The future of the church will fully depend on its ability to get back to what is tangible and real about being a Christian. It's going to take more than discussion about these things, it's going to take real action. The problem is, our lives are so crowded with activity that we find it nearly impossible to "fit these things in." We ask, "I believe in Jesus, and I've confessed Him in public... Isn't that enough? ... I take Jesus with me into my busy-ness... well, mostly."
No. That's not enough.
What we need today in our hurting, over-sexed, abusive, drug-infested, idolatrous, self-centered, systemically evil world is spiritual power and heaven's authority. The problem with Christians is, we are no different than the world in that we believe we are automatically entitled to this power and authority with no responsibility or accountability on our end. Yes, you heard me right, there is an entitlement attitude problem in the church that needs a serious attitude adjustment. We expect to have church "our way" and we expect to have all of God's power and authority magically dumped into us like a government benefit check in our mailbox, having no investment in the relationship that is key.
What we need today in our entitled, over-entertained, culturally-relevant-seeking, pop-culture-mirroring, belief+nothing=salvation-subscribing, self-centered churches is to get back to making Jesus the center of everything. If Jesus says it, we do it. If Jesus models it, we embed it into our lives. If Jesus commands it, we obey. If Jesus sends us, we go. If Jesus prayed much, we pray much. Church culture, in many ways, is just as far off the mark Jesus intended it to be as we complain that our nation is drifting far from what our founding fathers intended it to be. Church "ala-American" is not Church "ala-Jesus."
Let's get back to what Jesus intended:
What does this mean for you? You'll have to give up something... and you'll have to take up something. That's the way it is for every follower of Jesus without exception. What will you give up? What will you take up?
Disruption is the derailing of the "normal train." Disruption is the interruption of normal rhythms of life and patterns of behavior. Disrupting is, ... well ... disruptive. It shakes us up. Sometimes, however, a disruption is just what is needed to move us forward in our spiritual transformation.
You and I are prone to letting patterns prevail over God's purpose, power and plans. When we do, we can miss out on what is best for us. God has revelation for us, power and authority, insights, new plans, new tasks and divine assignments for us, but we are too stuck in our patterns to allow room for Him to move. What is needed in those moments is a holy disruption. We need God to intervene and set us free from our own captivity.
Let's compare ourselves to the Israelites of old after they crossed the Red Sea and were in the desert. Suddenly, they were faced with a problem they had never faced before; a food shortage. This would-be famine brought them to a crossroads of faith and trust. Would they trust God (who had just caused them to be set free from the hand of slavery and brought them safely through a parted sea on dry ground)? No. They preferred their captivity. They actually verbalized a desire to go back to slavery. Slavery, to them, was the shortest and easiest route to solve the famine issue. God had a different plan.
"So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD." (Deuteronomy 8:3 NKJV)
God's plan was to disrupt everything in order to teach and reprogram His people to a new normal. The new normal had to be trust-based instead of captivity-based. The Israelites could not walk into true freedom until their desire for slavery had been truly vanquished.
The truth is that we in the church today are no different. There are many areas of true freedom that God desires for the church to experience. You don't have to be a literal slave, or a slave to a substance, or a slave to an illegal activity to be a captive. Whatever in your life controls you is what influences everything about you. Religion can be in control, relationships can be in control, legal substances can be in control, entertainment can be in control, fads can be in control, careers and even family can be in control. But that is not the way it is supposed to be for the followers of Jesus, we are to be only controlled by the Holy Spirit. We are to hear our Lord's voice and obey.
We need for God to humble us ... allow us to hunger ... and feed us something of His choosing that is a complete disruption of our old normal... to reprogram us to new levels in Him.
This holy week, ask God for this one thing... disruptive hunger.
The old song says "Everybody loves somebody sometime." This is true for everyone. from every race and nation people love. However, our love usually has a "shelf-life" or "conditions" applied to it. Our ability to love is either tied to certain persons, certain schools of thought, certain geographical regions, certain socio-economic groups, certain entities, certain ideologies, etc. Whenever the environment changes and we find ourselves outside of our comfort zones, our love perishes... It vanishes... It withers. Perishable love has an expiration date.
