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The Gospel: More Beautiful Than You Think – part 4

Three Common Beliefs that Ruin Christianity

In the first three parts of this series I’ve been considering some very common beliefs that ruin Christianity. These beliefs are held by so many people that they are generally accepted without much thought. Even people who have been followers of Jesus for many years often accept these things as true because they sound good, and they make us feel good. But the problem is, according to the scripture we base our faith on, they are false. Not only that, the wide-spread acceptance of these things has diminished the beauty of the gospel.

I suggest you read the first three parts of this series if you haven’t already, because these things all come together as a package deal. If you believe one, you’ll likely believe the others.

Part one was an introduction to the series.

In part two we considered the commonly held belief that God is a tolerant God, and discovered that in fact he is not tolerant at all, but holy.

Part three asked the question, “Do you think people are basically good, or bad?” There are some exceptions, but for the most part we want to believe that people are basically good. But scripture, and personal experience, both point to the fact that people are basically sinners.

Now we approach the third commonly held belief which ruins Christianity. In order to get a handle on this belief we asked the people on Cincinnati’s Fountain Square at lunch time the following question:

“How does a person get to heaven?”

Take a couple of minutes to listen to their answers…

The widely held view seems to be that, because God is tolerant, and we are basically good, it is possible for us to earn God’s favor. That if we do enough good stuff to offset the bad, then God will look at us, wink and say, “Well done. You’ve done a pretty good job. Welcome to heaven!”

There’s only one problem.

We simply can’t be that good.

In fact, scripture tells us our “good deeds” are like filthy rags in the sight of God. (Isaiah 64:6) It says that all of us have gone astray (Isaiah 53:6). In the book of Romans Paul tells us that every single one of us has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23), which, by the way, is the standard we must live up to if we are to have any hope at all (1 Peter 1:15-16).

Here’s the deal:

Humans can do absolutely nothing to earn God’s favor.

Our only option is to trust in Christ’s atonement and accept God’s completely undeserved favor.

I mean, it only makes sense. If God is holy and cannot accept imperfection, then any attempt we make is going to fall short.  We can’t be good enough. We can’t attend enough church services. We can’t serve enough. We can’t give enough. We can’t do enough good works to cancel out or offset any one of our innumerable sins.

At this point I suppose it’s fair to ask, “What is beautiful about this?” I admit that the outlook seems kind of bleak.

But without that bleakness, we miss the incredible beauty of the gospel.

The apostle Paul describes the situation in a powerful way in Ephesians 2:1-10. You can read it here in the NIV if you like (It’s pretty daggone powerful in any translation!), but I love the way Eugene Peterson has paraphrased it in The Message:

It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.

You see, it’s not that we are basically good people who do our best so a tolerant and understanding God allows our little mistakes to slide because He loves us. Not even close!

The situation is that we are sinful, selfish, and rebellious people who have intentionally turned our backs on our Creator. Yet this completely holy and just God did the unthinkable. He took our guilt upon Himself – sacrificing His own life – to offer us a way out of eternal punishment and into eternal life.

Now that’s a love that’s incomprehensible to us.

One more thought for those of you who have been Christians a while:

Do you have a particular sin that you struggle with?  Is it anger, or greed, or envy, or lust? If you’re like me, whenever you yield to your particular temptation you carry around this load of guilt for a while.  You know you shouldn’t have said or done whatever it was and in fact you knew you had the power to overcome the temptation. God has promised you could. You simply made a wrong choice. Let me ask you something…

If Jesus died for you when you were His enemy, will He not forgive you and love you now that you’re His friend?

Take a look at 1 John 1:8-9:

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

If you assume that God loves you because you are good, you can never know this freedom. If you think God loves because you’re good then you must continue to be good to be loved. Sadly, I realize that this is the very experience many have with their human father. You know the end result of this is a burden of guilt and despair because, as we have seen, you will never be good enough.

But God is not like our human fathers.

God loves us because He is good – not because we are.

See what I mean?

The gospel is way more beautiful than we think.

Lloyd

 

The Gospel: More Beautiful than You Think – part 3

There are three very common beliefs that ruin Christianity. These are some very basic things that you hear almost daily. You might even believe them yourself. We want to believe them. They have a way of making us feel better about ourselves. The problem is, that if these things are true, then Christianity is ruined.

