Thursday, November 17, 2016

thoughts on Essential Worship

            Everyone has ideas about worship. We like to do things our way, and for years people in the pews, and even some members of leadership teams seem to want to limit the definition of worship to the music. Many of us have attended services where  there was 15 - 20 minutes of  worship (music) followed by the service.

            But there is so much more involved with worship, and Greg Scheer has done an admirable job of pulling it together in an understandable way. His book Essential Worship: A Handbook for Leaders ( Baker Books, 2016) is helpful for new worship leaders as well as experienced leaders. As a sole pastor of a small church, I found the book helpful for my own planning purposes.

            The format of the book is simple: five sections which flow and mesh nicely. Scheer starts with some principles which cover the basics of worship: what it is, who it's for and what it does.  From there he moves to Part 2: the past. Whether you're a fan of hymns or not, they definitely played a major role in the  worship of most Christian churches over the past few centuries. Like them or not, we can learn from them. I find that a lot of younger pastors and worship leaders don't have a good grip on things like the church year, how to use the liturgy (and yes every church has a liturgy.)  Then Scheer moves on to parts 3 and 4: using music and the arts in worship.

            I don't want to downplay the importance of music, and it certainly takes a preeminent role in most services, but Scheer also talks about using the arts in worship. This is something new and different for me. It's just not something that we do on a regular basis. However we are created in the image of the creator, and we have senses that can all be used to help us enter into the presence of God. Read the first few verses of Psalm 34, especially verse 8: Taste and see that the Lord is good. If every breath can be seen as an act of worship, and we're encouraged to 'taste and see' , then it stands to reason that we can use our other senses also. And for that we need something other than a choir, a soloist, or a band.

            Part 5 talks about the people who are involved in worship: the world, the congregation, the worship leader(s), the pastor, and also included a section on the importance of mentoring. Yes even pastors and worship leaders can learn from others, need to learn from others, and also need some level of accountability.

            I learned a lot from this book, and am excited to be able to share it with others on the leadership team.

            In the interest of full disclosure, I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for publishing a review on my blog and a retail site. I was not required to write a positive review.


Monday, November 14, 2016

DAY 35 GFA Challenge. Oppressed because they were born women

Looking for a movie to show at church? One that’s filled with all sorts of things that we don’t want to think about or talk about in church? Sounds counter-intuitive, but there are some things that need to be talked about, and things like sex trafficking, bride burnings and girl infanticide are among them. No this isn’t the latest Hollywood movie, it’s been around for a few years so it’s not going to be on the list of Oscar nominations.
   I’m talking about Gospel for Asia’s film “Veil of Tears”.  The movie points to a society that oppresses women, oppresses them simply because they’re women.  The horrors described in this film shouldn’t be happening, but they are, and silence on the part of the church is a sign that we don’t care, and to those who are experiencing this oppression and who don’t know about the love of God, our silence is seen not as apathy but as approval.

                We don’t want to hear about this type of crime, and we certainly don’t want to talk about it, but crime against women happens. A family arranges a marriage for their daughter. The dowry is agreed upon and paid, but then instead of ‘happily ever after’ the groom’s family decides that the dowry isn’t enough and demands more. If the demands aren’t met, the bride is abused, tortured, even sold into slavery so that she can make up the difference. And the groom keeps the dowry. Serial engagements and dowry payments are a lucrative way to make a living.

                Girls might be seen as a drain on the family income, and so they can be sold or bartered away. Sometimes they are just left to die, and in this day of modern medicine which allows us to tell the gender of an unborn baby, lots of abortion decisions are made based on that one factor.

                We can ignore what is happening, and shut out the conversation, or we can step up and face the crisis, and in doing so bring hope to millions of women who are suffering because of their crime of being born female.

                Yes, it might seem like an overwhelming problem, and we wonder what one person might be able to do. The good news is that Gospel for Asia is already on the ground, sharing the GOOD NEWS, and there are ways that individuals, families, and faith communities can help.  Start by watching “VEIL OF TEARS, and then go HERE for some suggestions as to how you can help. (And by the way,  you can help even before you’ve seen the movie.)

Monday, November 7, 2016

GFA Day 34. Women need to hear the Gospel too.

In many parts of the world a male-dominated society is the norm. Women are treated as second (or third) class citizens, as objects, as conveniences. They are forced to do the menial tasks that men don’t want to do, they are expected to ‘be available’ when the husband is feeling amorous or ‘needy’. They have children and whether or not the man wants to be a father, she is expected to care for the children. Education is not important, they may never learn to read, they don’t have the same rights that men might have.

Not a happy life for many of the women in parts of Asia.

