Category Archives: Life of Worship

Planting Seeds

Note to Reader: A link to a video is provided below.  It is a tribute to someone who has exemplified a life of planting seeds, as discussed in this article.

Blog_ThumbnailBoom! There are times when we can see the impact of our actions instantly. I remember watching a friendly game of washers turn into a goofy and out of control game of basketball washers, where they were trying to block each other’s attempt to get the washer in the box. The problem with this was that there were cars nearby, and one of the washers went through the rear window of my car, shattering the glass all over the back seat. Not a fan of that version of the game.

There are other times when we don’t see the impact of our actions for a long time. Maybe we never see any during our lifetime. However, every action that we take, or don’t take, has an outcome, whether for the good or the bad. Again, some actions or events can have instant, large impacts. Other actions may result in small or even unseen impacts. A small, simple effort may not seem to have any effect initially, but, years later, could influence numerous people and events. In fact, these may end up having more long-term, lasting influence then events that seem to have immediate, blockbuster impact.

“Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.” 1 Peter 1:10-12

There are many things that could be said about this passage. One of major points relates to the prophecy of Scripture. The Old Testament foretold the coming of Christ. Their prophesies not only indicated what type of Messiah the people should expect, but it even provided details about when he would be coming. In other words, the people should not have been surprised by Jesus Christ when He came. It is one of the ways in which God shows the accuracy and trustworthiness of the Word of God. I spoke on this last time, so I am not going to touch on it at this time. However, if you would like to study more on the topic of the reliability of Scripture, see the resources available from the 2015 EFCA Theology Conference which focused on The Doctrine of the Scriptures. This is excellent material from some leading evangelical scholars and teachers.

For today, I want to focus on one phrase in 1 Peter 1:12, where it says, “It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you…” These prophets were writing what the Spirit had revealed to them. However, in addition to the actual prophecies of the coming Messiah, it was revealed to them that they were serving a people yet to be born. They were told that they were serving the people who would come to trust and follow Jesus Christ. Long after they were dead, the writings of the prophets would serve the followers of Christ. Therefore, their faithfulness to listen and respond to God, served those who lived hundreds and even thousands of years in the future. And this includes those of us today who follow Jesus Christ.

What immediate results did the prophets see when they proclaimed the message given to them by God? Stephen, right before he was stoned to death, provides the answer. “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” (Acts 7:52-53). The primary result the prophets saw from their faithfulness was persecution and death. And yet, the prophecies they recorded would serve God’s followers for years to come.

So, how does this apply to us? When we follow Christ, we are called to live our lives to give glory to God, faithfully serving through the opportunities that He gives us. Sometimes, we see the results of our efforts. Other times, we don’t see any positive results. If fact, there are times when it seems like the opposite. We give ourselves in service to God and others, and we receive criticism and opposition in return. Or, the recipients of our gift of service actually turn away and go the opposite direction, walking away from God. This can be confusing and even heartbreaking. So, how do we respond?

Be faithful and keep planting seeds. Whatever God has called you to do, continue to do it faithfully. Whether you are a pastor, executive, laborer, housewife, teacher, service provider, or whatever you do, continue to serve and take the opportunities that God gives you to plant seeds along the way. God does not call us to produce results. He calls us to faithfulness. That is a weird message for modern America. We can get instant anything.  We want instant everything. God does not operate on our culture’s standards. We should be thankful for this.

Be humble. Some “Christians” receive opposition and criticism simply because they are jerks. I wanted to use a stronger word, but that would probably get me in trouble. It is true that the true message of Christ will be offensive to many. However, that does not mean that we have the right to idiotic behavior that would be offensive regardless of what we were presenting. In Scripture, God continually calls us to humility and to have a servant’s mindset. Do the work God called you to do with humility and compassion as you seek to plant seeds of the Gospel. We need to leave pride and arrogance at the cross, where they need to die.

Trust God with the results. As I said, God calls us to be faithful. He is the One Who produces the fruit from the work that He does in and through us. God may allow you to see the fruit of some of your efforts. For other things, you may never see the results in this lifetime. A faithful act performed today may result in someone’s life being changed hundreds or thousands of years from now. You may plant a seed through your service that leads to impact several generations from now. Trust God, He knows what He is doing. He will be faithful to complete the work He is doing in us for today and for generations to come, until Christ returns.

