Simple Yet Perfect

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And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.  Luke 2:6-7

Two sentences. That’s all Luke uses to describe the birth of the Jesus. No parade, no details, no celebration. Nothing that would announce the coming of the Son of God.

However, maybe that’s the point. In this moment, God shed the His rightful power and glory, refused all claims to honor and praise, and lowered Himself to be born among us in the lowliest of circumstances. In doing so, he stepped into our lives fully so he could completely identify with us and ultimately redeem us.

So what can we learn from Luke’s description of the birth of Jesus?

We learn that the time came. This was no regular birth. This was a time when God got involved in history. The Redeemer of our world was entering our world.

We learn that she gave birth. Mary delivered Jesus in a similar fashion as all mothers give birth. The God of creation came to be with us through ordinary means.

We learn that Mary wrapped Him snugly in strips of cloth and laid Him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them. While it is unbelievable to many that no one made room for this expectant mother, unfortunately similar things happen all of the time. Refugees, immigrants, and the poor are often cast out with nowhere to rest, no matter if they are hungry, sick, tired, or pregnant. Jesus was not only born like all of us, but he was born like the most vulnerable of us all.

Jesus was found not in palace in an important city but in a backwater town, not in a palace but in a stable, not sleeping on fine cloth but lying in a manger.

How simply written and how marvelous.

Lord, You came to earth as a vulnerable child, delivered in an ordinary way, but You ultimately redeemed the world. Help us to see You working, even in the most simple of ways. Amen.

What I Often Forget About The Lord

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Have you ever overcomplicated anything? I’ve done that dozens of times, especially when trying to explain the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I think this happens to Christians quite often because we forget one key component that, although simple, is essential.

Once, during a British conference on comparative religions, experts were discussing whether there was any belief that was truly unique to Christianity.  Creation, incarnation, and resurrection were quickly eliminated because of similar examples in other religions. C.S. Lewis wandered into the room and enquired as to the topic of conversation. When told about the debate, without hesitation, Lewis replied, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

Grace is so simple that it baffles the experts. Because of it, we have the opportunity to know Jesus as Savior and Friend. Grace helps us understand the difference between happiness and joy. It allows us to conquer all of our fears. There is nothing we can do to earn grace and there is no way that we can destroy it. In Ephesian 1:5-6, the Apostle Paul wrote: He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved.   

Father, please forgive us when we forget Your grace. It is both free and priceless. It is truly amazing.

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*Photos courtesy of Unsplash.com

You Are Unique. Stop Comparing Yourself With Others

photo- courtesy of Unsplash - photo by Greg Rakozy

Once when I was in college, I attended a student conference in North Carolina.  One day, as I was waiting for my friends, a senior adult lady I didn’t know approached me and asked how I was enjoying the conference. For some reason, I confided in her that I was disappointed because I hadn’t been selected to sing the solo for the evening worship service.

She replied, Do you know why I stopped to talk with you?”

“No,” I replied.

“I wanted to tell you that each night when the choir sings, I watch you.”

“What?” I asked. “I don’t understand.”

“The others sing,” she replied, “But you worship. I need to tell you something. You are unique and loved by God. He doesn’t want you comparing yourself to others. He wants you to rejoice in who He’s created you to be.”

I walked away encouraged.

That evening, I was surprised to see the same woman introduced as the keynote speaker.  She walked to the podium, looked out at 1500 college students and said once again, “You are unique and loved by God.”

I noticed a girl in the row in front of me wiping her eyes. She needed that message as much as I did.

We all spend so much time comparing ourselves with others that we forget that God loves us just as we are and made us that way on purpose.

So, before I go, let me remind you – You are unique and loved by God. He loves you very much. He created you on purpose. He doesn’t want you comparing yourself to others. He wants you to rejoice in who He’s created you to be.

Retreat Prayer Experience

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Recently, for a retreat, I revised an older prayer experience I used in college based on Psalm 97, Romans 12:1-2, and Philippians 4:8. The experience is designed to help you renew your mind, either at the beginning or the close of the day. I hope it ministers to you.

Simply read the scripture and follow the instructions below:

Read Psalm 97 below and take some time to meditate on the identity of the Lord.

1 The Lord is king!  Let the earth rejoice!  Let the farthest coastlands be glad. 2 Dark clouds surround him.  Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.

3 Fire spreads ahead of him and burns up all his foes. 4 His lightning flashes out across the world. The earth sees and trembles.