If these things are true then the Bible is false.

I introduce the three common beliefs in the first part of this series.

The second part discusses the common belief that God is a tolerant God. Spoiler alert: He’s not tolerant at all. He’s holy.

Now in part three I want to turn our attention to the second common belief.

In the video I’ve been sharing we asked some folks who were hanging out on Fountain Square in Cincinnati…

“Do you think people are basically good, or bad?”

Listen to their answers beginning at about 2:31…

For the most part, except for that one smart-aleck guy, these folks think that people are basically good. We all want to believe that, don’t we? We would like to think that if you peel away all the bluster, pride, selfishness, violence, lust, and … well, um … evil … that at our core we are a good person.

But that doesn’t square with scripture, and, if we’re honest, it doesn’t square with our experience.

Because…

People are not basically good. People are sinful.

In Romans 3 Paul quotes two different places in the Psalms when he says “There is no one righteous, not even one, …they have all turned away, …there is no one who does good, not even one.” (vs. 11&12) Then he goes on to say “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (vs. 23)

Yes, there are likely people whose sins are more heinous than ours. It’s true that we’re not as bad as we could be. We all could probably sin more than we actually do, but that doesn’t mean we’re good. Just because we might not be as bad as someone else doesn’t mean we’re good enough to stand in the presence of the Holy God.

Remember that? He’s holy. Not tolerant. It all hangs together.

This doesn’t really sound beautiful for us, does it? In fact, so far it sounds pretty bleak. God is perfectly holy and cannot tolerate sin, and we’re perfectly sinful and are powerless to be holy. And yet, holiness is exactly what God expects from us, and wants for us.

How does this make the gospel more beautiful?

See, here’s the thing: You can’t truly appreciate the beauty of the gospel, God’s good news for humans, if you start with a less than holy image of God. And you can’t truly comprehend the amazing thing that has been done for us if you think you’re really not all that bad.

Trust me, you’re bad. And so am I.

This is why the gospel is beautifully good news.

But there’s one more common belief we need to address…

Lloyd


Go here for part 4.

The Gospel: More Beautiful Than You Think – part 2

I suggest you read the first part of this short series before proceeding. In it I shared a little “man-on-the-street” video we made several years ago. We approached total strangers on Fountain Square in downtown Cincinnati and asked them three questions. The first question was this:

“What do you think God is like?”

We asked this question first because this is where everything begins. Watch the first two and a half minutes and listen to their answers…

There are a few exceptions, but generally you can see a picture emerge of a god who is the white-bearded grandfather in heaven. He understands that nobody is perfect so he accepts people because they try hard and do their best.

We like this image of God because it gives us comfort and makes us feel good, and we think it will draw others to him.

But this is not who God is. To be sure, God is love. Scripture says so. But it’s a perfect love. Not the soft “I’ll-support-you-no-matter-what-you-do” kind of love. In fact, just a few verses after John writes “God is love” he says “ …he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” In order to appreciate the power of this statement you might need to look up the word “propitiation.” We’ll talk more about this in parts three and four, but I bring it up now to show that…

God is not tolerant. God is holy.

Here are just a few verses that mention it:

Exodus 15:11  “Who among the gods is like you, O Lord?  Who is like You – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?”

Deuteronomy 32:4  “He is the Rock, His works are perfect, and all His ways are just.  A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He.”

I Samuel 6:20  “Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God?”

Isaiah 55:9  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” 

Psalm 145:17  “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.”

This God is unlike anyone or anything we’ve ever experienced. And, before you start thinking that this is only the God of the Old Testament, I assure you he hasn’t changed. In fact, when you move into the New Testament you find that, not only is God still perfectly holy, this holiness is God’s expectation of us as well…

I Peter 1:15-16  “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”

I know this all sounds very hard-nosed and off-putting. You may think think this is very legalistic, strict, and “fundamentalist.” But if God is tolerant of sin, and not completely holy, the gospel is diminished. It doesn’t even make sense.

If you are one who has this tolerant image of God and are having trouble shaking it, stay tuned for part three.

Lloyd


Go here for part 3.

The Gospel: More Beautiful Than You Think – Intro

I’ve always been taught that the word “gospel” means “good news.” If that’s true, if what we Christians proclaim to the world is such good news, why is it that Christianity has developed such a negative public perception in today’s culture?