The video I have linked below dates back 27 years ago, to April 22, 1988. The quality of the video is not great. It is probably a copy of a copy of a copy of an old VHS tape. I don’t share it in order to show what a great performer I am, because the performance is not that great. I don’t share it to show how high my vocal range used to be, how much thinner I used to be, or how much more hair I had then. I share it to illustrate a point. This event was held in a large auditorium in Kansas City. However, there were not many people in attendance, even though we had advertised the event through radio and other avenues. Several music groups performed and a pastor friend of mine provided the message. I remember the event date because it was his birthday.

I was on the stage that night because God had used him as a faithful witness in my life. It was this man who first encouraged me in leading worship, even though I always thought that he was far better at it and more gifted than me. For almost five years, this man had been my friend and planted seeds in my life, encouraging me to seek God. This was during time of great time of struggle with doubt and confusion regarding my faith. It was a dark time spiritually. I was lost and floundering. And yet, there I was, five years later, on that stage, back on the road of faith in God and His Word, and giving praise to God.

I can’t point to any one thing that turned things around, but there was finally a point where things clicked, and I came to a decision that, though I did not understand everything, I was going to put my full trust in the Lord. It has not always been a smooth journey. There have been ups and downs. But I can say that I am where I am today because God used a faithful man, planting seeds, to serve the needs of others. To serve me. I am forever thankful for his friendship and his faithfulness.

So, keep living faithfully for the Lord and planting seeds because God will use you to serve the lives of others, even long after you have gone to be with Him.

Together for His glory…

The Cost of the Life of Worship

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:7-11

I have a friend who is a pastor in another country. Their church has gone through difficult times. Because of decisions made, which were based on following what they felt led by God to do, about half of their congregation left the church. To make matters worse, the government has determined that churches like theirs will no longer be recognized as an official church; therefore creating additional struggles for them, logistically, culturally, and financially, as they try to reach their community with the gospel.

However, at the same time, God continues to bless his ministry and the church. God is using Him to reach thousands of people throughout his country and beyond, as he teaches and reasons from the truth of the Word of God. His ministry reaches into his culture and into the theological, academic, and political communities of his country and beyond. Recently, he found out that their church would have to move locations. This could be a hardship on their church. However, he looks on this as God opening the door for ministry, as their new location is in an impoverished area, where there are thousands in need of hope. He is excited about the opportunities this will provide to spread the gospel.

I have another friend who is a pastor. The church he pastors has also gone through some difficult struggles. The economic impact of the past few years has taken a toll on families within the church. Several individuals or families have left the church, either because they feel led to go somewhere else or because they have issue with someone in leadership or something within the ministry of the church. These circumstances, and others, have together impacted the financial situation of the church.

Therefore, to be faithful to manage God’s resources well, decisions were made to cut spending. He informed the congregation of decisions to tighten spending, providing an overall view of the cuts. What he did not tell them was that he, along with the other full-time staff member, agreed to have their salaries cut by 15%. They sacrificed so that the part-time staff would not be impacted financially and so other areas of ministry were not stripped of additional resources. So, they quietly sacrificed for those they serve, at significant financial cost to themselves.

However, the Lord continues to bless this ministry. This pastor continues to faithfully teach the Word of God to his congregation. He continues to pour out his life in service to those in his congregation. And God is blessing this ministry, as he, the elders, staff, and ministry leaders strive to implement the vision that God has provided for growing disciples and reaching the community with the gospel. People are learning and growing in the faith through the impact of the ministries of the church. Over the past months, several people have come to Christ and are now growing in their faith. Other believers, who have been less active within the life of the church, are now fulfilling God’s call to serve His people and spread the gospel. Still others, already pouring out their lives, are giving even more of their time and resources. God is at work, even in the midst of uncertainty and struggle.

We could speak of many others, who live throughout this country and the world, pouring out their time, their gifts and talents, opening their homes, giving away their resources and money, living in the face of opposition and danger, and even giving up their lives for the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are not looking for power, fame, and prosperity. They are looking to a greater blessing, that of knowing Jesus Christ and living for the glory of their God. They have counted the treasures of this world as worthless compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ and the eternal treasure that is Him and through Him, both now and for eternity.

So, this leads me to a question. What does following Christ cost us? If following Jesus Christ does not significantly impact our lives (spiritually, culturally, emotionally, physically, financially, popularity, and availability), then we need to examine our lives and priorities. Does the way we live demonstrate that we treasure Christ? Or do we value our earthly possessions, homes, cars, careers, sex, popularity, success, vacations, entertainment, time, and leisure more than Christ?

