Thoughts

Second Chances

Sometimes God is referred to as the “God of second chances”. In reality, we mess up our second (third, fourth, fifth…) chances as well, but God is still willing to bring us back to Him and restore us. All we need to do is ask Him, just like the psalmist in Psalm 85.

Now restore us again, O God of our salvation. Put aside your anger against us once more. Will you be angry with us always? Will you prolong your wrath to all generations? Won’t you revive us again, so your people can rejoice in you? Show us your unfailing love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.

Psalms 85:4-7 (NLT)

Despite the grace that God has out-poured on our lives, we can be a little slow in extending that same grace to others.

Jonah is an example of this. He was not pleased that God changed His mind and decided not to punish Nineveh.

Why was he so consumed over whom God chose to forgive? Was he condemning them based on his own judgement? Did he not believe they deserved a second chance? Even God calls him out on it, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?”

This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry.¬†So he complained to the Lord about it: ‚ÄúDidn‚Äôt I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people.¬†Just kill me now,¬†Lord! I‚Äôd rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.”

The Lord replied, ‚ÄúIs it right for you to be angry about this?‚ÄĚ

Jonah 4:1-4 (NLT)

God felt sorry for the people of Nineveh because they lived in spiritual darkness (Jonah 4:11). As Jonah points out, God is merciful and compassionate. He loves His creation and is not eager to destroy it.

As Christians, we must pray for the same compassion and mercy for the people whom we meet that are in spiritual darkness. It is not our responsibility to judge and condemn them. That is God’s alone. It is our responsibility to show love and kindness.

You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things. And we know that God, in his justice, will punish anyone who does such things. Since you judge others for doing these things, why do you think you can avoid God’s judgment when you do the same things? Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?

Romans 2:1-4 (NLT)

It is God’s “kindness that leads us to repentance” (NASB), or as The Message (MSG) puts it, “in kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.”

Are we showing kindness, tolerance and patience to those in spiritual darkness, or have we already condemned them and given up on them?

We have the opportunity each and every day to show God’s love and point people to Him. Judgement and condemnation are¬†things that are¬†final, and they make no room for second chances. God is all about second chances, and we should be too.

Standard
Best Posts, Thoughts

This Is Why We Darken Our Auditorium

6x17MovingOn

STORYCHURCH started¬†in a Durham school gymnasium/cafeteria back in 2010. It was so great! The school was brand new, so everything was clean and shiny — and super¬†bright — thanks to the myriad of windows along the side of the room.

It was often so bright in fact, that Pastor Jeremy and I regularly talked (and talked) about the excess of light in the room and how we wished we could control it.

A little over 18 months ago, when we started to renovate what is now our first permanent location, the first thing we did was block out all the windows and paint the roof black. I was absolutely giddy with the possibility of being able to control the lights, at long last. No joke.

While caught up in all my¬†giddiness, I’ve failed to communicate properly the WHY behind it. Here are some thoughts on why we like to control the lighting in our auditorium.

Continue reading

Standard
Best Posts, Resources, Thoughts

Leading From The Seats – Audio & Notes

I recently had the opportunity to speak to our church dream team on the subject worship. Our dream team is made up from everyone who volunteers, at any capacity, at STORYCHURCH. These are the people who are invested in the vision and life of our church.

I had such a fun time sharing my heart on this topic. What seemed like an eternity at the time turns out to be only 12 minutes and 48 seconds!¬†I’m not sure how Jeremy and Joel can throw a 30-35 minute sermon together in a week!

I am so thankful that I get to be a part of what God is doing in Durham through STORYCHURCH. I’m thankful for the team that God has placed alongside me and I’m thankful for the congregation that I get to serve.

One of the highlights (and not available on the audio download) was getting to hear feedback on how music has impacted lives in our church. That was super encouraging for me and the team to hear.

I promised to publish my notes from the session, so here they are. I have also attached the audio recording if you wish to listen to it.

Leading From The Seats

Download MP3 // File Size: 12MB // Length: 12:48

 

Why Do We Sing

But the time is coming‚ÄĒit has, in fact, come‚ÄĒwhen what you‚Äôre called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.¬†It‚Äôs who you are and the way you live that count before God. (John 4:23 MSG)

When Jesus talked with the woman at the well about true worship, it was clear that worship was much more than some ritual. It was a matter of the heart.