I’m sure there are many answers to this question, but I suggest that one contributing factor is that we Christians have done a poor job of communicating this good news.

Maybe that’s because we don’t even quite grasp how good this good news really is. We’ve bought into some popular notions about God and heaven that sound kind of right, but have really only served to dull the beauty of who God is and what He has done.

A survey by U.S. News & World Report in 1997 asked Americans who they thought was most likely to go to heaven.

65% said Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jackson were “very likely” to go to heaven when they die.

79% believed Mother Teresa would “very likely” make it.

But there was one person who had a higher percentage than even Mother Teresa. Can you guess who? That’s right. It was the person taking the survey.

Over 80% of the people taking the survey felt it was “very likely” that they would go to heaven.

Yes, I know this survey is 20 years old, but do you really think it’s changed much?

There are some very basic assumptions shared by many people, even many who claim to be Christians. These assumptions have become embedded in our minds. They sound right.

I’d like you to watch a short video clip. In August of 2004 a couple of my friends took a video camera down to Fountain Square in Cincinnati at lunch time to see how people would answer three questions…

Now, you should know that Cincinnati has a strong Roman Catholic heritage, and is a fairly conservative city in comparison to most U.S. cities of its size. Also, it’s hard for me to believe, but this video is 13 years old! If we were to make this video today I imagine the results would probably be fairly similar, except I think we would encounter more open hostility to Christians and Christian beliefs, even in conservative Cincinnati.

I suggest that one contributing factor to the hostility our culture has to Christian faith is our own misunderstanding and miscommunication of these very basic points.

In the video, you heard a variety of answers but three general trends can be detected:

God is tolerant.

He is the white-bearded grandfather in heaven.  He understands that nobody is perfect so he accepts people because they try hard and do their best.  Sure there are some folks that he could not accept, like maybe Adolph Hitler but if you are sincere and do your best he will accept you.

The other two go hand in hand with the first – it’s a package deal.  If you believe the first the other two tend to follow close behind…

People are basically good.

This is why God can be tolerant of our shortcomings.  This is why God loves us – because of our goodness.  Our imperfections really aren’t all that important because our basic goodness can outweigh whatever badness there might be.

People can and must earn God’s favor.

Since God is tolerant, and we are basically good, it is possible for us to earn God’s favor. In fact, if we want to go to heaven that’s what we must do.

We want to believe these things. Maybe you do believe them.

But, if you think about it, Christianity doesn’t really make any sense if these things are true. I mean, why would Jesus have to come and sacrifice His life for us if God will accept us because of our “goodness”?  If God is tolerant, why go to such great lengths to cleanse us from our sins?

In fact, I believe these seemingly good and right beliefs have undermined the church’s witness and have contributed to much of our culture’s rejection and animosity toward Christians and Christianity.

They make the “good news,” …well, not so good.

In the next few weeks I want to challenge each of these assumptions. To look at each one and compare it with what we read in scripture. This isn’t about proving people wrong. It’s about showing them how truly, and amazingly beautiful Christianity really is!

Stay tuned…

Lloyd


Go here for part 2.

A Father Who Sings

https://scontent-ort2-2.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/17904453_10210748649245135_3022210157647973630_n.jpg?oh=8f6df3a4b11e9dbc7088d2aee31da509&oe=59E765C0
Good Friday service at The Christian Village at Mount Healthy. April 14, 2017.

My dad can’t sing.

It’s true. He has one note. It’s not musically identifiable, but it’s low.

That never stopped him.

I remember hearing him “singing” in the shower in the mornings getting ready for work.

I remember sitting next to him in church and trying to sing a harmony part. It was hard.

But he still sang. He still sings.


When I was young I knew my parents loved me. If you had asked me I would have said so. The evidence was there. They provided for me. Sure, they punished me when I did wrong, but they always forgave me. They went to my band concerts. They put up with my immaturity. For these reasons and more, I knew they loved me.

But I discovered a whole new perspective on a parent’s love when I had my own kids. I began to understand how you can be so angry you can’t see straight, so hurt you feel like your heart has been ripped out, and so proud you could burst…all at the same time!

