Dear Salvation Army, Has Music Become Our Idol?

brassIt is iconic.
The brass bands playing music on the street corner, reminiscent of the bygone era of open air meetings.
We gather together for territorial and even international events and the brass band is there also.
I am not disparaging the usage of music in ministry, but could such a use become an idol?
It almost sounds absurd doesn’t it?  …but could it?  is it?
Every denomination has its sacred cows of sorts…The Salvation Army is no exception.

Question:
How do we prevent possible sacred cows from overshadowing its real intend and purpose?

Truth be told ANYTHING can become an idol if it becomes the focal point, and in essence becomes the thing which is worshiped.  If your corps were to worship its tithing process on a Sunday morning (as crazy as that sounds) the focal point or the reason for giving would take a back seat while the process of “giving” becomes THE MAIN THING.   It has then become your idol.

Music:  band
No matter if your corps’ Holiness/Salvation Meeting is modern and thrives upon the usage of a praise band or if your corps  has a brass band for worship – these tools of the sacred, used improperly, can become our idols of worship if we are not careful.  Use them wisely!  Don’t use them haphazardly.  Remember that music is not about the performance (it’s not a concert) it is about ushering people into the presence of God!!

All of the elements within a worship setting ought to be mere conduits pointing to the same Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  If they do not point to Him, but instead take His place (either by accident or on purpose) these elements should be re-evaluated and carefully retooled.

news
Worship is NOT about playing the appropriate amount of songs from the tune book on Sunday morning.
Worship is NOT about having the best brass band in the division.
Worship is NOT about having all of the right musicians on your praise team…and playing all the right modern worship songs.
Worship is NOT about the elements…it is about Christ – and secondly leading soldiers and other members into deeper relationship with Him.  If we lose focus of this, we run the risk of making the elements of worship our idol.

Questions:
Is this a present issue in your corps?
Have you ever witnessed this “Idol worship”?
How might educating worshipers, worship leaders, bandsmen help prevent this from happening?
Are we intentionally using music ministry to lead people into a deeper sense of worship with God?

I must tell you that I absolutely love music and I have nothing against Army music or modern contemporary worship.
These can be wonderful ministry tools if used correctly…but utilized incorrectly could lead to abuse and idols of worship.   God forbid that we make it into something it was never intended to be.

Something more for our Army to ponder today.
To God be the glory!

“Cleaning the inside of the Cup”

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.26“You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.” -Matthew 23:25,26
dishes
I hate doing dishes, just ask my wife…There, I’ve said it.
Sometimes I put dishes into the dishwasher and put that  little soap dispenser in and just hope for the best.
Most of the time that little soap dispenser lets me down…but sometimes I get lucky.

We do this too sometimes within our spiritual journeys too.
This passage of scripture may have been originally directed at the Pharisees and “hypocrites”, but it may as well have been directed at us too.
Jesus blasts these teachers and scholars of the Torah.  They know all the right things to do and all the right things to say, but their hearts are far from clean.

Sometimes we just load up our spiritual practices. practice
We just pile up the songs and scriptures and outfits that we wear…and we hope for the best.
Sometimes we get lucky.
Many times we do not.
A lot of the time, it makes us feel hollow and empty inside…almost as if something is missing or somehow, something has been overlooked.

Why?
cupBecause the inside of the “cup” has not been cleaned.
We can polish away at the soft glow of a sparkling clean exterior, but if the interior is still gross and filthy – what good will that polishing do?  I’m sure we can fool everybody.  We can fool even ourselves into thinking we have it made spiritually…but we aren’t fooling God.

News Flash:
You. Can’t. Fool. God!

I’m not saying we don’t sing songs of praise.
I’m not saying we don’t read the scriptures.
I’m not even saying “don’t go to church”.
But if all that we do is for “appearances”…then what’s the point?
If all we do in “worship” is hope that we sound good and “man did that worship team nail that last song“…we’re misguided and we could be avoiding the “camel” for the gnat (Matthew 23:24)…me may have some serious internal issues to deal with.

How is the inside of your cup?
Does it still need work?
Does it still need some cleaning?
A lot of cleaning?

This is a personal thing.
This is deeply personal…and yet this is also a corporate “Church-family” thing too.
Each of us should be mindful first of the condition of our own hearts before we even begin to contemplate the condition of others.

