What Makes a Church “Attractive?”

What really makes a church attractive? Stained Glass6

In our western culture, much of how churches reach out to prospective members is through marketing. Some churches even begin with a budget that devotes half of its assets to marketing!  Many of today’s worship services are driven by thousands up to millions of dollars in audio & visual production costs.

Buildings are also an “attractive” emphasis for some churches. Style and function are the focus on building programs that also require incredible amounts of money. Often churches seem to take on a “if you build it, they will come” approach to being attractive.

There are many other factors that can go into the conversation: worship style, preaching style, clothing style, service times, ministry programs, Sunday School or small groups, and so on and so on.

The truth is, many people in our culture are drawn to these things – what they find to be attractive. Our church culture has become consumer-driven, and the church members have morphed into consumers. As ministers we see people come and go, many times based on the factors discussed above. People want to go to a church that has the things they like and where they can feel comfortable.

Are we getting it right? What really makes a church attractive? 

Looking back at the first churches in the New Testament, what did they have? There were no multi-million dollar budgets, no buildings, no lights, no sound, and no marketing budget. They couldn’t advertise – they would get arrested! Still, they saw transformation, growth, missions, community change, and movements of the Holy Spirit that would shock the world today.

Acts 2:42-47: 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

For the early church, they were “attractive” because of the transformational community of the believers. People saw the change that Christ can make in a life, and they saw the true love of God between the believers. That’s what makes a church attractive – real change & real love.

Not only did the early church demonstrate this, but the New Testament writers continually wrote about it and instructed the believers to practice it. Here are just a few of many examples:

  • Acts 11:19-26: The church at Antioch demonstrated their transformation in such a way that those outside the church gave them the title “Christian,” identifying them with Christ
  • Galatians 6:10: Do good to all, especially the household of faith
  • Ephesians 4:26-32: Build up the community of faith, not tear it down
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:11: Encourage and build up one another
  • 1 Peter 4:7-11: Our love for one another glorifies God
  • James 2:14-17: How we take care of each other’s needs in our church demonstrates God’s love to others

Why is the transformation of the Holy Spirit and the love of God so attractive? Because everyone is created in the image of God, and deep inside of all of us we long to be a part of the way things God intended them to be. That is what changes people. Impressive marketing, grandiose worship production, and beautiful buildings do not transform lives.

I’m not saying that buildings, sound systems, lights, even advertising is a bad thing. Using these things to glorify God is smart and effective. They are great tools in leading people to follow Christ and be like Him. We must always remember, however, that what really makes a church attractive has not changed in 2000 years, nor will it ever be different.

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Is My Faith a Joke?

IMG_1992The other night I was watching The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, a rerun from back in May, when he told this joke in his monologue:

“The St. Louis Rams made history on Saturday by drafting Michael Sam, making him the first openly gay player in the NFL. Yep, an NFL player who’s never been with a woman — or as Tim Tebow put it, ‘Eh, it’s been done.’”

After the first part of the joke, Fallon and the audience applauded at decision of the St. Louis Rams, and then laughed at reference to Tebow’s faith and belief.

I was fairly fired up, mainly because in a world today that raises the banner for “equality,” this joke was a microcosm of what reality is really like. I know, it’s just a joke on a tv show, but it got my gears turning. And then I got even more fired up, but this time it was directed at me.

This whole instance made me ask myself, “Is my faith a joke?” What does it say about me, other Christians, and the Church, when what we believe and so many have given so much for is the punchline in a joke?

What do others say about God because of me? Is my faith a joke?

Paul dealt with this very issue when he wrote the letter to the Romans. Actually, he was bringing up an issue that was a constant in Israel’s history. Their lives and actions did not match up with the God and faith they professed. Take a look at what Paul wrote in Romans 2:17-14:

17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself area guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

Verse 24 is a reference to Isaiah 52:5, when the prophet deals with the same problem. No one took God seriously because the Jews were no better than anyone else. Their lives reflected no difference, no desirable qualities.

Jim Putnam wrote about this idea regarding today’s Christians. In his book DiscipleShift, he looks at the fact that Christian marriages are just as likely to end in divorce, Christians are not healthier, in as much debt, are not more generous, and so on. Basically, overall, our faith really is a joke to those that look on. Many of us are trying to hold to the days when being a “Christian” was something that was respected or admired, but those days are quickly crumbling away.

Even though Christians are divided on issues in our culture today, the Bible is very clear on many things. It is also equally clear on how much the world rejects God and all that He stands for. We can never expect to tell the world that such and such is a sin and expect anyone to listen if our lives do not show that following Jesus is better than anything else in life.

Ask yourself, are people laughing at God because of my life? Is my faith a joke?

As long as there is sin in the world, people will always reject God – even if we lived incredible lives full of faith. But we must ask ourselves about the reality of our faith.

If we really want to change the world, we have to live in such a way that shows people that Jesus really DOES make a difference. Our lives at church and at home must be the same. We must love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Our marriages have to be better. Our business dealings have to be better. Everything should be better – because Jesus is better!