It was then that I began to appreciate the depth of my parents’ love for me.

Sadly, I realize that some reading this may not have had the same experience of a loving family. You may find what I’m about to tell you incomprehensible. But trust me, it’s true.

But honestly, even if you grew up with a loving family like mine, you may still find this difficult to swallow, but here goes…

How do you think God feels about you?

God feels about you the same way a good dad feels about his kid. Sometimes he’s mad at you. Sometimes his heart is ripped out by you. Sometimes he’s bursting with pride. Sometimes he feels all that simultaneously.

And sometimes he sings.

The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
Zephaniah 3:17

This is a beautiful description of the way I know my dad felt about me. No, he couldn’t sing a lick, but that didn’t stop him.

And this is the way God feels about you.

In the last line of this verse is the word “exult.” This a good translation because the original word means dancing or leaping for joy.

That’s God when he thinks of you.

Can you imagine?

This idea may be foreign to you. Perhaps, like so many, you’ve come to think of God as caring more about rules and laws. When you imagine God seeing you, your feelings are more like what you feel when you see a cop in your rearview mirror.

Make no mistake, God does have a very specific way he expects us to live.

So did my dad. There were things I did, or maybe didn’t do, that I knew I would be punished for. I didn’t want to be punished so I avoided those things. Well, at least I didn’t want him to know about them.

As I matured, and grew to know my dad’s heart, I was motivated less by the punishment and more by the desire to please my dad and make him proud. I knew he “exulted over me” and I wanted to give him good reason to.

My dad lives in a nursing home now. He hasn’t punished me in decades. But I still find myself being guided by what I think would make him proud that I’m his son.

I live for his “singing.”

I will forever be grateful that he has given me an earthly example of how God feels about me.

Honestly, I don’t know if we can even talk about God having “feelings” in the same way we experience them, but this passage of scripture seems to indicate that he does.

Jonathan Edwards was a famous preacher in the early 1700s. He is most famous for his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Yes, it’s true that God hates sin and punishes the unrepentant.

But my Father’s Day prayer is that, through the grace of Jesus, you can grow to picture yourself not so much as a sinner in the hands of an angry God, but more as a child in the arms of a singing Father.

Lloyd

Faith vs. Certainty

We all have our ways of making sense of the world. We look around at the way things are: the beauty of the creation, the goodness and love in some people, the evil and violence in others. The fact that goodness, evil, love and violence exist simultaneously in every one of us. We see how death is right there with us every day we live, just a heartbeat away. We look at all that and more, and we develop a worldview. Maybe you have spent serious effort thinking it through.  Maybe, for you, it gradually crept up on you as lived your life.

Either way, you have a world view. Something that explains most of what you see, experience, and know to be true about life.

Most, but not all.

I’m sure this is true. You have unanswered questions. There are things that still don’t really make sense.

I’ve committed my life to the belief that the Bible is true. That we humans were created in God’s image. That we have blurred that image by our own selfish rebellion from our Maker. And that, through Jesus, our Creator has lovingly offered a way of redemption. These simple but profound statements, and the rest of scripture, make sense of the way the world is. It explains most of what I see, experience, and know to be true about life.

However, I still have questions that I can’t answer.

But I’m learning to be more comfortable with uncertainty.

Certainty is ridiculously arrogant, isn’t it?

Don’t misunderstand me. I have faith. Deep faith. I trust that there is an explanation, even though I may not know what it is, or even understand it if I did know.

This has been on my mind since I read the following passage of scripture last week for my #GodQuestions devotional:

Luke 20:27-40
27 There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, 28 and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man[f] must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. 30 And the second 31 and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. 32 Afterward the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.”

34 And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36 for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons[g] of the resurrection. 37 But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” 39 Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” 40 For they no longer dared to ask him any question.

The Sadducees have a world view. We’re told they don’t believe in the resurrection. In other words, they think this life is all there is. (Consequently, they are “sad, you see.”) Their argument here seems to be something like, “If there were a resurrection and people lived again after death there would be all kinds of problems that don’t make any sense to us. For example, there were seven brothers…etc.”

I find it fascinating that on this one occasion Jesus simply gives them a straight answer.  No riddles. No stories.