Are you sick of just going through the motions in Church? –So am I!
Are you tired of comparing yourself with others of the faith because they seem to have it all together and you’re just pretending?  -So am I!
Are you ready to do the hard work?
Are you prepared to allow the Holy Spirit to strip away the grime and caked on gunk in your heart?  -Me too.
You see this is the constant work of the Lord.
We must not stop seeking to be like Christ in our lives today.
We must not give up because holiness seems to be so far from where we are right now.

How is your cup?
May you seek Him out.
May you diligently allow Him to reveal and remove the dirt within.
God Bless you today!

-Something more for us all to ponder today.
To God be the glory!

What if we are “doing” Church all wrong? Pt. 2

Yesterday I talked about three erroneous ways in which we go about “doing” church (Link: What if we are “doing” Church all wrong Pt.1)  Somebody pointed out to me that we don’t really “do” church, instead we’re supposed to “be” church…He was absolutely correct.  That being said, more than often church goers are rooted in the location that their church building resides. We are called to “be” His Bride.
We are called to “be” sons and daughters of the Most High.
We are called to “be” hold as He is holy.

Photo Jan 09, 9 46 06 AMThe “Ceremony”
Yet, there are times when the things we “do” in church becomes our primary focus.
Don’t get me wrong, some of these acts of worship are important and can lead us into a deeper fellowship with other believers and more importantly with God…but what if our “being” gets overshadowed by our “doing”?  What happens then? What I mean is this:  What happens when the ceremony, and following the “proper” forms of worship (whatever that looks like from denomination to denomination) becomes more important that the true meaning behind all of those ceremonies and forms?

Could we just be “playing” church? pretend
Do you remember when you were a kid?
We used to play Cowboys and Indians, or “Dress-up” or Doctor.  It was a fun imaginary game.  We would assume these roles and play the part, and it was fun.

Is that what we sometimes do in church?
Are we just going through the necessary motions that we think we should be going through?
Are we “playing” church?  Sure, it’s fun from time to time, it’s like an acting gig in a drama.  We know all the right things to say,we wear all the right outfits, we sing all the right songs, but are we missing the mark? Are we missing the real reason we gather in the first place?

News Flash: God doesn’t want our ceremonies and our acting gigs.  He wants our hearts.  He simply wants us to “Be” His and His alone!  He doesn’t want to share us with anything else in this world.  God is truly a jealous God seeking after our hearts and lives.  Even distractions and ceremony can become our idols of worship if we are not careful.  Churches could be “doing” church simply because that’s how it’s always been done (Tradition), and so they maintain those traditions which can lead to losing any and all original significance on the premise of “maintaining”.    Other churches could be “doing” church simply because they strive to do worship drastically different than prior generations (Contemporary), and so they maintain that level of worship which can also lead to losing any and all original significance on the premise of “being different and more progressive”.   There’s nothing wrong with forms of worship unless they begin to replace God.

One might think I’m taking this too far, but hear me out.
“Doing church” is less important that “being” the church.  Sometimes we sacrifice significance and holiness in exchange for forms of worship and proper protocol.  We can become so stiff in our regulations of worship and what we think worship should look like that we can eventually lose all meaning.

When I think of this danger, I am immediately drawn to two stories in scripture:
1) Cain and Able
2) The Pharisees in Jesus’ day.
Cain – didn’t offer God the best, he did go through the motions of his offering, but it didn’t mean anything to him.  His offering was the left overs, lacking love – it was “doing” church.  God wasn’t pleased with this ceremony of worship.  God knew Cain’s heart.  It’s like two lovers confessing their love for one another.  After the first says “I love you”, the other says “Well I kinda like you”… that’s just not good enough.  It’s surfaced.  It’s not what God desires.  It’s all or nothing.

Photo Jan 09, 9 36 47 AMThe Pharisees/Hypocrites in Jesus’ Day:When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6“But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.…” (Matthew 6:5,6)

In other words, are our prayers (and even forms of worship) merely for the benefit of others? Are we acting our parts in church?  Are we doing church all wrong?

The word ‘Hypocrite’ literally means “actor”.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a hypocrite.
I don’t want to be an actor in church, I want to be genuine in my faith.
I honestly do not want to go through any kind of motions just because that’s how we always do it.