Jesus said, “It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God”.

There will be some of you relieved to find out that¬†we can (and must)¬†worship God without having to sing.¬†However, we’re going to look at why singing is an meaningful way to worship when we meet with other people to seek God.

The Call To Worship

If you have ever read the psalms (silent p, silent l), the largest book in the bible, you’ll have come across numerous calls to sing to God! Throughout the 150 chapters we are encouraged many times to sing out our praises to God.

Sing God a brand-new song!¬†Earth and everyone in it, sing!¬†Sing to God‚ÄĒworship God!¬†(Psalm 96:1‚Äď2 MSG)

I’ll often jump into the psalms for a quick pick-me-up. They are full of God’s praises and help me to align my heart and mind to worship.

On Earth As In Heaven

In the book of revelation, John describes a vision he received of heaven.¬†The throne was surrounded by thousands of angels, singing and declaring together God’s praises.

I looked again. I heard a company of Angels around the Throne, the Animals, and the Elders‚ÄĒten thousand times ten thousand their number, thousand after thousand after thousand in full song:¬†The slain Lamb is worthy!¬†Take the power, the wealth, the wisdom, the strength!¬†Take the honor, the glory, the blessing! (Revelation 5:11-14 MSG)

In other words, we better get used to some singing, because it sounds like heaven has it’s fair share of it!

Singing Promotes Unity

Don’t drink too much wine. That cheapens your life. Drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of him. Sing hymns instead of drinking songs! Sing songs from your heart to Christ. Sing praises over everything, any excuse for a song to God the Father in the name of our Master, Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-20 MSG)

“Sing hymns instead of drinking songs!” – I love that. No one will be surprised if I tell them that a room full of people singing drinking songs is no quiet affair! Quite the opposite! They are giving it everything they’ve got – whether they know all the words or not.

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ‚ÄĒthe Message‚ÄĒhave the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives‚ÄĒwords, actions, whatever‚ÄĒbe done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. (Colossians 3:16-17 MSG)

So, let’s sing our hearts out to God! Let’s sing like we mean it. Let’s sing together and lift up the name of Jesus in unity with each other.

I believe a¬†unified group of believers is a very powerful thing for a seeker¬†to witness.¬†It shows we have each other’s back and we support and love each other. It portrays a kind of community, that deep down everyone longs to be part of.

Singing Helps Us Express Our Worship

We are His portion and He is our prize
Drawn to redemption by the grace in his eyes
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking
(John Mark McMillan, How He Loves)

Not only do we have the bible, in particular the book of Psalms, but God has also gifted modern artists and songwriters with the ability to pen words that we can sing as our own. These songs help us to express ourselves in worship using language that may not come naturally to us.

The lyric from How He Loves often brings a tear to my eye. The imagery that John Mark McMillan uses throughout this song helps to bring these truths to life in new ways and impact my heart and mind.

Singing Helps Us Remember Truth

‚ÄúA song will outlive all sermons in the memory.‚ÄĚ Henry Giles

As children we learn the alphabet by singing it to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and we remember the number of days in a month with a rhyme. Melody and rhythm help us remember lyrics.

This is why it is important to sing songs full of biblical truth. Songs that give hope, build us up and encourage us. Songs that stay with us during the weeks and months.

Singing Helps Us Engage Emotionally

“The voice is never more emotional than when raised in song, as the meaning of words is heightened, becoming something larger than what we want to say; the melody and form at the pinnacle of what humans are capable of, tuning in to beauty itself.” – David Rothenberg

God made us, along with our emotions. Emotions are not something that should be left outside the church. In fact, singing without emotion is an oxymoron Рespecially when worshiping God. Singing engages our emotions, our whole being,  connecting the truth that we sing with the passion in our hearts.

Singing Brings Freedom

Along about midnight, Paul and Silas were at prayer and singing a robust hymn to God. The other prisoners couldn’t believe their ears. (Acts 16:25 MSG)

One of my favorite stories in the bible is when Paul and Silas were imprisoned and despite their situation sang praises to God. In was in that very moment God moved and shook the prison with an earthquake releasing all the prisoners inside.

