Recording Project Update – God is Faithful

As of Monday evening, we have completed the recording portion of the CD project at Christ Community Church. It took much longer than what we originally anticipated, but, quite frankly, I am not sure most of us knew exactly what to expect when we got into this. I know I didn’t. In the end, God has shown His faithfulness throughout the process. Please pray that He continues to work to accomplish His purposes for this project. Pray that Jesus Christ would be glorified through this project and music.

I am so thankful for the worship team at our church.  This includes everyone, not just those who ended up in the studio. We have continued to work on this project while still managing to practice and perform for Sunday mornings. Schedules have often been changed on short notice. There have been times that we did not have much time to prepare the music for Sunday morning. However, both the music and tech teams were flexible and worked diligently and served faithfully throughout the process. They are a blessing to me and to our church body.

Today is exactly nine months from the day we had our first practice for this project. As mentioned, it took us longer to get to this point than I anticipated. At first, we had planned a few practices to firm everything up before going to the studio. Twenty practices later, we finally went to the studio. We were originally set up for 24 hours in the studio. In the end, we were in the studio about 80 hours.

As we progressed through each stage, it became more apparent that it was going to take longer to complete the project the way we wanted. Travis King, the chief audio engineer from 12 Bar Productions, has been excellent throughout the process. We would discuss the progress as we took each step and he provided us with the options available to us. He and the studio have been very generous towards us. Travis challenged and encouraged us along the way. His work and input have been a blessing. Now, he has the task of editing, mixing, and mastering the work we have done. Pray that God will bless and guide him throughout this process.

In the beginning, this project was proposed as an outreach tool for the ministry of Christ Community Church. The church graciously raised the funds to get the project launched. In addition, the church leadership offered me the opportunity to use the completed project for additional ministry purposes beyond the scope of our church. I did not ask for this – they insisted that this would be the case. It is just another example of how the leadership and people of CCC have supported and encouraged me throughout my ministry here. They have challenged and supported me as I seek direction in my ministry.

As it turns out, the project will end up being jointly funded between CCC and PuddleJoy Music. When the decision was made to put in the extra recording time, I let the studio know that we expected to be billed for the extra studio time. That, in addition to the CD production costs, caused the final cost to be quite a bit more than what was originally raised. However, once again, God has shown His faithfulness in this process. Before the situation even arose, He had provided me with the funds to cover the additional cost. We had set aside money for an anticipated expense, which did not materialize. So, the money was provided for the additional project costs.

I am actually grateful to share the burden of the cost, since it will be a tool that I can use beyond the scope of my ministry at CCC. In the end, I am glad it worked out this way. When the project is complete, there will be two versions of the CD. The CCC version will be utilized by the church for ministry and outreach purposes. I will offer a separate version on my website and will also have the individual songs available for listening and download. I am excited to see how it all turns out.

God is faithful. I cannot ever say this enough. Throughout this process, there have been some struggles and I have questioned God, myself, and my abilities frequently. At each stage, though, God showed His hand. When I thought things looked bleak, He would shine a beam of light into my gloom. God frequently used my wife to remind me why I am doing what I do. She continues to be a gift from God, in more ways than I could ever count.

I don’t know how God will use the end product, but I pray it will be a continuation of how He uses small things to accomplish His great purposes (1 Corinthians 1:26-31). When I hear that children are singing the songs during the week; when I see someone place their hands over their heart while they sing one of these songs; when I hear that the songs are meaningful to others – I am so grateful that God would use someone like me for His purposes.

How gracious and merciful is our God, that we, hopeless sinners, could be granted the privilege of being His children and working and living for the gospel of Jesus Christ. What words could I say that could ever express the magnitude of such a gift? Thanks be to our Lord Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory forever.

Together for His glory…

When the World Screams

“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Psalm 63:1

I am not sure how it is where you live, but around our home, this year’s visitation of cicadas has been one to remember. By definition, a cicada is a large winged insect, the male of which makes a shrill sound. No kidding! There are so many in our yard, trees, and bushes, that walking from the driveway to the front door is an adventure. And the sound is deafening. The noise level is so high that you cannot have a conversation outside without yelling. In fact, it was so loud one day that it was actually hurting my ears.