Questions:
Are we merely acting in church?
Have we lost the meaning of what we do in our forms of worship?
Have we stopped ‘being’ holy so that we can ‘do’ church?
Are we more afraid of offending the formal pattern followers in church than we are in offending God in our offerings?
Are we seeking to please God or others?
Is this all that Church is about for us?
Soldiers: Are we more concerned in pleasing our officers, our founders in how we look and act than how we are in pleasing God in our genuine offerings?
Are there sacred cows that need to be finally put down and sacrificed to God?

confessionIf I’m honest, this article is all about me.
I’m the hypocrite…if you relate, perhaps we’re in the same boat.
Sometime’s I have been more interested in getting everything just right in worship than I have been about getting my heart right.  Sometimes it’s much easier being the actor than it is to be real.  -can you relate…I hope you can! (Please tell you can relate!)
I’m not criticizing, I’m just wondering how often we act the part in ‘doing’ church instead of ‘being’ His?
Again, more questions that answers.

Something more to ponder for us today.
To God be the glory!

What if we are “doing” Church all wrong?

Have you ever stopped to wonder about why we do what we do in church?
Was this how Jesus did “church”?
Was this how those first disciples and apostles did “church”?
How did some of these practices come to be…and what if we’re doing “Church” all wrong?

Let’s face it – Church is more than a building.
It is more than ceremony and ritual.
It goes deeper than the color of the carpets and how comfortable the pews are.
It is more than how much this entity gives to Missions, World Services and Benevolence funds.

Here are 3 ways (trust me there are more) that could indicate whether we’re going about “Church”
 all wrong:

concertErroneous Concept #1:
It’s all about the music –
Believe it or not, the role of music within the early church consisted more of chants than fancy electronics, strobe lights, amplified guitars and thumping drums. Many times the usage of music was more to bring to mind the works of psalmists and other well known songs of praise from the Torah.  All of these songs or chants pointed to the Almighty.  His deeds.  What He has done for us.

Many people, within a wide demographic, (not just the younger generations) tend to gravitate to those churches that possess a rockin’ worship team.  Many times the focus becomes more about the band playing all of our favorite worship songs than about the content of any scriptural teaching.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE, LOVE music.  I love worship bands and performing/leading worship music…but it shouldn’t become the focus and sole identity to any church.  People should not come and go solely because they like the music or they think the music stinks (or is too loud).  These reason for staying or leaving a church seems to me to be very fickle and shallow.  It almost says to me “I only go to church to be fed and I have no responsibilities other than receiving what I WANT”.   -Don’t even get me started on traditional or contemporary styles either…SERIOUSLY does it truly matter in the grand scheme of things?  It’s a preference, it shouldn’t dictate (or become the sole reason) which church you go to.

entertain meErroneous Concept #2
Church is about MY entertainment…it’s all about the “show”!
It is both a blessing and a bane to grow up in such a media saturated culture.
We spend hours and hours a week on social media sites, we check the weather, sports, latest news feeds via our portable devices (even during church…ahem…)…and so when we view “Church” through THIS lens, we sometimes expect to be entertained at church as if it’s some sort of show.  Why else go to church?  (sarcastic font)  Why else pause our latest episode on some season that we’re currently watching on netflix and come to church?  In our day and age we want entertainment…and so we seek out those churches that “gets it”.  We want videos, and music and drama so that we feel like we could reach for a bag of popcorn while singing “Mighty to save“…don’t choke on that kernel.  (sarcasm again, sorry)

Is that how we truly view God as well?
Some higher divine form, God of the universe,  the “Big Cheese” sent here to “entertain” us?
I mean, beyond the smoke and mirrors, and big screen tv’s and expensive sound systems…what sort of substance is there?  Don’t get me wrong, there are some very slick churches that DO get the message across this way.  I even use videos in my services, but is THIS all that “church” is about?  Have we, in some way, lost our way?  Are we so focused on ways to entertain that we have begun to lose the main reason we gather in the first place?  And what does it say about us when our attention spans are so short that, in our minds, we’re flipping channels and checking our facebook status’ in church during the “boring parts”…oh what’s it called?  Oh, that’s right THE MESSAGE or the teaching, or the sermon…whatever your church calls it.  Could it be that we’re in search of the wrong things in church?  Could it be that we demand these things in our worship while subconsciously we’re look every which way other than in the direction of Jesus?