Bless the Lord O My Soul – A look at Psalm 103 and 10,000 Reasons

BiblePsalmsI am a terrible gardener. When it comes to mowing the lawn, I will take care of the grass and do what I need to keep the yard looking nice. However, when it comes to flowerbeds and the like, I’m just not that great.

Those beds of bushes and pretty plants take an enormous amount of effort to keep looking nice. When we moved into our new house, the landscaping was not in great shape, and over the busy summer, they have gotten progressively worse. I really do want them to look good, and my wife does especially. It’s just been hard with being so busy.

Flowerbeds do not automatically look nice though. Weeds creep in, mulch dries out, and plants die. They need to be tended to – worked over – cultivated.

Our souls are the same way. The rigors of life can creep in, and we can neglect the care of our hearts. Just like unattended gardens, our souls can become overgrown and out of sorts.

Psalm 103 is a great picture of worship that is cultivation of the soul. The psalmist, perhaps David, is working on the garden of his heart, calling his own being to worship. He is not manufacturing anything artificial, but rather he is doing what he must to clear out the mess and see the beauty of the Lord again.

This Psalm has found its way into many songs, but one today has captivated the heart of Christians all over the world. “10,000 Reasons” is written by Matt Redman, one of the most prolific sacred song writers of our day. The inspiration for this song comes from Psalm 103. I want us to take a look at the Scripture, looking to gain a better understanding of this song and how we worship through it. Through our journey, we will also do a bit of gardening in our own souls, calling our hearts to worship.

Psalm 103
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
 and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name!

2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
 and forget not all his benefits,

3 who forgives all your iniquity,
 who heals all your diseases,

4 who redeems your life from the pit,
 who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

5 who satisfies you with good
 so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6 The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.

7 He made known his ways to Moses,
 his acts to the people of Israel.

8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
 slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

9 He will not always chide,
 nor will he keep his anger forever.

10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
 nor repay us according to our iniquities.

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
 so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;

12 as far as the east is from the west,
 so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
 so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

15 As for man, his days are like grass;
 he flourishes like a flower of the field;

16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
 and its place knows it no more.

17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children,

18 to those who keep his covenant
 and remember to do his commandments.

19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
 and his kingdom rules over all.

20 Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
 you mighty ones who do his word,
    obeying the voice of his word!

21 Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
 his ministers, who do his will!

22 Bless the Lord, all his works,
 in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Verses 1-5 are written by the psalmist to his own soul. He is calling his own heart to worship the Lord, bringing blessing to the One who is the author of blessings. In these first few verses, the author brings to remembrance all that God has done in his own life. Forgiveness of sin, healing, redemption, faithful love, and true satisfaction have come from the Lord. These wonderful acts of God have brought life to this author, renewing his youth and making his soul soar like an eagle.

Nothing else compares to this – nothing else compares to the Lord. Too often this is forgotten in the midst of everything. The author takes the time to remember just how good God really is.

Verses 6-14 are pointed towards the qualities of the Lord that apply to all. For those that are oppressed, God cares for them and fights for them! He is not a god who wants to remain hidden or distant, but He has revealed Himself to the people of Israel. And we know, that Christ came to the world – came to us – to save us all! John 1:14 says that “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus came to be the light in the darkness of the world.

The Lord is rich in love and slow to anger. Many of us have experienced those with quick tempers, even some in terrible ways. David saw Saul’s temper more than once. From God’s perspective, His own people turned their back on Him repeatedly, but He never dealt with them like He could have. Like a true loving Father, His anger and discipline always came to correct and bring people back to Him. God never gave up on His people, and He never will. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 truly represent the nature of God’s love.

Finally, in this section, the psalmist looks at just how big the Lord’s forgiveness really is. It cannot possibly be quantified. The picture of “as far as the east is from the west” is used as a way to measure the size of God’s redemption. There is no way to fathom it. When the Lord forgives sins, they are gone. Redemption is real and true. Even when we fall, He wants to pick us up. He knows we are not perfect, but He never gives up on us. 1 John 1:9 says if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. That’s not a spot clean – it’s the power wash.

The final section of the psalm, verses 15-22, demonstrate just how big God is and how He still loves us. Our lives are like grass that dries up and blows away. But still, God knows us and loves us.

And God is the complete opposite. He never fades. He is everlasting. His love is everlasting. He is the only true constant – the only good that will never end. Nothing will defeat Him. Even the most powerful kingdom pales in comparison to His.

With this picture, the psalmist calls on the whole of creation to worship God just like his soul. Angels, all His servants, and everything God has made will bless the Lord because of Who He is and what He has done.

And the psalmists voice joins the song of the universe, bringing his melody to the tune.

Psalm 103 is so beautiful, because it is a song that we still sing today. The truths that the author writes about are true for us today as well! God has done so much for us, and He is still doing so much! Everyday, all around us, the Lord is working in so many ways that we do not even see them all.

