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Worship Wednesday – Worshipping Together and By Ourselves – God Draws Near

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. For the Lord is the great God, And the great King above all gods. In His hand are the deep places of the earth; The heights of the hills are His also. The sea is His, for He made it; And His hands formed the dry land. – Psalm 95:1-5
I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.2 Timothy 1:12
One of the things I cherish most about Movement Church is our corporate worship time. To stand essentially before God, with other brothers and sisters, and sing just to Him is a taste of Heaven. There are so many great worship songs these days – both the grand old hymns and the more contemporary. Gospel-saturated lyrics remind us who God is and who we are as His children.

As the Swedish proverb says, a shared joy is a double joy. In corporate worship, the “graces and benefits” we uniquely enjoy are not only awakening, assurance, advance, and accepting others’ leadership, but also the accentuated joy of deeper and richer and greater adoration and awe, since our delight in Jesus expands as we magnify him together with others.

The secret of joy in corporate worship is not only self-forgetfulness — or to put it positively, preoccupation with Jesus and his glory — but also the happy awareness that we are not alone in having our souls satisfied in him.David Mathis

This past Sunday, as we enter the season of celebrating Christ’s death for us and his glorious resurrection, we sang three familiar songs. You Are [Be Thou] My Vision, Lead Me to the Cross, and Oceans.

As we sang I remembered how God has touched my heart with these songs many times over. I’ve written about or referenced them at pivotal times in life. [See links to those previous blogs below.]

Corporate worship is a soul-filling opportunity weekly to connect with each other and to celebrate our God. Worship Wednesday is a touchpoint for me during the week. I purposely remind myself (and whomever reads this) that God is worthy to be praised, lauded, and obeyed. Whatever the rest of the week brings, truth stands.

So…wherever you are…at your desk or work station, on your phone…maybe you can’t sing out loud…but could we worship together through three songs? These three songs?

[If you click on the link, it will bring up a lyric video] or you may know these songs well enough to sing with just the printed lyrics that follow. Let’s worship together the God of the universe and the Lover of our souls.]

You Are My VisionRend CollectivePhoto Credit: Pinterest

You are my vision, oh King of mine heart. Nothing else satisfies, only You, Lord. You are my best thought, by day or by night. Waking or sleeping, Your presence, my light.

You are my wisdom; You are my true word – I ever with You and You with me, Lord. You’re my great Father and I’m Your true Son. You dwell inside me, together we’re one.

You are my battle shield, sword for the fight. You are my dignity; You’re my delight. You’re my soul’s shelter, and You’re my high tower. Come raise me heavenward, oh, Power of my power.

I don’t want riches or a man’s empty praise. You’re my inheritance, now and always. You and You only, the first in my heart –  High king of heaven, my treasure You are.

High king of heaven, when victory’s won, may I reach heaven’s joy, oh, bright heaven’s Son. Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, still be my vision, oh, Ruler of all.

Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, still be my vision, oh, Ruler of all.

Worship Wednesday – You Are My Vision – Rend Collective

Lead Me to the Cross HillsongPhoto Credit: Music Notes World

Savior I come
Quiet my soul remember
Redemption’s hill
Where Your blood was spilled
For my ransom
Everything I once held dear
I count it all as loss

[Chorus:]
Lead me to the cross
Where Your love poured out
Bring me to my knees
Lord I lay me down
Rid me of myself
I belong to You
Lead me, lead me to the cross

You were as I
Tempted and trialed
Human
The word became flesh
Bore my sin and death
Now you’re risen

Everything I once held dear
I count it all as loss

[Chorus]

To your heart
To your heart
Lead me to your heart
Lead me to your heart

[Chorus]*

*Lyrics to Lead Me to the Cross

YouTube Video – Lead Me to the Cross – Hillsong United – Lyric Video

Jesus and Holy Week – Day 6 – Good Friday – His Trial, Crucifixion, and Burial – DebMillsWriter

Oceans Kari JobePhoto Credit: Pinterest

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

(Chorus)
And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

(Chorus)

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

(Chorus)

Worship Wednesday – I Am Yours, and You Are Mine – Oceans

Worship Wednesday – I Am Yours, and You Are Mine – Oceans – Revisited

How Worship Reminds Us To Live – Stewart Fenters

Five Benefits of Corporate Worship – David Mathis

Worship Wednesday – Where Were You? – Ghost Ship

blog-where-were-you-job-pray-write-growPhoto Credit: PrayWriteGrow

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?…”Job 38:1-4a

I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.  – Job to God, Job 42:2

How can this be?! How could this have happened? No way could this be right. No way could this be God’s plan.

We are all given to platitudes. “It’s all good.” “It’s not your fault.” “God’s still on His throne.” They may be true but they’re not very satisfying.

When we’re hit by a strange and unsettling reality, we want to call it something else. We want to cry out that it’s not good and it’s got to be someone’s fault…we ache to point our finger at someone…anyone. At times, the blame ascends all the way to Heaven…to God Himself.

Job, a righteous God-fearer whose story is chronicled in the Bible, found himself in that very situation. He didn’t just wake up one morning to news that he couldn’t stomach; he was singled out for the most devastating personal loss – the deaths of all his children and his own health ruined. His questioning of the rightness of this unimaginable occurrence was understandable.

