When is Giving Worship?

“Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, ‘Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’” Luke 21:1-4

A couple of Sundays ago, our pastor, Mike Priest, was preaching in James 5. His sermon has kept coming back to my mind, particularly on one topic. In this chapter, James gives a strong warning to those who are rich. Who are the rich? Well, if you live in America, you are probably rich.

I realize that every person’s circumstance is different. There are poor that live among us. With the economy the way it is, many have also been impacted. Some people are out of work. For others, financial obligations are pressing in hard. But how we respond to these situations demonstrate key aspects of our view of God and our relationship to Him.

For instance, take the widow in the passage in Luke. She probably had no source of income and, therefore, did not have any additional resources coming her way. This is indicated in Jesus statement that she gave “all she had to live on.” Why would someone do that? That seems crazy. That would be like me receiving my paycheck and, knowing that I had groceries to buy and bills to pay, giving all of it as an offering. What would I live on? Well, this is what the widow in the temple did, except without the promise of a future paycheck, like I have.

It is impossible to really know what the widow was thinking, but I think it is clear, since Jesus held her up as an example, that she probably had a deep faith in God. She trusted Him for her present and for her future. When she dropped those coins into the container, she knew that she had no resources left except God. She had probably been in this situation before, and God always came through. Her giving was worship because she was trusting in God alone. Her life reflected Jesus teaching on trusting God for our provision (Matthew 6:25-34).

It is difficult to be rich. The tentacles of prosperity weave their way into the very fabric of our heart and lives. It alters the way we think and the decisions we make. It changes our priorities. We trust in money’s ability to provide for us, both now and in the future. In reality, money becomes our god. That is why James warning is so strong. It is a warning against idolatry. That is why Jesus spoke of money so often and why He warned against storing up treasures on earth (Matthew 6:19-24). We cannot trust (or serve) both God and money.

In Pastor Mike’s message, he said that if our lives are caught up in materialism and the things of this world, there is reason to question whether we are truly followers of Christ. I think this is clear from James 5, the teachings of Jesus, and Scripture as a whole. If I cannot let go of temporary things such as money, possessions, and entertainment, then that is an indicator of the condition of my heart. Or, to put it another way, if this topic is irritating you, that may be another indication that your heart is not right with God.

Pastor Mike went on to say that, as a Christian, it is never okay to live the kind of lifestyle that we are capable of living, no matter how much we make. If we are not giving in a way that impacts the way we live, then, it is safe to say, that we are not giving enough. Our giving is not worship and we are not trusting God for our provision.

God is a giver. He is a sacrificial giver. Jesus Christ gave everything. He gave up the riches of heaven and took upon Himself our poverty to make us rich. He took upon Himself our sin so that He could give us His righteousness. He sacrificed to make us rich in the things above, the things of heaven, not the things of earth. As followers of Christ, our lives should reflect our Master. If He is a giver, our lives should reflect giving hearts.

There is often a lot of discussion around giving in the modern church. What is the amount we are supposed to give? Are we supposed to tithe? Do we give before or after taxes? In the Old Testament, Israel had tithes and other special offerings. Some people will say that tithing does not apply to the New Testament church. As for me, I do not focus on tithing, except as a place to begin. Tithing can become a legalistic practice, which can lead me to believe that I have fulfilled my obligation to God by giving Him 10% of my income. When Jesus mentions the tithe, He condemns the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. He says that they should have done these things (tithing), but at the same time, not neglected justice and the love of God (Luke 11:42-44; Matthew 23:23-24).

That is why I think tithing should be a standard only as it serves as a place to begin. I know there are those who will disagree with me. In the end, everyone needs to give how God leads them to give (2 Corinthians 9:7). However, when we get in extensive debates about how much we should give, I think it is very possible that we are just looking for justifications to not give as much. I think that New Testament giving goes far beyond tithing. There are numerous examples of believers selling possessions and even giving out of their extreme poverty in order to give to the work of the gospel and help those in need. The apostle Paul singles out the Macedonians, as example of to the Corinthian church, for their sacrificial giving, even though they were in need themselves (2 Corinthians 8:1-15).

As followers of Christ, our giving behavior should not be rational. It should be radical. It should reveal a radical trust in God for our provision. It should reveal hearts that delight in Christ and building His kingdom. It should reflect an attitude of not seeking treasure or reward in this life, but the desire to build up treasure in heaven, where no earthly person, thing, or circumstance can ever destroy it or take it away.