churchErroneous Concept #3
Church is all about “OUR” Fellowship and edification!
Sometimes our entire focus in Church remains “IN”.
Now, what do I mean by that?
What I mean is that sometimes we stop looking outside of our pretty buildings and fancy sanctuaries.  Sometimes we stop looking into our own communities.   We usually don’t do this on purpose.  It’s just safer this way.  It’s easier to just “hang out” with our church friends.  It can almost become an exclusive social club where outsiders aren’t welcome…and if we do get the occasional visitor, either they fit into our mold or we just pity them.  What happened to becoming “all things to all people”? (1 Corinthians 9:22)  Do we care about others?  Do we still care about the lost?  The hurting?  The broken?  Or do we just wall ourselves up in our churches and expect those that view as sinners and wretches to just come to us if we sing all of the right songs and act in just the right way?   Has the Great Commission taken a back seat to our comfort and safety?

Sometimes we have this division between our “Church life” and our “Work” or “School” or “Social” lives.  Seriously, do we behave differently from one area of our lives to the next?  Do we differentiate and keep these places separated?
When we get to church it can become about not only “entertain me” but this is “My group of friends, My source of strength…not yours”.  It’s easy to fall into this train of thought.  It happens because we crave acceptance with a group, and we don’t really like change.  When new comers come, it upsets the balance of OUR Church.

Were the disciples like this?
Was the early Church a social club?  An internally focused community?
Was it one dimensional like that? -NO.

Sure there is safety in Christian fellowship, and in a way that’s good.
BUT, if this fellowship only benefits you and your group and there is not outward looking focus then we are doing “Church” all wrong!

Questions to consider: 
Who is your church ministering to?
What are the reasons you go to church?
Why do you worship the way that you do?
Are there aspects of your motivation to worship that are misconstrued, improper, shallow?
How can you break these erroneous molds (when they appear) in your church, in your life?

Note: there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of the three things that I mentioned,rather if they become an idol in our worship and n our religious practices then we have issues to contend with.  Be mindful of the true purpose for Church. Be aware of the trappings that surround our practices…and in so doing, perhaps we will regain the proper priorities if they have become lost.

Something more to ponder today.
To God be the glory…far above anything else!
-Amen.

Ps. Thank you for subscribing to http://www.pastorsponders.org
Thank you for your comments and your questions!

Dear Salvation Army, Don’t Hate Christmas…but Don’t Worship it either

georgeIn my head I have this idealistic concept of what Christmas should look feel like.
I picture myself standing next to George Bailey as the whole town comes to rally around him.  I picture all of us gathered around the Christmas tree all bright and sparkly, glittering and shiny, and we’re singing ‘Auld Lang Syne‘.  We are all breathing in the regalia, drinking up our tasty glasses of egg nog and we’re all wearing those cheesy sweaters you only see at Christmas time.  It’s a fantasy.  It’s a dream.  It’s certainly not reality.  (just let me dream for a moment please)

Sometimes it’s Christmas worship…for all the wrong reasons.

There’s another side of me though.  grinch
It’s the side that comes out more often than not.
It’s a side that I seldom acknowledge.
With everything that we do this time of year…raising much needed funds, running ourselves sick so that by Christmas day, almost every year, we are literally sick…counting toys, sorting toys, dreaming about toys and the sounds of ringing bells (it really is a reoccurring nightmare)…that side of me wishes I never experience another Christmas again. This side of me HATES Christmas.

Bah…humbug.  

I don’t say that lightly.
Sometimes I wish someone else would just take over and let me go put on my cheesy sweater so that I can stand by George Bailey again.  Sometimes I honestly dread getting to this time of year.  Now, I know what we do and why we do these things matters, it’s just that I can’t help but feel overworked, under-appreciated, and Christmas has become something that I hate instead of love.   Did I do something wrong?  Did I cancel Christmas because of my calloused heart?  Am I the cause of this emotion?  Sometimes that side of me rises up, rages, and won’t go back into its cage.  It snarls at the “job”.  It wails at the hours.  It flails like a two year old in the middle of a grocery store when they don’t get what they want.  The Grinch scream at the top of its lungs with veins popping out of its neck, the words are garbled yet still recognizable; “I HATE CHRISTMAAAAAS!