And our souls need that cultivation too. Have you ever been in a worship service and felt empty? Has there ever been a day when you woke up and wondered what was the point?

Like the flowerbeds in front of my house, our souls will be overgrown and out of shape without proper care. Psalm 103 shows us how to cultivate our hearts and bring our souls to worship.

10,000 Reasons is a song that is a great summary of the truth of Psalm 103.

The first verse deals with praising God with the coming of a new day, and that praise continuing throughout the day – no matter what may come. These lyrics call the soul to worship God through any circumstance:

The sun comes up it’s a new day dawning

It’s time to sing Your song again

Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me

Let me be singing when the evening comes

Verse 2 focuses on the attributes of the goodness of God. “10,000 Reasons” is a number that really is not an exact quantity, but rather it is a picture of just the great number of reasons we have to worship God. Even if we were to sit down and write out each one, ten thousand would just be the beginning.

You’re rich in love and You’re slow to anger

Your name is great and Your heart is kind

For all Your goodness I will keep on singing

Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find

The third and final verse is a beautiful picture of looking back at life but also looking forward to the life yet to come. Praise for the Lord has only just begun, for everything our heart is longing for is just ahead. For ten thousand years we will be with God, and that is just the beginning. During that time, no sin or darkness will be between those who belong to the Lord.

And on that day when my strength is failing

The end draws near and my time has come

Still my soul will sing Your praise unending

Ten thousand years and then forevermore

Finally, the chorus is the call to cultivate our hearts to bring praise to God. For all these reasons, we bring a song to Him.

Bless the Lord O my soul

O my soul
, Worship His holy name

Sing like never before

O my soul, 
I’ll worship Your holy name

Today, lets take some time to cultivate our souls. For the next few minutes, we want to call our hearts to worship like the psalmist and Redman do.

Let’s listen through a couple of versions of 10,000 Reasons together. While it plays, let’s focus on three things:

  1. Remembrance: Write down some of the ways God has blessed you, either recently or throughout your life.
  2. 10,000 Reasons: Write down the goodness of God. What makes Him worthy to be worshipped?
  3. Bless the Lord: Write down a prayer of worship to the Lord. He always blesses us, and our worship to Him is a blessing to Him. Bless Him today. Commune with Him in worship.

May our worship cultivate our souls towards God. And may our worship lead our lives to live for Him. One final question for us to consider, is God calling you to something? As you spend time calling your heart to worship, let the Holy Spirit speak as well. What is He saying to you?

“Singing Seems to Help a Troubled Soul” – Psalm 84

Stained Glass6I love music. For me, music really is an emotional experience. Johnny Cash is one of my favourite songwriters, and his song “Daddy Sang Bass” is my number one Cash tune. It’s all about times singing with his family during the depression. During those days, families would often spend evenings playing and singing songs on the front porch.

A line from that song, one of my most loved lyrics of all time, is “Singing seems to help a troubled soul.” And how true that is! When I sing songs, lead worship, or take part in a worship service, it truly brings joy to my soul.

You may not be a music fan, but I am sure that you have experienced times when your soul is skinny. Maybe you’re there right now. There is a Psalm that talks about worship and the presence of the Lord and how it truly satisfies the soul.

Even music isn’t something you really connect with, the presence of God is so much more than that. Let’s see what this songwriter had to say about being the presence or God in Psalm 84:

1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!

2 My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.

3 Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.

4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise! Selah

5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

6 As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.

7 They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion.

8 O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah

9 Behold our shield, O God;
look on the face of your anointed!

10 For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly.

12 O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!

This Psalm is one of my favourites, and is written by a psalmist speaking of the joy of worship in the temple. The idea behind it is someone who is making a journey to Jerusalem to worship in the temple, which was a difficult journey for some.

Notice the focus of the writer in this psalm – it’s all on the Lord. His soul, thirsts for presence of God. His heart and flesh sing because of who God is and what He has done. And he says that “Blessed” are those who are always in the presence of God, from the priests to the birds who make nests around the temple.

The writer then makes a turn in his thoughts to where we find our strength. He says that blessed are those find their strength in God and whose hearts are set on being with Him. People who live like this can go through the Valley of Baca but make it a place of Springs.

The Valley of Baca was a very arid and dry place on the way to Jerusalem. Anyone singing or hearing this Psalm would understand the depth of this statement. Finding a spring in Baca is a wonderful thing. But those who find their strength in the Lord find refreshment and nourishment in the midst of any circumstances.IMG_6825

In verse 10, we see a line that is also the chorus of a worship song many of us today will recognize, “Better is One Day,” written by Matt Redman. The pure joy and satisfaction of being in the presence of God is without comparison to anything else that we could experience or now.

The psalmist concludes his psalm with a wonderful statement, “Blessed is the one who trusts in You.”

The word “blessed” is an interesting word as well. The author uses it several times in this psalm to describe the person who trusts the Lord and seeks His presence. Jesus also emphasizes this in the Beatitudes in the Gospels. What do you think this word really means? Blessed is more than being happy or some other emotion; it really means being truly satisfied, no matter what the circumstance. And what this psalmist emphasizes over and over again is that in God’s presence is where someone is truly blessed.