Christianity without imperishable love is a dangerous thing. God's love knows no limits or boundaries. It thrives in places your love will not go. It lives in neighborhoods you won't drive through. It calls out in socio-economic groups you care not to associate with. It is present where you refuse to be. God is love without conditions... we are usually love with terms and conditions applied. God's love is imperishable, ours usually has an expiration date. Love that has an expiration date is dangerous because it doesn't represent Christ whose love has no such expiration. Limited, perishable love, is expected in the hands of pagans, but not expected in the hearts of Christ-followers. Just as Christ has risen imperishable, we too must be raised imperishable in our love.
John Wesley called true holiness (i.e. entire sanctification) the "perfecting of love." Notice that he did not call it the perfecting of church attendance, worship music, bible study, tithing, casting out demons, healing, tongues, interpretation, apostleship, teaching, pastoring, discerning or prophesying. No. Holiness is imperishable, unconditional, all-encompassing love. Just like the LORD we say we follow. All of those other activities are needed now to do ministry work for the LORD in this age. Paul knew this when he spoke to the Corinthian church telling them what would fade and what would remain. Love is the only thing that goes with us into eternity. The greatest evidence of the Kingdom of God coming near to a person is Imperishable love.
This Easter Sunday, Resurrection Sunday, perhaps we should all seek the resurrection of our love in areas where we have clearly drawn boundaries.
LORD Jesus, who lives and reigns on high with the Father and Holy Spirit:
Help us in our weakness to perfect our love. Plant within our hearts the very same passion for your created race as You have. Forgive us for the ways our love diminishes when it leaves certain boundaries we have set. Test us in this and see if our love is true and authentic. Help us to grow in Your likeness. Forgive us for not representing You well when our love perishes. Forgive us. Sanctify us through and through. Empower us. Lead us.
Through Your power and Yours alone in the Name of Jesus.
Nazareth? Can anything good come from Nazareth? Nathanael soon learned the answer to that question in the first chapter of John's gospel. Yes, good things come from Nazareth.
Today, most people don't get the connection between deep consecration to the Lord and true spirituality. We have spent decades dismantling the separation of certain behaviors and being Christ-followers. We reason and rationalize... "Certainly I can still do __X__ and be a Christian." We have fought to have both Jesus, and every form of worldliness, and forgot to search the scriptures to see if deep, complete consecration to the LORD, the kind of consecration that even drives us to give up things we have rights to, has a point. I can assure you, it has a point.
The first place to look for the root problem of the breakdown is to the Sabbath. Consecration of time gives sacred space for consecration of self. Remove the consecration of time and we, who are like sheep and prone to wander, have less and less motivation to consecrate ourselves. After all, we've gone to great lengths to assure ourselves that any kind of self-denial is pointless to our faith ... that asceticism is equivalent to nonsense... so we just do what we want, when we want, how we want, and say we believe but don't display our belief.
In Israel, every seventh year was a Sabbath year from vine dressing. Imagine walking through the country side of Israel and seeing undressed vineyard and undressed vineyard. What is the point? It's a Sabbath year and the sacred space of time meant that you left the vines to the LORD who created them and gave yourself to the LORD who created you. Complete ... total ... entire consecration... Holy to the Lord. An undressed vine is set apart to the LORD.
Which brings us back to where we started with the idea of Nazareth. The name itself is derived from the Hebrew "NAZAR" which is to be holy and set apart to the LORD. Nathanael's question was an oxymoron; a contradiction of terms. Yet, we are like Nathanael. We ask, "Can anything good come from NAZAR? ... Can anything good come from being an undressed vine in a Sabbath year? The answer is YES.
During Lent people give up a "something." You know, sweets, Facebook, meat on Fridays, etc. But who's ready to give up everything?
In Numbers 6, the Nazarite vow was to be taken to seriously and completely that they were not to even be in the presence of a dead person. That included immediate family. Compare these two verses... the first from Numbers 6 on the Nazarite vow, and the second from Jesus of Nazareth...
Numbers 6:6-8 NKJV All the days that he separates himself to the LORD he shall not go near a dead body. (7) He shall not make himself unclean even for his father or his mother, for his brother or his sister, when they die, because his separation to God is on his head. (8) All the days of his separation he shall be holy to the LORD.
Luke 9:59-60 NKJV Then He said to another, "Follow Me." But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." (60) Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God."