5 The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth.

6 The heavens proclaim his righteousness; every nation sees his glory. 7 Those who worship idols are disgraced—all who brag about their worthless gods—for every god must bow to him.

8 Jerusalem has heard and rejoiced, and all the towns of Judah are glad because of your justice, O Lord!

9 For you, O Lord, are supreme over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods. 10 You who love the Lord, hate evil! He protects the lives of his godly people and rescues them from the power of the wicked.

11 Light shines on the godly, and joy on those whose hearts are right. 12 May all who are godly rejoice in the Lord and praise his holy name!

Write down five words that describe the greatness of God:

Now use those five words in a brief spoken prayer to the Lord.

Read Romans 12:1-2

12 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. 2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Living Sacrifice Prayer: Romans 12:1 tells us to offer our lives as “living sacrifices” to God as an act of worship. Where you are, kneel before God as a sign of surrender and worship. Pray and ask Him to show you how to be a living sacrifice to Him.

Things of the World Prayer: Romans 12:2 says to conform no longer to the patterns of the world. Make a list of ways you struggle with conforming to the world, then pray a prayer, asking God to help you no longer conform to each of the items you’ve listed. 

Read Philippians 4:8.  

8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

Pray and ask God to help you fix your thoughts on things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable throughout this staff retreat. Ask Him to help you speak what is excellent and praiseworthy…

Finally, craft a note of thanks to the Lord for helping renew your mind. 

photo- courtesy of Unsplash - photo by Greg Rakozy

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Psalm 103 Night of Worship Outline

Opening Worship Set

Welcome

Explanation of Service and Prayer

Song – 10,000 Reasons – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XtwIT8JjddM

Scripture – Psalm 103:1-5a

Let all that I am praise the Lord! With my whole heart, I will praise His holy name.

Let all that I am praise the Lord; May I never forget the good things He does for me.

He forgives all my sins and heals my diseases. He redeems me from death

And crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things.

Expounding on the Goodness of the Lord – Campus Pastor or Representative

People Sharing In Small Groups about God’s Goodness

Pastor Led Prayer –

Song – This I Believe – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-m9sRRN9MA

Scripture – Psalm 103:6, 8-12

The Lord gives righteousness and justice to all who are treated unfairly.

The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.

He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever.

He does not punish us for all our sins; He does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve,

For His unfailing love toward those who fear Him is as great as the height

of the heavens above the earth.

He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.

Expounding on the Forgiveness of the Lord

Live Campus Specific Salvation Testimony –

Intercessory Prayer at Front –

Suggested Song – How Can It Be? – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UXn_OuJkvE

Or

O Come To the Altar – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYQ5yXCc_CA  

Scripture – Psalm 103:13-17a

The Lord is like a Father to His children, tender and compassionate to those who fear Him. For He knows how weak we are; He remembers we are only dust.

Our days on earth are like grass; Like wildflowers, we bloom and die

The wind blows, and we are gone – As though we had never been here.

But the love of the Lord remains forever with those who fear Him.

Expounding on the Love of the Lord

Pastor Led Prayer

Suggested Song – To My Knees – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZs26lTjAuM

Praising the Lord Section –

Scripture – Psalm 103:19-22

The Lord has made the heavens His throne; from there He rules over everything.

Praise the Lord, you angels, you mighty ones who carry out His plans, listening for each of His commands. Yes, praise the Lord, you armies of angels who serve Him and do His will! Praise the Lord, everything He has created, everything in all His kingdom. Let all that I am praise the Lord.

Suggested Song –

The Lion and The Lamb – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9ujBoud26k

Optional Continued Worship Set

(Campus Specific Selections)

Offering/Closing Prayer

 

 

The Pterois That Infects Us All

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida. Among the victims was the owner of a waterfront exotic fish aquarium. The man loved his fish and, not wanting to see them perish, released them into Miami’s Biscayne Bay.

Sounds reasonable and humane, right?

However, among the fish he set free were six carnivorous Pterois native to Indo-Pacific waters, better known as Lionfish. These six fish multiplied at an enormous rate. As a result, there are now millions of Lionfish spread from Bermuda to North Carolina across the Caribbean and hundreds of miles up the Amazon River. These carnivorous fish are wreaking havoc on native populations of fish such as snapper and grouper, eating their young before they have the chance to mature. Unless something happens, certain Atlantic based species of fish may become extinct.

