least for this Sunday was actually smaller than Harbors, which kind of surprised me-because the church seemed to have nearly twice the attendance. But it featured a keyboard, awesome bass player, guitar/vocalist, and a Cajon. We bought one of these sit on drums for Harbor a few years back but has yet to be used by our drumming purists (not for lack of my trying.) Pure drummers like to use drums. I get it.

It was a simple, non-liturgical, 3-4 songs, sermon, few closing songs and offering. Illustrative, loving, and challenging preacher, and the church has already assisted starting new churches! So cool to see the multiplication process.

But one thing I really had a hard time with was singing, though it had nothing to do with volume, musicians, lack of participation, song selection, singability, or anything like that.

All difficulty came from “my side of the table.” When you love your church, it can be hard to visit other churches, particularly those outside of your tradition.

I do think that was part of it. I missed Harbor. But I think a large part of my singing difficulty was the fact I was just grossly unfamiliar with the songs. I had never heard them before.

And as I stood there, I began to place myself (or rather had been placed) in the shoes of someone else completely unfamiliar with worship songs. Whether it be a visitor or long term attender, I really experienced first hand the difficulty of unfamiliarity.

I love incorporating new songs in worship. At one of the church’s I served, we didn’t have more than a new song or two for literally close to 2 years. The team wasn’t able to practice, but simply rehearsed on Sunday morning. There just wasn’t any time to learn new songs.

However, at least for this season at Harbor (despite 4 young talented musicians moving away) we are still blessed with a growing team, a time, and a place to practice. So I look forward to continuing to incorporate some new songs this year: (re-tuned hymnody as well as newer praise songs). However, instead of adding a plethora all at once, we’ll continue to add them slowly in order to get people familiar with them. This concept is nothing new, nor is it new to Harbor. This experience just reinforced the feeling of unfamiliar worship shoes. Sometimes familiarity doesn’t breed contempt. Sometimes familiarity enables us to more fully cherish our Lord through song.

Discerning what we really worship

The other day I was reading the Gospel Story Bible with my 5 year old son Connar. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a great resource. The writers keep the same Christ-centered theme of the Jesus Storybook Bible, but simply include more bible passages. While it does have fewer pictures and slightly more advanced language, it serves as a fantastic supplement or next step up from the Jesus Storyb00k Bible (though even adults like myself find both resources rich and not age restrictive). What it does have at the end of each story are some review questions. And some are not merely “observation” questions-the kind you can answer by simply observing, listening, or looking at the illustration. After discussing the different worship of the Kings of Israel and Judah, the writer asks the question, “How do you know if you are worshiping God or an idol?”

Wow. Great question.

That wasn’t so easy for my 5 year old to answer. Honestly, that’s a hard question for an adult, or simply a mature Christian to answer too. The simple reflex response is always something such as, “I love God more than football, fishing, or fornication.” I mean, who admits or even thinks that he or she loves a sport, hobby, activity (neutral or sinful) more than God. By default we say, God, family, fishing, football. You could fill in the blanks for your life (I simply use football and fishing as a metaphor for hobby/activity/passion).

In Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, Paul Trip and Tim Lane describe idolatry as:

“….a desire that rules my heart. My own idolatry is what causes me to be angry. You stand in the way of what I crave, so I lash out against you in anger. This battle over who or what will rule the heart goes on in all of us all the time. What controls the heart will control the behavior. There is no situation or relationship where this battle is not taking place because we all tend to ‘exchange worship and service of the Creator for worship and service of the created thing.’ (Romans 1:25)”

So how do we know if something has become an idol in our hearts?

One simple way is to look at your actions. If you choose to sacrifice your time, energy, hope, commitment to an activity, person, feeling, vision, hope without considering how Jesus views and prioritizes such things in your life, you’re looking at an idol. For instance, if Jesus says _____ about sex, lust, pornography, and you or I choose a different route, then we have worshiped an idol. Or if Jesus doesn’t say ______ about football or fishing, but in order to do partake in those I have to ignore what he says elsewhere about my Christian life, then I have worshiped an idol. We often choose idols over Jesus all the while thinking, “I don’t love fishing or football more than God! That’s crazy talk!” Nope its just our heart talking through our actions, revealing what we ultimately worship.