Having friends who offered all sorts of scenarios as to how this could have happened…gave Job no relief.

Finally, he took his case to God, objecting to how such a thing could happen. In God’s defense of Himself in the matter (Job 38-41), He opened Job’s eyes to the wonder and goodness of all that He does.

God is not put off by our questioning, our fears, our confusion…this God who lovingly asks questions Himself for us to see our own strange thinking about Him…this God who is the answer to every question that’s whispered or shouted from the depths of our beings. Where were you, Child? …Where were we?! How gentle He is with our self-righteousness and presumptuousness that we know better than He. We may not understand…but we can be assured that He is working out our good and His glory in every page turned in history. We can question, absolutely…but He calls us to continue following Him, even in our questioning…to love Him, to love others…with everything in us.

On this past Sunday, we gathered at Movement Church, and worshiped together. This Sunday followed the Presidential election, the outcome of which probably surprised every voter and non-voter in America…either joyfully or sorrowfully. This Sunday was made for worship. No back clapping, or derision, or condescending opinions of any political ilk. Whatever hopefulness and whatever despair were set aside. Just voices raised in community to the God whose purposes are not thwarted…no matter what.

Worship, with me, through this great lyric Where Were You? (by Ghost Ship) – taken straight from the Job narrative.

I said, “God, I do not understand this world
everything is dying and broken
why do I see nothing but sufferingimg_0418

God I’m asking could this be Your plan
Sin has taken hold of this whole land
Will You not say anything else to me?”
He said, “Where were you the day that I measured
sunk the banks and stretched the line over
all the earth and carved out its corner stone?img_0423
Where were you the day that I spoke and
told the sun to split the night open
caused the morning dark with its light to show
Who shut in the ocean with stone doors
marked the reach of tides on those new shores
hung the day the waves rose and first broke forth
Have you seen the springs of that great sea
walked the caverns carved in the black deep
through the gates of darkness there on its floor

 

Have you seen the armory I hold
snow and hail are stacked up in silos
for the times of trouble and war and strife

Can you raise your voice to the storm cloud
would the thunder answer and ring out
does the lightning ask you where it should strike

Who has cleft the channels for torrents
rain to sprout the desert with forest
in the wilderness that my hand has built

Can you hunt the prey for your lions
can you use the cords of Orion
is this whole world bending beneath your will?”

I spoke of things I did not understand
things too wonderful for me
although I had no right to ask
my God knelt and answered me*

For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?  Isaiah 14:27

Lyrics to Ghost Ship’s Where Were You?

The Plan of God – J. I. Packer

Worship Wednesday – Do Something – Matthew West – Deb Mills

Worship Wednesday – In Suffering – Where Were You? – by Ghost Ship – Deb Mills

blog-where-were-you-tumblrPhoto Credit: TheMadeShop – Tumblr

Q & A with a Filmmaker – Nathan Clarke on the Arts, Authenticity, and the Christian Faith

Image processed by CodeCarvings Piczard ### FREE Community Edition ### on 2015-05-18 23:32:55Z | http://piczard.com | http://codecarvings.comPhoto Credit: Christianity Today

Nathan Clarke is a filmmaker with Fourth Line Films. He is known for his documentaries and honest story-telling through film (see Wrestling for Jesus). Most recently, Nathan and team at Fourth Line, premiered a lovely and moving film. Produced through support of Fuller Seminary, this 20-minute documentary, Bono and Eugene Peterson –  The Psalms, is available to watch on YouTube.

I had the privilege of attending a preview screening of this film (reviewed it on this blog). After the showing of the film, Corey Widmer facilitated a Q & A with Nathan Clarke and the audience. What follows is taken from my notes on the Q & A and reflects some of his thinking on the arts (how faith might color them and the cry for authenticity). Here are my takeaways.

On hoped-for impact of the film “A lot of people who would only know Bono will now know Eugene and The Message. Those who only knew Peterson from the Message will now be introduced to his other books.” [The Message is a version of the Bible translated into the contemporary English language (of 1993) by Eugene Peterson. Although it’s over 20 years old, it still makes for an easier read for anyone new to the Bible. Peterson’s bold action for that very purpose has come under criticism over the years, with some calling The Message a paraphrase, not a true translation. For Bono, this version made Scripture come alive for him.]

Sidebar: I didn’t know Peterson wrote other books until watching this film. Bono praises Peterson’s book Run with the Horses as “a powerful manual for me”. Besides The Message, there are over 30 books available to us written by Eugene Peterson.Blog - Eugene Peterson booksPhoto Credit: YouTube – Bono & Eugene Peterson

This revelation reminded me of a tiny section of my bookcase, right beside my work desk, that houses the best of my “old friends”. Oswald Chambers’ classic My Utmost for His Highest is only one of several great wisdom books under his authorship. Thanks to Nathan Clarke, I will look into Eugene Peterson’s other books.Blog - Oswald Chambers Books

On making art as a Christian – Nathan told the story of making the film Wrestling for Jesus. As he filmed this documentary about Christian wrestlers, one of them, in the course of the filming, began to have his life fall completely apart. Was his “wrestling for Jesus” over? Nathan and team incorporated that story in the film. When he submitted the film to a Christian film festival, it was rejected because it wasn’t “family-friendly”. “What about David? What about Solomon?”, Nathan lamented. [The Bible is full of messy real-life struggles. Do we just white-wash those? In the film with Eugene, Bono sees Christian song-writers as being “vulnerable, open, porous toward God”; he implores them to “write honest lyrics” – about your bad marriage and…about how frustrated you are with your government. I’m suspicious of Christians because of this lack of realism in art, in life, and in music.”]