We want to see God move in us as we worship. We want to see spiritual chains broken. Relationships mended. Stress lifted. Clarity received. Peace given. Illnesses cured. Anything is possible if we trust and praise God despite what we are going through.

Leading By Example

At STORYCHURCH our Weekend¬†services are deliberately tailored for the unchurched. When we’re planning the sermon, and service elements, we always try to view it through the lens of a visitor – someone who most likely¬†has not grown up in church and is currently far from God.

When we’re teaching from the platform on Sunday mornings we’re careful not to make assumptions of our congregation’s biblical knowledge, so extra explanations are provided to ensure everyone is able to follow.

Everyone stand up and worship!

New guests always arrive early and are always in the room, seated and waiting for the service to start. If a lot of our regular people still in the foyer when the service starts then our guests can feel a little lost and exposed.

So when we start our services with a song, why do we expect new guests¬†to know what to do? Chances are, they’re not sure.

They are going to want to look around to see what everyone else in the room is doing. That means they are looking to see what you are doing, and how you are expressing yourself in worship!

We Need To Model It

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)

As people, invested into the life of STORYCHURCH, new guests will recognize you and look to you for examples of how to live out their faith and that includes how to express themselves in worship.

This makes us all worship leaders in a sense. It is our (collective) responsibility to shape the culture of worship at our church. It is us that define the boundaries Рnegative or positive Рto how people express themselves.

If we want a church that worships well (and I hope we do), then WE need to model it – and model it well.

[Solomon] knelt in full view of the whole congregation, stretched his hands to heaven, and prayed. (2 Chronicles 6:13 MSG)

Unleash Your Emotion

Let’s not be afraid to unleash a little emotion when we gather together to sing. We’ve already discussed how emotion helps us to connect deeply with the words – by marrying the passion we have for Jesus with the words leaving our mouths.

Imagine singing¬†“Oh No You Never Let Go…” with zero emotion. Who is going to believe those words have any merit? Who is going to believe that God has never actually left you?

Don’t fake it – that would be worse. Be authentic and vulnerable before God. Let Him work through you when you worship. Your emotions will kick in automatically.

God Wants Your All

Take your everyday, ordinary life‚ÄĒyour sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life‚ÄĒand place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don‚Äôt become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You‚Äôll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. (Romans 12:1-2 MSG)

God wants our all in worship. He wants us fully engaged – all in. God in turn will have permission to do a work in our life because we have surrendered to Him. We will be changed from the inside out! The passion, excitement and joy will bubble out of us and will be CONTAGIOUS!

Comments…

Standard
Thoughts

Psalm 34

I love this psalm from King David. It’s full to the brim with praise to God. Worship opens doors to all His goodness!

I bless God every chance I get; my lungs expand with his praise. I live and breathe God; if things aren’t going well, hear this and be happy:

Join me in spreading the news; together let’s get the word out. God met me more than halfway, he freed me from my anxious fears.

Look at him; give him your warmest smile. Never hide your feelings from him. When I was desperate, I called out, and God got me out of a tight spot.

God‚Äôs angel sets up a circle¬†of protection around us while we pray.¬†Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see ‚ÄĒ¬†how good God is. Blessed are you who run to him.

Worship God if you want the best; worship opens doors to all his goodness. Young lions on the prowl get hungry, but God-seekers are full of God.

Come, children, listen closely; I’ll give you a lesson in God worship. Who out there has a lust for life? Can’t wait each day to come upon beauty?

Guard your tongue from profanity,¬†and no more lying through your teeth.¬†Turn your back on sin; do something good.¬†Embrace peace‚ÄĒdon‚Äôt let it get away!

God keeps an eye on his friends, his ears pick up every moan and groan. God won’t put up with rebels; he’ll cull them from the pack.

Is anyone crying for help? God is listening, ready to rescue you. If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath.

Disciples so often get into trouble; still, God is there every time. He’s your bodyguard, shielding every bone; not even a finger gets broken.

