Category Archives: Church

Showing Up Late for God

I recently read a post by Tom Kraeuter titled, “In God’s Presence.” Tom was discussing the attitude or perception we bring with us when we come together to worship. He summed it up at the end with the following sentence. “What do you suppose would happen if we actually acted like He [God] was there?”

What a great question, and not just for worship services, but for all of life. For God is indeed with us in a special way when we gather together for worship. However, as followers of Christ, God also dwells with us and within us. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit, indwelt by the living God as a result of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. God paid the highest price to make this happen (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). And yet, I fear that my life does not demonstrate this acknowledgement of God’s presence as it should.

I remember when I was younger, before I was married, and when my wife and I were still dating. There was always a great anticipation when I knew I was going to be able to see her. This was magnified during the college years because we were often separated for weeks at a time. One instance stands out in my mind clearly.

It was the weekend before spring break and I was anxious to get home. However, I had to serve that weekend in a church in Iowa. Following the Sunday service, I packed up the car and headed back to Kansas City. I had to drop off another guy at school before heading back to St. Louis. So, we drove the four to five hour trip, without stopping, back to the dorm. By the time we got there, a restroom break was definitely in order. As it turned out, the dorms were locked, as was everything else on campus. So, I thought I would use the restroom when I stopped to fill up the car with gas. When I got to the gas station in town, there was no restroom.

I headed out of town, thinking I will stop somewhere along the way from Kansas City to St. Louis. However, the longer I drove, the more the anticipation of seeing my future wife grew. I was in a hurry to get home. As each rest area or exit approached, I just kept on driving. There was a problem though. Not only had it been eight or nine hours since my last “break,” I had also been drinking, and finishing, a two liter bottle of caffeinated soda to help me stay awake. Needless to say, by the time I arrived at my wife’s house, I was in serious pain. I jumped out of the car to run to the door to meet her, but I could not even stand up straight. She met her future husband at the door, only to be greeted by a hunched over guy who shouted, “I will see you in a minute,” as he rushed past her to get the restroom.

I know, it is a goofy story. Some of you probably think it is over-sharing. I don’t care. What it helps remind me of is a moment in time when I was full of anticipation, to the point of disregarding everything else, even intense discomfort and pain.

For each of us that have been brought into the family of God, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we have been given a great gift. We have been given the privilege of having the God of the universe dwell within us to guide us, strengthen us, and to allow us to share in His great purposes and plans. He brings us peace and joy, even in the midst of troubling times. Yet, I am afraid that when it comes to our relationship with God, we are often guilty of showing up late. What I mean by that is that we can get to the place where there is no anticipation for meeting with Him.

We show up late in our daily lives. How many times have I stayed up too late, just watching one more thing on television, checking a few things online or in email? Before long, I am getting to bed late by 30 minutes, an hour, or even longer. So, as I set my alarm the next morning, I realize that if I am going to get enough sleep, I am going to have less time in the morning. My time with God will be very short or be passed up altogether. Therefore, for the sake of some meaningless entertainment or piddling around the night before, I have given up the opportunity to spend time in God’s Word and prayer. I show up late for the Creator of the universe, Who desires to fill my life with wisdom, joy, peace, and His presence. I don’t have enough foresight or anticipation to look beyond the preceding evening’s trivialities to what is waiting for me the next morning.

We show up late for our gathered events. The previous example can apply to our times of gathered worship together as well. If we stay up too late on the nights before our worship gatherings, we are going to less ready to get up and get going the next day. If we do make the effort to show up, we are tired and not at our best. We show up late for the service or Bible study. As a worship leader, I don’t pay a lot of attention to who actually comes into the service late. My attention is usually on the songs we are playing and singing. I just know that when the singing time ends, there are a lot more people present then when we began.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not throwing stones. I have noticed that, on days when I am not leading, I am prone to show up late also. Why is that? If I was anticipating being a part of the church of Jesus Christ worshiping their God and Savior, wouldn’t I make sure I was on time? You would think so. It must be that I value other things more than God and His people.

When we gather together to worship, I believe God blesses this in a special way. His people have come together to worship Him and to hear from Him. He has promised that when we get together is His Name, He is there with us in a unique way. Our presence is also important in another way. We encourage and serve each other by our presence. When we sing together, we not only worship God, we challenge, encourage, and edify each other. If I am sitting in a worship service, surrounded by a bunch of empty seats, feeling like I am singing by myself, this is not very encouraging. If I have others beside me, in front of me, and behind me, singing out the praises and greatness of God and His promises to us, that encourages me. And if I am there for you, then I am helping to encourage you as well.