Connar and I walked through several scenarios together last night. Daddy loves fishing. But if all the thinks about is fishing, that is his idol. If I’m willing to sacrifice regular church worship to take Connar to every baseball tournament under the sun, so that I can get him a college scholarship, then that is the idol I worship. If all you do is play basketball, think about basketball, have a terrible attitude when your team loses, can’t shake hands, fight back when people foul you, then you can know basketball is your idol. Just for the record, I wasn’t that specific and detailed in the scenario.

Of course with Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods, he correctly points out that there are idols beneath the idols. For instance, basketball or fishing could be a means to the ends of success, significance, meaning, approval, etc….But first things first.

Don’t be afraid to admit that you love things more than God. He knows it. Jesus died for it. Admit it, confess it, and go back to the one who is greater than fishing, football, or whatever it is for you. You’ll be able to prioritize and re-place your hobbies and passions (fishing and football are two of my passions) to where they are supposed to be. In the end, since idols always leave us empty, and Jesus claims to do the opposite (John 4), you’ll be glad you did. And continue to do so daily.

Shoud you facebook and tweet during church?

A pastor in Arizona actually encourages social media during the worship service. “What” say you, or at least that’s what I say. I’m a pastor. Is that really a good idea?

Just before The Office took a nose dive in quality, it depicted a beautifully tragic/accurate cell phone addiction scene. Ryan, one of the younger characters on the show had his cell phone taken away during a game of bar trivia. He was cheating with it. After it was taken away, and for just only a matter of minutes, he confessed he couldn’t play the game any longer because, “I can’t live without my cell phone.”

I confess now that I have a smart phone, I use it all the time. I take it places where I probably shouldn’t. But is “having to have it” all times a good thing? My wife says no, and I think I agree with her. And I’m pretty sure Jesus is on her side on this one.

If you watch the short clip, which of course you should, you’ll see a pastor leading his congregation to share the gospel on facebook and other social media. During the service. He argues that the church should be ahead of the times and take advantage of these opportunities.

As one who tends to embrace the pragmatic, I can sympathize with this direction. The Reformers certainly embraced technology in the form of the printing press. They took great advantage of it, and one wonders what kind of influence they would have had without that wonderful piece of technology. I don’t remember Luther or Calvin saying, “I want to go ‘old school.’ Let’s just get some people to hand-write our materials. Helmut or Pierre, you guys have good penmanship, right?” Nope they took advantage of what was out there and used it for the spread of the gospel.

While I love the outward facing direction of this pastor, and the truth that people need to hear the gospel preached each week, my concern is more in regards to the timing of when this should happen. Here are my three main concerns:

 1.) Cell phone idolatry. We’re on our cell phones 24-7. Can we not take a break from them, taking our gaze off our idols (even if we’re using them for good things like inviting folks to church)? Aren’t we more like Ryan from The Office than we want to admit? Who greater to deal with our idolatry than the beautiful risen Savior King Jesus?

2.) Church and worship. Should the church worship service be a time no different than any other during the week? Or is it a once-a-week special time when God’s covenant people gather together to offer up their hearts, minds, time, wallets, voices to serve the God who has graciously saved them and lavished them with grace? Invite people to worship. Ask early and ask often. But when God issues His call to worship Him, just direct your attention on Him as much as is possible. You’ve got tons of time to invite folks over facebook, twitter, text messages, etc….

3.) Are invitations during worship more effective than invitations extended before or after church? Do you really think its more effective to take a picture of yourself singing and then tweet it to others than to send the same message after or before worship starts? Perhaps the most effective communicative tool is asking someone in person. You don’t even need a cell phone plan to do that.

Other pastors have thought through the issues of technology during worship. Some don’t even want power point or media shout. Some think printing words in the bulletin is from the devil (God only wants you to sing out of man-made hymnbooks I guess…). That’s not me. Use technology for God’s glory, our edification, for outreach and mercy.

Use technology but don’t let technology use you. I think someone smarter than myself probably already said that once. Or twice maybe….

If you’re interested why well known Reformed pastor Tim Challies thinks you absolutely should not tweet sermons in real time, check this out. I don’t always agree with him-why do pastors feel the need to always make that disclaimer when its pretty obvious we can’t agree with everyone all the time-but he is very biblical, thoughtful, and “down with the times.”