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Here are some facts about Lionfish:

  • Lionfish have no natural predators in the Atlantic and Caribbean.
  • Adult Lionfish have 18 poisonous spines.
  • Female Lionfish produce 30,000 to 40,000 eggs every few days.
  • Lionfish are sexually mature in one year.

Who would have thought releasing six fish would have such a devastating impact on the waters surrounding two continents?

As I pondered these facts this past week, I realized that there is another Lionfish with another name in the church, in politics, and in society today. The name of this Lionfish is gossip.

Gossip is something that cannot be contained once it is released. It often does it’s damage and then continues to spread until people grow bored with it, despite the facts.

Here’s one example:

One year before Hurricane Andrew prompted the exotic fish tank owner to dump his Pterois into Biscayne Bay, a rumor surfaced that Tropical Fantasy Soda Pop was actually manufactured by the Ku-Klux-Klan and contained a unique formula which caused sterility among African-American men. Sales dropped 70%. Even though the rumor was discounted, sales never fully recovered and smaller rumors continue to this day.

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Here are some facts about gossip:

  • As long as there have been people, there has been gossip.
  • Percentage wise, men gossip almost as much as women. They just call it marketing.
  • People often begin false rumors about themselves. Oscar Wilde once said the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

A pastor I know once said that spreading gossip is like cutting the paper from a notebook into tiny pieces and setting them out for the wind to blow them where they may. No matter how much you try, you’re very unlikely to regather all of the pieces.

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How do we stop gossip? It’s doubtful gossip will ever fully be stopped this side of Judgement Day, but here are some steps we can take to remove it (or at least reduce it) in our own lives:

 

  • If possible, don’t be an audience for gossip.
  • Make the rumor stop with you.
  • Share positive information.
  • Pray for yourself and the victim of the gossip.

The Apostle Paul wrote the following advice in Ephesians 4:29:

Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

I’ve read that the suggested way many governments are requesting fisherman to deal with Lionfish in the Atlantic is by removing them one at a time. Perhaps this is the best way to deal with rumors and gossip as well.

It’s time for us all to spread good news and speak life to those around us. The world needs our encouragement much more than it needs the Lionfish of gossip.

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The Culprit In The Sanctuary

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“There must be a culprit in the sanctuary,” I thought.

The video equipment had been set up and taken down by the same faithful volunteers for close to a year and a half without any problem. Now, each week, throughout the service, the video system would suddenly lose connection for a second or two and then return to normal. It started happening once every five minutes or so, then the problem grew steadily worse.

Pastors, leaders, technicians, and volunteers were all baffled over the situation. Over the course of several weeks, different teams tried updating the presentation system, double checking the connections, updating the computer, using different computers, checking the multiple adapters, replacing a converter, checking the temperature of the equipment, and checking the stress on the cabling, all to no avail.

In the end, I wondered, “Could someone be sabotaging the system?”

Finally, the entire system was setup during the week by a small group, determined to double check every connection until the issue was discovered. However, when everything was setup, the problem could not be reproduced.

Fortunately, one of the team members received a text message, and the problem occurred. Testing a theory, he sent a text message, and the disconnect happened again. Then, the technicians realized that a phone could simply be placed near certain connection points and the glitch would occur. The team found a thicker, more insulated cable and retested the system, placing cell phones over the cables and sending text messages back and forth.

No glitch.

The culprit in the sanctuary had been found. Unseen frequencies, which had previously not been released for cell phone use, had been steadily increasing in the room as people had updated their phones, thereby causing problems in the wired video equipment.

Crazy, right?

Thank the Lord we were able to purchase higher grade, better insulated cables. We would have hated to make everyone check their cell phone at the door.

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What Christians Can Learn From The Life of Prince

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As a teenager, I had a love hate relationship with Prince’s art. I never saw Purple Rain, but I knew every lyric on the soundtrack. However, I was once so convicted when I caught myself singing some of his unsavory lyrics by my high school locker that I pulled all of the tape from the cassette (yes, I’m old) and burned it in our fireplace.

But now, hearing of his death, decades away from that moment, I find myself once again perplexed by this man, but for a different reason.

In his song Raspberry Beret, Prince states his boss, Mr. McGee, didn’t like his kind because he was a bit too leisurely. That’s an interesting line in the song, but apparently, the opposite was true of Prince. He worked hard, writing songs and recording music at all hours of the day and night. He was known for waking up sound engineers in the middle of the night, requesting they come right away to record a song he had just perfected.