Jesus does two things: first, he tells them something about the next life that they didn’t know. New information not included in their scriptures. Then he passes by their specific spoken question and addresses the heart of their issue by explaining something to them that they thought they already knew. But apparently, not well enough.

So, what are your questions?

Maybe you don’t believe scripture at all. You think it’s all just some kind of fairy tale. You might think the same thing of any religion.  People ask questions about all kinds of stuff in the Bible. Stuff they think simply can’t be true. Because, like the Sadducees, if it were true it would raise all kinds of issues for them that don’t make any sense.

But, is it possible that Jesus would answer you the same way he answered the Sadducees? Is it possible that Jesus has access to some information you do not? Information that would radically alter your world view? Is it possible that Jesus could see right past your spoken objection into your heart? Is it possible that there is an explanation for your objections that is beyond you?

Maybe you do believe scripture and do your best to follow Jesus, but can’t quite swallow everything the bible teaches about some things. Things like morality, for example. You read what scripture says, but figure it must mean something else. Because if it were really all completely true it would raise all kinds of issues for you that just don’t make any sense.

Maybe you love Jesus but you can’t seem to make sense of the challenges this life has brought your way. You wonder how God, who has promised to meet your every need, has somehow allowed you to suffer in ways you had never imagined.

I have no answer for you. Certainty eludes me.

But, isn’t it possible that Jesus would answer you much like he answered the Sadducees? Is it possible that Jesus has access to some information you do not? Information that would radically alter your world view? Is it possible that Jesus could see right past your spoken questions into your heart? Is it possible that there is an explanation for your objections and situation that is simply beyond you?

Yes, I believe it’s possible.

In fact, I believe it is so.

Lloyd

 

Worship Together

http://resources.razorplanet.com/510188-2746/510188_280_656928.jpgI was invited to lunch by a man in my church. He had something on his mind concerning our worship services that he wanted to talk to me about. We set a time and place. I could hardly wait to get with him because these lunches are always such fun for worship leaders. (Can you hear my sarcastic tone of voice?)

Anyway, as it turns out, this one went pretty well. I’ve had worse. Plus, he paid. But there was something about our worship services that he was asking me to change. Every week, sometime during the service, I would welcome people and ask them to get acquainted with the people around them. To introduce themselves if there was someone they didn’t know. This item appeared on my service plan as “Meet & Greet.”

Creative, right?

He wanted me to stop doing it.

What I found interesting was his reason. It seems he loved the flow of our worship time. He explained to me how the music would lead him to worship. He could let the world slip away and feel truly intimate with God. But just when he was feeling close to God he would be interrupted by all the people around him meeting and greeting. It was a real distraction to his worship.

This conversation occurred many years ago. Since then we have, for many other reasons, discontinued the “Meet & Greet” time. But there is a part of me that would like to bring it back. I understand that it’s one of the most uncomfortable moments during a service for guests. I’m not excited about infecting everyone during cold and flu season. I recognize that it feels artificial and forced.

But I thought of it as a symbolic ritual of something I believe is very important to the corporate worship experience of the church. Something I believe the man who took me to lunch completely missed.

It’s this: Worship isn’t just vertical. It’s also horizontal.

Corporate worship specifically is about the body of Christ coming together to express our unity in worship. You can have your “just-Jesus-and-me” times any time and place you and he agree on. But something different happens when we worship together.

Last Sunday we were singing one of my favorite new songs. As we were singing, Kathie nudged me and pointed out a man across the aisle. This guy had a stroke just a couple weeks before and had been in pretty bad shape. But he has experienced a remarkable recovery and was standing there in the congregation singing his praises. I made my way over to him, put my arm around him in sort of “man hug” and told him how happy I was to see him here. He agreed. He was happy to be here as well. Really happy! This happened as we were singing, “This is your family, Stretching as far as I can see. I’m right where I’m meant to be once again…”

I love that song!

This small interaction was most assuredly not an interruption to my worship. In fact, it was probably the most worshipful thing I did during the whole service.

What glorifies God more than his followers loving one another?

I’ll answer that one for you: nothing.

We definitely need our private times of worship. Do it daily, hourly, every moment of every day. But not when you’re together with the rest of the church. It’s not private there, it’s corporate.

If your worship is only for your benefit, I have to ask: who are you really worshiping?

