Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Let It Be (a Christmas carol)

You tell me, was Paul McCartney a closet fundamentalist?
or was he at least influenced by Horatio Spafford?

When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me, 
speaking words of wisdom, let it be. 
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me, 
speaking words of wisdom, let it be. 

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be. 
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be. 

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

And when the broken-hearted people living in the world agree, 
there will be an answer, let it be. 
For though they may be parted there is still a chance that they will see, 
there will be an answer. let it be.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blessed assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

Let it be, let it be, ..... 

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

And when the night is cloudy, there is still a light, that shines on me, 
shine until tomorrow, let it be. 
I wake up to the sound of music, mother Mary comes to me, 
speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

Let it be, let it be, ..... 

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

(truth is, for all my hymnologically impaired friends, McCartney's song has more Biblicity than Spafford's. Do you know the passage?)

Monday, November 25, 2013

16 Reasons to GIVE THANKS to God This Week

During the week of Thanksgiving, my sermon was based on Psalm 107 which repeatedly tells us to GIVE THANKS to God. Sometimes giving thanks is the best way to work our way out of a slump. So today, try giving thanks, specifically because:

1) He is good.

2) He works wondrous deeds.

3) His love endures forever.

Here are some specific examples I gave of each of these attributes of God...

Give thanks because of who God is:

  1. Creator -- even in its broken state, creation still trumpets the goodness of God.
  2. Sustainer -- if He ever removed His hands, all would fall apart.
  3. Provider -- He provides all our needs (not necessarily our wants)
  4. Healer -- every earthly healing is a small taste of the eternal healing that waits for us all
  5. Savior -- history is full of stories recounting God's saving action on behalf of His people
  6. Redeemer -- He spared no expense to buy us back from our rebellion
Give thanks because of what God has done:
  1. He chose Abraham -- from Abraham he launched a new nation and inaugurated a redemptive plan
  2. He rescued His people -- by humbling the world's superpower, God displayed His power
  3. He delivered a remnant -- in the midst of judgment and destruction, God saved a few to carry on His plan
  4. He sent His Son -- Jesus came to do for us what we could never do for ourselves
  5. He sent His Spirit -- a comforter, a guide, a counselor, a convictor, He is with us forever
  6. He launched His church -- a global community, united by love for Christ and the experience of salvation
Give thanks because of what God has promised:
  1. An inheritance -- reserved for us by God. We have hope that this life is NOT all there is
  2. Complete salvation -- in the future we will experience salvation from the power & presence of sin
  3. Eternal life -- death is not the end. On the other side of the grave is a brilliant, exhilarating & perfect life
  4. All things new -- no more sorrow or pain or death. Eden Restored!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

3 Rules for Healthy Debate

DEBATE is not a four letter word. (its six if you haven’t already gone back and counted) Sometimes we treat it as a curse word, when in reality, healthy debate can often be the catalyst for the most efficient learning. Unfortunately, healthy debate is rarely found among those who hold different ideas from one another. More often, fighting is more characteristic of those discussions, and sadly this seems to be more prevalent when those who claim to follow Christ are involved.

I've been batting around the idea of what characterizes healthy debate. I think right now I want to suggest three necessary elements (somewhat parallel for the linguistic creativity junkies). These three elements are interrogate, restate, debate.

Interrogate — ask, ask, ask. Too often discussions (particularly internet discussions) consist of two people/sides firing a barrage of propositional statements at one another, accomplishing nothing but fortifying their own positions. The first element of productive debate is the process of hearing what the other is saying. This can only be accomplished by asking questions. Here’s a good rule of thumb: "make no declarative statements which aren't preceded by at least one interrogatory statement." (of course your questions must be intended to gain clarity, not to fortify your position or entrap the other person)

Restate — It seems to me that the most effective means of clarifying your counterpart’s ideas is to restate them continually until agreement is reached that you are both on the same page. Even if your goal is to convince the other person that they are wrong (a bad starting point to be sure), you cannot show them that they are wrong until you show them that you understand what they are saying. Here’s a good rule of thumb: "make no propositions until you have stated your counterparts position in your own words to their satisfaction."

Debate — state your point. Do it concisely and precisely. Define your terms. Avoid ad hominem attacks. Don’t overstate. Avoid absolutes unless they are absolutely necessary. Be courteous. Speak less than you listen.

A great Bible verse to guide debates is James 1:19. "let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger".