I still think Jesus is looking for people who are undressed vines in Sabbath years for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
Luke 9:23-25 NKJV Then He said to them all, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. (24) For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. (25) For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?
Today is the start of Holy Week. I'd like to share with you today, my Palm Sunday message titled "From Life to Death." Be blessed. Pastor Brett Heintzman
What motivates you?
Behind every action there is some sort of motivation. Today, many people will go to their jobs. Working produces a paycheck and the motivation to work is the necessity of money to pay for the things we have and the things we need. That's a more simplistic look at motivation, but it's true, nevertheless.
But what about other behaviors? What is the motivation behind crime, addiction, laziness, self-loathing, lying, deceiving, fits of rage, sexual impurity in all its forms, drunkenness, etc?
We all have medications to deal with our motivations. I live in a city where heroin addiction, meth addiction, and poverty are on the increase at an alarming rate. As a follower of Jesus my heart is overwhelmed with concern and wants to act. I'm motivated but I'm also highly aware of my own belief that perhaps there's really nothing I, nor anyone else for that matter, can really do about this problem. If that is the case... that nothing can be done... then what do I do? I medicate myself with religion. Many Christians are medicating with religion. The religiously medicated may cry out from the sidelines to the addicted, "You don't need that heroin! Your pain won't go away with more drugs! You're only hurting yourself!" After crying out, we return to our own drug of choice, religious activity. We speak and hesitate to act.
No one who is addicted wishes to stay there. No one in poverty wants to be there. No one medicating with alcohol would deny it is slowly killing them inside and outside. However, many Christians would deny that religion medicates them. Faith without deeds is dead.
I have heard the arguments. "We really don't know what exactly to do about this. How can we act upon something we don't know." You're right in one sense. It is indeed hard to act upon the mysterious unknown. The root causes of these issues and their solutions is a mystery to us, but they are not a mystery to God. If we are His children, perhaps He's calling us to our own wakeup call to abandon our own medication and seek Him for the answers to the unknown.
Deuteronomy 8:3 NKJV So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD.
God wants us hungry for change, not desperate for more religious medication that masks the problem with activity and churchy busyness.
God is humbling us.
God is allowing us to hunger.
God will feed us with manna (translated: "what is it?") if we will ask Him for it.
God wants to teach us something higher.
God has a solution we know nothing about.
God wants us to know that we live... truly live on every word that proceeds from His mouth.
What motivates you?
Are you hungry for the world the change?
Hungry enough to abandon your own religious medication for true Christ-like action?
Will you now return to your regularly-scheduled day completely unaffected by this message?
Be changed ... then change the world.
Ephesians 4:4-6 NIV There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— (5) one Lord, one faith, one baptism; (6) one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Unity in the church is the key to what is possible in the Kingdom of God. Is Christ divided? No. Wherever there are divisions in the church whether they be in thought, interpretation, polity, practice, or tradition, they are man-made. Unity comes in Christ, but division has come through the church.
Division makes things impossible for us. Many make excuses for division like there is nothing wrong with it as long as we all agree on one central belief in Jesus. The demons believe and shudder! Are we unified with them through belief in Jesus? Absolutely NOT! When the early peoples of this earth began to work together in unity they decided to build a tower to the heavens. God looked down from heaven, took note of their unity in language and said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them." (Genesis 11:6 NIV) One people, one language, one motive, one plan, one mission, one task, one heart ... UNITY.
God created the language barrier to keep humanity from accomplishing the impossible while we were in sin. It was never His intent to leave us in a divided state. We are to be one church of people from all races, nations and tongues. The gift of tongues on the day of Pentecost put possibility back into humanity because of the reunification of language. God now wants the language barrier removed so that we can communicate and cooperate as one, so that nothing will be impossible for us. In sin we desired to build a tower to the heavens, with unity in holiness, we desire to build the Kingdom of God on earth.
In regards to post-babel language barriers, today is no different. We all may speak English but we have language barriers between our churches. Truth be told, there are likely language barriers within your church. If pastors were to conduct surveys on differences of theological thought within a congregation, there would likely be as many interpretations as there are people in attendance. Wherever there is disunity there is division... and wherever there is division, there is impossibility. Wherever there is unity in Christ, there is possibility.