Next post will be on some spiritual benefits of technology folks have passed on to me.

Just Another Mother’s Day

Yesterday was Mother’s Day. Ed Stetzer mentioned that this is typically a day where church attendance really increases. In his article in USA Today he quotes:
Christmas, Easter and Mother’s Day have become the three days of male holy obligation when their wives and mothers are able to guilt them into the pews,” says David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church.
This peaks like a candy kiss on Mother’s Day when “pastors tend to gush over women in their sermons,” Murrow says.
“But on Father’s day, men get a ‘straighten up’ lecture: ‘Dad, get right with God, reconcile with your kids,’ etc. You would never hear any suggestion on Mother’s Day that women could improve on their relationships,” Murrow says.
This sentiment won’t happen at Redeemer, but the reasons are more theological and pastoral than equitable (let’s make sure we talk good or challenging about both Dads and Moms.) There are reasons why we, and many other churches don’t “celebrate” Mother’s Day, even though one could argue this makes the least amount of “sense.”

It has NOTHING to do with the appreciation that we have with women in general and mothers in particular. There is no higher calling than a mother. You would have more materials if Mom worked ‘outside’ of the home, but I think your family would still get a lot less in return. I’ll settle for less stuff and more of Mom in my kids lives. So in other words, I value mothers. Instead, there are other factors involved.
Before I get to them, I do want to say this. There are some things that I believe are appropriate. Praying for mothers in a pastoral prayer on Mother’s Day as long as you pray for the mothers that never were, and for the spiritual mothers in your church too. Our children’s church material was Mother’s Day specific. Now on to the reasons why we don’t “celebrate” it.
1.)  Worship is God-centered not man-centered. God is the one who calls us to worship and Jesus describes the Father as one who actually “seeks worshipers (John 4).” We respond to Him and His grace, offering up our voices, prayers, and tithes. Grace motivates us to give of ourselves and grace comforts us as we realize we don’t do so hot all the time. Then because of the gospel, we hear God speak to us through His Word. We respond to the gospel in repentance and belief each week. There just really isn’t any room for a Mother’s Day highlight or emphasis. It really doesn’t fit with a God-centered worship service.

2.) Worship is Christ-centered. We celebrate Jesus life, death, and resurrection each week. We don’t want to do anything that would take away from this celebration. The service is about Jesus and what He has done. As a result, I would also not ask veterans, or Dads, or teachers to stand up, though I’m extremely grateful for all of the aforementioned. We are there to worship Jesus. There is plenty of time to appreciate and serve mom, Dad, veterans, teachers outside the worship time.
3.) Pastoral or pragmatic/utilitarian? One could argue, that before the service starts we could have Mother’s Day flowers handed out by ushers and greeters. Or we could have mothers stand up BEFORE the service starts. One could make the argument that if you do this BEFORE the call to worship that it wouldn’t take anything away from Christ. Hypothetically one could argue that, but there is still another problem. Mother’s Day is a very hard day for some women. Very hard. Christmas is a hard day for some (I’ve never heard Easter being hard though…) because of terrible family experiences or the loss of children. Mother’s Day is undoubtedly hard for those desiring to be Mom’s, but for some reason the Lord has closed their wombs. Mother’s Day is hard for those who’ve had abortions. I hadn’t ever thought through how hard it was until a professor in seminary brought it to our attention; he and his wife would leave every year at the time and get away and mourn. They couldn’t face the, “Ok Mom’s, stand up now and let’s see who is the youngest or oldest,”(like we’re at a bridal shower!). I’ve never thought of Mother’s Day in the same way since.
Now for many women, Mother’s Day is great. But we can’t only think about the numbers game or else we’ll fall into utilitarianism: the greatest good for the most number of people is the RIGHT thing to do. If the gospel offends someone, then let them be offended. I don’t want to hear about me being a sinner. I’m OK with that.
But as a pastor, I can’t put a stumbling block in the way of worship. I don’t blame women who have miscarried or never become pregnant for skipping out on church that day (and if you know me, you know I don’t think there are many more legitimate reasons to gather weekly for worship!) if the focus of worship or a sermon is motherhood.
Basically the two main principles are those Jesus summed up for us: Love God and Love Others.