I read yesterday that Prince has a vault with so much unreleased recorded music that if his estate were to release one album per year of completely original music that the world could have new Prince albums for the next 100 years. If an average album has twelve songs, that means he could have around 1200 unreleased songs.

Prince apparently was never really known for doing something close to nothing.

In the book of Colossians, Paul encourages Christians to work hard as well. He writes, Work willlingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.

At the end of our lives, we may not have a century’s worth of unreleased recorded music, but if we serve God faithfully and do the work he’s called us to do, we’ll have something even better, the pleasure of our Lord and Master.

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Worship Complaints

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Once, I was overseeing the preparations for a worship service when the sound operator was working hard to mix individual parts. During these times, the volume is often higher and seems more intense, especially since the congregation is not present to absorb much of the sound. On this one particular day, one of our first impressions volunteers walked through the worship center. He stopped in the middle, jumped up and down, and waved at me furiously.

Assuming he was a little overzealous in saying hello, I waved back.

In response, he clamped his hands over his ears and jumped up and down.

I left my station, walked to where he was, and started to explain the situation. Fortunately, there was a lull in the music so the volume had dropped.

“I know it’s a little louder right now while he’s setting the music, but…”

“You know what?” he interrupted.

“What?” I asked.

“I’m going to make a lot of money.”

“Really?”

“Yes,” he said as he crossed his arms, “I’m going to sell earplugs outside the doors as people enter. What do you think about that?”

I paused and took in a breath. I didn’t have time for this.

“Well,” I said. “Be sure to tithe on it.”

Fortunately, he laughed and we both continued with our work. We spoke later, after the worship service, and he accepted my explanation of what was happening.

Dealing with complaints and criticism is something that is extremely common in worship ministry. It’s easy to get miffed when this happens because to worship leaders, artists, technicians, and speakers, the complaints are seemingly aimed at us.

So, how should we deal with criticism, especially in the church? This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are a few tips that help me:

  1. Listen to the criticism and respond to the person in a Christlike manner. It doesn’t matter if they’re right on target or way off base, they were still created in the image of God and deserve our respect.
  2. Respond to the suggestions of the criticism and not the tone of the criticism. People can be nasty without realizing it, especially when something is bothering them enough to speak out. Remember that a gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words makes tempers flare. (Proverbs 15:1 NLT)
  3. Examine the criticism in order to see whether or not it is valid in your context. Ask yourself what you can learn from the criticism.
  4. Smile if possible. Doing so can often help calm both yourself and the complainer.
  5. Determine your course of action (or inaction) and move forward.

I must admit that I’m not the best at receiving criticism, but these steps above help me through the process when it happens. If you have other tips, thoughts, or criticisms, I welcome your feedback.Dustin Lee - Unsplash 1

What’s Your Worship Vibe?

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At a conference this past week in another city, a guy asked a group of us, “So, what’s your worship vibe?”

“Excuse me?” I asked. “What’s our vibe?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Who are you trying to be like?”

“We’re trying to be like Jesus,” said one of my co-workers.

“Yeah, I know that,” he said, “But what other churches are you trying to be like? Are you trying to be like Hillsong or Gateway or Church on the Move? Are you trying to be like Charismatic Baptists or Evangelicals with a Spirit-Filled vibe…”

“A Spirit-Filled vibe?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be real, it just has to seem like it.”

“Do you serve at a church?” I asked.

“Me, ah, no, I run a Christian magazine and I’m leading a break-out tomorrow.”

“Really?” I asked. “What’s the name of that breakout?”

He told us the name and I made a mental note not to attend.

Just for the record, serving in worship and church ministry is not about a vibe. It’s not about trying to be like Hillsong or Gateway or Fellowship or First Baptist or LifeChurch or Mosaic or First Assembly Anywhere.

Not that there’s anything wrong with them.

Those churches have to be who God called them to be. And every other church has to be who God called them to be.

And that’s ok.

You see, worship is not about suits and ties and formal wear. It’s not about skinny jeans and feminine shoes. It’s not about hymnals or projectors or candles or stained glass or hard pews or theater seating.

It’s about Jesus.

He is the One we should be trying to emulate.

And living that out is so much more than a vibe.

 

(Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com)