For the psalmist and the people of Israel, this was commonly considered to be in the temple. Before the temple, God’s presence was equated with the Ark of the Covenant. Even in the temple, there were big curtains that separated areas where only certain priests could enter because of God’s holy presence. Those who had sin in their hearts could not go into the “holy of holies” because they would die!

But Jesus really changed all of that. The Letter of Hebrews addresses this idea at length, but a few verses in chapter 4 give us a glimpse of the concept:

Hebrews 4:14-16: 14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

The presence of God for us is a different truth all together. Jews would travel so far to worship at the temple, but we can be in God’s presence anytime! Jesus made the way for us, and He intercedes for us. His work on the Cross tore those big veils in the temple away.

The same truth applies then and now: God’s presence is what our souls are truly longing for, and He is what truly satisfies. True strength, true purpose, true happiness are all found in Him. He makes springs in the dry places in our lives. We can walk through the Valley of Baca and find living water.

Notice, the psalmist’s focus is on the Lord and His presence. He comes to worship seeking to be with God. What do we come to worship seeking and expecting? What is our focus?

Without God’s presence, our lives are missing what they really need. We can fill our souls with other things that placate our hunger, but we are never truly satisfied apart from Him.

In life, we are going to walk through the oasis and through the valley. If we walk through the valley alone, it’s dry, desert land. If we walk through with the Lord, that’s a whole different story.

When is the last time you were really in the presence of God?  What are some ways that you worship Him and spend time with Him? 

When we come to church and worship, it is easy to get misguided about God’s presence. We will often mistake different factors of the service for God’s presence. Other times, we come with a focus on everything but the Lord even.

Do you feel like you are in the Valley of Baca and your thirst is parched? Do you feel like you are spiritually unsatisfied? Maybe you need to let your heart and flesh cry out for the Living God.

If you have a difficult time worshipping during church services, ask yourself where your focus is. Are you looking for the Lord or something else?

When was the last time you spent quality time with the Lord? When did you last truly let Him fill your soul?

Take a few minutes to listen to “Better is One Day.” As it plays, just spend time in God’s presence. Remember His love and all that He is done. Maybe you want to pray, read some Scripture, write a prayer, or something to spend that time with Him. But as you leave today, make seeking His presence a priority in your life. Find all that you need in Him.

God Wants a Meaningful Relationship – Not a Meaningless Religion – Micah 6:1-8

These are the notes from from my sermon at FBC Chickasha on August 4, 2013.

IMG_7144Have you ever been in a relationship before, either with a friend, girlfriend or boyfriend, spouse, or maybe parent, and thought, “What do you really want from me??” Expectations in a relationship are very difficult to understand sometimes, especially if the other person doesn’t communicate well. There have been relationships in my life that have left me very, very frustrated because I just didn’t know what I was supposed to do.

Have you ever felt that way too? What about with God? Have you ever wondered what He really wants from us? Honestly, somedays I have sat and wondered, “Am I doing this right? What do you really want me to do?”

The truth is, God has told us time and time again in the Bible what He really wants. We simply forget it – a LOT.

The Bible tells us that what God desires, what He really wants, is a meaningful relationship – not a meaningless religion. 

Let that soak in for a bit. This may be something you have heard quite a few times. But what does that really look like?

When I think about this idea, I consider meaningful relationships in my own life and what they would look like if I took that meaning away. Take a look at this video and see if you think this is a meaningful relationship or not.

Does that look familiar to anyone? That seems like a silly example of marriage, but doesn’t our relationship with God look like that week in and week out?

Micah 6:1-8

6 Hear what the Lord says:
Arise, plead your case before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice.
Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the Lord,
and you enduring foundations of the earth,
for the Lord has an indictment against his people,
and he will contend with Israel.

“O my people, what have I done to you?
How have I wearied you? Answer me!
For I brought you up from the land of Egypt
and redeemed you from the house of slavery,
and I sent before you Moses,
Aaron, and Miriam.
O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised,
and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.”

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah is a “minor” prophet in the Bible, just because the length of his book. However, his messages were anything but minor! He spoke to Israel during a time of outward prosperity but inward injustice. Under David and Solomon, Israel had a golden age that slowly slipped away as time went on. Pressures from neighboring nations and shallow spirituality led the Jewish people into a different type of lifestyle. Money also became more prevalent in everyday life, which changed so many things.

Priests started doing sacrifices for payment. Merchants would use fixed scales to unfairly charge too much for what they were selling. Land used to be owned in several small sections by many people, but the growing materialism led to the rise of just a few landowners who employed workers at terrible wages. From this, many people were forced into poverty and poor lives. Crime went up along with corruption in the justice system.

Still, with all of this going on, people were still going through with the religious rituals of the day. Sacrifices and festivals were still going on. They were still “doing church,” as we would say today. But life for them did not reflect that at all.