While our church has issues, like them all, I think we do a good job with Mother’s Day. A woman explained how much she appreciated it how we handle Mother’s Day here. Drawing attention toward Jesus and away from us, with a sensitivity toward those who may be more prone to mourn. That’s a good Sunday in my book.

Craft, Heart, and Holy Spirit: putting them in their proper order on Sundays

This past Sunday Redeemer held our “official” thanksgiving service for yet another one of God’s gracious gifts to us: our new building. We intended on having our official thanksgiving service several weeks into the month of February because it would give us a few weeks to “work the kinks” out. The service was wonderful, well attended with plenty of visitors, and the Spirit seemed to really be moving in folks.
However, the kinks were definitely not “worked out.” Our senior pastor Barret did not have a fully functioning microphone (that’s what he gets for giving me the cheap one!); it gave so much feedback that he preached “unplugged.” But it was OK, and many left encouraged and several visitors have expressed desire to come back.
Here are some reflections on the role and place of Craft, Heart, and the Holy Spirit.
1.) Craft. A worship service is not designed for entertainment or to give off the “wow” factor. However, we do all things for the glory of God and therefore do the best we can to hold a worship service with excellence. For instance, we don’t want people leading us in song with bad voices that can distract (like mine), untrained folks who can’t preach well about Jesus, musicians who can’t play instruments well, sound techs that were English majors, etc…In addition, we pick out songs with intent, place them within a simple liturgy designed to take worshipers through the story of the gospel: God calls us to worship Him, we praise God for who He is, confess sins, hear of the forgiveness in Christ, respond to God’s instruction for us in His Word, sing more praise and thanksgiving, and leave with the hope of God’s blessing. All that takes time, thought, effort. Sometimes it flows smoother than others, but if you look for it, you can see how the pieces fit together.
Music takes practice. If you’re not willing to practice,  you probably don’t take into consideration the weighty task at hand: leading people to worship the Holy and Gracious God. 
Preaching takes practice. I spend time trying to memorize and practice several hours on Saturday before preaching. On Monday or Tuesdays I usually listen to all or part of my sermons to better the craft: pauses, diction, voice inflection, connection to Jesus, was it challenging where it should have been challenging, encouraging where it should have been encouraging, etc…That is all part of the craft of a worship service.
2.) Heart. More important than craft though is the heart behind it. God doesn’t care as much about craft as he does heart. The heart of the musicians is just as important if not more important than their skill. The heart of the preacher is just as if not more important than his craft. The heart of the sound person is more important than the sound quality. Those who put time into the craft and quality of the worship service in essence waste their time if their heart is not “tuned to sing thy grace,” as reminded by the hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. If singers or musicians are “off,” we can still worship.
And for fellow worshipers (everyone who is there), the evaluation should more often be aimed at the individual heart as opposed to the craft of the preacher, prayer, musicians, sound technicians, etc….We are all good at evaluating others, but seldom are good at evaluating our own hearts in worship. That’s because we don’t practice it very much and instead leave the focus on the performance of the preacher or musicians, or whether or not we liked the songs.
The heart behind the worship leader, preacher, person leading in prayer is more important than his craft. Skills don’t pay the bills when it comes to worship. Hiding behind skills and craft is like hiding behind a glass door.
 3.) The Holy Spirit. When Jesus dialogs with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), he tells her that God is looking for worshippers who will worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. Location is not the main thing anymore (Jerusalem used to be THE kosher place for worship service), because God is Spirit and His Spirit will soon dwell in hearts of believers. Craft is also not the main thing-and never was. The individual heart of the worshiper and worship leader is most important. However, the great thing about The Holy Spirit is that he can trump both craft and heart. For instance, he can move and work when the sound is off, the music is sub-par and the preacher’s craft has seen better days. I’ve listened to my sermons where my craft is embarrassing (and it’s hard to listen to yourself) but people have said, “That sermon spoke to me.” In my pride, I’d like to have done a better job. But much of that is simply because my focus is on the craft-not my heart or the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit can even work when our hearts are in the wrong place. How many times have you come to worship begrudgingly? Has not the Holy Spirit overridden your heart? That’s why you should never make your motivation or lack thereof a reason to skip out on worship. The Holy Spirit can do some great things with not only bad craft but bad hearts. And I’m thankful.
So in the end, if you find yourself disappointed or angry about your craft, simply learn what you can from it. I encouraged someone recently by saying, “You tried your best, but things just didn’t turn out like we’d hoped. Yet the Holy Spirit showed up, so just relax!” But if you become neurotic and driven not to fail again, remember, that God loves you too much to let you “succeed.” He will let you fail until you realize that you are probably emphasizing craft over the heart and the work of the Holy Spirit.