Here in the American church, I think it is time for a serious evaluation of our lives. How are we different from our neighbors or the culture? Earlier in the letter to the Philippians, Paul urges the church to shine as lights in the world, as they live in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation (Philippians 2:14-18). How are we doing? Do we shine like stars or do we blend right in? If we are to shine like stars, there should be a significant difference in our lives.

Jesus said that people would know we are His by the way we love each other (John 13:34-35). Frequently, some of the greatest damage to Christians is done from within the church. Churches can be ripe with gossip, slander, lack of respect and criticism towards leadership, bitterness, an unwillingness to forgive each other, rebellion, and more. Who needs enemies outside the church? We do the enemy’s work for him. Why get involved in ministry when I can lob grenades from the sidelines? Remember the words of Jesus. The world will know we are His disciples because we love one another.

We are called to give up the temporary pleasures of sin and to pursue God in holiness, through the indwelling and power of the Holy Spirit. We are to put to death what is earthly in us, whether sexual immorality, impurity, overindulgence, coveting, slander, lying, malice, obscene talk, or any of the other sins that entangle us. We have put off the old self, with its practices, and put on the new self which is being renewed into the image of Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:5-10). There is a cost to pursuing Christ in righteousness, forsaking those public and private sins. We give up the temporary, but empty, pleasures. But if we yield to His work within us, we will reap joy and the wonder of becoming more like Christ and enjoy fellowship with Him.

Does following Jesus impact how I spend my money and use my resources? The New Testament is full of examples of those who gave abundantly, sacrificed beyond their means, gave up possessions, comfort, and lived humbly so that they could give to God and support the work of the gospel. Many believers throughout the world today make great sacrifices to follow Christ. They give up much and, many times, have things taken from them specifically because they are Christians. Their generosity and forsaking of worldly gain can put us to shame here in America.

How significantly should following Jesus impact us financially? This is a question that every follower of Christ has to ask themselves. “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” 2 Corinthians 9:6-8

When, at the end of days, we stand before Christ, I don’t think we are going to wish we had spent more money on homes, cars, going out to eat, entertainment, the newest electronic devices, or the myriads of other things that flash across our computer or television screens. So, how much do I have to give? If I am asking myself the question in that manner, my heart is not in right place. I think we should pray that God would allow us to give as much as possible. “How much can I give, God? Please help me be able to give more!”

When it comes down to it, the cost of being able to live the life of worship is very expensive. However, the ultimate price is not paid by us. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9.

We cannot pay for salvation. We can only receive it. We can never repay God for what we have received. We can only participate in the grace that we have received, living by His power and wisdom, and by following the example of the One Who gave His life for us. And by valuing the eternal and letting go of the temporary, which will fade away in the end, we bring glory to God and are promised the rich reward of our God.

It may be rough going at times, as we learn to leave the things of this world behind and face the backlash of those who hold onto this world and its temporary pleasures. We will face opposition, sometimes even within the church. But the reward of God is eternal and it will never end and it will never fade away. More on that later.

Together for His glory…

The Sacrifice of the Life of Worship

And he [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24 ESV)

Control. We like to have it. It gives us security and pleasure. We think we have to possess it in order to have happiness and accomplish the things we want in this world. The world itself tells us that we need it. And yet, Jesus tells us that the only way to truly live is to relinquish it. There is a lot packed into those two sentences from Jesus.

Deny myself. This means that I give up ultimate control of my life to Christ. It is far more than making resolutions or giving up certain things a few times a year. It is more than trying to be a good person and follow the teachings of Jesus. This is a complete turning over of my life to God. It is yielding my wants, desires, and dreams to the perfect plan of the sovereign God.

Take up my cross. Taking up my cross implies that I must die. I must die to my will for my life, and take hold of God’s will for my life, my family, my church, my community, and my world. I must be willing to face the rejection that comes with identifying with Jesus Christ.

Follow Jesus. I must follow Jesus wherever He leads. During His earthly life, Jesus’ path often led Him into suffering and sacrifice. As His follower, I must expect that my path will lead there as well. Today, if I truly follow Jesus, the world will not stand up and cheer. If I truly follow Jesus, I will sacrifice many things in this life.