As long as people continue to hunger for having church their way instead of God having His way in the world, we will be plagued with impossibility. When we let go and seek common language by all tuning ourselves to Christ, we will find that nothing will be impossible for us! That is what our LORD wants for us.
Ephesians 4:13-16 NIV ...until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (14) Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. (15) Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. (16) From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
We all know there are many things worthy of public news announcements that never make it into print and/or broadcast. While the world loves a steamy story of Christians who mock both themselves and Christ with their antics and irrational comments, I've met many, many brothers and sisters as of late who serve Christ that are far more newsworthy, but go unpublished. They are heroes of the world who rarely receive the attaboys they deserve. The conclusion of Hebrews 11, the great chapter on the faith of the heroes, concludes by saying "the world was not worthy of them." Their character, integrity, faith, risk, sacrifice, and devoted service speaks loudly and clearly.
Character traits of newsworthy, but unpublished Christians:
1) They are devoted to change:
Changing the world is a non-negotiable for these servants. I've met many who seek the Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven and never give up the vision of a world saturated with Christ and His holiness. They are change-seekers.
2) They risk courageously.
These heroes take incredible risks based on nothing by faith. They believe God has spoken and step into the place of miracle-expectation, before the actual miracle comes. They trust God in the empty spaces and await His power.
3) They are not experts.
Most of these people, if not all, will see incredible accomplishments for the Kingdom, yet say, "we had no idea what we were doing." They move ahead out of the limits of their own understanding to see God do great things.
4) They maintain humility.
All great newsworthy, but unpublished Christians are humble. They quietly move about this earth with no trumpets announcing their entrance. They are powerful and meek. Mighty and unassuming. Extraordinary though ordinary.
5) They work subversively.
These heroes float under the radar. They are wise and gentle, and they get things done. They don't demand that everything be promoted through press releases and grand celebrations. Subversive Christians do more underground good daily than anyone else I know.
6) They grieve the slowness of change.
They cry out, "how long, Lord?" Their hearts walk the delicate balance between joy and sorrow, anticipation and discouragement as they seek to see transformational change come into the world. Their work fits no metric of "return on investment." They just invest and trust God.
7) They pray without ceasing.
They know that apart from Jesus they can do nothing, so they stay constantly connected, knowing that leaving His side disconnects them from everything they need for ministry.
8) They wish for others to "get it."
They secretly wish for others in the world to see what they see, know what they know, envision what they envision, and care for what they care for. They wish that people who didn't believe in God could understand, somehow, that life in Christ isn't the comic-strip image that gets published for the public to mock.
9) They seek not personal fame, but only for the cause of Christ to advance.
They simply want Jesus to be honored for the majestic, holy, glorious, sovereign, Almighty King He truly is. When these dear servants see the name of Jesus slandered, they cry inside.
10) They never stop.
They refuse to stop no matter what. Nothing seems to tire them, though they are often very tired. They keep going. Why? Because they are compelled.
There is much, much more that could be said. They are the driving, powerful force of the Kingdom of God. They have left all to serve Christ. These leaders and servants of Christ in the world cause more positive change and effects than anyone will ever know. People who do not believe in God benefit from their sacrifice and goodness all day, every day, yet do not know the gift they receive in those people from the hand of God they do not acknowledge.
Are you a newsworthy, yet unpublished Christian? If so, may the Lord bless you abundantly for your sacrificial, loving service to Him. If not, ... why not?
Jesus never leaves us empty-handed after an encounter with Him. Jesus is a wealth of teaching if we will listen. This week, I have had the privilege to travel with a colleague to Atlanta Georgia and attend an open house at FCS Ministries (or Focused Community Strategies Ministries). FCS has been working for decades in the impoverished neighborhoods of Atlanta, Georgia to bring holistic solutions to these areas. I want to share with you my takeaways from this encounter. These are my own personal insights, and not necessarily direct teaching from their materials we received.
Move In or Don't Make a Move
If you are going to "minister" to a neighborhood, you have to do it through relationships. You will never be trusted by people with whom you are not willing to live. If you move into an impoverished area and let your kids attend the schools, eat at the restaurants, shop where the residents shop, etc., then you've established the credibility to have a voice in the lives of the residents.