I’m not really campaigning to bring back the “Meet & Greet” time. It needed to go away.

But not because it interrupts my worship.

Lloyd

 

 

 

Satan is a liar, sin is a killer, and we only have one hope.


I met an impressive young man in 1981. He was a 16 year old high school student and I was his youth minister. He was outgoing, funny, good looking, smart and energetic. He also knew more scripture than any of his contemporaries and many of his elders. He was committed to Christ and planned to be a preacher. Actually, in many ways, he already was.

I expected that God would use him to do great things for the Kingdom.

I think he expected God to do great things with him, too.

In 1986 I relocated to a ministry in another state and I sort of lost touch with him. I would hear things about him from time to time. Some good. Some not so good.

I heard he was a natural in the pulpit. His personality was perfect for it. He was a focused leader. I believed this was true because it fit perfectly with what I knew of him as a teenager.

He could also be brash and abrasive. He alienated long-time church members and focused only on newer folks. This was also believable.

I admit that I took some of the negative things I heard with a grain of salt because I’ve encountered many of those same complaints myself from people who didn’t like changes that were being made.

Then came the discovery of immorality. I don’t know all the details, but I know it was bad. He lost his ministry and his family.

His kingdom impact would never be the same.

In some ways, I suppose it’s the same old story of moral failure in ministry. But this one hit closer to home. This one was personal. I knew the guy. I knew his wife. They were kids in my youth group. Leaders, in fact. I loved them both. I still do. My heart hurt.

I attended his funeral recently. He was 51 years old. Cancer.

Even though I hadn’t really spoken with him or his ex-wife for many years, I felt compelled to be there.

There’s something about death that puts life into perspective.

It reminds you of some basic truths. These are certainly nothing new, and they aren’t filled with subtle insights and nuances. But they are hard truths that easily elude us.

Satan is a liar.

If you’re a minister, he will tell you that you have the talent and ability to do ministry on your own. Success in ministry is dependent on your gifts, your personality, your drive, your vision. Depending on God is a cop-out. It’s a sign of weakness and a lack of self-confidence. Also, you don’t need the accountability of other Christians. They would never understand you, anyway. You can’t let anyone else know about your temptations and failings. You must keep those things hidden. People would lose all respect for you. Your reputation would be ruined. – These are just a few of the lies he’ll tell. And I can tell you from experience that they’re easy to believe. But don’t! Ministry is not like building a business. Ministry is a spiritual battle. You and I don’t have the power to win this battle on our own. Attempting it just makes us a tragedy waiting to happen.

It may seem oxymoronic, but leadership requires humility. Think about who has had the most lasting positive influence on your life. Who do you admire? Who do you want to be like? Who is someone you would trust with your deepest self? I’d be willing to bet that the person you’re thinking of is not an arrogant, prideful, self-absorbed individual. It’s more likely someone whose life is characterized by humility. Someone who doesn’t hide behind a façade. Someone who is more interested in the welfare of another than advancing his own personal agenda.

Sin is a killer.

Because it’s so universal, it’s easy to minimize sin. Everybody does it, so it’s easy to let yourself off the hook with an “I’m only human” attitude. But sin is a killer. It ruins everything it touches. It wrecks families, and churches, and individual lives. It has destroyed nations. It killed Jesus.

It’s important to remember that sin is not simply a specific act, but a condition of the heart that manifests itself in specific acts. Sin is a heart in rebellion to God. Sin is a willful decision to behave in a way that you know God hates. This is why there is no hierarchy of sins. It’s true that some acts will have heavier consequences on this life than others, but Jesus’ point in the Sermon on the Mount is that anger and murder, adultery and lust, all stem from the same root cause. It comes from a heart that says, “I know what you said, God, but I don’t care. I’m gonna do what I want.”

That’s sin. And it’s a killer.

We only have one hope.

It’s not popular these days to make exclusive claims like this, but that doesn’t change the fact that our only hope is Jesus. Our hope is found exclusively in the wonderful, indescribable, undeserved grace that can be ours through the blood of Christ. Sin may have killed Jesus, but grace made his death our hope.

This is the gospel. This is the truth that must completely saturate our hearts and our work. Without this, what are we even doing? Why are we wasting our time? This is what keeps us humble, and it’s what keeps us bold.

Why is this so easy to forget?