Losing my life to save it. As I deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus, I will find that I have lost nothing. In losing my life, I will actually save it. I may lose temporary, earthly things that the world clamors after, but I will gain the riches of eternity. In denying myself, yielding control of my life to God, I actually find freedom and joy in the richness and wonders of God. In taking up my cross, I might lose the favor and rewards this world has to offer, but I gain the favor and rewards of God Himself. And in following Jesus, while I may experience suffering and loss of worldly gain, I gain Christ and become co-heirs with Him.

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Philippians 3:12 ESV) As the apostle Paul says in this verse, I have not yet arrived. I have a long way to go. I want to be abandoned to God, but I get in my own way and I let other things turn my gaze away from the greater purposes and glory of God.

This past Sunday, our pastor spoke from the book of Malachi. It was a call to abandon mediocre living in every area of our lives. My selfish desires and fixation on temporary things are what keep me from living beyond the mediocre and experiencing the wonder of being in the center of God’s will. This is because moving from mediocre to extraordinary requires me to lose my life. It means giving up my rights to my time, my possessions, my money, and my life. It means putting it all at feet of God.

This is the sacrifice of the life of worship. It is yielding, dying, and suffering loss. And in turn, it is freedom, living, and gaining the riches of eternity.  In losing my life, I find it, in abundance from the very hand of God, through Jesus Christ. For all of the promises of God are fulfilled in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20).

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV)

Together for His glory…

The Struggle of the Life of Worship

I don’t get to go fishing as much as I would like. I love to get away from the city, especially in the Fall, when the weather is cooler, and listen to the sound of the wind, water, and leaves. It is very refreshing. I am not a great fisherman, but I still love it. Most of the time, the bait we buy is not the best. The worms have probably been in the container for quite a while. When you pull them out of the dirt, they don’t put up much of a fight.

However, on those rare occasions when the worms are lively, it can be a challenge to get those things on the hook. And once the hook goes through the first time, they really start to fight, thrashing wildly. In these cases, it is not uncommon for the hook to end up in my finger instead of the worm.

When we decide to follow Jesus Christ, we embark on a journey where we will experience victories and defeats. As we grow in our faith, we find new freedom and strength. However, we also find struggle and conflict. In Romans 12:1-2, the apostle Paul implores us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, this being our spiritual worship. The problem with living sacrifices is that they are not dead. We can squirm around and fight back, much like a worm trying to be put on a hook. Pain is not pleasant. We don’t like it and we often resist it.

But Paul is not just talking about pain here. I think he is talking about dying. This refers to the dying that takes place when we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to God. I was recently reminded of this and the role that sacrifice plays in the Christian life. In World Magazine, the recent article titled “Fixing the Sinkholes,” by Andrée Seu Peterson speaks to this. I recommend the magazine and the article.

The writers of Scripture speak about death, but many times they are not referring to physical death. They are speaking of sacrifice and death to self. Think of Jesus, on the night He was betrayed. The brutality and suffering that awaited Him were immense. He was sitting at a table with His closest earthly friends. Every single one of them would abandon Him. One of them would betray Him. He knew this and, yet, He served them. He washed their feet. He continued to teach them. He prayed for them. He prayed for us. He showed us the way of true worship.

True worship is the abandoning of ourselves to God, giving our lives to Him as a living sacrifice. It means living in the manner that Jesus lived. Jesus was willing to endure suffering for the sake of others and the glory of God. Jesus was willing to be wronged for the sake of others and the glory of God. Jesus was willing to give up His rights for the sake of others and the glory of God. How quickly do we rush to our own defense, standing up for our own rights, harboring the bitterness of wrongs done to us? How often do we pick up our toys and go home when we don’t get our own way or when others don’t do things exactly the way we think they should be done?

Jesus died to His desires. Jesus died to His rights. Jesus died that we might live. Jesus embraced the will of the Father, despite the knowledge that He would bear the full weight of God’s wrath for our sin. Even when He knew He would be abandoned, betrayed, and sacrificed, He continued to love and serve those who would dish out the rejection and send Him to the cross.

How different would our marriages, families, friendships, churches, and communities be if we would simply be willing to suffer rather than take offense and tenaciously hold onto our desire for our preferences and rights to be fully acknowledged and satisfied? Even more, to realize that these afflictions and “thorns” could very well be God’s discipline in our lives, to bring transformation in our lives and make us more like Christ (Hebrews 12:3-17).