Worship is not just about me and what I am going to get out of it. If I am showing up late, sure, I may still receive a blessing from the singing and the Word. But what am I saying to God? What am I saying to the others in the congregation? Am I saying that you were not important enough for me to get here on time?

I know that there are many things that can happen on a daily basis. I know that Sunday mornings can be chaotic. There are many who come in late due to circumstances out of their control. Others come in late because they have been serving somewhere else that morning. What I am talking about are those things that are within our control. What can we do to demonstrate to God and others that they are worth our time and effort? Let’s ask God to help fill us with an anticipation that makes us not want to show up late to meet with Him, whether that is on Sunday or every day of the week.

Together for His glory…

In Defense of Martha

First of all, for those who have followed my blog in the past, I know, it has been a long time in between posts. There are many reasons I could name, but I won’t bore you with all of that. But I would like to thank those of you who encouraged me to get back at it again. It is appreciated. Now, to this week’s post.

Over the years, I have heard and read many messages about Mary and Martha. The passage that is usually referenced is Luke 10:38-42. The basic message of the teachings that I have heard usually ends up being pretty much the same. Mary is hailed as the one who chose what is best by sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to him teach. Martha, on the other hand, is portrayed as the one who misses what is most important, being too busy working and serving to spend time with Jesus. However, in many ways, I think Martha has gotten a bad rap.

Don’t get me wrong. I think there definitely is a message here for the Martha’s among us. When Martha complains to Jesus, inferring that He does not care that her sister has left her with all of work, Jesus gently rebukes her. Jesus tells Martha that He will not deny Mary from pursuing what she desired. Let’s take a look at why I think Jesus rebukes Martha.

Jesus was not rebuking Martha for serving. Jesus tells her that she is “anxious and troubled about many things.” In other places in the New Testament, Jesus had told His disciples to not be anxious.  It might have been about when they would face tribulation or about what they would eat, wear, or how they would live. There are many other examples. In most, or all of these situations, Jesus is referring to the state of being worried or weighed down with the concerns of life rather than in trusting God. In a sense, this is what Martha is doing in this passage. She has become burdened and weighed down with her service to the point that it was distracting her from everything else, including taking the time to sit at the feet of Jesus. When our service pulls us away from our relationship with God, then it is time to pull back and evaluate. The problem is, like Martha, we usually don’t see it. We need someone else to help us make the connection.

However, I think many people take this one instance in Scripture and turn it into a model for bashing the Martha servants among us. This is the only recorded time that Jesus rebukes Martha. In fact, it was Martha, not Mary, who first welcomed Jesus into her home. In John 11:5, it says that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” It is interesting that Martha is listed first, almost as a place of prominence. When her brother, Lazarus died, Martha was the one who first went out to meet Jesus. In John 11:21-22, she is recorded as saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Martha believed that Jesus had the power to heal her brother. She also seems to indicate that even now, Jesus could still do something about the situation. Finally, sometime after Lazarus is raised from the dead, they gave a dinner for Jesus. At the beginning of John 12:2, it simply says, “Martha served.” No explanation. No rebuke from Jesus. She was simply serving Jesus.

As far as I know, this is the last we hear of Martha in the Bible. If we take into account all of the passages where she is mentioned, I think we come up with a different picture than is often portrayed. We have a person with a servant’s heart, who welcomed the Lord, believed in Who He claimed to be, and faithfully served in the way that God had created her to be. Yes, she was rebuked by the Lord, but if discount all those who were rebuked by God in the Bible, and remembered them only for their failures, we would have no one left. So, I think it is good to see Martha as a whole, and not based on one incident.

I think there are some in the church that might use the Mary and Martha comparison to justify their lack of service or involvement. They are content to “sit at the feet of Jesus.” Unfortunately, they never get off their backsides and do anything to serve the Lord or the church. They may attend a church week after week, but never do anything to serve others. They come in, get what they want from the service, and then leave. And, if they don’t like the service, then they go somewhere else and sponge off of another church for a while, until that becomes old, and so on.

There is an old saying that, in the church, 20% of the people do 80% of the work and 80% of the people do 20% of the work. In so many ways, that is true, but very unfortunate because both parties miss out. The 20% misses the benefit of the gifts and talents of those who don’t serve. And, quite frankly, they eventually can become exhausted and burned out. The 80% miss the joy and reward of being used by God to serve others. There are times and seasons in everyone’s life, so don’t misunderstand this as a broad-brushed attack on everyone who doesn’t currently serve in an active way. But, if we are honest with ourselves, we all err towards being one or the other, or maybe even both at times.