Giving is worship when it reflects the heart of the God we worship. It is worship when it demonstrates that we are trusting in God, not money or possessions. Giving is worship when I delight to be a part of what God is doing to build His kingdom, and not think of what else I could have done with the money. It is worship when I know that my gift will impact my life and my future, and that I need to trust God because only He can make up the difference. I pray that our lives will reflect our God, the true giver, Who has given us all things in Jesus Christ.

Together for His glory…

Fooling Each Other: Authentic Worship, Part 3

Since I lead part of the worship service most weeks, someone will occasionally comment on something I say during the service or maybe on a prayer that I led during the service. During our conversation, they might comment on the difficulty they have praying or maintaining a consistent prayer life. I respond by telling them that I can relate to their situation. My prayer life is one of the most difficult aspects of my relationship with God.

At this point, maybe with a confused look on their face, they tell me that I don’t seem to have any trouble praying. They are right. For some reason, by God’s grace, I am able to focus and pray during most of those times while leading. I am not pretending or trying to sound spiritual when I pray in the service. However, I tell them that it is not representative of my personal prayer life. These times are almost always a struggle to focus and stay on track. I pray for someone or something and it brings to my mind something else. Then, before I know it, my mind has jumped, in a matter of seconds, to a series of other thoughts or activities that are totally unrelated. Before I know it, prayer has stopped and my focus is somewhere else completely.

It is terrible. I am a scatterbrained person at times. I have trouble focusing. I am very easily distracted. Any sound, flicker of light, or thought can totally trip me up and my concentration is gone. Prayer is a discipline. It is something very valuable in our relationship with God. Therefore, I continue in it, and continually try to grow in this area. I have known prayer warriors in my life. I am not one of them. But I long to be and will continue to pursue prayer, in spite of fumbling through it.

So, why do I tell this to you or anyone who brings up the topic? Transparency. I don’t want them to think I am someone other than who I really am. Do I really like being known as a person who struggles with prayer? No, but this is another part of pursuing worship that is authentic. Not only do we need transparency before God, but we need transparency with each other. We need to view ourselves correctly, we need to be honest with each other, and we need to actively encourage one another. These are all a part of pursuing authentic worship.

First, we need to view ourselves correctly. In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells a parable of a Pharisee and a tax collector. While the Pharisee exalts and praises himself, both to God and anyone who is listening, the tax collector pleads for mercy from God. Jesus makes it clear that the tax collector went home justified, not the Pharisee. Boasting in ourselves or in our righteousness never fools God (see Fooling God). Even if it does fool others, or even ourselves, it does nothing to build up the church. In fact, it tears down the church and hinders the worship of the congregation.

We need to remember that we are sinners. Apart from the grace and mercy of our God, demonstrated by the cross of Jesus Christ, and the salvation provided through His blood, we have no hope. End of story. We can boast in the cross of Christ alone (Galatians 6:14). Our righteousness is the righteousness of Christ. Our glory is in the glory of God. We have been freed from the prison of sin, guilt, and the grave by the love of our God, through Christ alone. Proclaiming the gospel, rejoicing in the work of Christ in us, and remembering where we have come from – this is authentic worship and glorifies God.

Second, we need to be honest with each other. As the church, we are called to bear each other’s burdens and come alongside each other (Galatians 6:2; Ephesians 4:1-3; Philippians 2:1-11; Colossians 3:12-13). How can we share each other’s burdens if we don’t know what they are? By clamming up and keeping to ourselves, we detract from the body of Christ. We cut ourselves off from work that God wants to do in our lives. We also hinder others from using their gifts to minister to us. Also, other believers often need to know that they are not the only one who struggles with something. By sharing, we help them to find hope and draw near to God and find strength in Him. We, in turn, also find out we are not alone in our struggle.

In addition, honesty is required when we have been offended or wounded by someone in the church. If you have an unresolved issue with someone, avoiding it will not make it go away. It only allows the hurt to fester and gnaw at us. It can cause us to withdraw or leave. Worse, if we share that hurt with others, it now becomes gossip. Now, it not only tears us down, it tears down others in the church. It hinders the work of the gospel and does not glorify God. We need to be diligent to stop gossip before it even starts. Seeking to resolve these issues appropriately builds the body of Christ and encourages us to draw near to God together.

Honesty is an essential part of the pursuit of authentic worship within the church. This leads to the third point, which is actively encouraging each other within the church. We need to be diligent to continue meeting together in order to encourage each other in the faith (Hebrews 10:24-25). As we meet together, it is important to remind ourselves of the gospel and the work that has been done for us. We need to encourage each other that Christ is working in our lives to transform us to be more like Him. We need to remember the promise of His glorious return.

