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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A connection between scripture work and worship

Worship remains a broad term in the minds of most. If it were possible to extract what we honestly think of worship, our answers would differ significantly. The reading, studying, or mediation on scripture both sharpens worship and sets it on fire. I am currently studying Hebrews 9 for a message I’m preparing to give next week. It’s a part of scripture I have quickly read through in times past so that I could get to the “good” stuff. However, I have been surprised, I should not have been, that I find myself burning with new worship toward God through my meditation on material that previously had seemed like background without much meaning. (It's possible that you need more background to follow what this text is talking about, but I'm taking the risk to throw it at you as is.)
Hebrews 9:1–7 (ESV)  Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
 These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people.
Why does thinking about this passage move me to worship? The precise details of how God instructed worship in the temple to take place impresses on me the holiness of God and my own sinfulness. This is especially true when I ponder verse 7-8 and their description of the priests entering into the holy of holies only one time per year. All of this sets up a contrast with how wonderful the good news about Jesus who made one sacrifice for all time and then sat down at the right hand of the father. Lingering over these verses doesn’t give me new information about God, but it presses their significance onto my heart in a fresh way that generates worship.

Serving effectively as a worship leader, requires a growing worship life.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Imaginary Deadline - : swerve

The Imaginary Deadline - : swerve:

'via Blog this'

i really like this short post by Craig Groeschel on setting deadlines early. It reminded me of something I'd red in Poke the Box that had gotten me thinking similarly but i can't find the right quote now.

Feeding a Hunger for Spiritual Progress: Part 1

There are basics to spiritual formation that anyone who wants to make spiritual progress in Christ must learn and practice. Some spiritual disciplines don’t need to be practiced by everyone, but the two core disciplines, which all other spiritual disciplines use and enhance, are prayer and bible reading.

I like the hand illustration by the Navigators regarding the bible. The five fingers of the hand represent five ways to get a grip on the bible: hearing, reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating. All of these are important. They don’t need to be practiced in any particular order. I have found that the third step of Bible study is critically important for my own development. But hearing the word is fundamental to all the others. Numerous methods provide opportunity to “hear” the word. Faithful participation in corporate worship and then listening intently to the word being preached is primary. Participating in small group bible studies is another. It is relatively easy, and in many cases free, to listen to scripture being read. Free options include the online ESV bible and Bible Gateway. I own the ESV audio bible ,which I have uploaded into Itunes and onto my itouch.

Stunning resources are available for hearing the word through listening to free podcasts. My favorite are Tim Keller, John Ortberg and John Piper but there are many others.

Why is this particular step of hearing the word important? If I understand Romans 10:17 it is how faith it is developed. Romans 10:17 (ESV) 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Here is how that works. Hearing the word of Christ directs our attention to God’s faithfulness instead of on the circumstances that trouble you or frighten you.

The question remain is then will you, will I, be intentional about hearing the word of Christ? There’s no way to make spiritual progress without it. As I heard John Piper say in a message some time ago. “I can’t promise you that if you will get faithful to hearing God’s word that you will grow. But I can promise you that if you don’t, you won’t grow spiritually.”

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Core Productivity Decision in an Age of Infinite Input : What's Best Next

The Core Productivity Decision in an Age of Infinite Input : What's Best Next

A couple of days ago I wrote about Seth Godin's book, Poke the Box. Matt Perman's short post above captures another important take from that book.

Here's the gist of it from my perspective. There is now an endless supply of content that we can take into our minds. But we are not just meant to be consumers of information, or of anything else. What we take into our minds and hearts must result in output.

Are you balancing what you take in, with what you put out? For instance, does your bible reading result in obedience? Does your time on Facebook lead to positive output from you toward others? Does your reading of email, blogs, books, and other websites  result in real writing or other output that benefits other people?