Because Satan is a liar.

And he’s a good one.

As I said earlier, these are all basic truths that we all know. You’ve read nothing here that you haven’t heard before. But this stuff is easy to lose track of. It seems too basic to spend much time with.

In fact, the opposite is true. These things are so basic, so fundamental, that without them nothing else matters.

Ability, talent, personality and gifts all matter. They do. But a career in ministry built on these things is a building with no foundation. It might look great for a while, but it won’t last. And when it falls, it could be disastrous for anyone in it or close to it.

Anyway, these are some of the things that have been on my mind since my friend’s funeral.

Lloyd

 

Empty Tomb = Living Jesus

I love Easter.

http://www.christchurchcathedral.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/easter-lilies.jpgI love the smell of Lilies when I walk into the worship center early on Easter Sunday. I know some folks whose allergies cause a much different reaction, but still…

I love the energy of the larger than normal crowd. I love the way we always try to put our best foot forward on Easter: we kick the creativity up a notch, our musicians work overtime getting it right, our guest services teams are on the alert to make sure all our guests have a great experience.

Mostly, though, I love what it is we’re celebrating.

Jesus rose from the dead!

He told his followers over and over that he was going to do it, and he did! He pulled it off! Death, the universal enemy of every single human throughout all time, has been defeated! No one had ever done it before, and no one has done it since. It is a unique event in human history.

This fact deserves to be celebrated in every way we can possibly imagine.

Sometimes, though, I’m afraid there is one aspect to this that we have a tendency to overlook.

It’s so simple and obvious, I’m a little embarrassed to point it out.

But here it is:

If he rose from the dead, he’s still alive.

I came face to face with this simple but powerful fact several years ago in one of the most powerful Easter services I’ve ever experienced. Our church had recently launched a new ministry to help those who are dealing with “hurts, habits, and hang-ups” called Celebrate Recovery. We wanted to raise awareness of this much needed ministry. The decision was made to feature it on Easter Sunday morning. In fact, we ended up devoting a large block of time in the service to personal testimonies from a few of the participants. Yes, we figured that some of our more traditional folks would complain that Easter Sunday wasn’t what they were expecting. But we also thought that this ministry, and the message of hope for those dealing with addiction that it provides, was worth absorbing a few complaints.

This may sound odd coming from me, but I have no memory of what music we did that morning. What I do vividly remember is listening to people, real people, tell stories of deliverance. Deliverance from addictions. Deliverance from abusive relationships. Jesus was working in their lives. He really is alive!

This is what Easter is all about!

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-_NCj3G3s300/VZq0b-dmhVI/AAAAAAAAQTY/L0Ed1ecYU7Q/s1600/Picture4.jpgYes, it’s important for us to look back to the events of over 2,000 years ago. Let’s do our Bible drama reenactments. Let’s try to imagine the astonishment of Peter and John as they ran to look into the empty tomb. Let’s put ourselves in the humbling position of Thomas who repented of his doubt and knelt before the risen Christ proclaiming, “My Lord, and my God!”

But the best way to imagine that astonishment is to come face to face with the living Jesus ourselves. Today.

That’s what I experienced that Easter Sunday morning.

We were prepared for a few complaints about this service from our most traditional folks. But I was dismayed by the reaction of so many who seemed to miss the point. Were they at the same service I was? How could they not encounter the risen Lord when his presence was so obvious? How could they be so disappointed about not getting to feel nostalgic about Easters past that they miss the living Jesus?

To be honest, I’m still a bit puzzled by it.

But I think the problem stems from separating Jesus’ resurrection in history from his life today.

If he rose from the dead, he’s still alive.

The tomb is empty. You can go and look. In fact, you could search every tomb and every grave site around the world and you won’t find him.

Which only begs the question:

Where is he?

I’ll tell you where he is.

Just look around.

He’s in the home of a young family doing their best to raise their kids in a culture that seems to fight them every step of the way. He’s helping a man who is struggling with all his might to NOT take another drink. He’s giving comfort to that old woman whose husband of many years recently died from a horrific battle with cancer. He’s working in the messy lives of everyday people who give their time, energy, and talent serving you and your church.

Don’t get distracted by the past. Jesus isn’t there.

He’s alive.