Thankfully, their visit is supposed to be short-lived. Unfortunately, though, there are other noises in our lives that remain all of the time. These sounds can be annoying, distracting, tempting, and even destructive. We live in a very noisy world. The speed at which our technology and access to information has increased over the past few decades is staggering. Our plethora of electronic devices keep us constantly in touch with everything going on in our lives, our friends and families’ lives, and in the world around us. We are barraged by media and culture. And it just keeps growing and coming at us day after day.

Don’t get me wrong. I organize my world through the use of electronic devices. I stay on top of what is going on in the world through the use of media. However, as followers of Christ, we have to diligently guard our hearts and minds and our time against the constant bombardment that confronts us. The world is screaming at us, much like a bunch of shrieking cicadas. The cicada’s call is a mating call.  Don’t be fooled – so is the call of the world.

If we truly evaluated the electronic input, viewing, listening, and entertainment we take in throughout the day, what percentage of that actually draws us nearer to God? How much of it even acknowledges God? Even so-called family friendly media is usually absent of God (completely absent). What the society and the world offers to us will rarely, if ever, draw us closer to God. It is usually centered on fulfilling our lives with anything and everything but God. I never knew what I was missing until I had over 200 friends on Facebook. I feel so loved and completed now.

Sarcasm aside, we live in a dry and weary land. Nothing offered by this world will ever truly satisfy our longings. As Christians, there is only One Who will satisfy, and that is Christ. When David wrote Psalm 63, he was in the wilderness of Judah. As followers of Christ, we live in the wilderness of a place that is not our home. What the world offers to us will only draw us away from God and we will die of hunger and thirst trying to satisfy ourselves through it.

We need to hold fast to Christ and bury our roots deep in His Word. We need to be diligent about pursuing God and encouraging and building up one another in the body of Christ. We need to turn off the noise of the world and listen to the voice of our Savior.

God calls us to be in the world, but not of the world. The world may say it loves you, but if you are in Christ, the world hates you and will do everything it can to pull you away from Christ (John 15:19). We are told not to love the things of this world, and that if we do, the love of the Father is not in us (1 John 2:15-16).

Just what being in the world, but not of the world, looks like for you may be different than for me. God has called each of us to different roles and responsibilities within our families, society, and in the church. What takes hold of my heart may not be what Satan uses in your life to pull you away from God. But we must hold fast to the Word of God and be diligent about seeking to hear God speak to our lives. God’s Word is the standard for our lives, not society’s screaming.

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” Colossians 2:6-8

Let us pursue Christ and have our hunger and thirst satisfied in Him. And if we are having trouble hearing the voice of God, maybe we need to check the volume of the world’s input into our lives.

Together for His glory…

The Gathering of the Church: Worship in Spirit and Truth, Part 5

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:23-24

Jesus emphasizes in John 4:21 that the worship of God is not tied to a specific location or rituals. True worship is an inward experience through which our hearts and minds engage with the Lord of the universe. Therefore, we can worship the Lord at any time and in any place. We can draw near to God at all times. This is a wonderful gift. Yet, in response to this truth, many people over the years have also diminished the importance of gathering together as the church. They dismiss the importance of the church, or “organized religion,” or just say that they “worship God in their own way.”

However, Scripture strongly emphasizes the importance and role of the church in the life of a follower of Christ. I think it is impossible to defend a stance that says we do not need to gather together as the church (Hebrews 10:24-25). So, at this time, my focus here will not be on defending the need to meet as the church. I will turn my attention to how Jesus’ call to worship in spirit and truth should impact our corporate worship services.

When we come together for corporate worship, everything that we do should be grounded in the Word of God. Our goal should be to provide the means through which we can apprehend the truth of God. Every segment of the service should be intentionally focused on exalting the person and work of Christ. Our focus should be directed to the wonder and glory of God and how he is working in and through our lives and the life of our church. And as we grasp the truth of God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, our heart and minds are drawn to express joy in our Christ, our Rock and our Redeemer. Therefore, we also provide ways of expressing and responding to the truth of God as we worship together as a congregation.