These are the questions i'm asking myself this morning. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A prayer for help to be productive

Studying through Zechariah I came upon the following verse this morning, Zechariah 4:6 (ESV) 6 Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” My reflection on the verse eventually led me to pray this:
God, I need you. I know that I cannot make a kingdom difference in this situation unless you cause that to come about. I cannot encourage this person I am about to speak to on my own. I cannot prepare this presentation in a God honoring way without you. I cannot effectively lead these people without you. I cannot effectively manage this process unless you work through. Would you work through the abilities that you have developed in me? Help me to see and understand how to develop my skills and offer my best, while learning to actively depend on you through the responsibilities of this day.
Here’s the reflection that led to that prayer: Whatever I am trying to do, whatever my hand finds to do, my ultimate confidence is not in my abilities. (I really like the new song and video by Steven Curtis Chapman that brilliantly emphasizes the point of Colossians 3:17 (ESV) 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.) It is not in my might, it is not in my position, it is not in my wisdom, it is not in my gifts, it is not ultimately in my ability, rather my confidence needs to be in the Holy Spirit affecting the circumstances I face. In this text this is a solemn acclamation of the Lord of hosts. This does not mean that there is not a place for my gifts and abilities. Clearly there was a role for Zerubbabel to play. If this is about the rebuilding of the temple, then he would have had to use his skill in either leadership or building to bring this about. So our gifts and abilities have a role to play. But our ultimate confidence does not lie in our abilities. The problem seems to me that our pride keeps us moving toward confidence in ourselves, confidence in myself. It is always a bit of a dance, a bit of an inward challenge to keep these things in mind and to live with this real awareness. On the one hand, I’m completely dependent on God. On the other hand, it seems that I am clearly responsible to develop competence in every arena.

This brings up for me the subject of productivity, which is the area of expertise for Matt Permann, Director of Strategy at Desiring God ministries, who is writing a book on productivity, which I will read as soon as it is available. He regularly probes the issue of the development of competencies in effectiveness and productivity from a biblical perspective.

Where does my confidence lie? It lies in the power of God to actually make a kingdom difference through me. I cannot make progress otherwise. It is somewhat like our physical bodies in that we have responsibility to care for our bodies, to exercise, to eat well, and to get rest. Furthermore, we are responsible to take unique actions. There are many things within our choice to accomplish. Yet many systems in our bodies function without our choice. We depend totally on God for these systems. When they stop, we stop, ultimately.

In the spiritual realm, and in the realm of accomplishing work it is similar. We have a responsibility to learn and grow and it would seem we are to do this aggressively. But there is the constant danger then for our confidence to be placed in our own strengths. But that is not what will make the ultimate difference. We grow, we work wisely, but ultimately it is God at work through us that will make the difference. It seems easy to go too far in either extreme here. So what do we do practically? As simplistic as it sounds, I believe that it means that we have a greater need to pray. My experience is that we don’t really pray that much at this practical level. Perhaps too often, we work and serve and go about our business as if it all depends on us. What needs to happen is that often throughout the day we find ourselves praying along the lines of the prayer at the top of this post.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Thoughts on Poke the Box

I find myself wanting to ask several people to read this book, Poke the Box by Seth Godin, some who are very close to me personally. However, I don’t know that I’m going to be able to get them to do that, so I want to summarize what I believe are the some of the key points that I would want another person to grasp from this book.

I've been following Godin's blog for about a year and have been impressed by his insightful brevity. Plus the titles of his books are excellent. The other of his I've read is called, The Dip.As far as I know, I don’t believe that Godin is writing from a specifically Christian perspective. That’s not a problem, all truth is God’s truth, and Godin’s worldview would not be possible outside of a culture not richly marked by the teaching of the bible. That’s the point of the book I’m reading now.

Part of the reason this book appeals to me is that I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the thought that I gradually have become the status quo. I’m tempted to think its because I’m getting older, but now I think it’s a sort of human tendency to “settle in.” There are many positive benefits to staying in one place for a long time, (I’ve served my current church for 19 years) but growing overly comfortable seems to be a danger, as well as becoming defensive when someone challenges an idea or a process in place that I’ve developed. This is why his statement that we might develop “an obsession with changing the status quo merely to see what happens,” got my attention.