On art and the church – Nathan went on to ask the question, “Do we think of artists as just accentuating the decoration of the church?” [echoing Bono’s declaration on the arts as “essential not decorative”]  Nathan then implored, “All my work is out there – is there a place for it in here [the church building/the church itself]?” When asked how we can create Christian communities where artists could thrive and create, Nathan offered some practical suggestions:

  • Patronage – We should buy their work.
  • Offer effective and helpful critique of art – in a way that honors the image of God in who they are and still say, when necessary, “That sucks”. […this coming only out of a place of honoring…emphasizing this, as a mom of an artist.]
  • Business people can help artists with the business side of their work. Helping them learn from failures and from success; helping them to market themselves, run a business, do taxes. This is also a form of patronage.
  • Give space for artists to talk about their art, practice their art, display their art in this place (the church building). [There are just a limited number of paid positions within a church (ex. worship leader). Still, there are artists in our churches that could have a place to express the gifts God has given them…these songwriters, musicians, writers, painters, and poets.]

This was so helpful, Nathan. Thank you!

On authenticity as artists who are also Christians – “If you look at God as artist, he didn’t make art a utilitarian thing (a means to an end). He expressed art as an end in itself”. Nathan talked about how affected he was by the film In Pursuit of Silence. He quoted Greg Hindy, a student/pilgrim, in the film:Blog - Nathan Clarke - Greg Hindy on Silence - newslookupPhoto Credit: New York Post

“Silence should be explored not explained”. Then Nathan applied that to art as being best “explored not explained”. Art is better served not with the end in mind but through illumination that comes in the making of the art (as he discovered in the filming of Wrestling For Jesus). Even as Christian artists try to explain what part God played in their work, how can we really know or compartmentalize that? [As much as we would hope art could have an impact on our culture, for instance, can we shape or manipulate the art toward “making that happen”? Is that right/honest/authentic?] Nathan responded with “Art that seeks to catalyze will never affect change, but good art catalyzes change.” He talked more about the role of the artist who is also Christian as a “faithful presence” (from James Hunter’s book To Change the World) – honoring God through his craft and serving others with it.Blog - nathan Clarke - faithful presence -azquotesPhoto Credit: AZ Quotes

Christian artists, like others, walk a fine line here, and Nathan stated he felt that tension all the time. Filmmakers manipulate light, color, mood, materials, sequence… He aims to be as authentic as possible in the process – “We lie so we can tell the truth”.

__________________________________________________________________________

I would have kept the Q & A going even longer because of all that was stirring in my heart and mind. It was exhilarating both to see the film and to hear the process of it coming to fruition in the words of the filmmaker. I wish they had filmed the Q & A honestly (or maybe they did…who knows?). Anyway, there was one other question that struck me, given my son is a musician. Nathan was asked the difference in the craft – film vs. music. With film, he says there is a wrap. You may spend hours filming, weeks and months in production and then editing, but then it’s done. With musicians, they must get tired of singing those songs forever (I wonder, Bono…do you?) Still, says Nathan, “the filmmaker, poet, and painter all want to be rock stars.” That immediate feedback. After 15 months of working on this film, this evening, this screening, was the first time he experienced that feedback “hearing people laugh at the same time” at the funny parts.

With all the arts, there is a cost…but there is so much gain…for all of us.

Thanks again, Nathan, and Fourth Line Films.

Art and the Bible Quotes – Francis A. Schaeffer

In Pursuit of Silence – a Quiet Movie with Much to Say by Carl McColman

Faithful Presence – an Interview with James Davison Hunter by Christopher Benson

5 Friday Faves – Winter in the Middle East, Culture, Parenting, Community, and Top Blogs

Blog - Friday FavesWow! What a week! This is a rare experience for me to be glad it’s Friday. I usually love all the days and want them to slow down…this was a week that’s good to be done. How was your week?