So, my take from the story of Martha is two-fold. Don’t become so burdened and weighed down with service that you forsake your relationship with the Lord. And on the other hand, don’t spend so much time “sitting” that you cripple the church with your lack of service and miss the joy of letting the Lord use you to glorify Him and bless others. May we pursue God with lives of worship, both in word and deed.

Together for His glory…

Weathering the Storm

If you drive by the church where we attend, you will notice recently that there are a lot of shingles missing from recent storms. In fact, many of the shingles that remain are very friendly. They will even wave to you as you pass by. Thankfully, this situation will be resolved soon, thanks to the efforts of some people who worked hard to get it fixed.

These shingles did not weather the storm very well. Churches sometimes don’t weather storms very well either. That is because they are made up of flawed people. However, those churches that endure are those that are built on a strong foundation and keep their eyes fixed on the call of Jesus Christ.

It does not mean that there won’t be hard times. Storms may come through and they may do some damage. Unfortunately, this damage is almost always done through people within the church, not outside the church. Sometimes, we focus so much attention on those organizations and people who are trying to oppose the church and limit the reach of the gospel. I’ve got news for you. They don’t hold a candle to the devastation that can be caused by the people within the church. And no one is immune. It could be me. It could be you.

There is a constant battle in this world. Jesus Christ has called us to shine the light of the gospel and share His love and salvation with others. However, our enemy will do all that he can do destroy the work of the church. And I think he has an easier time working within the church than coming at it with outside forces.

Gossip. Telling other people things they have no business knowing. Airing our frustrations publically to others within the church and even to those outside the church, rather than appropriately addressing them with the appropriate people or leadership.

Lack of trust. Automatically assuming that someone has done something wrong or has false motives. Not supporting leadership, as they pour their time and lives into helping the church move forward and grow. Questioning actions and motives of leaders and those serving, and drawing others into the discussion.

Judging. “Can you believe they are doing that?” “If it was up to me, we would not be doing it this way.” “I wish we did things like that other church.” The assumption is that those leading or serving have not carefully considered what they are doing or presenting. As if they are not doing what they think is best for the overall ministry of the church and to reach people with the gospel.

These are just a few of the things that can afflict and impact the work of a church. And they can kill unity and bring division. You know why more people are not involved in leadership and serving in the church? Because it hard. It is sacrifice. It has a cost. And it is easier to sit on the sidelines and commentate and throw rocks.

But for those of us who might decide to act in such a manner, we might want to consider otherwise. If we are acting in a manner that would bring us in opposition to what God is working to accomplish, do we think that it will be without consequence? Jesus said that the gates of Hell would not stand against His church. If that is the case, do you think he will allow one of us to stand in the way of building His church?

I try to challenge myself with this thought from time to time. Are my actions building up or tearing down what Jesus is building in His church? Am I a part of the problem or am I helping to build the church? I think our American mindset has too often clouded our perspective in the church. We think it is our right to contradict or air our frustrations about what we don’t think is right. Maybe we have a legitimate concern. If so, it should be addressed with those in leadership. If we handle it some other way or just complain and gossip about it, we are in sin. This is the church of Jesus Christ, established by Him. And He takes the church and its business seriously. And He will defend it.

As I look back on my life, I know that there have been times when I have gossiped and acted unfaithfully towards those who God has placed in leadership. Thankfully, God has been gracious and disciplined with kindness. But it was humbling and sometimes painful. I pray that my life would be devoted to building up and not tearing down. To encouragement, not sabotage. To standing with Christ, not opposing Him and His work in the church. Leaders are not perfect. But they are directly accountable to Jesus Christ for their actions. I think He can handle things better than we can.

I am glad that I am in a church where there are many who are committed to building the church and serving and encouraging others. We have weathered many storms. We will weather many more. Not because we are always right or are so wise or strong. But we will prevail because Jesus said we will prevail. If we place our trust in Word and His work in us to accomplish His work through us, He will build His church. I for one, want to be working with Jesus, not against Him. I pray that it would be so.

Together for His glory…

Examining My Idolatrous Heart

“The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy.” 2 Chronicles 36:15-16

As I have mentioned before, I listen to the Bible while exercising. Depending on my consistency for exercise, I listen some weeks more than others. I have found it to be a great supplement to my study of the Word and I recommend it to you. I have now made it through 2 Chronicles. The final chapter contains the verses above, which is followed by the judgment of God on His people. These two verses contain several things for us to consider.

God is persistent. For years, through multiple prophets, God had warned His people about their idolatry and their rejection of Him and His law. They were without excuse. The people could not say that they were unaware of God requirements. God had even brought smaller judgments and trials on the nation, in order to turn their hearts back to Him, but the revivals were short-lived. They would turn away again. Yet, God continued to warn and call His people to return to Him.