There are no direct parallels in life to a Sunday worship. It is unique. It is not a performance. So throw out the grading system you use to evaluate everything else. Come to worship, sing, lead, preach, learn, be challenged, be encouraged, evaluate your heart for the glory of God. And enjoy every bit of it. We the redeemed should humbly bask in that glory so that the Holy Spirit, the heart, and the craft are placed in their proper order. That order.

Why churches and Christians should worship on Xmas Day

I guess it happens every so and so (maybe 7) number of years that Xmas Day falls on a Sunday. If you have a problem with me writing “Xmas,” and plenty of Christians do (including several on a search committee I interviewed with a few years ago), let R.C. Sproul straighten things out for you. 


Anyhow, many churches wonder what to do when with Christmas falls on a Sunday? Some see great opportunity. Some see great difficulty because numbers will be down. Some wonder whether or not to move or cancel services.


A recent LifeWay Research study of 1,000 Protestant pastors shows that 91 percent of Protestant pastors plan to have services on Christmas Day while 69 percent said they plan to host Christmas Eve services.

Here’s why I think its a good idea to have worship this Sunday Dec 25th.

1.) If you believe that worship should be held on the first day of the week, as seems to the implied pattern in scripture (John 20:1,19; Acts 20:7; I Cor 16:2) , as well as the practice of most churches not called “Seventh-Day Adventist,” then you probably should continue corporate worship that day.

2.) Our actions always teach something. Now of course those actions are always subject to interpretation unless one is given in conjunction. In other words, you can’t simply assume what your actions teach. But let’s consider what a service cancellation most likely teaches. What would be the main reason why people wouldn’t want to come to church on Xmas Sunday morning? Family traditions. Presents. Family. That’s what Xmas is often “about.” If not Santa and presents, then it soon becomes about family. So by canceling a worship service because of, or so that, people can spend time with family, it seems to me that you’re teaching “family first, Jesus second.” According to Jesus, the order is actually reversed (Luke 14:26). What suburbanite doesn’t need to not only hear this, but to practice this? Our families are often our idols. I know from experience: MY OWN! 

3.) In looking at some of the comments on Ed Stetzer’s blog post, I noticed that some folks believed they were loving their pastors well by giving them Xmas Day off to spend time with family. My family and I (well at least Amy, but I can’t imagine my 3 year old not being excited because he wants to be at church every day) are excited to be in church. Part of it is that we don’t have family here. But part of it is that worship is our favorite time of the week. I don’t say this because I think I’m holier or better than you if you don’t. I’m just saying I WANT to be there. Last week my wife talked to a mother who said, “I’m so excited that Xmas falls on a Sunday. I can’t wait!” We’re not alone.

4.) What better way to elevate Jesus above presents, even above your family or family traditions, than by setting those aside in order to worship Jesus with your brothers and sisters in the faith? It gives you an opportunity to teach your children why you worship. It gives you a chance to declare before your extended family, that Jesus is your King. You will follow Him first even when it conflicts with family “obligations.”

5.) Many Christians literally risk life and limb to come to worship. We don’t need to feel guilty that we don’t, but isn’t our tendency only to worship when it doesn’t involve risk or cost to us?

Just some of my thoughts on why church’s should have worship on Xmas Day, and why I think Christians should seriously consider doing family stuff before or after worship. 

Here are some unhealthy motivations (we probably all need to repent from) for going to worship on Sunday Dec 25th

1.) You think your church is better than others. God will soon prove that He thinks the same way too.
2.) You just want to teach your kids that Xmas isn’t about Santa or gifts, but don’t consider the importance, need, desire for you to be there as well
3.) You are jealous and angry of the others getting a head start on the sticky-buns and sausage balls and the real fun.