My 5 favorites finds include one less favorite, more “I don’t want to forget” – that being #1:

1) Winter in Middle East – Our news cycle and attention spans are so short that we might forget refugee camps…especially in winter. I am so thankful for agencies (like Baptist Global Response) that don’t forget it. Far from it, they are there, feeling the cold these refugees feel and stretching resources to cover these without homes that keep out the winter. Let’s not forget…and extend help as well.Blog - Winter in the Middle east - ibtimesPhoto Credit: International Business NewsBlog - Winter in the Middle East - thetakeawayPhoto Credit: thetakeaway.orgBlog - Winter in the Middle east - old man - the national aePhoto Credit: The National

2) Culture – Trevin Wax writes this week about cultural commentary. As we both live in a changing culture and examine our place within that culture, we adjust. Not our beliefs, necessarily, or our viewpoints, but maybe how we voice them. Trevin does a great job in expounding on how we look at culture – not as “good” or “bad” or “safe” or “unsafe” – but as understanding and discerning co-inhabitants of that culture. Something called “cultural literacy”.

word with dice on white background - culture

Photo Credit: The Gospel Coalition

“From Francis Schaeffer in the 1960’s, to C. S. Lewis in the 1940’s, to G. K. Chesterton in the 1920’s, we stand in a long line of people who have identified the narratives on display in cultural artifacts of their day, and then spoke to those longings by putting them in light of the gospel. John Stott called this “double listening” – listening to God’s Word and to the people in God’s world, so that we can be effective witnesses to the kingdom.” – Trevin Wax

3) Parenting – Parenting books and blogs abound to influence our journey through our children’s growing-up. One of my favorite books on parenting came out after our kids were already grown but I love it and still recommend it: Escaping the Endless Adolescence: How We Can Help Our Teenagers Grow Up Before They Grow Old by Joseph & Claudia Worrell Allen. Cathy Gulli’s article on parenting was a fascinating discovery for me this week. She writes on The Collapse of Parenting – Why It’s Time for Parents to Grow Up. Her take on current trends in parenting focuses less on empowering the child and more on the parent actually being the guide, mentor, and nurturing authority. I didn’t agree with everything, but it was refreshing to read. [It actually went viral with over a million reads so far.] The image below is NOT from her article but it came to mind because of her article.Blog - Age-appropriate tasks for childrenPhoto Credit: Flanders Family

4) Community – I’ve written about community many times, but this was one of those weeks where the value of community came to bear in a hard place. It’s hard to imagine those who lead more solitary lives – without church, family, or work community – especially when a life-altering crisis occurs. Luke writes about the early church so beautifully in his Acts of the Apostles. Those early believers endured great persecution with joy because of God-infused community. What’s your experience of community these days? Showing up for work, attending church, social media brushes with family don’t get us to community. It’s a dig deep, being there, full embrace of those in your circle with a door wide open to others just on the outside, looking in. So thankful this week for community.Blog - Community - It Is Well - Beth Taylor FacebookPhoto Credit: Beth Taylor

5) Top Blogs – There are all sorts of lists on the blogosphere these days about most read/visited blogs of last year. This list by Leslie Leyland Fields is my favorite find of this sort this week.  What a life this woman leads in the coastal fishing communities of Alaska! Blog - Friday faves - Leslie Leyland FieldsWhat lists do you recommend? Help us find them, via the comments below.

Bonus: Sweet Dance Performance by the Revere Dance Studio – Lovely Girls on Their Feet and in Their Wheelchairs

Worship Wednesday – How Firm a Foundation – Illustrated

Blog - How Firm a Foundation - blueletterbible.orgPhoto Credit: BlueLetterBible.org

Many years ago, I spent the summer doing construction on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. A group of older American teens and five adults comprised a team who would build a structure over the course of that summer. The building would house a church (and the pastor family would live in the loft). Only one of us had any construction experience but we all had received a couple of weeks training prior to leaving the States.

It was a marvel that we had such confidence (faith, really) to do such a thing.

After flying halfway around the world to Manila, we boarded a ship for an overnight journey south to Mindanao. On our arrival, we were greeted at port by a small group of very enthusiastic Filipinos. They carried us, by bus, straight to the construction site for a look-see.

We must have been the sight.

Eagerly tumbling out of the bus, we were struck speechless at building lot where we would erect a church. It was obvious where we were to build because it was the only open space surrounded by several houses on stilts. It was also obvious why no homes had been built there before.

Covering most of the building site was a tidal pool, and it must have been high tide. We blinked and stared at the deep salt-water pool, complete with small fish popping the surface of the water.

How could we build in such a place?

Blog - Stand Firm - CouragePhoto Credit: NourishtheDream.com

Amazingly, we found that we could build there. A lot of engineering, which I don’t remember now, went into making the site dry (somehow rerouting the tidal water, pumping out the standing water, and filling in the area with dirt and rock).

Our project leader told us our most important job was to build a strong foundation. In this rural area, with more hands than construction companies available to us, we worked shoulder to shoulder with our new Filipino friends. Steel reinforcing bars were tied, and cement was mixed for days as we began pouring concrete footers. We poured a thick foundation and built up with cinder blocks.

I wish I had easily retrievable pictures from those hot summer days in Mindanao. The building went up and finally the sharply pitched roof was laid on.

On our last full day there, we celebrated our work together with those dear friends in that community. They would finish the last details of the building without us as we flew back to the US the next day.

I will never forget that first day, and the laying of the foundation, in particular. Such hard work…not to be short-changed. A year later, a violent typhoon hit that village, and we were sure the church must have been destroyed.

It stood through the storm.

How thankful I am for the sure foundation we have in God’s Word and His work in us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ!