But…
worship1Then I get to Sunday morning.
Then I get to refocus my heart.
Then the raging animal gets locked up again in its dented cage.
Then I get to retrain these emotions.
Then I swallow them down.
Then I push back at these raw, sour feelings.
Then I get to realign my intentions and my attitude.
Then I realize that once again I’ve lost my way.
It’s Sunday.
It’s Advent.
Where is this holiness, this sanctified spirit within me?
Did I misplace it?
Did I leave in the pew next to the pew bible and discarded bulletin?
Is it sitting next to the advent candles ironically located above the crimson holiness table with the words of irony “Holiness unto the Lord”?  Is it left in the chapel on Sunday?

Yes, we have made Christmas something to despise…sometimes.
Yes, we have worked ourselves to death…sometimes.
Yes, we make an impact on people’s lives…but are we really?
Yes, this system works…but is this the best we can do with the limited resources that we have?

All of these questions…
Not very many answers.

I really don’t hate Christmas.
I’m not green and please don’t call me the Grinch.
The two year old was left on the floor to finish that childish tantrum alone and embarrassed.

In my dream of the perfect Christmas I know that me and George Bailey are hanging out…but It’s just a dream.
I can’t worship this false ideal of what Christmas should look like either.  The real world come crashing in.
For now I’ll forget about buying that cheesy Christmas sweater and lounging in a comfy couch next to that fantastically decorated Christmas tree sipping egg nog while singing Old Lang Syne.

But is there a middle ground here?
I don’t want the proverbial cake and eat it too.
I’m not complaining.
I am a servant and an Officer.
Though I think we might get our priorities backwards at times.
Servants of what exactly?  Whose servants are we?

To help refocus and realign us  today amidst the hustle and bustle of our crazy, busy day:

Luke 2:1-20

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Something more for our Army to ponder today.
To God Be The Glory.

Dear Salvation Army, When Orders And Regulations Get In The Way…

early churchActs 151,2,7-11Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers:“Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question…After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.

I am not sure who these “certain people” were…but today I wonder if our “certain people” wear uniforms and act the part of the pharisee from time to time.  I don’t wish to sound judgmental…truth be told, we have all played this role a time or two…and we’re not proud of it (I hope).

early church1The Early Church
There were certain fundamentalists within the early church; rule abiders, standard bearers, orders and regulation holders.  When new comers (Gentiles) came to the faith proclaiming to be Christ-followers, these traditionalists demanded they be made practicing Jews in every way including circumcisions (yowza!).   You see, in order for these new comers to be accepted as members of the faith in the eyes of these traditionalists, they had to change everything about themselves.  The law had to be upheld, and these stiff regulations followed to the letter.   It was practically impossible for these Gentile followers to obey the law completely.  In essence these “certain people” were setting them up for failure.

Grace & Law
8 “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.” (Acts 15:8-9)

Peter tells it like it is to those gathered in Jerusalem.
We are given the Holy Spirit…He purifies our hearts.  We do not need additional ritualistic practices or outward performances to meet regulations of salvation.  We have been saved through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.  We have been purified through and through.

Do Orders And Regulations Get In The Way?  soldiers4
Yes.  At times.
Sometimes, even in The Salvation Army, we can get so caught up in the law and the ritualistic practice of the law that we can lose sight of a grace that purifies and transcends common practice.  Are new comers joining our Army?  Do they understand this Army?  Are we helping them to understand our forms of worship?  Do we lose them because of lack of grace, compassion, judgement, appropriateness?

I am not advocating anarchy, in fact just the opposite.
Could it be that the grace of the Holy Spirit is all the law we need?  I am not saying that we throw out our orders and regulations…but do we hold far too tightly to these?  Have they become our “Jewish law”?  In order for visitors to truly believe and worship as Salvationists, do they have to meet our requirements of dress and practice?

Sound Doctrine?…yes…Rigid Rules?…no.
Photo Nov 13, 10 39 28 AMAgain we should be mindful, as Peter, Paul, Barnabas and James were in Acts 15 of the trappings of ridged Law abiding practices that strangles growth.  The Apostles didn’t say that they were throwing out sound doctrines, but they did loosen the stiff regulations for Gentiles coming to the faith.

Questions:
Can new people & visitors truly come to your corps “as they are”?
Do we judge new comers based on their appearance and practice?
Have we lost potential soldiers and even officers because we rigidly follow our orders and regulations and “accepted” practices in worship (excluding foundational doctrinal beliefs)?
Do we really mean for new Christians or would be Christians to “come as they are” into our Holiness meetings and Salvation Meetings?
Are we exhibiting grace, love and compassion to the “whosoever”?
Have we ever discriminated (consciously or subconsciously) people because they didn’t fit OUR Salvationist mold?