Neighbors Aren't Experts
If you have the posture of the "Expert with the Answers," then don't bother. How can you have the answers to another person's problem if you've never met them, conversed with them, heard their hopes and dreams, etc. Your dreams are not their dreams. Your solutions may be no solution at all ... in fact, it may create more problems.
Focus, focus, focus.
Set a boundary around the neighborhood you're going to serve and stay there. I spoke to one of the team at FCS and expressed my heart-hurt over not seeing more progress in my own hometown after nearly six years of investment there. His response was, "yeah... you should start seeing results after about 15 years." Intentional focus is needed, not quick fixes.
Create Opportunities, Don't Give Them
It's better to create opportunities for people to thrive and flourish than it is to continually provide out of your own resources. People take pride in the dignity of work ... they want to provide for themselves... they need a sense of accomplishment. Making spaces for others to succeed is far more important than giving them handouts. Dr. Robert Lupton calls this "toxic charity." We met a young girl that works in a Bike shop started by FCS here in Atlanta and she said, "I will own my own shop someday." You can't put a price on that kind of thing. This girl now sees a way to something better... but no one just gave it to her. She was given a space to dream, not a bike.
There's more there than you think
Impoverished neighborhoods are not devoid of people with talents, dreams, aspirations and hopes. They have them, they're just oppressed under years and generations of oppressive patterns and decay. Find the spark and fan it into flame. This is why Jesus sent out the disciples with no provisions. The provisions were in the homes where they would go. Most ministry gathers resources, then goes out to give them away. When we run out of resources, we run out of the neighborhood. Bruce Bennett of Community Church Planting says, "The resources are in the harvest."
Take Risks ... Because Someone has to.
We walked into a corner grocery story called "Carver Market." This store serves the Historic South Atlanta Neighborhood with access to good food that is not otherwise available without a long commute... something not possible for many with no means of transportation. We say homes renovated then sold to people who cold actually afford them on their means. They were given opportunity to thrive. We heard directly from residents who spoke with voices of hope about the progress they see and yet the big tasks ahead of them. Opening stores, rehabilitating homes, implanting hope takes great risk, and someone has to do it.
Honor those worthy of honor.
We heard from Jay and Nellie, two 28-year residents of the neighborhood who had rode-out the long and difficult decline of the neighborhood, yet never gave up hope. After their talk I approached them. I told them that when people stay and commit for the long haul, they are worthy of honor. I told them, that even if no one else had never said it to them, I wanted to honor them for their 28 years of battling crime, loving their neighborhood, refusing to move out, believing change could be possible, and tirelessly working for a preferred future. A few tears were shared. They're amazing people with huge hearts.
There's more that could be said... far more. I'm glad for encounters that produce takeaways. I need them. You need them. I'm not the same guy I was three days ago.
What are the life-changing takeaways from your encounters with God?
I've never met many Christians who want to make no impact whatsoever in the world. However, I've met many they fear they've made too little impact... I'm one of them. Flying into an extremely large metropolitan center yesterday was sobering. This airport was so great in its expanse that you had to travel across what seemed like two villages to get to the rental car facility. Truth be told, I felt like an ant in the middle of it all. Small. Insignificant.
Proverbs 30:24-28 NIV "Four things on earth are small, yet they are extremely wise: (25) Ants are creatures of little strength, yet they store up their food in the summer; (26) coneys are creatures of little power, yet they make their home in the crags; (27) locusts have no king, yet they advance together in ranks; (28) a lizard can be caught with the hand, yet it is found in kings' palaces.
Small doesn't necessarily mean insignificant. Ants can store up their food wisely, coneys pry open crags in boulders and make their home there. Locusts create mighty armies and lizards can be found in the homes of high-ranking officials.
You. You can be wise. You can carve out openings in rocks. You can create a mighty army. You can find yourself in places of influence. You. With the Lord, nothing will be impossible for you. That's great news! Do you know this? Do you anticipate this for your life? Do you pray to the Lord to have this kind of subversive influence in the world?
Not only are we promised that wisely-acting, small creatures can make a huge impact, we are also commended by our Lord to do so with His resources that create incredible possibilities.