A great old hymn, How Firm a Foundation, speaks powerfully about this strong support we have through the storms of our lives. Published in 1787, many have written hymn stories about it, but I refer you to the one written by Tim Challies. He also introduces the arrangement done of the hymn by the trio Ordinary Time.

Worship with me:

How firm a foundation, you Saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He has said,
To you, who, for shelter, to Jesus has fled?

(In every condition—in sickness, in health,
In poverty’s vale or abounding in wealth,
At home or abroad, on the land or the sea—
As thy days may demand, so thy succor shall be.)

Fear not, I am with you; oh, be not dismayed,
For I am your God and will still give you aid.
I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand,
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call you to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow,
For I will be with you, your troubles to bless,
And sanctify to you your deepest distress.

When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be your supply.
The flame shall not hurt you; I only design
Your dross to consume and your gold to refine.

(E’en down to old age, all my people shall prove
My sovreign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And then, when gray hair shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs shall they still in my bosom be borne.)

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!

That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.*

I love the imagery of this great old hymn, and thinking about how saints of God for more than 200 years have worshipped Him through these lyrics. Artist Laura Kranz applied her own powerful imagery to this hymn. One image is featured below; the rest you can find at the Overview Bible Project.Blog - How Firm a Foundation - buff.ly - Laura KranzPhoto Credit: Laura A. Kranz

Have a worshipful Wednesday. I pray you stand on such a foundation as God offers us. When we stood, that first day, on the building site…staring at a seemingly impossible task, a group of the church youth, sang a song of dedication. It was My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less. The chorus was perfect for that day:  – “On Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand. All other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.”

It was beautifully ironic as our eyes were riveted to the sight of that tidal pool – at the same time, listening to these precious young people sing about faith, not sight. How firm a foundation we have in Christ!

*How Firm a Foundation – Lyrics and Illustrations by Laura Kranz

Hymn Stories: How Firm a Foundation (+ Free Download) – Tim Challies

YouTube Video – Ordinary Time – How Firm a Foundation

Ordinary Music Website

YouTube Video – Sink My Feet by Jillian Edwards

Carpentry and Building Construction – a Do-It-Yourself Guide

Blog - How Firm - biblevisuals.org

Photo Credit: Biblevisuals.org

Helping First-Time Guests Want to Come Back a Second Time – Church Assimilation and Connection Teams

Blog - Church Connection Team - bpnews.net Photo Credit: bpnews.net

Any one of us in church was once new to that church. Such an awkward place to be. I remember just this year walking into a church gathering for the first time. It seemed everyone else knew each other and there was a general sense of easy familiarity between people. Were we the only ones new? Of  course not!

Being new is not where any of us want to stay. Trying to find a church home or just “going” to church aren’t very deep relational experiences. They are first steps to being part of a church, but you definitely don’t want to stay in that new or transient place long…or the temptation is just to not go back, or not go often…definitely doesn’t reflect what it’s like to really be church.

This is why churches need to be intentional in welcoming and connecting first-time guests. We met Ken Bevel at a conference a couple of years ago, and he introduced that term “assimilation” to us. He is a retired Marine Captain, and actor in Kendrick Brothers’ films (Fireproof, Courageous), and pastor of assimilation at Sherwood Baptist Church. He talked with us a bit about his job of working with a team who is responsible for that first-time guest – from the parking lot to “pew” to “home group” (real connection with others in the church).Blog - Ken Bevel - COnnecting[Ken Bevel (r), Pastor for Assimilation & Events, Sherwood Baptist Church, Albany, Georgia – making the guy on the left feel welcome.]

When we gather as church, extending hospitality to each other is a service we want to extend to all who join us. We’re still new as part of our church community (Movement Church) and don’t really know who’s new or if it’s just that we haven’t met them. Movement Church has a connecting team and we benefitted from it. Our strategy now is to treat those we meet, entering the building or in the hall or grabbing coffee, as if they were first-time guests. Sometimes they are…and sometimes they’ve been a part of the community for much longer than us…it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we welcome one another…with generous grace and genuine interest.Blog - Connections & Assimilation - bpnews.netPhoto Credit: bpnews.net

Churches gather in all kinds of configurations – large and small, in homes and large buildings or public places. Blog - Connecting and AssimilatingBlog - Connecting & Assimilating - bpnew.netProcessed with VSCOcam with f2 presetPhoto Credit: House church pic is mine; other two bpnews.net

Whatever our church, we want to watch out for those first-time guests just as we honor those long-time faithful ones. What do they need? Who might they enjoy meeting there? How do we pray for them…follow-up with them?

Below are great resources to help the church set strategy to be intentional in our hospitality…to make first-time guests feel at home and want to come back a second time. Better still…to become part of who we are…a community who loves God and all those He places in our spaces.