This is why our pastor spends multiple hours each week, carefully studying and preparing to teach God’s Word. It is God truth which inspires genuine worship. Flashy presentations or speeches on motivational topics may pump up people’s emotions temporarily, but they will have no long lasting effects of inspiring godly worship and obedience. It will produce a congregation that relies on quick fixes and who have a shallow, powerless faith. We need the truth of God to transform our lives and to teach, correct, train, and equip us for the work God has called us to do (2 Timothy 3:14-17; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

For this same reason, there should be great care given to the selection of songs for worship services. We want to sing songs that declare the greatness of Who God is and what He has done. They should be God-centered and biblically-based (Colossians 3:16-17). Songs that only work up feelings of emotion, but contain little or no truth, do not inspire true worship. They inspire emotional experiences that do not last. There are many “worship songs” that even contain unclear or inaccurate theology. This can lead people into doctrinal error or confusion. I want songs which will reinforce the truth of God’s Word and are clear and strong in their content. Music can be a very impactful medium. It can be used to create emotional responses and even manipulate feelings. I don’t want people to leave a service with a tune in their head. I want them to leave with God’s truth in their hearts and minds.

The desire to worship in spirit and in truth is why we spend time teaching, singing, listening to testimonies, praying, reading scripture, celebrating baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and all the other things that we do in our services. We want to provide opportunities to experience and hear God’s truth and how He is impacting lives. We want to provide opportunities to express the godly passions that well up within us when we are confronted with that truth and the glories of God and His powerful presence. Our duty is to magnify and to glorify God. It is our calling as worship leaders.

That is also why I stress to worship or music teams that they are not to view themselves only as musicians and singers. As a part of the team, they are called to lead God’s people in worship. They are the lead worshipers. As a part of the worship team, their top priority is to be a worshiper, not a musician. They need to be seeking God and coming hungry for more of Him. This is also why I think it is essential for worship team members to be believers. Someone who is not a follower of Christ cannot lead others in the worship of Christ.

As we worship together, a call is being issued to those who come hungry for God. Our goal should be to provide them with an atmosphere and opportunity to experience the joy and satisfaction of worshiping the Almighty God in spirit and in truth. It should be our desire to experience the powerful presence of God in our midst. As a result, anyone that would join us on Sunday for worship, even if they are not a believer or seeking God, might also be confronted with the truth and presence of the living God. My hope is that no one would able to leave a worship service without saying, “God was surely in this place” (1 Corinthians 14:25).

This should be the result of our worship services as we are obedient to God and truly seek to worship Him in spirit and in truth. As we proclaim the truth of the gospel of Christ, magnifying the person and works of our God, this truth should inspire worship in our hearts. As we gather as the people of God, our services should be grounded in truth, with opportunities for responding together and engaging in worship with our God. Let us continue to draw near to God together.

Together for His glory…

Beyond Obligation and Infatuation: Worship in Spirit and Truth, Part 4

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:23-24

Jesus clearly states that those who worship God must worship Him both in spirit and truth. In previous weeks, I have discussed aspects of each individually. Today, I would like to begin to look at how these tie together because I believe that if both are not present, our worship is not what God has intended for us.

There will always be a struggle of leaning too heavily in one direction or another. People who know me are aware that I place a very heavy emphasis on truth in worship. This is true. Both Scripture and personal experience have taught me that this is essential. However, as I look closely at my life, I find that I vacillate back and forth between two extremes, with occasional stops in some sort of balanced area.

It is very easy for me to get lost in the details. I know what I need to do, most of the time. I know what my obligations are as follower of Christ, husband, father, pastor, employee, etc. I have certain things that I know I need to do every day. And I do them. This includes my spiritual life. I read the Word. I try to pray. I listen to music that focuses on the gospel. I try to live in obedience to what I think is God’s will. However, I find that there is, at times, little devotion or delight in the process of carrying out these daily duties. I am attempting to live out God’s truth, but something is missing.