He’ll be in the pew next to you at church on Sunday.

Will you see him?

Lloyd

 

The One Thing That You Can Do To Encourage More Congregational Singing

https://tgc-cache.s3.amazonaws.com/images/made/images/remote/http_s3.amazonaws.com/tgc-ee2/articles/congregational-singing-2_350_233_90.jpgWorship leader, is congregational singing a priority to you? Do you actively encourage it?

I ask because I understand that it may not be, and that’s ok.

I have attended churches where it was obvious that the leader did not expect me to sing. The service was moving, powerful, and well-planned. The sermon was engaging and challenging. The music touched me deeply. I worshiped.

But I didn’t sing.

Congregational singing was not a priority, and that’s ok.

It’s not my preference, but worship isn’t about my preferences.

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_48wEL1X8iP4/TLy3nIejg-I/AAAAAAAABHo/nBLiuQRp7U8/s400/05+-+Part+of+the+Congregation+singing.jpgBut that’s why I asked the question. Because if congregational singing isn’t important to you, you needn’t read any further. This post isn’t for you.

However, if congregational singing is a priority for you and your church, as it was for me in my ministry, then I have a suggestion.

It’s more of a plea, actually.

Please put the songs in a more singable key.

That’s it.

Now, I want you to know that I don’t agree with most of what I read about why congregational singing is waning. I don’t think projecting the music along with the words will help. I don’t think the answer is to stop doing new songs. (I responded to one article which touches on many of these complaints. You can read it here.)

But I do believe this one thing with all my heart…

People won’t sing with you if you deliberately exclude them.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but the recordings of most popular music (including popular worship music) is pitched in a low range for female singers and a high range for male singers. The result is that the vocals end up in approximately the same range. It’s a range we like to listen to. Now we may let loose and do our best to sing along in the car when no one else is around, but we know we sound awful. Because the songs are in a range most non-musicians and inexperienced singers are uncomfortable with.

The thing is, most of our worship leaders are experienced musicians who are comfortable singing in the pop music range. In fact, they prefer it because it allows them to be more expressive.

But it doesn’t encourage congregational singing at all. In fact, it does the opposite. It discourages participation. People may even want to sing, but they won’t be able to.

I know this because I really, really want to sing. I want to belt out my praise at the top of my lungs. I’ve been around the musical block a few times. I know what I’m doing. So sometimes I can find a harmony that feels right, or an octave that works. But there are many times when I simply can’t participate. I’m motivated. I try. I know what I’m doing. But many times I still can’t find anything that I can sing.

I guarantee that most of the people in the congregation who aren’t motivated, who have to be encouraged to try, and who don’t know what they’re doing, won’t participate.

Now, because I’m a man, what I’m about to say isn’t known through experience, but it seems to me that the women in our congregations are somewhat more flexible in their vocal range than men. What I mean is, if a male worship leader is singing in a very high range a female congregation member can generally sing with him in her lower octave, in a prime unison with the leader, and it can sound awesome! The men of the congregation, on the other hand, must either choose to sing in a high falsetto to stay with the leader (which will feel silly to him), or resort to a lower octave which, for a man, just isn’t going to be as expressive because it won’t have enough power for him to really even hear himself.

The third alternative is that he simply won’t try to sing at all. When you factor in the cultural bias that singing isn’t a very manly thing to do anyway, you can see why so many will choose option 3.

So, how do you determine what key to use?

I’m glad you asked.

A congregation will feel most comfortable if you keep the melody of the song in a range from about Bb below middle C to the D in the staff. You can go a little lower in quiet times and a little higher at big musical moments. Locate the highest and lowest notes in the song and find a key that puts the melody closest to this range. (This would be easier if worship leaders would use lead sheets instead of just lyrics and chords, but maybe that’s another blog post.)

I realize that many younger worship leaders will likely pooh-pooh this advice, but before you do I challenge you to try it. Consciously pitch your songs this way for a couple of months. You might not feel good about it because it may not be in your own sweet spot, but yours isn’t the sweet spot you’re aiming for.

Is it?

Please remember that our congregations are not filled with trained musicians or singers. We do them an extreme disservice when we expect them to sing along with a song that is completely out of their range.

They won’t do it, and I don’t blame them.

I plead with you to let us sing!

Lloyd