12 Ways Churches “Welcome” Guests – Chuck Lawless

Six Simple Things a First-Guest Likes – Thom Rainer

Top Ten Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Guests – Thom Rainer

Ten MORE Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Guests – Thom Rainer

Creating a Strong Assimilation System – Powerpoint – Stephen Gray

Connecting With One Another – A Step-by-Step Approach to Guest and New Member Assimilation – Thesis – Kevin Ray Milburn

Ten Church Strategies – The Assimilation Strategy

Marine Captain-Turned-Pastor “Courageous” – Ken Bevel – The “Courageous” Interview with Kam Williams

Sherwood Baptist Church

Worship Wednesday – Jesus Loves Me…and You – with Chris Tomlin

Blog - Jesus Loves Me - Chris Tomlin

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.  You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. – Psalm 139:1, 4-12

I wasn’t born Christian. Living for many years in the Arab World, people were identified as born Christian or born Muslim. It was a new experience for me to think of belonging to a community, religion, or tribe based on the family in which you were born.

We didn’t have a formal religious experience of any sort until I was entering school. When neighbors invited us to church, we joined them expectantly. Even as children, we were curious about what it was all about. That’s when I first heard the little song “Jesus Loves Me” (not the Chris Tomlin version, but the original children’s praise song.

Jesus loves me; this I know. For the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong. They are weak, but he is strong.

As a child still reeling from our parents’ divorce and missing a mom who had to work all the time, this was incredibly good news. I soaked up the teachings of Jesus. Church became a place of hope for me. My mom and all four of us children were transformed by the God we grew to know there. His love filled our empty spaces and healed our broken places.

Chris Tomlin’s Jesus Loves Me has taken the truth of that children’s song and delivered it powerfully to the next generations. This Jesus loves us grownups, too. So thankful for His love. Can’t help but sing about it.Blog - Jesus Loves Me - Chris Tomlin 2

 Worship with me:

I was lost
I was in chains
The world had a hold of me

My heart was a stone
I was covered in shame
When He came for me

I couldn’t run, couldn’t run from His presence
I couldn’t run, couldn’t run from His arms

Jesus, He loves me, He loves me, He is for me
Jesus, how can it be, He loves me, He is for me

And it was a fire
Deep in my soul
I’ll never be the same

I stepped out of the dark
And into the light
When He called my name

I couldn’t run, couldn’t run from His presence
I couldn’t run, couldn’t run from His arms

He holds the stars and He holds my heart
With healing hands that bear the scars
The rugged cross where He died for me
My only hope, my everything

YouTube Video (official lyric/chords video)  – Jesus Loves Me by Chris Tomlin from Love Ran Red Album

Lyrics to Jesus Loves Me – Writer(s): Chris Tomlin, Reuben Morgan, and Ben Glover

YouTube Video – Story Behind the Song Jesus Loves Me by Chris Tomlin

Chris Tomlin website

Becoming a Follower of Jesus

Photo Credits: Air1 Radio and Multitracks.com

Love Ran Red Album

Blog - Chris Tomlin - Love Ran Red

Give Church Another Try – 7 Things to Consider in a Community Where You Can Thrive

Blog - ChurchBlog - Church People

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25

When I was a child, we learned this little fingerplay about church. “Here’s the church; here’s the steeple; open the doors, and see all the people.” As an adult, church has become less about a place, or steeple, and more about people. So the fingerplay I teach children now about church says only “Here’s the church” – with the two hands, palms up, with intertwined fingers. That’s church. There are three things I see in that visual that are good to remember: 1) Palms up – we need God. Church is about God. 2) Fingers – we are all people (stay with me). 3) Intertwined – we get close, which means we know each other very well, too well sometimes (unless grace is always applied). With people, church can get messy. We are all those people.

There are people I love who have walked away from church, citing, “They’re all a bunch of hypocrites.” Seriously? Aren’t they right where they need to be? An old saying goes, “Church is a hospital for sinners.” Maybe it’s also a rehab program for hypocrites… Either way, if I’ve given up on church, then at some level, I’m giving up on God. He loves His church, and we, as followers of Christ, are a part of that church He loves. To leave it, because of the hypocrites, the legalists, the gossips, the other sinners…just. like. us…is not the answer.

We left a church ourselves. The details won’t help this narrative. Suffice it to say, I wouldn’t wish the down side of that experience on my worst enemy. It wasn’t just our down side, or that of others who left…it was the pain and confusion of those whom we left as well.  We would have had that go very differently, if we had had the freedom to do so… That sort of leaving doesn’t heal easily, and the wounds break open as easily as a social media post reminding us that we are not in each other’s lives anymore.

That’s just so wrong. Jesus let nothing or no one keep him from his Father’s House. The Temple, in those days. My desire is to always follow His lead in life. We’ve learned a lot, some of it painfully, about church in recent years. There are writers on this subject far more wise and eloquent than I (just a few of whom wrote the pieces linked below). However, I would be so grateful if God allowed me to help someone be restored to His church. Also, for anyone who has never really been in a church community, maybe it would help to know what to consider.

Here’s my Quick List of 7 Things to Consider in Searching Out a Church Community. As you peruse a church website, or listen to a pastor/teaching elder’s podcast, or visit a worship service or community group, think about this:

1) Love for God – His Word is taught in ways you are meant to apply both inside and outside church. Worship is really about Him, not just a stage show. Humility, not arrogance, is apparent in handling God’s Word and His church. Prayer, not just for stuff, but to purely enjoy His presence is a sign of a God-centered church.