Then, maybe I swing to the other extreme. I am looking for something that shows me the purpose in what I am doing. Or maybe I am looking for some demonstration of God’s love or purpose for me. Am I following God’s path for my life? Why do I feel so far away from You God? How long will this situation go on? Why will you not give me some sign that shows me I am not drifting in a boat without a sail or paddle? Why can’t I hear Your voice? Why do other people seem to hear You and know exactly where You are taking them? Why can’t I have what they have?  Oh God, please empower me to be the man I need to be! Give me Your strength and wisdom! Show me You are there! As so the conversation goes.

Two different ways of living. Both include aspects that can be present in a godly, balanced Christian life. Living in obedience and wanting to experience the presence of God are great pursuits. However, lived in exclusion of each other, we become unbalanced and I think we miss God’s best for our lives. The first can lead to a life of obligation or duty.  The second, can lead to a life of infatuation and disenchantment.

A life lived solely out of obligation and duty has little or no devotion. It does not move beyond the task or principles to the Person behind the principles. We live our lives, fulfilling our responsibilities, and our relationship with God gets lost in the details. The law of God and works He has called us to do were not meant to exist apart from our relationship to Him. The coming of Christ, our Immanuel, was for the purpose of uniting us with our Creator, breaking forever the curse of sin. Our God is with us.

The life of infatuation rarely goes below the surface or the immediate. We are looking for experiences or signs that make us feel close to God or prove that He is with us. When the fruit and direction from God are apparent and overflowing, we are on a roll. We are running with God. When things don’t go well or God seems to have gone on vacation, we become disheartened or bored with spiritual things. Even worse, we can feel that God has abandoned us. We don’t move beyond the gifts or benefits to the Giver of the gifts. God wants to grow and build our lives and show us the depth of Who He is and what He has done, but we are grasping for temporary things. Again, Christ is lost in our pursuit.

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:4-5).” “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16).”

Truth is foundational to worship that is in spirit and truth. As we learn from the Word of God, that truth produces wisdom and knowledge in our lives of Who God really is. We better understand ourselves and our utter hopelessness apart from Christ. The Holy Spirit enlightens our heart and minds to understand the wonders of Who God is and what He has done for us in Christ. As we fill our minds with the Word of God, He works in us to transform our minds and lives into the image of His Son.

As God’s truth sinks down into our hearts, the flame of worship is ignited by the Holy Spirit.  The expression of our hearts, in response to the wonders of God and His works, is an essential part of biblical worship.  We worship God in spirit, and this response is grounded on the truth of God as revealed in His Word. As our relationship with God grows and deepens, we respond to Him in love, rather than mere duty or obligation. We are no longer trying to produce fruit through our own good works. God is producing the fruit in us, by the power of His Spirit.

The binding together of worship in spirit and truth together produces a treasuring of Christ. As we seek to know God better through His Word, our knowledge of Him increases, and so we grow in love for Him. This in turn, should propel us to seek to know Him more, and so the journey continues. We sink our roots deeper and deeper into Christ and our lives become saturated with Him. He truly becomes our treasure, our First Love. God works in and through us to do His will and to spread the gospel of Christ. Our worship is not based on obligation or pursuing experiences, but it is rooted in truth and producing a life that pursues after Him. What a glorious gift God has given to us. We may come to Him and know Him through Christ.

What greater aspiration could we have? Though this life will be filled with struggles and our relationship with God will have its ups and downs, God will not forsake us. He calls us to draw near to Him, in Christ. It is this life’s great pursuit. Through it, God will transform our lives and use us for the great glory of His holy name.

Together for His glory…

Where is My Heart? Worship in Spirit and Truth, Part 3

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:23-24

For some of us, a focus on truth may not be difficult. Especially for those of us who have legalistic tendencies. We see the importance of Scripture and its essential part in our lives and in the life of the church. We know the importance of sound doctrine and that the Word of God is foundational for enriching, correcting, transforming, and equipping us for godly living (2 Timothy 3:16).