What relationships would be transformed and reconciled if I was willing to die to my preferences? I am not talking about denying our convictions that are grounded in the Word of God. I am referring to those things, not essential, that divide us in our relationships. What if I was willing to die to my pride and serve, even if I am rejected or humiliated? What if I humbled myself instead of trying to be vindicated or acknowledged? What if I loved and served those people who drive me crazy and just get under my skin? What if I saw irritating circumstances and people as one of God’s means to make me more like Jesus?

So many people just view worship as an experience or something that we participate in. However, true worship is lived every moment. True is worship is a complete giving of our lives to God. It is living life in the trenches, pressing on to be transformed into the image of Christ in midst of life, not in spite of it. The life of worship is not a cakewalk. It can be filled with many difficulties and struggles, victories and failures. I know I have a long way to go. But God has promised that these struggles are momentary and light, in view of eternity and the glory that awaits and the joy we find in Him. Jesus died so that reconciliation could take place. We are called to follow in His steps. Are we following, or are we seeking an easier way through?

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.” James 4:10

Together for His glory…

The Invitation to the Life of Worship

I can remember when my boys were younger, I would be working on a task or job and they would sometimes come along with me. On some of those occasions, they would want to help out. Now, depending on their age, the amount that they were able to do was limited. However, I enjoyed spending time with them and wanted them to feel like they were helping out. So, if we were moving a table or something like that, they would help carry it. However, I would position myself towards the middle of the table, so that I was carrying the majority of the weight while they helped and “carried” their end of the table.

In many ways, I think this provides a good picture of living the life of worship. In Matthew 11:25-30, Jesus offers us an invitation. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). It is the invitation to come and follow Him and to live a life of worship. But it is unlike any invitation offered by the world and by other religions.

The wisdom of God is revealed to the child at heart. In Matthew 11:25-26, Jesus says that the Father has hidden things from those who think they are wise and important and He has revealed them to little children. In another passage, Jesus says that unless we become like a child, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:1-4). I believe this says that God reveals Himself to those who know that they need Him. To those who are self-sufficient and confident in themselves, God hides His wisdom from them. God wisdom is provided for those that come as a child.

Religion is a heavy load to bear. Jesus does not offer us religion. Jesus does not invite us to come and prove ourselves to Him. But for most who are involved in religious activities, it is a labor of proving their worth or earning the favor of whatever god or system they are following. Even many people who call themselves Christians live their lives this way. It is often perpetuated by leaders and organizations who pile up burdens on people, telling them that they have to live a certain way to earn God’s favor and get into heaven. They create their own systems of righteousness that have nothing to do with God’s Word. This is what the Pharisees of Jesus’ day did, and this was the load that the people were trying to carry in order to please God.

Jesus offers rest for the weary. Jesus said that He came to fulfill the Law and Prophets, not to abolish them (Matthew 5:17-18). But the burden that was being piled on the people was beyond the Law of God. It was a system of manmade rules and laws. Jesus is offering freedom from that heavy burden. He is saying to take His yoke and follow Him. It is a simple call to follow Jesus and live a life of commitment to Him. It is about loving God with all that we are, and allowing Him to work in us to change us and transform us to be more like Christ. We don’t have to prove anything. In fact, we can’t. We just have to follow. This is the yoke of Jesus.

Jesus carries the load. The reason His burden is light is because Jesus has born the full weight of God’s requirement Himself. He has lived up to the standard of holiness required of us. He has taken upon Himself the full penalty of the wrath of God against our sins, failings, and the consequences of sin in this fallen world. Jesus has paid the complete price so that we can receive His righteousness and be declared holy before God (2 Corinthians 5:21). It is the gift of God for all who will receive it and for all who will give themselves to Jesus.

This does not mean that the road will be easy. There are going to be many trials and challenges along the way. As in the story I shared at the beginning, when my boys would help carry that table, they were working hard, huffing and puffing as they worked. They would be tired afterwards and would occasionally get a pinched finger or scraped knee. But I was always there to meet their needs and they were actually carrying very little of the actual burden during the work. I was carrying most of the load, but they had fun “helping Dad.”

The life of worship is the invitation to come and follow Jesus and to delight in Him. Life can be hard. It can be really hard. But we can have joy in Christ, as we delight in Him and in doing His will. And we can be confident that, as we walk with Him, He has put Himself in the middle of the table and has carried the heavy load.

Together for His glory…