2) Love for people – The church operates out of a clear desire to creatively express God’s love to people in the church and community, neighbors to nations. It’s not just about that church’s presence or preeminence (superiority) in a town or city, but the goal is to be about Kingdom work – God’s Kingdom, not that church’s. Look to see if the church cooperates with other believers, other churches, other organizations to serve its city and the world. Partnerships tell you a lot about a church. Prayer opportunities, too.

3) Decision-making in the church – Who gives input for strategy or direction? Is the polity (or church governing) the pastor or elder rule? Or is there a clear flow between church leaders and the congregation? Is servant leadership development of all a part of the vision of the church? Can you get a sense of “the priesthood of the believers” (1 Peter 2:9) – where there is “safety in a multitude of counselors” (Proverbs 11:14)? Elder ruled vs. elder led churches both have Biblical support. A lot has to do with accountability and the leaders themselves.

4) Discipleship Throughout Ages and Stages – What happens on Sundays is vital, but it is just a part of church life as a whole. What opportunities does the church promote for growing in the Lord and serving Him both locally and globally? Pre-discipleship can start with young children, and discipleship continues through all life stages (we are grateful to know people in their 80s still serving actively in church). Young moms desperately need discipleship, too. Churches that make that happen must really please God.

5) Finances and Stewardship – What happens with the money that is given through the church? Who decides how it’s used? These answers may not be easily discovered. Is the budget presented by or published to the congregation? Or are the financial decisions made wholly by the elders? Is missions giving encouraged? Is sacrificial giving a pattern in the church? Not just for paying salaries or managing the operation of the church, but for critical needs beyond the church.

5) Church Membership – What are the steps to becoming a member of the church? Maybe you’re thinking you aren’t interested in church membership. Still this is something to consider. What are requirements of the members? Do they have to sign anything (a church covenant, a giving pledge, etc.)? [Signing your agreement/commitment can be a good thing, but realize things can change in the church such that what you signed can mean something different as part of that change. So just be aware…] What are the privileges of membership (teaching, children’s ministry, etc.)? What are the responsibilities of membership? These speak to the priorities of the church. They also speak to leadership/authority. Are members held with open hands, recognizing we belong to God first and then the Body?

6) Church Discipline – You may think that churches don’t all have a church discipline protocol. That may be true. I am thinking that church discipline is part of most churches, whether spoken/written or not. How does one even look for how the church does discipline? The sermons can give some sense of what is “tolerated” or not. That’s a sad thing to have to say, but we all know the expression “bully pulpit” which can happen in churches as well as in politics. Shunning is prescribed rarely in Scripture (Romans 16:17, 1 Corinthians 5:11, Titus 3:9-11). Honestly, if a church uses shunning as a discipline, I would run. It would require the church to have such humility and such wisdom. Who is able, over months or years, to do it with a pure heart? Jesus taught on discipline in the church in Matthew 18:15-20. It’s so like Him to place that teaching between the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the unforgiving servant. Think about it.

7) Style and Substance – Be careful you don’t make a decision about a church based on some element of style rather than substance. Just say, you don’t care for the style of worship. Or the preaching goes a little long. Or…fill in the blank. No church is going to be “perfect” because the church is made up of people, like you and me. Just don’t miss the church God has for you over something that matters so little. What does matter is that you get yourself in a situation where you can grow in knowing God, where you can serve Him and those around you as part of the church, and where you can heal…from whatever got you out of church. Don’t let that experience define your life. Please.

Just, please, give church another try. Do you know the story (Acts 15:36-40) about the Apostle Paul and his ministry partner, Barnabas and how they had a huge disagreement about another young partner, John Mark? Sometimes, disagreements happen – so strong, in fact, that maybe they can’t do ministry together for a season. Does that mean either of them are “the bad guys”? Paul even came to a place, near the time of his death, that he asked for John Mark to come to him (2 Timothy 4:11).  The Scripture doesn’t tell us whether either Paul or Barnabas was right or wrong. Yet, we are left with a huge door of reconciliation open to us in their story.

May it always be so with us – to the glory of God and for the sake of His Kingdom.

Jesus, you were once broken apart. You know how it feels to be so shattered by the good-byes of life. Help me to believe that I will one day experience wholeness again, that I will not have this terrible feeling of being torn into many pieces. Keep reminding me often that the Father raised you to new life, to a powerful wholeness that you had not known before. Encourage me to believe that, in time, I will no longer have this deep pain and hurt in my heart. I want to believe. Help my unbelief! Amen. – Joyce Rupp, Prayer for Wholeness in Praying Our Goodbyes

Healthy Church vs. Toxic Church – Bart’s Barometer (Bart Breen)

9 Marks of an Abusive Church – The Wartburg Watch

9 Traits of Mean Churches – Thom Rainer

9 Traits of Church Bullies – Thom Rainer

9 Ways to Deal with Church Bullies – Thom Rainer

14 Symptoms of Toxic Church Leaders – Thom Rainer

10 Traits of Pastors Who Have Healthy Long-Term Tenure

9 Reasons It’s Hard to Attend a Church Once You’ve Been Involved in Leading One – Carey Nieuwhof [Applies to all of us really, not just church leaders]

Worship Wednesday – You’re Beautiful – with Phil Wickham

Blog - Worship Wednesday 1

The wonder of worship and the God we worship are difficult to describe and even harder to capture in a picture. Worship in a house church has some of the same elements of that in a larger congregational setting. When God draws near to us, we can experience Him in the love that wraps around a room, among His worshippers. In our house church, we usually project lyrics on a widescreen, but this time we had pages handed-out. As we started worshipping, I couldn’t stop watching the little ones…with their song sheets in hand…looking and smiling around the room as we were singing, “You’re Beautiful.”