Matthew 25:20-21 NIV The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.' (21) "His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'
These verses are not unfamiliar to most. However, one thing that is common to most believers is that their contribution to the Kingdom makes no difference whatsoever. Now, if you're sitting on the resources God gives you, then, by all means, get up and get to work in the Kingdom! I'm not saying "everyone gets a gold star just because." Jesus doesn't indicate that. However, I know people who work tirelessly for the Lord, give their lives to His work, invest their lives in others and have sacrificed much for the Lord's service. They wonder, "what difference am I making?" One of the curses of the American economy and mindset is "chartable results." Not all results in the Kingdom are chartable. Sometimes the fruit of your labor will not prove true until after your death. Sometimes you will get to see the results. In the end, you must leave this in the hands of the Lord.
You have one responsibility... be faithful to His service as He is faith to you. Use what you've been given to the measure given to you. Don't waste time wondering... get to work for the Lord.
Be the ant... the coney... the locust... the lizard. Store up for the Lord ... break the enemy's rocks ... join the Lord's army ... find your way into places of influence. Use the 'talent.'
I am a pastor who is also a musician. I have been a musical worship leader in a church for many years and now am in the lead pastor role. This duality or experience has given me eyes to see a trend that troubles me in our churches. I have witnessed the power music has. Music embeds things in our minds. No one has ever told me that they got one of my sermons "stuck in their heads," but people get SONGS "stuck in their heads" all the time. This reality should call all church musicians to remember this truth about people: you are what you sing.
I have lived in the land of creating the "worship set." Planning the 20-30 minutes of music that would engage the people of the church to worship on Sunday mornings. Let me ask this question to all you church musicians out there: "What drives your music selection for Sunday services?" Is it 1) Preference (we sing what we like to sing)... 2) Style (old vs. new / high vs. low / etc.)... 3) Popularity (what's on the CCLI top 10) ... or something else?
Look at the picture above. In this picture, what do you suppose is going on that is unseen and unheard? Likely it is the band. There is likely a band on the platform singing and playing. There's likely drums, keyboards, guitars, bass, amps, in-ear monitors, lights, etc. I've been pastoring a while now. No one rises to their feet with their hands raised when we open our Bibles and delve into the Word. When the singing stops, the "worship" stops? Really?
True worship transcends music. Worship is living sacrifice ... offering ... presence ... awe ... ascribing honor and glory to God ... cleansing ... adoration ... praise ... repentance ... worship doesn't need music. In fact, I encourage all church musicians who are given the title of worship leader to learn what it means to worship God with no song coming from their voice and, when they've figured that out, add a little music back in.
You see, we are what we sing in that music gets stuck in our heads. But we are only transformed by the renewing of our mind that comes through the washing of the Word. Merge the Word with Music and you have power. But if music is there for music's sake, then we've lost worship. In churches, people vote with their feet... if they attend it's because they like what is going on and if they don't attend, it's usually protest of some kind.... and there are many protests still going on over music. I wish we could be so passionate about injustice, the lost, the poor, the broken and so-on.
Jesus unites ... music styles divide ...
The division of traditional vs contemporary vs acoustic vs choir vs band vs a cappella music is evidence enough that music divides. Remember, I'm a musician so I've got a little experience with this. I've watched styles divide.
Jesus is High and Lifted Up ... but the band has been elevated in church ...
Remember when the pulpit was higher than the music? People don't want an aloof impersonal pastor who preaches from on high, but we have no trouble with a man-bun-sporting guitarist elevated to the place where the pulpit once was. Band on the stage and pastors on the floor... what does that really say?
Jesus is the Truth ... some of our lyrics are not...
Church musicians ... please give careful thought to the content of what is sung. It makes a difference. Just because a song is popular doesn't make it scripturally accurate. Remember the power of music to be embedded in the minds of people, and then choose carefully what you are feeding the sheep.
Because we are sheep we need good musical shepherds.
Musical talent is not enough to be a worship leader.
Worship services without music can still be worship services.
O be careful little voice what you sing ... because you are what you sing.
The patient says, "Doctor, it hurts when I do this." "Then don't do that!" This classic joke from comedian Henny Youngman provides a very simple answer to a patient's problem. If it hurts when you do that ... don't do that. Simple.
Last week, my wife and I had the blessing of listening to Bruce Bennett of CCP International present a three-day seminar on Biblical church expansion and planting with results to back it up. There were times when the room was silent as he spoke ... like you could have heard a pin drop. Why? Because he provided simple, yet highly difficult and inconvenient responses to conundrums in our contemporary Christian thinking.