And so chapter 6 in Micah culminates in this argument. Through Micah, the Lord asks the people, “What have I done to you to make you act this way?” God brings His case to the most ancient things in creation – the mountains and the hills. They act as the jury, because they have “seen” all that God has done.

But this question is actually a little silly and is intended to be. “What have I done?” is almost sarcasm, because God knows He hasn’t done anything but good to His people. He then goes on to talk about a few of the most memorable moments in His work for Israel – rescue from Egypt, Moses, protection from Balak who was trying to just get them cursed by Balaam, and all the victories in the Promised Land. The people had forgotten what God had done for them.

Verses 6-8 are the closing arguments in this discussion. Speaking from the perspective of the people, the question is asked, “What can we do to make up for all of this? Does God want…” and several over the top, outrageous religious offerings are mentioned. Calves were considered the most precious sacrificial animal. Thousands of rams? BARRELS of oil?? A firstborn child?

Is God asking for any of those? Not at all! The point is that these “things” are not what really matters. They aren’t what makes God happy.

I like how The Message paraphrase of these verses reads:

How can I stand up before God
and show proper respect to the high God?
Should I bring an armload of offerings
topped off with yearling calves?
Would God be impressed with thousands of rams,
with buckets and barrels of olive oil?
Would he be moved if I sacrificed my firstborn child,
my precious baby, to cancel my sin?

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
take God seriously.

God says He just wants a meaningful relationship with His people. He is tired of this fake, phony duality between worship and life. People would bring a sacrifice then go out and cheat their customers or rob someone of his livelihood.

This is really an incredible truth about God. Yes, He did give His people commands and a way to live, but He wanted them to have meaning with His people. He was never interested in requirements to be met to enter into the “heaven club.” And they all get summed up in verse 8: do what is right, love how God loves, and follow Him more than yourself. That is what a meaningful relationship with God looks like!

And a relationship like that is meant to not just change you but the world around you! That’s why God was so upset here, because life was getting worse around the people, even in the midst of following “religion.”

Before we move on, let’s just break down this last verse to really understand what is being said. Do justice – do what is right, and care that what is right needs to be done. Love kindness – love people like God loves us, and know what that love is really like. Walk humbly with God – know God, and let Him be your Lord, the One who leads you! Put His ways before your ways.

Hopefully, you are beginning to see the parallels of life in this passage and life today. Aren’t we in the same spot? I mean, hundreds of people file into this church alone every week. A few thousand attend church services all over our community each week. But, does our city really the effects of that? Is Chickasha changed? How would you answer that question?

Let’s make it smaller. What about your neighborhood? Your street? Your workplace? Your family?

Just going to church isn’t the answer. Now, please hear me, it’s a big part of that! I’m not trying to devalue what we do here. Worshipping the Lord together each week is incredible. But fulfilling a requirement changes no one, starting with you.

Do you think your relationship with Christ is meaningful? Just going to church some throughout the week doesn’t make anything meaningful or honest. It’s easy to put on a happy face for a few hours. You can come be fairly fake in a Sunday School class or sanctuary. Then when you get home, that mask comes off and it’s back to normal.

So let’s just take those masks off right now. God wants you to be honest. Is your relationship with Him real and meaningful? Does knowing God change you and the world around you?

And church is not a place where you need to come and hide either! That doesn’t do anything for your relationships with others here. Meaningful relationships with other believers need to be authentic – they need to be real. That’s what real church is all about. If you want a show, go to the movies! We are not here for that, and God doesn’t want that.

He’s not interested in the show! He’s not interested in your “Sunday best.” Honestly, He doesn’t cringe like we do when stuff goes wrong in the worship service – when our “plans” fall apart.

I’m not trying to put a guilt trip on anyone here today, because that is not my job. And to be honest, this is going right back to me just as much as anyone. I’m pretty good at putting on my “preacher face” on Sundays. It’s easier to hide away all of my imperfections and not deal with anything. Life is much “smoother” then.

But if I can’t get real with God, then nothing is going to change. Not me, not anyone.

Where do we go from here? What would would our lives look like if our relationship with God was more meaningful? Do you feel like you are hiding from Him?

There isn’t a real a + b = c formula to making a relationship meaningful, but there are some things you can do to get started in the right direction.

  • Do justly: what areas in my life do I need to correct to do the right thing and live how God wants me to live?
  • Love mercy/kindness: Who in my life do I need to love like God loves me? Who around me can I serve, even if they do not deserve it?
  • Walk humbly with God: What is my personal relationship with God like? How can it be better?
    1. Pray. I know you hear this all the time, but it’s true! In that video earlier, how much did I really talk to Courtney? What kind of relationship is that?
    2. Read the Word. Getting to know God more means spending time with Him and learning more about Him. Best way to do that? Read the Word, put it in your heart.
    3. Let truth intersect your life. Now, praying and the Bible do not really do much good until they find a real place in your life. In what ways does what you learn in the Word or at Church play out in real life?
    4. Let God lead. Follow God’s call and purposes in your life.