And unfortunately, the lack of equality often extends to hearing the gospel. In a male dominated society, it would be inappropriate for a woman to visit with a male missionary, and female missionaries are often discouraged (for safety reasons) from visiting some of the areas where the gospel is still widely unknown. There are few churches in these areas, and women might be discouraged from attending, or forbidden to attend, or just completely unaware of the church’s existence. If you don’t know how to read, you can’t just pick up a bible and learn about Jesus: that is if there were a bible available in a language or dialect that you could read, and assuming that after feeding and clothing your family on less than a dollar a day, you could afford to buy one.

And that’s where Gospel for Asia can help. GFA trains women missionaries, and helps them minister in some previously unreached areas. Women missionaries can talk to the women who are suffering in so many different ways, and who so desperately need to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. GFA missionaries undergo three years of training, and to date over 2000   female missionaries have a passion for reaching women with the love of Jesus.

But their training, and their ongoing support, has a cost. For $30.00 a month you can support an woman missionary, a trained, native missionary who can, with your help, impact thousands, and change lives fro eternity. Click HERE to learn more about sponsorship

Friday, November 4, 2016

What to do when the 'bride' is a 'bridezilla'

Somewhere along the way Christianity has gotten their idea of church wrong. We try to depict the Bride of Christ, the church, with the same pictures that John used in the Revelation. And wouldn’t it be nice if the Church today, on earth, were the eschatological bride that we read about: the bride has made herself ready, with fine linen bright and clean (Rev 19:7) and the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven is prepared as ‘a bride beautifully dressed for her husband’ (Rev 21:2)  or the bride, the wife of the lamb,  described as the Holy City, coming down out of heaven from God: shining with the glory of God, as brilliant as a very precious jewel and as clear as crystal (Rev 21:9-11).

But far too often the bride of Christ is anything but. More often than not, the church is not the perfect place that we want it to be, and that shouldn’t surprise us, after all, it’s people like us that make up the church, people like us who come together as the bride, and, in a nutshell, we’re imperfect people who can’t quite figure out how to make the church the perfect place to be on Sunday morning, or any other time for that matter.

So instead of the beautiful bride, the church frequently comes across as the ugly step sister, or as Ted Kluck and Ronnie Martin call her The Bride(zilla) of Christ (Multnomah, 2016).  The subtitle of the book—What to Do When God's People Hurt God's People, is equally telling. Intentionally or unintentionally, we don’t always get it right. Pastors, elders, deacons, youth leaders, Sunday school teachers, small group leaders—we all get it wrong, we all make mistakes. We all hurt the rest of the body.
But as always, there is hope to be found in Jesus, and the authors are very adept at pointing out how grace, forgiveness, and repentance go a long way towards bringing the members of the body closer to the place God wants us to be.

I appreciated the authors’ honesty and openness as they described their faith journey. (And I got quite a kick out of Kluck’s comments about vulnerability having a tendency to become a tactic. (Think about it, how many people who talk about how humble they are, are really humble; and when you put your vulnerability on display, well, sometimes there’s an ulterior motive.)

This is not, despite what it may seem from the sub-title, a self-help book; rather it’s the story of how we often get disillusioned because the church, the Bride of Christ, is not yet what it will someday be.  To soften the blow, the authors share some things that have worked for them as they deal with the consequences of imperfect people trying to get closer to the perfect Jesus.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for publishing a review.


GFA Day 33: Pray for Women's Fellowship in Asia

Here in the US we take a lot of things for granted. We’re used to seeing female politicians, female military officers, female pastors and female lay leaders in our churches. But In parts of Asia, women aren’t always allowed to do a lot of the things that they do here. The thought of a group of women gathering to pray together is unheard of in parts of the world. Why? Because of gender bias, yes, but also because it’s never been done before.

But thanks to GFA’s Women’s Fellowship, thousands of women are getting together to study God's word, and to pray together. They’re memorizing scripture, reaching out to other women, and honoring the God who saved them in ways that just a short time ago were unknown to them.              

Women’s Fellowship is reaching out to women- among the most unreached people in much of Asia, and God is at work in the lives of these women. As you pray today, and this week, why not pray for these women, who may not have the same opportunities that we have in the USA, but who still are responding to God's love. They, like us, have needs, wants, and desires. And they, like us, are often confused about how a loving God could let things happen.