Warning: Don’t Get In The Way!
Don’t be the “certain people” found in Acts 15.
Our world already contains enough judgement, condemnation and discrimination.  If the Church The Salvation Army cannot be a beacon of hope, grace and holiness, then a I fear we will have lost our way and God help us if we turn away individuals because they aren’t “our kind of people“.

The Remedy: 
If you have been a part of the “certain people“…I pray you can reconcile yourself once more to His grace and love.  Ask Him once again to soften your heart.  Ask the Lord to make you holy.  True growth of our Army begins upon our knees in penitence as we seek to be inclusive of the whosoever regardless if they wear a uniform or look just like you and me.

Prayer:  Lord make us holy.  Set us apart for your missions here on earth.  May we seek to love and to serve everyone regardless of their differences.  Give us your eyes so that we may see others the way you see them.  May we exude your grace, peace, love and acceptance of those who are so desperately in need of these qualities here on earth.  May we be your people who will help usher in your kingdom here on earth today through our faith in action.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

-Something more for our Army world to ponder today.

Additional reading on this topic for your consideration:
Cookie Cutter Christians
Christians and Racism?
When Christians Get It Wrong

Devotional Pondering – “I have to sacrifice WHAT???”

Image

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Romans 12:1

Just the idea alone of sacrificing or giving up something in our lives, at times, seems preposterous.  Why would we ever want to sacrifice anything…it’s an honest confession, and a shared sentiment with many.  Sacrifice can be a hard thing to do in our lives which often include more excess and over-excess rather than “less”.  I’m sure you have heard the phrase “less is more” and in the case of the Holiness this certainly fits, at least in the practical physical sense.  

Question: What are we willing to sacrifice in order to have a closer relationship with God?
Perhaps the idea of giving up something physical in your life bothers you.  Perhaps knowing that the Lord requires this in order to help you grow seems hard even harsh.  Let me ask you this – what consumes your day?  Is it your job?  Is it your pursuit of more stuff?  Are you living beyond your current means?  I don’t mean to pry but honestly mammon or the pursuit of stuff has almost become our worldly false god especially in the Western world.  We see a new commercial on T.V. for the biggest and nicest car and we crave it.  We go to a friend’s house and they show off their new 60′ television with all the new features and we covet it.  Mammon – this pursuit of stuff has a way of choking our spiritual lives to death.  

I’m not saying money or things are inherently evil, not at all.  Some of these things are necessary items and can be used for good…but if it becomes our obsession, then perhaps we have placed things and “stuff” above God.  

Sacrifice requires something from us.  Sacrifice in the spiritual sense means we are willing to think more about our relationship with God and less about our own selfish wants and desires.  Sacrifice is more than just a way of life it has to become a thought process and a lifestyle.  

he (Jesus) humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” -Philippians 2:8 (NLT) 

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If we are to become holy in our lifestyles, attitudes and actions, then we have to emulate the very attributes of Christ who became death, took death from us, and in so doing redeemed us.  Humility, in the spiritual sense, goes hand in hand with becoming a living sacrifice for God and for the people around us (regardless if they are good or bad).  

Prayer:  Dear Lord, show me what a living sacrifice looks like.  I have, at times, filled my life with pride, arrogance and things that attempted to replace you.  Forgive me of this, help me to see the threat of mammon in my life and guide me in your truths…lead me Lord.  I long to be like you, help me to see how I can become humble in spirit so that I may be your witness to the world around me.  Help me to see others through your eyes and guide me in your truths.  -Amen. 

 

BREAKING NEWS: Church 101 Survey Results

Church 101 Survey

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First of all I would like to thank everyone who participated in this church survey.  Looking at the raw data, we nearly made it to 100 participants (93 to be exact).  Obviously within this small sampling we can begin to glean some information regarding personal preference and worship settings.  

Perhaps some of these survey questions were random, and the wording could have been better, but I think you might be interested in the results so let’s get to the good stuff –

I will not go through the questions in order but rather look at the demographics first.

Demographics: 

ImageThe survey was conducted with both participating genders, and though 6 people skipped this question we can see that this survey was conducted almost evenly amongst male and female participants.