Today, there are many great truths for us in these few verses, but I hope that you see that God wants a meaningful relationship with us and not a meaningless religion. And you know, maybe you are here today, and your life has been lived in a meaningless pursuit. Maybe you’ve been chasing after “doing” all these things to be right, but you are missing the mark. And that’s okay! It’s good news, that Jesus wants us to follow Him! He died and rose again to fulfill that requirement that we could never achieve. He was the firstborn that God actually did give, like we saw in verse 7. The first step for you in having a meaningful relationship with Jesus is actually putting your faith and trust in Him, not yourself.

For all of us, let’s take a few minutes and reflect on what is saying to us through this. Maybe you need to come pray and take your mask off. Maybe you want to sit for awhile and write down what God is telling you about changes you need to make. Don’t wait to get real with Him.

Run and Remember: Do you remember your first love? // Rev. 2:1-7, Acts 19:1-10, Eph. 1:15-16

IMG_6434Just the other day, I was rearranging some of the items on my bookshelf in my office to make room for other books and such. I’ve got this thing about my office/room/whatever needing to be clean before I can really get work done. Anyone else out there crazy like that? No? Just me?

Anyway, I’ve got this plaque from an award I received my senior year of college, and one of the major aspects of it was service to the community, both present and future. The school paper covered my acceptance speech for the award and entitled the article, “All about serving others.”

Looking back, that’s what I wanted my life to be all about growing up. My goal was to make a difference in others’ lives and be a servant to them, like Christ is to us. But when I saw that article, I had to ask myself, “Is that still true? Am I still that person, or did he ‘grow up?’”

Life has a way of doing that – getting in the way and making us forget some of the things that really set our hearts ablaze, our first loves. Marriages, causes, walking with the Lord, and so many other things can “fade” as time goes by. Our passion wanes for them. It’s not something we mean to happen, but it does.

Have you ever felt this way? Do you remember your first love and what that was like? There really is nothing that can explain what that is like.

Do you remember when you first gave your heart and life to Jesus? Are you the same person or different? What happened to cause us to be different? What do we do?

The answer to the question really is run and remember. Run to Jesus and remember all that He has done for and through us. Run with Him like we once did! Run and remember!

The Bible has incredible truth for us in this area. The church of Ephesus gives us a great example of forgetting our first love.

How it all started – Acts 19:1-10
Paul brought the truth, the Gospel, of Jesus to the people of Ephesus. He spent time discipling just a handful of people that turned that city and the world upside down. They had a knowledge of God, but it wasn’t complete. Paul told them about what Jesus had done for them. Over the next two years, they grew closer and closer to the Lord, and they took the Gospel out!

Things were going well…Ephesians 1:15-23
Paul writes a letter some time after leaving the people of Ephesus to encourage them and let them know of his prayers for them. They were a strong church in a city with many beliefs and ways of life. Some traditions even hold that the entire city was won for the Gospel at one point in time! It was a major stop in the comings and goings of the world, which led to the Gospel going out into most if not all of Asia.

The fire faded…Revelation 2:1-7
Around 30 years later, this short letter to the church in Ephesus is written. On the outside, things look fairly good. They are still standing up for what is right, working hard, and have not abandoned their faith. But Jesus tells them, you have left your first love. Does this sound familiar? Maybe our churches today? Maybe you and me? I think this message is so relevant to so many of us, especially if we have been in church or a Christ-follower for quite a long time. We can do the right things with an empty heart.

Where do we go from here?
What does Christ tell the Ephesians to do? Repent – run from where are and run back to Christ. Remember what He has done for us, and remember what we used to do for him!

I’ve said this before, but maybe It means that we need to spend less time “trying to be good” and more time with the One who is good. Trying to live a Christian life but never spending time with the Lord is like being married, fulfilling the functions of that marriage, but never spending any time with your spouse.

What would it look like if we ran and remembered? What would our lives be like if we remembered Christ as our first love?

One of the biggest issues with couples that experience a drought in love is usually a lack of quality time with one another. They are encouraged to go on dates and spend real time with one another. When was the last time you spent quality time with Jesus? When was the last time He had your heart and full attention?

I don’t know where you are right now, but I’m hoping that the Spirit has been showing you where your heart really is. What do you need to do to run and remember? Maybe you have forgotten your first love, but Jesus has never forgotten nor forsaken you. Let Him take you in His arms. Fall in love with Him all over again!

To go back to the start, in my own life, I feel like serving others was something that maybe I have been doing, but not with the passion and purpose that I used to have. That’s been my prayer these past few weeks – God, give me the passion again to serve and help others to make a difference in their lives for Your great name.

Christ, the Creator, Sustainer, Saviour, Redeemer, and Lover of His People // Colossians 1, Psalm 33

IMG_4826Psalm 33 could quite possibly be my favourite Psalm. It has a four-part movement to it that is just absolutely brilliant. Not only does it bring praise to the Lord, but it gives a great picture of Who He really is!