However, worshiping in spirit is just as important. When Jesus says that true worshipers must worship in spirit and truth, He is saying something that is very important for the people of His day and for ours. If you look at the religions of the world (and many Christian churches), you see a very heavy emphasis on the performance of rituals. There are certain things that are done on a daily, weekly, or annual basis in order for fulfill the obligations of their religion or faith. Rituals take different shapes and forms. Regardless of what they look like or what they involve, the question is whether those performing them are truly worshiping. I believe this is at the heart of what Jesus in saying.

Performing ritual religious ceremonies, as an end in themselves, is not true worship. The people of Jesus’ day were steeped in religious ritual. Groups like the Pharisees went to great lengths to demonstrate that they were fulfilling the law of God, down to the miniscule detail. However, the law had been given by God as a means of bringing glory to His Holy Name and to show the people their desperate need for Him. But many had taken the law and turned it into a meaningless ritual and a means of demonstrating their own righteousness. They were going through the motions and their hearts were far from God. Jesus proclaimed this as He echoed the words of the prophet Isaiah. “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:8-9; Isaiah 29:13)

Essentially, there is nothing wrong with rituals in the Christian faith. The problem arises when the action or ritual performance becomes the focus or an end in itself. The God Who the act was supposed to draw us to is primarily forgotten or just given lip service. When we are just performing religious activities or saying religious sounding words, with no heart inclination toward God and no inner working of the Holy Spirit, this is not worship that is acceptable to God. God is not fooled.

As I read through the Old Testament, I am continually amazed (and saddened) and the repeated rebellion and lack of faithfulness of God’s people. I keep thinking, “What is wrong with these people?” And yet, are we so different from them? Do we conduct ourselves differently when we gather as the church then when we are at home or work? How often do we come to Sunday morning service, mouth the words to songs, sort of listen to the sermon, or perform other rituals or acts of service without much thought or inclination toward God? Whether our expressions are reserved (sitting/standing in quiet reverence) or more demonstrative (dancing, clapping, raising hands), outward expression can be a complete façade. When we leave, we think that we have fulfilled our obligation to God or filled our God quota for the week. Worse, we leave never having desired or experienced the presence of God in worship. We have done our duty. How does God view this? Have we impressed Him?

I find this a regular struggle for me. I am supposed to be one of the “worship leaders,” but it is very easy to get lost in the details of leading the service. I am focused on making sure everything is organized and comes together correctly. The music team, sound and video all have to be coordinated and prepared. My transitions have to be relevant and delivered clearly (and hopefully without stuttering). In the midst of my focus on these things, where is God? What is mind and heart focused on? Am I focused on making sure everything goes off as planned, with each item checked off? Or am I more concerned that my heart is right before God and that I passionately desire for Him to transform my life and the lives of those who are in attendance? Planning and organization are important, but where is my heart in the process? If my heart is not set on pursuing and hearing from God, my outward actions are merely an act.

When we approach worship in this manner, it is simply a religious exercise that does fool God. Throughout Scripture, the pages are full of God’s rejection of outward acts done by those whose hearts are far from Him. He is not glorified and, in the end, we are cheating ourselves. We are robbing ourselves of the joy that is to be experienced in worshiping God, through His truth and the power of the Spirit. This is the joy that comes when are satisfied in Him above all things – when we cherish Christ above all things. We don’t come to God to fulfill our regular obligation. We come to be filled with the fullness of God in Christ. We come, knowing that we are desperate, apart from our salvation through the sacrifice of Christ, and that knowing Christ is the greatest pursuit to which we can give our lives.

Worship in spirit is an inward response to the God of the universe. It is initiated and empowered by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. As God moves in our hearts and minds, we respond in worship. This is when the outward expression is genuine, whether it involves ritual activities or not. Our actions become a reflection of the heart’s desire for God and the working of Christ in our lives. It is not merely an outward performance to try to impress people or God. It reflects a true desire to know and worship God.

Next week, I will address how worshiping in truth and worshiping in spirit work together. Until then, I pray that we will all draw near to our God, through Christ. May we pursue lives that reflect the words in Psalm 73:25-26. “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Together for His glory…