The persistence of God flows from His compassion for His people. God was protecting them from the emptiness and passing satisfaction brought by their pursuit of the gods of other nations. God knew that they would find no greater fulfillment or lasting joy than in their covenant relationship with Him. He wanted the best for His people, not just for the present generation, but for future generations. Therefore, He continued to warn and call them back to Him, in spite of their repeated rebellion.

Yet, in the end, the people would not have it God’s way. They wanted things their own way. They did not believe God’s warnings. In their foolishness, they did not think God would act. Or worse, they did not think He could act. They mocked His messengers and despised His prophets. They took on the practices and worship of the gods of the nations God had driven out before them. They did even more evil than the nations before them (2 Chronicles 33:9), even though they had been given the very Word of God. Their rebellion was a complete rejection of God.

Therefore, as the passage says, there was no remedy. God brought judgment on the people of Judah and Israel. They were killed or removed from the land He had given them. The temple, built for the glory and worship of God, was destroyed. The people God had chosen and delivered from captivity were now captive again. God was justified in His judgment. His persistence and compassion kept it from happening sooner. And even His judgment, He preserved a remnant of His people, once again demonstrating His compassion and faithfulness, even when His people were not faithful.

There are many lessons for us in this passage. As followers of Jesus Christ, we need to be guarding our hearts against the idolatry that is so prone to the human race. We need to continually examine our hearts, asking God to search our hearts and reveal to us the things which we are treasuring more than Him. Is God sending us reminders and messages that we are not listening to? Or worse, are we despising and rejecting them? Have we been taken captive by idols in our heart?

In the church, we are often quick to cast judgment on those outside of our evangelical Christian bubble. We target the big sin items in society. We condemn elected officials for not upholding Christian principles. If they would only operate on Biblical principles, society would be turned around. Really? The nation of Israel had the most Biblical framework of any nation that has ever existed. They had the very Word of God as their constitution, to put it in our modern framework. Yet, rebellion and idolatry and sin did not cease. There was corruption throughout the nation’s leaders, priesthood, and the people. As with Israel, all of our attempts will also fall short because of the idolatry of the human heart. At the same time we point our finger at society, sin and idolatry in our hearts could be impacting the work of the gospel through our lives and our church.

The human heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9). We deceive even ourselves. The work of the church is often hindered because of the idolatry of our hearts. Our preferences, prejudices, agendas, short-sightedness, and sin hamper the effectiveness of the church. Sadly, we don’t often realize it. In fact, we may even think we have noble or righteous causes. I have had to examine my own heart to see if there are convictions or positions I adamantly hold, but which may be working against what God wants to do in His church. I have to ask myself whether my ministry agenda and pursuits have become an idol in my life or whether they are actually helping to accomplish God’s purposes for His church.

How do we know? We have to continually examine our hearts, looking for these idols. We have to check our attitudes. When someone in leadership speaks regarding a ministry or mission, is my first reaction negative? Do I consistently question whether this is something that the church should be doing? Do I frequently criticize or grumble to others about what someone else in the church is doing? If I present an idea for ministry and it is not readily received or pursued, do I become angry and critical? Have I withdrawn from most of the activity and ministry of the church? If I have not physically withdrawn, have I removed myself emotionally or spiritually, so that I am just going through the motions? Have I become a piece of driftwood in the church, just floating around, bumping into things, causing damage and distraction, rather than intentionally engaging in ministry, under the leadership that God has put in place in my church?

I have been at our current church for 22 years. I have been actively serving, in some capacity, for almost every one of those years. And yet, I need to regularly ask myself these same questions. I routinely construct idols in my life or ministry that need to be cut down. I have disagreed with more things than I can count. There have been times when I have questioned why I am even at the church. However, God has allowed me to work through these things, hashing them out with leadership and others in the church. In the end, God has used these things to refine me and to reveal areas in my life where I was prideful and was not teachable. It is an endless process and I have a long way to go.

If you have a bur under your saddle, it may be time to lift up the saddle and see what is really there. What you find may surprise you. Instead of the glaring issue you thought was there, like an issue with a person or the church, you may find an idol you have erected in your own honor. I pray that we will be quick to hear the Word and warnings that God brings our way. We should continually examine ourselves, to see if our lives and faith are what God has called us to (2 Corinthians 13:5). The alternative is to leave God with no remedy but to discipline us, as He has always done with His people. Jesus said that He will build His church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). If the gates of Hell will not prevail against it, surely He will not tolerate one of us standing against what He wants to accomplish. My friends, keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21).

Together for His glory…