Here’s another quote that resonates with me strongly:
Risk, to some, is a bad thing, because risk brings with it the possibility of failure. It might be only a temporary failure, but that doesn’t matter so much if the very thought of it shuts you down. So, for some, risk comes to equal failure (take enough risks and sooner or later, you will fail). Risk is avoided because we’ve been trained to avoid failure. I define anxiety as experiencing failure in advance…and if you have anxiety about initiating a project, then of course you will associate risk with failure.
His argument here reminds me of the parable of the talents (Mat. 25:14-30) which seems to me mostly about takings risks with whatever God has given us. The point of the parable is not that God demands success, but that God insists that his good gifts to us be invested and put into play. Holding back what God has given you whether in abilities, opportunities, finances or relationships out of fear attracts a strong rebuke by Jesus in this text. Part of what I like about what Godin says in this book is that we should expect failure, that we need to be trying lots of things, knowing that some of them won’t work. His definition of anxiety is very good, “experiencing failure in advance.”

Godin goes on a few sentences later to say that, “I’m not surprised to discover that many of these people are stuck. Stuck with the status quo, stuck defending their position in the market.”

I may have more to say about this book in days to come. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Off the cuff recommendations

Yesterday, a friend asked me for some book recommendations to help him grow spiritually. That’s a dangerous prospect to ask me for a list of books. A person could come away from the experience thinking, “I need to be more careful what I ask for.”

So I scrolled through my books database for suggestions that I had read in the last couple of years or so. (Yes, I have a spreadsheet that lists the books that I have read in the last fifteen years.) Here is my list, improved a bit from what I recommended to him, in reverse chronological order as to when I read them.

King’s Cross by Tim Keller

A Praying Life by Paul Miller

Life with God by Richard Foster

When I Don’t Desire God by John Piper. I just noticed that this one has a study guide for use
with small groups or as a personal study. It is also available free as a pdf file from the Desiring God website which I recommend highly. I read the free version of this book while holding my laptop in my hands and walking on my treadmill.

Crazy Love by Francis Chan

This has got me seriously thinking though about what books I would genuinely recommend of the books that I have read. I hope to write about that soon.

Would you comment below and list books you’ve recently read that made a significant difference in your life?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Making the Most of Every Opportunity—When You Can’t Sleep

Perhaps its an age thing, but its not unusual for me to wake up after a couple hours of sleep and not be able to get back to sleep. Of course, I’ve tried all kinds of things including laying there for hours staring at the ceiling, trying to sleep in a recliner, trying to pray—with varying success, getting up and starting the day in the middle of the night, listening to music, listening to a book on my kindle, reading a book on my kindle, among other things. Incidentally, what I really don’t like doing is trying to watch TV in the middle of the night.

I’ve hit upon a combination of a couple of the things above that you may find useful. I have used a devotional system called The Daily Tryst for more than 20 years. I hope to write a series about that here in days to come. This Tryst document I use contains numerous prompts for prayer with supporting scriptures as well as personal and intercessory prayer lists. For many years, I worked from an actual notebook, but for the last several years I’ve used a Word document and my Logos Bible Software. This morning, when I couldn’t sleep, I was reminded of an article I recently read (and now can’t find) that listed about 50 different uses of Dropbox. I already had the program installed on my laptop, itouch and blackberry and realized that I had stored my Tryst document in a Dropbox folder. (This could also be done by using Google docs, but I don’t think that that is quite as effective.) This morning I used my itouch, (the blackberry would have also worked) to pull up my document and pray through it without having to get up. From my itouch I could also look up scripture from my Logos application for that device.

The low tech method still works, getting out of bed and getting on my knees in another room. Sometimes that happens as well. There are unique dangers in keeping a smart phone close to your bed. Reading email in the middle of the night seems to be a guaranteed way to help you not be able to get back to sleep, for instance. However, I have mostly broken myself of that habit.