For instance, the group was invited by Bennett to voice objections to his presentation; why his methods wouldn't work here in the U.S.A. One of the objections was materialism, to which Bennett responded, "That's easily solved... just give it all away." Simple. Difficult. Inconvenient. Highly effective if followed. My belief is that American Christians (and perhaps others around the globe) have somehow elevated the importance of the condition of struggle. We think that struggle is highly spiritual activity. We want to grieve, mourn and wail with and for those that struggle and grieve, mourn and wail over our own. We talk about it, cry over it, get therapy for it, search the scriptures for comfort to soothe it, and try to excuse it because it is ... struggle. The culture of struggle was no stranger to Jesus. The difficult and inconvenient simplicity of Jesus will break through the nonsensical hype of "struggle" to offer freedom.
Jesus is not into "struggle-maintenance." Jesus is into freedom. Jesus is into chain-breaking. Jesus is into burden-relief. Jesus is into radical-repentance. Jesus is into forsaking.
Imagine a church where every member had elevated the importance and practice of forsaking in exchange for freedom. Every story, from every person, was a story of giving up things of the world, temptations, sin, money, status, relationships, habits, bondages, addictions, and exchanged them all for the joy of knowing Jesus and being set free! It would be the tangible evidence of this parable...
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
(Matthew 13:44 NKJV)
It's the TREASURE that is to be elevated in its importance, not the STRUGGLE. Struggle is not holy, but holiness is.
The scriptural theme of "light" does not refer to "lumens" but rather "illumination." When God said, "Let there be light," it first referred to His illumination in the world... the sun came later. Therefore, whenever we see images of light and darkness in His Word, what we're talking about is the presence of the LORD's illumination, or the lack of that presence which leaves spiritual darkness... a vacuum that is full of hopelessness and dread.
Why, then, does it seem there are so many believers walking about these days as if blindfolded? Why does it seem that so many who call themselves by the name of Christ have so little "illumination?" The truth is, both Light and darkness have a testimony. They both testify to themselves through the fruit of the human life. Where the Light rules and reigns, there will be no darkness, and where the darkness rules and reigns there will be no light. For persons, we have the ability to ascribe love to one or the other. You and I can love the Light, or we can love the darkness, but we cannot have it both ways.
One of the plagues God set upon Egypt in the days of Moses, was a plague of darkness.
Exodus 10:21-23 NIV (emphasis mine) Then the LORD said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness will spread over Egypt--darkness that can be felt." (22) So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. (23) No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.
The "darkness that can be felt" is a tangible sense of the absence of the LORD. I doubt any atheists are reading this right now, but if you are, you should consider that you do not live in total darkness because there are so many carriers of the light who surround you in your daily work and living in this world. I know atheists who believe in the inherent good within men, but they are misguided. The "inherent good" they see is Christ in His followers ... the HOPE OF GLORY. Now imagine that light - illumination - just vanishing. There will be darkness ... utter and complete darkness that can be felt.
John 12:46 NIV I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.
Jesus clarifies for us that no one stumbles in broad daylight. All who come to Him and believe in Him as well as the One who sent Him, should not stay in darkness at all! This is our gift ... our promise ... our hope ... the removal of the darkness that can be felt, and in its place, a Light that shines brightly through God's illumination and goodness.
Ephesians 5:8 NIV For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light
Once in the Light, darkness should be forever in our past. The ways that Christians "stumble in broad daylight," however is that we do not live as children of the Light. It's as if we get up in the morning, turn on a light, then, squinting in the brightness, we blindfold ourselves so we don't have to adjust to the light! That image may sound like craziness, but it is no less crazy than children of the Light walking around this earth as if having no heavenly illumination at all! Remember, we can ascribe love to one or the other. Is it possible there are those who love darkness, though they profess their love for the Light? They are no different than the atheist who benefits from the light emitting from the true believers. Borrowed light while in darkness is not the Lord's way. We must walk from the Light within, not the light emitting from others, or we are not His.
Choose this day how you will walk... but as for me and my house, we will walk in the broad daylight of our LORD.
Brett Heintzman is passionate about the spiritual formation of God's people. These writings are designed to draw us close to God and to help us live out of the riches of His presence. It's all about being in the world but not of the world.