We can’t be in the mindset of just showing up at church and then going home. When we come together as the church, we need to come as active participants. Engaging in worship is not just me connecting with God. We are called to teach and admonish each other and to sing and address one another with songs (Colossians 3:16-17; Ephesians 5:19-21). Corporate worship is not for the sole purpose of me connecting with God. I am called to encourage those around me through singing the truth of the gospel. If I am only focused on myself, then I am neglecting an important aspect of authentic worship, which is my call to encourage others to worship God. Yes, we sing to God and worship Him alone. However, we also speak and sing to each other in order to encourage and spur one another on to pursue God.

Authentic worship is about transparency and humility. It is about viewing ourselves as we truly stand before God. It is about being open and honest with each other. And it is about encouraging each other in our pursuit of God. Authentic worship requires us to humble ourselves before God and each other. No self-promotion. No hiding and withdrawing. No attempts to fool each other. No harbored bitterness. No gossip and backbiting. It requires us to share in each other’s lives and bear one another’s burdens. It requires repentance and forgiveness and a willingness to love and serve others. If we don’t, we rob ourselves and we rob others in the church. Let us draw near to God and worship Him together.

Together for His glory…

To Be or Not To Be: The End of PuddleJoy

Well, not really. Maybe I should say that it is the end of PuddleJoy as it currently functions. Either way, I want to take this opportunity to share some upcoming changes which I am very excited about.

Over a year ago, after much consideration, I decided to launch an independent music and worship ministry through PuddleJoy Music. This venture was intended to be a means of expanding my current ministry at Christ Community Church (CCC) and provide music and ministry resources to other Christians and churches. It was never intended to replace or compete with what I believe God has called me to do at CCC. Before launching the website, I consulted with CCC leadership. I requested their oversight and feedback as I put the pieces in place. I had their full support, which was a blessing and encouragement.

There was a lot of work that went into this process, which included registering copyrights, registering as a publisher with CCLI, creating and maintaining a website, putting together worship ministry resources for the site, starting a weekly blog, and preparing to promote an upcoming CD release. There also came, along with these, a lot of business related activities. Although it was taking a lot of time and focus, I felt I was able to keep a balance between PuddleJoy and CCC.

However, over the past several months, I have become steadily more restless and knew something was not right in my life. I really thought it was caused by a growing conflict between trying to manage two careers – one in the secular work force and the other in ministry related activities. I prayed that God would give me direction. I discussed my situation with my wife. I sought counsel and shared my uneasiness with those I had asked to oversee my ministry. Things did not get better. My situation actually became worse. I was becoming more miserable by the day.

I could go into a lot of details about how I came to this decision and how the light finally came on, but it would end up making this correspondence a lot longer than it will already be (as you have probably figured out, I do not come in the abbreviated version). Needless to say, I believe God provided me with insight and direction. I was able to see and hear more clearly what God would have me to do. When I discussed it with my wife, she completely agreed that it was the right thing to do. However, when I spoke with those in my oversight group, there was not necessarily complete agreement. There were some concerns raised within the group.

One of their primary concerns was that I was giving up some things that they did not think I needed to give up. This included possible opportunities and financial support that may have been available through PuddleJoy. Another concern was that I was changing directions from what I had originally envisioned for PuddleJoy. In the end, though, as we discussed these things, they supported my decision and the direction in which I want to move. And, in my heart and mind, it is where I feel God is leading me.

Even though I had been diligent to keep my activities with PuddleJoy from interfering with my ministry at CCC, in the end, I was not successful. The technical, financial, legal compliance and business aspects were becoming very distracting. More importantly, I was being pulled in two different directions in my ministry focus. Even though I had intended for PuddleJoy to be an extension of my CCC ministry, that is not how it was turning out. So, it was time to make a change.

Therefore, PuddleJoy, is going to fade into the background as a result of this decision. It will still be the publishing name I use for songs that I write, but, for the most part, it will not have a visible presence. The current PuddleJoy website and resources will be transitioned to become resources of Christ Community Worship (CCW), the worship and music ministry of CCC. All activities and resources will be tied to CCC and will, therefore, fall under the authority and oversight of the leadership of CCC. Over the past twenty years, our worship ministry at CCC has developed and grown in purpose and direction. I believe God has put in place something that is very special. My goal is to continue building on what is in place and see what God will continue to do through us.