The biggest difficulty with going back to sleep is that I can’t seem to stop my mind from beginning to work on what is most pressing, or on the 1st 100 things most pressing. This is why I often find it difficult to pray and stay focused. However, with my Tryst materials in my hand, I can move through my prayer disciplines. This enables me to focus, which seems to enable me to pray more effectively. This is a practical way of accepting Jesus invitation in Matthew 11:28–30 (ESV) 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” It is a practical way of doing what Philippians 4:6 instructs, resulting in what verse 7 says will happen. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” In some cases, this results in falling back asleep, but I don’t really see that as the goal. Genuinely encountering God is the goal. In times past, when I have managed to really pray in the middle of the night, sometimes the opposite takes place, because real prayer often results in getting more stirred up, rather than less. Regardless, I’m comforted in the night to be reminded of

Psalm 121:1–4 (ESV)
  1    I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
  2    My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
  3    He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
  4    Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A vision of spiritual maturity

I think most Christian persons, including me, have a fuzzy idea in their minds of what spiritual maturity actually looks like. Any person taking Christianity seriously would likely say that they want to be spiritually mature. However, if we don't have much of an idea of what that looks like, how would we know if we are moving in that direction.

An analysis of Hebrews 5:11-6:4 provides a idea of what such maturity looks like. I'm not saying its the whole picture, you can probably think of another point or two. But this is a great start.

Hebrews 5:11-6:3 11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. 6 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. 

From this text, I see this vision of spiritual maturity.

  • Hungry for and sensitive to the word of God. (5:11) That leads to . . . 
  • Serving as a conduit of God’s word to other people. (5:12) Becoming a teacher, a spiritual mentor, a guide, an evangelist. David Platt challenges that all need to be not just receivers but reproducers.
  • Developing a confidence and facility with the word of God. (5:13) 
  • Developed discernment from constantly applying the word of God to current situations. (5:14) This implies the consistent application of the word of God to a person’s own life resulting in the development of godly character.
  • Constantly seeking to make spiritual progress (6:1)
  • Never forgetting that we are dependent on God for all of this. (6:3)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A prayer for goodness

The text below contains a simple description of a man named Barnabas.

Acts 11:22–24 (ESV) 22 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.

This morning, praying before a group of men, I began praying that we might become more like this description of Barnabas in this text. I found myself nearly choked up as I prayed that God would make us good men, men full of the Holy Spirit and full of faith. This brief glimpse into the sort of man Barnabas was is a tremendous picture of a life toward which we can pray that we might become, both men and women.

Barnabas was:

1. A bridge builder (you may need to read the greater context to see this)
2. Spiritually perceptive (he saw the grace of God)
3. Joyful
4. An encourager
5. A good man
6. Full of the Holy Spirit
7. Full of faith

These circumstances in his life and in the situation at the church of Antioch resulted in a great many people being added to the Lord. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Getting the Most From Your Team

I like this management tip from the Harvard Business Review on how to get the most out of your team. I particularly like the first point about designating a naysayer. However, its been my experience on the teams that I lead, that there's rarely a need to designate one. You know who you are :)


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Solid Ground for Experiencing Joy

This past week I reread an old devotional classic called The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. It was written by an old monk who learned to keep his mind on God constantly. He supported the practice of spiritual disciplines where every day he had set times of devotion. But he learned to keep his mind steady and focused on God has he went about all of his daily work, especially as he worked in the kitchen at the monastery where he worked and lived. It’s a very short book, one that I would recommend to you highly, you could easily read it in an hour.

He once prayed:
"O my GOD, since Thou art with me, and I must now, in obedience to Thy commands, apply my mind to these outward things, I beseech Thee to grant me the grace to continue in Thy Presence; and to this end do Thou prosper me with Thy assistance, receive all my works, and possess all my affections." Lawrence, Brother (2010-04-21). The Practice of The Presence of God (Kindle Locations 148-150). Unknown. Kindle Edition.
My point in saying all this is that we have real cause for being full of joy. When we know that someone we deeply care about that we haven’t seen for a long time, someone in who’s company we delight, we are thrilled to learn that we are going to have an opportunity to spend time with them again.

The children of Israel had known a long absence of God’s presence, at least from their perspective. They experienced 70 years of exile because of the sins of their fathers. That’s an interesting reality in and of itself. The children were suffering the consequences of the sins of the fathers. The book of Zechariah contains tremendous encouragement toward the children of Israel that God was restoring them, that God is blessing them, that God loved them and that his presence would go with them and be with them once again.

Zechariah 2:10 (ESV) 10 Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the Lord.