Age of our survey grouping –

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Within this data we can see that the majority of those participating in the survey were between the ages of 25 – 64.  The 25-34 age range produced the most responses to this survey at 28% of the total 93 person survey.  This is, however, a wide age demographic, and if more survey questions had been conducted we may have also seen the many differences between these generations within the variations of answers.  

 

 

 

 

Question #1 

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This might not be too surprising to you.  Acceptance & Fellowship was the top answer in this survey (thank you to survey participant who gave me a chuckle regarding the food answer).  Granted, strong spiritual teaching by a Pastor is vital, but the sense of belonging and friendship/fellowship trumps the pastor’s preaching abilities.  I am sure we can all relate to this, if we’ve ever visited a church for the first time.  We will more than likely place how other parishioners (church members) receive us as visitors over the first time impression of the pastor’s message.  This isn’t to say that the message and the content of the message isn’t important, but rather how others receive us within their fellowship becomes the tipping point to regularly entering into that fellowship or finding the nearest exit as soon as the “Amen’s” are said.  

Questions to consider

1.  “How friendly is your current fellowship of believers?”  
2. “How can you, as a church body, strive to be more accepting to “outsiders”?  

“The church exists primarily for two closely correlated purposes: to worship God and to work for his kingdom in the world … The church also exists for a third purpose, which serves the other two: to encourage one another, to build one another up in faith, to pray with and for one another, to learn from one another and teach one another, and to set one another examples to follow, challenges to take up, and urgent tasks to perform. This is all part of what is known loosely as fellowship.” 
― N.T. WrightSimply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense

Question #2

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A majority of people polled within this survey (82%) indicated that tithing was important.  We can all attest to the fact that tithing is scriptural, but when it comes to personal opinion or preference one can asked “what is tithing?”  A follow-up question might be “Is tithing only about money?”  

In some of the responses to this question, under “Other -please specify“, participants indicated that it depends on what we term “tithing” to be.  Also the answers indicated a healthy dose of cynicism or skepticism as to what type of church one would tithe to.  

This is a spiritual act of worship and a discipline that must be taught.  Granted, we might become skeptical of tithing when we hear about funds being improperly used from mega churches of televangelists out to make a quick buck.  

Regardless of how we view tithing, it should be noted once again that though it is an act of worship, tithing can mean much more than just our personal finance, although financial support can play a major role.  

“..tithing isn’t something I do to clear my conscience so I can do whatever I want with the 90 percent–it also belongs to God! I must seek his direction and permission for whatever I do with the full amount. I may discover that God has different ideas than I do.” 
― Randy AlcornMoney, Possessions and Eternity

 

Question #3

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If we were to have a break down of the demographics within this question we might find that this data is rather telling. Generationally speaking, the “Silent Generation” (1927-1945) and even the “Baby Boomers” (1946-1964) can identify with the 59% within this survey.  Sunday is traditionally the day in which we go to church and worship the Lord.  This, however, at times has become so “traditional” and staunch that younger generations such as the “Gen-Xers” and the “Millennials”  are seeking alternative worship options.  

Thus the 34% of those who participated in this survey indicated that they were unsure if Saturday or Sunday was the best day for Worship services.  I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing or an indication that younger generations are shunning the older “traditional” worship times, but rather that people are inundated with busy schedules and family events and find themselves struggling to make it to a traditional 10am Sunday Worship service. 

One could make the assumption that people need to re-adjust their priorities about worship, but does this merely mean they MUST conform to a certain generational structured setting in worship?  

Questions to consider: 

“Are there other times that worship can be held?”
“Is there anything scripturally wrong with meeting at other times in the week?”  (Obvious answer is “No”) 
“Do you have enough support locally and through your Church denominational headquarters to change times or offer an alternative time for worship?”  
Other questions?  (Please feel free to add your own!)

 

Question #4

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Is faithful church attendance important to you?  The majority of those who completed this survey indicated (95%) that it most definitely was important.  

This is greatly connected with our need for belonging within the fellowship of believers if we are Christ-followers.  Reasons we may feel this strongly about church attendance could be because we are challenged by other believers to grow.  There is also an accountability element with regular church attendance.  Also another reason might be because we are comfortable with our “church family” or that our “church family” is in actuality members of our own immediate (blood) families.  