I grabbed up my phone, wanting to get that image of these little buddies captivated – watching Nathan and Bryant leading us in worship, mouthing some of the words themselves, catching the looks of adults who love them around that circle. Adults who love them and love God. Little ones, who usually need to be corralled by their parents, were sitting quiet, together, enrapt in those few moments, taking in what was happening. With the sweetest smiles. I missed taking that picture, but the image of their little faces has stayed with me.

Baby worshippers. How lovely that is. We pray for these children of ours to know and love God from an early age. To see them with eyes wide, full of wonder…that’s exactly my experience of God, too…in worship. So beautiful – the Lord God, Creator of the universe and Lover of our souls.

Worship with me:

You’re Beautiful
I see Your face in every sunrise
The colors of the morning are inside Your eyes
The world awakens in the light of the day
I look up to the sky and say
You’re beautiful

I see Your power in the moonlit night
Where planets are in motion and galaxies are bright
We are amazed in the light of the stars
It’s all proclaiming who You are
You’re beautiful

I see You there hanging on a tree
You bled and then you died and then you rose again for me
Now You are sitting on Your heavenly throne
Soon we will be coming home
You’re beautiful

When we arrive at eternity’s shore
Where death is just a memory and tears are no more
We’ll enter in as the wedding bells ring
Your bride will come together and we’ll sing
You’re beautiful

I see Your face, I see Your face
I see Your face, You’re beautiful
You’re beautiful
You’re beautiful

Blog - Phil Wickham

YouTube Video – You’re Beautiful – Phil Wickham

YouTube Video – You’re Beautiful – with lyrics

YouTube Video – Live Performance – Phil Wickham’s You’re Beautiful (with lyrics)

Story Behind the Song – You’re Beautiful

Phil Wickham website

Raising Up Worshippers

You’re Beautiful at Reform Worship

Worship Wednesday – Worship Leaders – Keilan Creech

Keilan best shot for blog

Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands! Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before His presence with singing. Know that the Lord, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;  We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.  For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations. – Psalm 100

We humans are worshippers. We will worship. It is not something we have to muster up; worship comes naturally to us. What or whom we worship varies. Followers of Christ are drawn to worship God by His Spirit and in response to the Truth we find in Scripture. When the church gathers, we worship.

The church coming together in corporate worship can be a glimpse of Heaven. We are often led in worship by someone (or a team) entrusted by the church with that responsibility. It is not a light thing to lead a people into worship. There is ever the threat of moving the people’s focus from God to the worship leaders themselves.  A glorious choir, cool band, or winsome worship team can put on a really good show and our attention drifts from God…to them.

We have been blessed over the years by worshipping God with other believers in many situations. In congregations of thousands and in a small living room with another family. With worship led by one person on guitar and with a great choir and orchestra. In our own heart language and in Arabic, French, and other languages. In times of leanness of spirit and times when our hearts soared with gratitude to God.

Part of our gratitude goes to those worship leaders who help us shake off the cares of our lives for those moments as we gather. They lead us, through their own prayers, music, and servant attitudes, to train our hearts toward God and fix our eyes on Him. Holy perspective follows.

One of those worship leaders who has been a delight to us is Keilan Creech. He is a young singer/song-writer, and we had the privilege of worshipping under his leadership for a couple of years. He grew up in Brazil but currently studies and works in Richmond, Virginia. We don’t see him often, but when we do, I tell him, “We will always be able to say ‘we knew you when’….” One day, you will know him as his music career takes off, and I’m thinking he will be the same Keilan Creech we know, who loves God and loves the church.

His album Dying for a Change plays regularly when we’re at home, and on our phones and in our car as we travel. Nathan Mills played electric guitar on that album and is now one of our worship leaders in the house church where we gather to worship. We are in a different season from the days of church of hundreds with Keilan and his team leading worship, but we continue to be blessed as church gathered, led in worship of a GOD who makes our hearts sing.

Worship with me:

Light Shining Out of Darkness by Keilan Creech (adapted from poem by William Cowper)

God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs,
And works his sov’reign will.

When the sky is grey
And all hope seems lost
There is light shining out
of darkness

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

When the sky is grey
And all hope seems lost
There is light shining out
of darkness
 
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Photo Credit

Keilan Creech Music

Dying for a Change Album by Keilan Creech

ReverbNation page for Keilan Creech

Noisetrade – Free Album Download

Hillsong United – All I Need Is You, Lord (Cover by Keilan Creech)

What Does a Worship Leader Do?

Worship in the Old & New Testaments