Before we go there, I want to look first at how Paul described who Jesus was to the people of Colossae, the Colossians.

In Colossians 1:15-23, we see a picture painted by Paul of who Jesus is:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven,making peace by the blood of his cross.

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

Jesus, the Son of God who came down to us as a man, shows us physically who God is. Paul describes that through Christ, all things were created, He holds all things together! Not only did He create, but He gave His life to save that creation from themselves. Through His blood, burial, and resurrection, we can be right with God. Our faith in that sacrifice, in Jesus, is what makes us right with God. Following Jesus is the only way!

That’s what this week, Passion Week or Holy Week, and Easter is all about. God’s plan to save us and His creation. And this whole concept is actually quite different from any other religion or belief that exists. Everyone else is searching for what we must do to get to God, but Christians believe God came to us!

Psalm 33 describes this very well. As we read through it, notice the four-part movement it makes in showing us who the Lord is.

The first section, verses 1-5, the psalmist gives an introduction to God and a call to praise Him. Singing is called for, as well as skilled playing on instruments. An overall picture of God and His faithfulness is shown here.

Verses 6-12 speak to the mighty power of the Lord. He created the universe by His words, and He holds everything together in His mighty hands. There is no nation or power on earth that is stronger than God. He never fails, never ends, and never gives up. God always wins; blessed are those that see that and know it to be true. These verses demonstrate just how big and mighty God really is. The next section takes a surprising turn.

The next section is verses 13-17, which demonstrates that while God is infinite, He is also intimate. He is not far away from His creation, but rather, the Lord is part of the comings and goings of all that happens. He is not a Creator separated from His creation.

Finally, verses 18-22 converge on all that has been brought forth to show that not only is God infinite and intimate, but He is faithful to those who fear Him. Those that hope in the Lord will never be dismayed, because He is always faithful. He love chases us like a lion chases its prey.

Psalm 33 is a great picture of how incredible God really is, and how much He really loves us. When we know a truth like this, we cannot help but worship Him! In so many of our churches today, worship is stale not because of style or setting, but because the Lord’s worshippers do not really know who they are worshipping!

It is simply awesome for me to think that the God who made everything I can see (and even what I cannot) by the words of His mouth is the same God who loves me, knows me, and will never leave me.

Verses 18-19 are very similar to something Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

One might think that God only hears or works in the lives of those that love Him. However, a theologian named William Barclay wrote in his commentary on Romans that God doesn’t just work in certain lives of those that love Him. Rather, when we love and trust God, we see Him working. If we don’t love and trust Him, we won’t see what He is doing in and around us, and we certainly won’t trust in Him!

God is not far away with a big beard looking down on Earth like a diorama, watching little people go to and fro. He created us, He loves us, and He works all in and around us everyday. Jesus Christ came TO us! He really wants the best for us, and is with us through the good and the bad and the ugly.

May this truth be written upon your heart, and may you love and trust Jesus today – for the first time or like never before. May the more you get to know the infinite God who made us and loves cause you to worship Him more and more.

Praise to the Creator and Preserver.

33 Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones;
Praise is becoming to the upright.
Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;
Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings.
Sing to Him a new song;
Play skillfully with a shout of joy.
For the word of the Lord is upright,
And all His work is done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and justice;
The earth is full of the lovingkindness of the Lord.

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
And by the breath of His mouth all their host.
He gathers the waters of the sea togetheras a heap;
He lays up the deeps in storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord;
Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.
For He spoke, and it was done;
He commanded, and it stood fast.
10 The Lord nullifies the counsel of the nations;
He frustrates the plans of the peoples.
11 The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
The plans of His heart from generation to generation.
12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
The people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance.

13 The Lord looks from heaven;
He sees all the sons of men;
14 From His dwelling place He looks out
On all the inhabitants of the earth,
15 He who fashions the hearts of them all,
He who understands all their works.
16 The king is not saved by a mighty army;
A warrior is not delivered by great strength.
17 A horse is a false hope for victory;
Nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength.

18 Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him,
On those who hope for His lovingkindness,
19 To deliver their soul from death
And to keep them alive in famine.
20 Our soul waits for the Lord;
He is our help and our shield.
21 For our heart rejoices in Him,
Because we trust in His holy name.
22 Let Your lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us,
According as we have hoped in You.

Valentine’s Day: Is Your Relationship Real? // Deuteronomy 30:11-20

love-2Valentine’s Day: the celebration of the life of St. Valentine or the commercialization of affection in the world today? Whatever you might think, it’s on the calendar and it is nigh. And if you’re like me, you oft contemplated how silly it is to conjure up a day just to make you have to go out and buy a special something for that special something. Or maybe you’re like me and February 14 each year was the day you lamented the lack of homemade cookies from the pretty girls in your class at school. Wait, that wasn’t me…yeah…anyway.