The primary focus of CCW will be, as it is now, to minister to the congregation of CCC and build the worship and music ministry of CCC. However, as God leads, we will also seek to impact individuals and churches outside of our local congregation. We will offer music and resources for worship to assist other leaders, ministries, and churches that may benefit from them. I would like to share with you what God has placed on my heart regarding the direction of the ministry of Christ Community Worship. I have summarized what I envision below:

  • Diligently committed to the pursuit of Christ-centered and Biblically-based worship.
  • Writing, performing, and producing songs that are doctrinally sound and impact through the truth of the Word of God.
  • Worship and music that is grounded in our historic faith, but also seeks to be relevant to the culture we are called to reach.
  • Accountability of personnel and ministry to the leadership of Christ Community Church.
  • Commitment to building and supporting the ministry of Christ Community Church.
  • Building a ministry which trains musicians and leaders for music and worship related ministry.
  • Developing training and teaching materials to assist worship leaders and musicians in the music and worship leading ministry of the church.
  • Through our leaders and team members, expand the scope and reach of CCW beyond the walls of the church through outreach events and efforts, music and worship resources, recording projects, and other opportunities, as God leads.

We will continue to develop and evaluate this as we go, but I am excited about the opportunities that God has given to us. In addition, it will allow me to focus on what I believe God has called me to do. I will not feel like I am being pulled in two different directions for ministry. Also, any expansion or growth in the ministry beyond the walls of CCC can now be a cooperative outreach and ministry, with many others involved in addition to myself.

So, PuddleJoy Music will no longer have a visible presence, as it will be replaced with the CCW website and ministry focus. As I think back, this is probably how it should have been set up from the beginning. However, I think that God was able to teach me some things along the way because of the process that I went through. It reminded me where my heart for ministry is. Even though I had not intended to be pulled away, it had happened anyway. Because of that, I feel like I ended up neglecting those whom I am called to serve first. That is probably why I was so unsettled. It just took me a while to figure it all out.

Now, as my ministry energies will be fully focused on serving the CCC worship ministry team and the congregation, I look forward to what God will do in and through us. This blog will continue as part of that ministry. It will just be located at a different address. I will provide that information when the change occurs.

For CCW, we are anticipating our first CD release, which should hopefully be completed soon, although we do not have an official timeframe. It is still being edited, mixed, and mastered by the studio. However, when it is completed and released, I look forward to hearing how God uses this project in the lives of others. As we continue to move forward, pray that God will use us for the glory of His Name and the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thank you for your prayers and support.

Together for His glory…

Fooling God: Authentic Worship, Part 2

And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.” Isaiah 29:13

Years ago, I had an employee who was not very motivated. I would have to check up on him constantly. On one particular day, after he left for the day, I went out to see what kind of progress he had made on a project. It quickly became apparent that he had done nothing for most of the afternoon.

The next morning, I asked him for his project list. He disappeared into the warehouse and returned a few minutes later. I took a look at the list and there were several items checked off, as if he had already done the work. He said it was not complete, but he had gotten a good start on it. I knew he had not done any of it. I asked him to verify whether the checked items were completed and he told me that these were done.

Then, I informed him that I already knew he had not completed anything on the list. The expression on his face quickly changed and he launched into string of excuses. He thought he had fooled me, but now he was trying to cover his tracks because I had found him out.

How often does this represent our approach to our relationship with God? The verse above is a part of a larger section, Isaiah 29:13-16, where God is addressing His people. It speaks of a people who honor God with their mouths, but their hearts are far away from Him. Verse 15 reveals the attitude that they think they can hide their evil deeds in the darkness: “Who sees us. Who knows us?”

God’s rebuke is clear in verse 16. “You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me’; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?”

When we approach God with the attitude that we can profess praise or worship with our lips, or do acts of service for Him, and yet have hearts that do not really seek after Him, we are mocking God. In fact, God says that we are turning things upside down. We are acting as if He did not make us or that He does not know everything about us. We are treating Him as merely human and exalting ourselves to His status as God.

As Christians, we come to church on Sundays and worship God. We might go to a small group and attend other activities of fellowship or service. We may even have frequent times of Bible reading and prayer, if we are really spiritual. However, if those activities are merely done as lip service to God, or to check off our spiritual “To Do” list, do we not think that God sees right through that? Or if we pursue activities which contradict His Word and will, do we actually think these escape His attention?

There is a real danger here. If we continually live our lives in this way, it is possible that we are not even believers. When God says that their hearts are far from Him, it echoes Jesus words to those who claimed to know Him, but did not: “Depart from me. I never knew you.”

No one is perfect. Even after salvation comes to a person, the sanctification process is a lifelong journey that only ends when we enter His presence at our death or at His coming. However, a truly redeemed person should have an inner desire to follow Christ in all things, because God has placed His Spirit within us to fill and transform our lives. Outward acts of religiosity cannot create this or even begin to fool God.