All that to say, debates whether heavy or light, detailed or general need to be done appropriately if they are to build the body of Christ. This must begin with more efforts to understand the other side before dismissing and dissing. (how’s that for a good finishing line?)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Jesus Led By Example. We Lead By Following.

These are the main thoughts that went out with my last "Leadership Email" to The Gathering leaders. Although the email is targeted specifically at those leading ministries and groups at The Gathering, anyone can sign up to receive the entire email at the end of the post.

In the great state of Michigan everyone knows "The Captain". He is Steve Yzerman, a Canadian hockey player who led the beloved Red Wings to multiple Stanley Cup Championships. Since Retiring, Yzerman has overseen the revitalization of Tampa Bay's hockey team, the Lightning, and was the architect responsible for building Canada's gold-medal winning team in 2010.

My son, Liam, was almost named "Stephen" in honor of Steve Yzerman's contributions to my favorite hockey team!

Despite being one of the greatest leaders in the history of hockey, Steve Yzerman is not a loud or boisterous person. In fact, he's quite soft-spoken. Yet the example he sets with the way he plays and lives has been sufficient to lead many hockey players to several championships.

Early in his career, Yzerman was an unstoppable goal scorer. He was often mentioned in the same breath as legends like Wayne Gretzky. But his team was terrible. They were known as the "Dead Things." Then Steve Yzerman changed his game. He became a more defensive player, he stopped scoring and started creating, he began throwing himself in front of opposing player's shots (risking injury but blocking goals). His teammates caught on. The Red Wings stopped paying "pretty hockey" and started playing winning hockey. The rest is history.

The best leaders lead by example.

Christian leaders lead by Jesus' example.

When confronted with throngs of people and hoards of children, Jesus modeled kindness and compassion for his disciples. After a long day in the desert, Jesus humbled himself and served his disciples by washing their feet. In the ultimate act of leading by example, Jesus sacrificed his own life for the life of his followers.

If you want to be a great leader, figure out how to set a Christ-like example in your context. Model the behavior you desire to see (especially kindness and compassion). Serve those who are following you. Above all, sacrifice your own desires and ambitions for the good of others.

The ultimate leadership example has been set for us. Now we must lead by following.

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

7 Steps to Myth-Busting Prayer!

The Bible records many prayers for us. What better way to learn how to pray than to study these prayers and glean lessons from them? Here is the prayer of Nehemiah from the first chapter of his book:
Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. 
We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name. 
They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.

And here are 7 of my observations from this prayer. Notice that each of these focuses on exploding myths we tend to believe about ourselves and the world around us. Perhaps we could call this, "Mythbusting Prayer". I'm going to try to implement some of these thoughts into my own prayers this week:
  1. Recognize who God REALLY is..."the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant"...He is a lot bigger than we think.
  2. Recognize who you REALLY are..."hear the prayer your servant is praying"...You are God's servant, praying to determine what the master wishes. Prayer is not you telling God what you wish for him to do!
  3. Recognize what you have REALLY done..."I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against you"...Not only have you sinned willfully and personally against God, but you are part of systems, communities, and organizations which have rejected God and sinned against Him (often by how those in His Image have been treated). Don't come to prayer like you've done nothing.
  4. Recognize what you have REALLY not done..."We have not obeyed"...Seriously. You have not obeyed.
  5. Recognize what God REALLY wants you to have..."I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen"...In spite of all the badness eminating from us, God desires to be with us. We can pray CONFIDENTLY knowing HE desires restoration and HE will act to bring it about.
  6. Recognize what is REALLY appropriate to ask for..."O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant"...The most important thing we can ask for is the ear of God. Since He hears, we can freely ask, knowing that what we receive is the grace of God demonstrating what it is we truly need.
  7. Recognize that prayer teaches us what we REALLY need..."Give your servant success today."...What if Nehemiah had been unsuccessful? Does that mean he prayed wrongly? No, it means his prayer was heard, and God in his graciousness did not grant a prayer that would have been harmful for Nehemiah. Prayer requires us to surrender our will in the knowledge that God is sovereign and God is love!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

9 Creative Prayer Ideas for Your Small Group

I've had two conversations in the past couple days about the importance of prayer in the life of the church. In light of those conversations, I thought I'd post these thoughts about praying in a small group. 