-          Women’s Fellowship: the needed support to be able to continue to mentor, disciple and love women who are coming to faith.
-          The participants in Women’s fellowship: that these women, many who are first generation Christians would mature in their faith.
-          Women’s Fellowship leaders: Several are the wife of a pastor or a missionary, and they are in need of God's guidance to lead their groups and point women toward Jesus.
-          Godly Mothers and Wives: that God would be with these women as they deal with all the normal things happening in families, remembering that in many of the poor parts of Asia, there is an epidemic of drug and alcohol abuse and financial crises. Help them point their husbands and children to a path that is God-honoring.
-          Pray the number of women participating would grow: that more women would find WF as a means of Hope and Support.
-          Health Care: pray for healing from physical diseases as women learn basic hygiene skills.

-          Literacy classes: pray that through these classes women would learn, and be empowered in such a way that they can better support themselves and their children. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

How the Gospel Can Disrupt a Community

There’s a lot more to transformation than many people realize, and in some cases that transformation may even look like disruption. Your life does not stay the same when it’s transformed: it’s disrupted. When a community is transformed the status quo is disrupted. But if we wanted to maintain the status quo, we probably wouldn’t be worried about transformation.
Christ followers are generally aware of the transformational power of the gospel on their lives, even though we might not call it disruptive, but that’s exactly what the gospel does to individuals, it disrupts their way of thinking, their way of doing, and their way of life. Even recognizing the impact that the gospel has on one’s life, most people don’t or won’t take it to the next level and look at how the gospel disrupts communities.
                And that’s where Mac Pier stepped up to the plate with his book A Disruptive Gospel: Stories & Strategies for Transforming Your City (Baker Books, 2016).

                Just like people, cities have different personalities, different values, and different needs. For each of them there are different things that excite them and get their attention. What works in one place might not, probably won’t, work in another. At least not when it comes to specific plans and programs. But there is one constant, that disrupts and transforms in any situation, and that is the gospel.
                As a teenager in South Dakota some decades ago, Pier was instrumental in disrupting his community’s ethos by pulling members of the community together for different things like before school or Saturday evening Bible studies. And in the years since then he has worked with people around the globe to find alternatives to the darkness that so often prevails.
                This book covers movements in several countries on several continents and shows just how disruptive (i.e. transformational) the gospel is.  If you’re looking for a one size fits all answer, or a guaranteed to change your community program, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re looking for ideas that will spur your imagination and remind you of the power of the gospel, then this book is for you. The ideas and examples offered here might just be the impetus you need to start a movement that, through the gospel, through the might of the Word of God, might be the catalyst for a total transformation of the community in which you live. A movement which brings people into the life-giving relationship with the Savior.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a written review. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Thoughts on Leithart's "THE END OF PROTESTANTISM"

                For quite some time I've been concerned about the role that denominationalism plays in furthering or hindering the Kingdom of God. There is only one Torah, one set of wisdom writings, one account of the Prophets and what they had to say. There is only one Gospel, one set of epistles, and One Account of the Revelation that the Apostle John received on the Island of Patmos. How then do we get so many different interpretations of what God meant when this several men and women, guided by the Holy Spirit, penned the 66 books that make up what we call the Bible?

                Because I have struggled with this question for several years, I was excited to be able to read an exciting book by Peter J. Leithart, The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church (Brazos Press, 2016). 

                Leithart's book is all about unity. Although Jesus may have said that brother would be against brother, that was before the establishment of His church. The 'church' that collection of human beings that claim to follow Jesus, should be pursuing unity above all else.  As Leithart writes "'One God=one humanity' is axiomatic for Paul. The reunion of humanity in Christ is the gospel, the revelation of the one God against his many rivals. The unity of the church is an 'evangelical unity', a unity proclaimed in the good news of Jesus, a unity that must be realized among those who believe ". 

                The premise of this book seems to be simply stated in the following way: the status quo constrains us. The church, through its history, includes division. This is a division that needs to be walked through. Leithart suggests that we need a 'death to our present divisions so that we may rise reconciled'.

                Obviously denominations are not all bad, and there are many similarities that exist within the composite, but when divisiveness, arguments, and mudslinging occur, there is definitely a call to reconciliation.

                Leithart's call for reconciliation, for unity and unification is a call to being biblical rather than traditional.  

                My sense is that there are many pre-believers who are afraid to commit, because they're afraid that they might be picking the wrong church. After all if the "CHURCH" can't agree on things like baptism, communion, church discipline, 'once saved always saved' and a host of other issues how can an outsider know what to believe.

                Granted many of those issues are personal choices and interpretations of scripture that have been adopted by the various denominations and are not essential to one's salvation, but wouldn't it be nice if at some time the differences would disappear. After all in an eschatological sense, there will not be any denominations in heaven. There won't be separate mansions for Baptists, for Lutherans, for Methodists or Pentecostals.  Christ's church will finally be perfect, and their won't be any arguing with Him about whether communion can be offered more than on just the first Sunday of the month.

            I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for posting a review.