Let us just move past the origins of the day and who the real St. Valentine was just for a moment and consider what February 14 really means. Yes, it’s a payday for retailers. Yes, it’s a stinging wound for those sans-valentine. But I think we lose grasp of the opportunity a day like Valentine’s Day provides – a chance to show that the relationships in our lives are real.

Do gifts in heart-shaped gift bags define a relationship? No. Well, at least, not on their own. Even though love is the heart of a real relationship, there must be evidence of that love. Maybe it’s a gift. Maybe it’s a genuine act of kindness. Maybe it’s heart-shaped pancakes with powdered sugar. Just saying.

Today, our post-modern approach to Christ and being a Christian can often push back against duty and commitment, which drove the Church in the last generation. Many of us today look back and see what we think are people committed to the Church but not committed to Christ personally. The danger of this is thinking that it’s ALL about love, a feeling. However, how we live shows how we love.

As I have said before, the Old Testament contains many laws and rules that we think defined righteousness. But throughout the book of Deuteronomy, we see that love ALWAYS came first, but what came next was how that love was supposed to be lived out. How the people of Israel lived was their relationship with God.

Deuteronomy 30:16, “For I am commanding you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commands, statutes, and ordinances, so that you may live and multiply, and the LORD your God may bless you in the land you are entering to possess.”

That entire chapter of Deuteronomy is worth your time right now to read. It even speaks of God’s faithfulness and love to His people when they don’t keep up their end of the relationship. Things may get really difficult, almost hopeless, but God will never leave them – and He will never leave us.

But how we do show God our relationship with Him is real? Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Not that we are earning God’s love, but we are demonstrating our love for Him.

On the eve of another Valentine’s Day, may you consider the reality of the relationships you have. They do not have to be romantic relationships necessarily, as I think Valentine’s Day has led us to see love in the context of.

Are you relationships real? With Jesus? With the ones you love? Show it!

Valentine’s Day may be over-commercialized and falsely romanticized. Those at Hallmark may not actually mean all those things they put in their cards that make you cry (if you work for Hallmark and are reading this, and you really do care, I’m just making an example and will still buy your cards).

Even if all that is true, that does not give us an excuse to “buck the system” and rebel against our relationships. May Valentines Day can serve as a reminder to make your relationships real.

What are ways that you show love to God with your life? What are ways you show love to those you have relationships with? And what are ways that you like to be shown love? Please comment below! I’d love to hear what you have to say!

Love is More Than a Feeling – It’s a Commitment

Ever since man had a relationship with God and His commandments, there has been a tension between serving Him out of obligation and serving Him out of love. On one end of the spectrum, living for the Lord is done merely out of duty, and the one who serves simply goes through the motions because he “has to.” On the other side, one who serves out of love does so in response to his or her feelings about God, what He has done, or who He is.

The tension comes from the fact that both ends of the spectrum have faults that need to be addressed. Living for God from a sense of duty lacks a true heart component, as the Lord spoke through the prophet Isaiah, “These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is made up of rules by men,” (Isaiah 29:13).

However, living for the Lord out of love can have its drawbacks as well. Postmodernism today has riddled society with a lack of commitment to anything, especially if something has a tradition of commitment to it. For someone to stay committed, he or she must “feel” in love or happy. In the church today, that message is at times subtly delivered – especially in response to the perceptions of previous generations and “how they did church.”

The problem with this perspective is that the message of “Love bears all things” is lost or underemphasized (1 Corinthians 13). Love is more than just a feeling; it is a commitment to something or someone. Marriages are never perfect, and yet we make a vow to love through “better or worse.” Our commitment to Christ and to the Church is no different. We may not always like the way things are, but that shouldn’t change our love.

Love that is merely based on how we feel is very self-centered, self-serving, and self-worshipping. It really isn’t about loving God but loving our feelings and our selves instead.

Jesus demonstrates God’s greatest commandment in Mark 12:28-31, “28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Jesus also says in Luke 9:23, “23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” And He even adds in John 16:33, “33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Christ called us to love God first and foremost, but that is a much deeper love than just feelings. It’s a daily commitment to love in the great times and in the worst times. The Bible never said it was wrong to not enjoy church at times. We also see examples of difficult times in the lives of men and women in the Bible like Ruth, Jonah, Daniel, Jeremiah, and many more.

Are we saying that love is all about commitment and duty? Not at all! Can you imagine a marriage or a friendship with that kind of love? How hollow and empty it would be!

We see that real, perfect love on the Cross. Jesus prayed so intently the night before He gave His life for the wrath of God to not be poured on Him if there was another way. Still, He went to the Cross because He loved God and He loved us. There were no “good feelings” about it. He showed the perfect love.

And God continues to love us through all our mistakes. Even though we may give up on Him, He never gives up on us.

Real love is staying true to someone even when you feel like giving up. When everything seems like it’s falling apart, real love is holding the world together.

May that love guide you as you follow Christ and help build His Church and Kingdom.

*This post was co-written by one of my best friends that helps to keep me accountable and spiritually sharp, James Cluck