God gives instructions to sing. God gives instructions to rejoice. Sing! Sing! Be full of joy! The phrase, “O daughter of Zion,” was a way of speaking to all the people, it was not just a word to the women. They were to be full of joy. Why? Because God said, behold I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the Lord.
The sweetness of the experience of the presence of God was real to them because it had been absent. But now they were about to experience the real presence of God. And because of this real presence of God there was nothing for them to fear. God was the one for whom they longed. And so the Lord himself says, this is a cause for singing. This is a cause for rejoicing, because I am coming to you. I come to dwell in your midst. Just this promise that this was coming was a reason for them to rejoice.

Now I want you to contrast their experience with current believers. Such strong words are promised to us. Jesus said in, Mat. 28:20, I will never leave you or forsake you. In John 16, Jesus promises the presence of the Holy Spirit to not just be with you but that he would be in you. Paul said in the end of Colossians, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The writer of Hebrews says, we can be content in this world because God has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

The children of Israel’s hearts were broken, they had a complete loss of their identity both nationally and spiritually. They were disoriented. But now that was being restored. And so there was cause to sing and to rejoice. Because God has promised, I will never leave you or forsake you. I will be with you always to the very end of the age. It is cause for tremendous joy.

We suffer so much, we grieve so much, we experience so much loss. A part of this is because we are depending on things that we can lose to ground us. We are depending on things that we can lose to bring us hope. We are depending on things that we can lose to bring us joy. Let’s ground our well being in the one thing that we cannot lose. Let’s determine whether or not we will be joyful today not on anything other than this simple and yet glorious reality. Christ in you the hope of glory. 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Thoughts on Knowing God

Yesterday I looked backed through my highlights from my re-reading of The Practice of the Presence of God and wrote briefly about one of the stronger quotes in the book. however, the passage below is actually the one for which i was looking.
We must know before we can love. In order to know GOD, we must often think of Him; and when we come to love Him, we shall then also think of Him often, for our heart will be with our treasure. This is an argument which well deserves your consideration. Lawrence, Brother (2010-04-21). The Practice of The Presence of God (Kindle Locations 346-348). Unknown. Kindle Edition. 
This short and simple assertion puts practical thought to a matter that has puzzled me. How specifically does a person come to love God? We must know God before we can love God and then in order to know God, we must often think of him. There are certainly more profound thoughts regarding Knowing God and Loving God, but perhaps few will be so immediately understandable and helpful.

Yesterday was a good experiment in seeking to move through the day with a conscience awareness of God. I believe this simple little book can serve as a strong encouragement to that end.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Yes, You Can Stay on Top of Email

Yes, You Can Stay on Top of Email

I've been following Michael Hyatt on twitter for a few months now. His article linked above is as good a summary as I've seen, and I've seen plenty, as to how to be effective at managing email.

He says the single most important advice is to not create an elaborate filing system but to simply file away any email you think you may need later in a folder called "processed mail." I don't think the name is important, I just use a folder called "archive folders" but the advice is good.



Recently I re-read the devotional classic, The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. This time my reading of the book resonates with my heart, mind and soul to a greater degree from the last time that I read it. It's always interesting to discover through reading something a second time in this manner that God genuinely has created progress in one's soul. It's not easy to discern spiritual progress. Perhaps my noticing of this difference as I read this book is not even a sign of that. However, none of that was my purpose in mentioning the book here.

Rather, I'm intrigued by his practical language describing how to keep his mind focused on God. I've reached for such descriptions for the sake of my own mind and practice and for the sake of assisting others, but have often found them just beyond what I could articulate. That's why i found these words to be just what I wish I had said.
Pray remember what I have recommended to you, which is, to think often on GOD, by day, by night, in your business, and even in your diversions. He is always near you and with you; leave Him not alone. You would think it rude to leave a friend alone, who came to visit you: why then must GOD be neglected? Do not then forget Him, but think on Him often, adore Him continually, live and die with Him; this is the glorious employment of a Christian; in a word, this is our profession, if we do not know it we must learn it. I will endeavour to help you with my prayers, and am yours in our LORD.Lawrence, Brother (2010-04-21). The Practice of The Presence of God (Kindle Locations 354-358). Unknown. Kindle Edition.