Regardless this statistic should be of no surprise to most of us.  

 

D.L. Moody once said, “Church attendance is as vital to a disciple as a transfusion of rich, healthy blood to a sick man.”

 

 

 

 

Question #5

Image  This might not be all too surprising considering the wide demographic that is represented in this survey.  Perhaps the question could have been phrased a little better to indicate “worship style or preference”, but despite this 67% or those polled indicated that a mixed style of worship was preferred.  Only 6% indicated a strict “traditional” style of worship service, while 19% indicated they desired a “contemporary” style of worship.  

Does this surprised anyone?  I think not.  In “Modern” churches out there that push our concept of what worship is, we see that there is still a draw back to the traditional hymns as well as the ancient hymns.  Therefore a mix of both styles of worship seem inevitable within the walls of the current modern church.  This is a continuation of the demographic makeup within this survey and even the general consensus in American churches today.  There are the exceptions, especially among more conservative/traditional church denominations, but growing trends suggest that mixed worship setting is more readily accepted by most church-going Americans (even leaning towards more contemporary means).  

Questions to consider: 

“Is my church contemporary, traditional or a mix of the two?” 
“What is the age makeup of my church?” 
“Would we attract more visitors to our worship services if they were more contemporary?”
“What does traditional worship look like?”
“What does modern contemporary worship look like?”
“What does a mix of the two worship styles look like?”

“The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in 
God which made David dance.” 
C.S. Lewis 

Conclusion: 

I view this survey and its results as an ongoing conversation about how we view “Church”.  Also I would solicit your comments here on this blog as to the results as well as your thoughts on where the Church is heading in the future.  What should we, as Christ followers be doing more of?  How can we be more effective in our witness and worship?  Worship of God is both an individual and a corporate event and I believe there is still more that we can learn and do for the glory of God!  

Another thing that comes to my mind to me is that we must be mindful not to become so bogged down by our style of worship and traditions that they become our sacred cows.  

-Thanks for your contributions to these surveys and I look forward to your comments and responses.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The God that never lets go!”

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“I was taking the kids to school”

I was listening to music on the radio as I was dropping my children off at school this morning.  Minding my own business, when God decided to pop in for a visit.  Perhaps it had been a while.  Perhaps, if this was a time for confessions I might admit to getting caught up in work and other things…perhaps.

Isn’t it funny how God can speak to us in so many different ways?  We can go to an art gallery and suddenly a painting of flowers will strike a chord in our hearts and we would know that God had something to do with it.  Or perhaps we see God in other people as the driver just ahead of you casually pays for your toll as well…God was there.  Or even in the midst of utter despair, pain, hurt, loss, we might read something that gently and quietly reminds us that God is present with us.  He is here with you now as you read this…do you believe that?  I do.  His presence is with us always, even to the ends of the earth, even when all hell breaks loose around us, even when we are blind to His passing…He is there!

…back to the music on the radio…

I was sitting in my van and two songs back to back touch my heart in a way that I couldn’t deny His presence there.  The first was a song by Mumford and Sons called “Below my feet”.  It wasn’t so much the entire song but the refrain that captured my heart for a moment:

” Keep the earth below my feet
For all my sweat, my blood runs weak
Let me learn from where I have been
Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn
Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn”

As I heard those words I pondered that last sentence; “Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn”…but I said it like a prayer to the Lord.  Lord, keep my eyes to serve and my hands to learn…. I didn’t lose control of the vehicle but I could feel His presence there and I may as well have been in church.

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“I may as well have been in church!”

The very next song that came on was a song by the David Crowder Band called “You never let go”.  Its words go like this:

When clouds veil the sun and disaster comes
Oh my soul, oh my soul
When waters rise and hope takes flight
Oh my soul, oh my soul, oh my soul

Ever faithful, ever true
You, I know, You never let go

You never let go, You never let go
You never let go
You never let go, You never let go
You never let go

When clouds brought rain and disaster came
Oh my soul, oh my soul
When waters rose and hope had flown
Oh my soul, oh my soul, oh my soul

Ever faithful, ever true
You, I know, You never let go

I was in church in my van…God was very present.  He reminded me of just how important it is to not only serve Him but to always look for Him in every moment of my day.  He’s here right now wanting so desperately to fellowship and commune with you and me.  And His promise to us is that He will never let go.

-Both songs will be linked below.

Just a thought for today.

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