The wicked commit slow suicide; they waste their lives hating the good. God pays for each slave’s freedom; no one who runs to him loses out.

–Psalm 34 (MSG)

Standard
Thoughts

As Lazy As An Old Dog

dog sleeping

When he came back to his disciples, he found them sound asleep. He said to Peter, “Can’t you stick it out with me a single hour? Stay alert; be in prayer so you don’t wander into temptation without even knowing you’re in danger. There is a part of you that is eager, ready for anything in God. But there’s another part that’s as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire.” (MSG)

This challenged me this week. I don’t want to be lazy like¬†an old dog. I want to be fully alert and fully engaged in what God has for me. When I write songs about running to God, I need to be doing the actual running, not just singing about it.

Standard
Thoughts

Jesus Was Abandoned So You Wouldn’t Have To Be

I was reading through Matthew’s coverage of the Crucifixion a few days back. As Christians we¬†tend to focus on the horrendous physical pain, stress and abuse that Jesus endured because of our sin.

What is often overlooked is the consequences of our sin that Jesus saved us from. Death is one of those, but I believe much worse than that was separation from the Father. For a moment before His last breath, Jesus felt abandoned on that cross.

From noon to three, the whole earth was dark. Around midafternoon Jesus groaned out of the depths, crying loudly, ‚ÄúEli, Eli, lama sabachthani?‚ÄĚ which means, ‚ÄúMy God, my God, why have you abandoned me?‚ÄĚ (MSG)

In other translations of the bible, it is also written as, “why have you forsaken me?

What does it mean to forsake someone? I looked up some of the synonyms for forsake:¬†abandon, desert, leave, leave high and dry, turn one’s back on, cast aside.

I believe this moment of separation had to be more painful than the any of the accusations, beating, whipping, and abuse that Jesus suffered at the hands of men.

It reminded me, and added¬†extra weight to God’s promise in Heb 13:5, that He would never leave us, or forsake us. After what Jesus went through on the cross, He does not want us to suffer in the same way.

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross means that we never have to be separated from our God and¬†Father in heaven. Reconciliation is our move to make.

Standard
Thoughts

God Is Not Surprised By Our Actions

Exodus1

Moses’ Story

I was reading through the story of Moses recently (found in Exodus 2). After being found on the river in a basket, Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s household, looked after by his mother.

The bible doesn’t say much about his childhood or if/what he knew about his family origins, but it was¬†apparent that¬†his roots were becoming alive in him.

Moses was starting to resent how Pharaoh and his regime were treating his kin. So much so, that one day Moses lost it and killed an Egyptian whom he caught beating one of his relatives.

When Moses found out later that his action did not go unseen Рhe panics and runs away.

God’s Story

From the bible, we have a more complete picture of what God was actually doing in Moses’ life. How Moses¬†was placed in a basket and found by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised in their household.

Moses¬†was being set up all along to one day lead God’s people out of slavery, he just didn’t know that yet.

Was the murdered Egyptian part of an ideal plan? Probably not. Was running off to Midian to look after some sheep? Probably not.

Was God surprised by any of this? Nope.

Our Story

When reading this I¬†was struck by Moses’ decision to run away. Yes, Pharaoh was trying to kill him so I’ll cut him a little slack, but often we can have similar tendencies to run when we mess up.

We let one mistake jeopardize everything.

God is not surprised by our¬†actions. He knew we were going to mess up before we did. He still wants you to embrace the story you were meant to live. The story that He is writing for your life. Please don’t run away from it.

We’re just coming out of Easter and focusing on the power of the cross, on which¬†Jesus died (in our place) to pay for our sins. ¬†Every single one of them. I mean ALL of them. Your past sins, your current sins, your future sins. All paid for in full.

I like to think the power of the cross transcends all time dimensions and parallel universes. That’s just how I wrap my head around it.

Embrace The Story

At around the age of 80, Moses came back to fulfill God’s plan and eventually led his people out of Egypt.

If you’ve let some sin or hurt¬†in your life sideline you, it’s time to let it go. Don’t hold out. God¬†wants you back now because His story is better. He is not finished with you yet.

Standard