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.” Psalm 139:1-4

Another area where we try to fool God is by hiding our thoughts, feelings, and emotions from Him. In Scripture, God shows us the brutal honesty of many who seek after the Him. They do not hide their thoughts and feelings from God, as if it were even possible. If they are blessed, they openly praise Him. If they are angry with God, they say it. If they are afraid, they tell Him. If they don’t understand, they cry out for wisdom and release.

God does not fear our response to Him. He is not challenged by it. He calls us to come boldly to Him (Hebrews 4:16; 10:19-23). He is the One Who has all wisdom. He is the One Who has all power. He knows our thoughts. We need to express these before Him. We need to commune with God, expressing the depths of our hearts.

Authentic worship does not hide from God. It does not hide behind empty outward acts, while our hearts our engaged in pursuing ungodly pursuits. It does not hide behind closed lips and buried feelings and fears. Hiding from God does not hide us from God. It only robs us of the joy and peace and transformation found in His presence.

Authentic worship comes honestly before God, with all of our joys, fears, questions, and failures. It does not hide. It is open and transparent before the One Who sees and hears everything. He knows everything about us, from beginning to end. This same God of wisdom and power and holiness bids us to come to Him and receive mercy and grace in our time of need. Our time of need is every second of our lives. He is all in all. In Him is everything we need. May we pursue Him with all that is within us.

Together for His glory…

Believing Worship: Authentic Worship, Part 1

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Hebrews 11:6

What do you think of when you hear the word “authentic?” I know it brings to my mind something that is genuine. It is the real deal. It is not fake or phony or misleading. For the next few weeks, we will investigate what it means to authentically worship God.

Our verse from Hebrews 11:6 speaks of drawing near to God. This is at the heart of worshiping God and we know from our previous stops on this journey, that drawing near to God is only possible through the sacrifice and blood of Jesus Christ (see Only Through Jesus). Drawing near requires something other than what we can bring through ourselves or our own works. It requires the holiness of God which is only bestowed on those who believe and trust in the sacrifice of Christ for their salvation. Apart from Christ, there is no provision for our sins. Apart from Christ, there is no drawing near to God. Therefore, apart from Christ, there is no genuine worship.

Worship that comes from faith is worship that believes or trusts in the God of the universe. It is worship that is built on the foundation of Christ, the Lamb of God. It is worship that believes that it is God Who provides and rewards those who seek Him. It is grounded in the trust that God is Who He says He is and that He will do what He has said He will do.

The worship of our world is not based on such a foundation. It is worship that is based on our own goodness or what we bring to God. We earn His favor or earn our way into heaven by our good works. It is the belief, or faith, that we can, or have to, do this ourselves. If we had but a mere glance of the holiness of God, we would know this is impossible and those assumptions and aspirations would be shattered (Isaiah 6:1-7).

“All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame.” (Isaiah 44:9).

The full passage from Isaiah 44:9-20 speaks of a man who uses wood to build things and to use for fuel for a fire to cook his food. Then, with the same wood, he carves out a god and falls down and worships it. The prophet Isaiah exposes the ridiculous nature of this action. The man has made something with his own hands and now he is worshiping it. At least we are much more intelligent and sophisticated now. We would never do this ourselves, right?

Any worship brought before God which is not based on the truth of the truth of Who God is and on and through the sacrifice of Christ is idol worship. Our world is full of people who go through hourly, daily, weekly, and annual rituals as part of their worship to their gods. Even within the church, I fear that much of our activities could fall in that same category. If our actions or service are grounded in the intention that we are earning God’s favor or salvation, this is worship that is not based on faith. Or it is a faulty faith based on our ability to please a holy God on our own.

Authentic worship is worship that is grounded in the character of God. It is based on the realization that the Creator of the universe is Who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do. It is based on the knowledge that we could never please a God so holy and that only through the blood of Christ can we ever come into His presence. Authentic worship is believing faith. It is trusting faith. It is worship that rests in and rejoices in the amazing love of God, through Christ. We, who have no right to come before God, have been provided entrance into His throne room. And as we come to Him, through faith, we come with confidence as the very children of the Most High God.

When I hear someone say that heaven sounds like it will be a boring place because all we will do is worship God, it is clear to me that they really have no understanding of Who God is in relation to who we are. Do any of us, really? When we finally get to behold God in His glory, I think there will be no other response but to worship Him. When we understand more clearly the depths and depravity from which we have been saved, worship will be the only natural and eternal response.

God has revealed His glory and character through the universe He created, through His Word, and through Jesus Christ, the holy Lamb of God. Let us draw near to Him in faith, not based on what we have to offer, but based on His glorious provision for us. Let us believe and trust in His unfailing love and promises. For He is holy and He is good and His love endures forever. May His work in us produce lives of worship which glorify Him.

Together for His glory…