Prayer should play an important role in the life of every small group. Some groups do a great job of emphasizing prayer, but others struggle a bit to make it a piece of their community.  Often, prayer is an intimidating thing for people to do in a group. Here are a couple ideas that might help make prayer less difficult and that might help your group become more "prayer-focused" in the process:

1. Silent Prayer.Choose a soft (preferably prayer-focused) song and tell the group you're going to play this song and while it plays everyone is going to just engage in silent prayer.  Once the song is done, the prayer time will be over. If you want, suggest a pattern of prayer that might be helpful for them. One possible pattern is the "ACTS" pattern (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). Another pattern is to focus on the 3 Relationships Christians have (with God, with other Christians, with those in the world). After the prayer time is over, take a minute to let people discuss how they felt about the experience. 
2. Speak to the Chair.Place a chair in the center of the room and tell your group to imagine God is sitting there. Without bowing heads and closing eyes, have people simply talk to God. Let them say thank you or ask questions or make requests.  Remind everyone that the goal is to focus on God, so they must resist the temptation to respond to what others are saying. After a while, thank everyone for participating and give them a moment to pray silently and bring closure to the time. 
3. Thanksgiving Statements.Instead of having everyone pray, just spend time having people thank God for things. Allow anyone to speak, and allow them to speak as often as they like. But limit the prayers to one sentence prayers of thanksgiving.  Before you start let everyone know how you will signal the end of the time. 
4. Scripted Prayer.There are some good prayers in the Bible. Sometimes it can be beneficial to read them aloud as a group. Many of the Psalms will work for this. The Lord's Prayer is also great to read as a group. If you want something a little more different, find a prayer in the "Book of Common Prayer" and make enough copies for everyone. Encourage people to consider the meaning and depth of the words as they read them aloud. 
5. Written Prayer.Give everyone 5 minutes with a pen and paper.  Have them write out their prayer. After you are finished have anyone who desires read their prayer aloud. Encourage everyone to keep their prayer with them and refer back to it throughout the week. 
6. Prayer for One AnotherGo around a circle and have each person pray a short prayer of thanksgiving and encouragement for the person to their right (or left). They can say something as simple as "Lord, please bless ____________ as they go through their week." It might be helpful to give a couple minutes to people to talk to one another prior to doing this so that their prayers can be more informed. 
7. Week Long PrayerHave each person in the group commit to praying for one other person in the group for an entire week. Have them set aside time each day to specifically pray for that person. Give people an opportunity to talk to one another about their prayers before and after the week. 
8. Scheduled PrayerSet aside a time during the week when everyone in the group is going to stop what they are doing and simply pray for 5 minutes. Try to set it up so that it happens at a time when everyone can participate. The following week, have people share how this exercise impacted their day or their week. 
9. Focused PrayerIf someone in the group is in need of prayer, and if they are willing to share that with the group; have the group gather around and lay hands on the person. Choose 3-4 people to pray while everyone else prays silently. Make sure you follow up the next week to find out how the situation is working out (sometimes an exercise like this will alert a group to things beyond prayer that they need to do for one another. Read James 2:15-17).

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

13 Reasons Christians Can Never Walk Alone

This is the greatest soccer story ever told... seriously. And the song that tells the story is the anthem of Liverpool Football, "You'll Never Walk Alone."

One of the greatest blessings we have been given is a group of people with whom to walk through life. Jesus gave us the church so we would never have to walk alone. Sometimes in our pursuit of a "personal" relationship with God, we forge that He has called us to be part of a community. That calling must be a priority for us. Check out these 13 reasons why Christians can never walk alone!

1. When we were saved, we were baptized into a body (1 Cor.12)

2. Christ's final command was to "love one another". (John 13)

3. Christ's one prayer for the church was "unity" (John 17)

4. Man was created in the image of God. Unity with diversity. (Gen 1-2)

5. It is not good for man to be alone. (Gen. 2)

6. The mission of the church cannot be accomplished if we do not love one another (John 13,17)

7. The message the apostles taught new believers from the beginning was to "love one another" (1 John 3)

8. A mature church is a unified church. (Eph. 4)

9. Our "spiritual worship" is necessarily tied to our love for each other. (Rom. 12)

10. Jesus' example was to sacrifice solitude in favor of service. (Luke 9)

11. We are called to think more highly of others than ourselves. (Philp. 2)

12. Jesus expected us to seek first THE kingdom, not our kingdom. (Matt. 6)

13. Righteousness requires justice and mercy to our fellow man. (Amos)