Life in the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-31)(Sermon Audio)

1 cor 12_27 graphicThink about this: Jesus Christ is not only willing to be known and to represent Himself, He is willing to be known and represented by us! He asks us to be His representatives, His ambassadors.

To be sure, we do a poor job of this sometimes, maybe even often. He knew that we would, but chose to arrange things this way anyway. He knows you’re not perfect, and he invites you to represent Him anyway. And if He is so gracious with us, shouldn’t we be at least that gracious with ourselves and with each other? Shouldn’t we put away both kinds of faulty thinking – the “I’m not good enough to serve” thinking and the “I’m too good to serve” thinking?

Whatever gift you have, whatever position God has assigned you to, know that this gift and this assignment is for the good of the whole church. So don’t hold back, either out of fear or out of selfishness, but use the gifts God has given you and serve in the way he has assigned you.

Here is this week’s sermon audio:

Or click here to download the MP3.

Depression, Anxiety, Medication and the Christian Life

Have you noticed that a lot of people are struggling right now?

“In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus told us, so we should not be surprised at what the Apostle Peter called the “fiery trials”of life. They are not pleasant, but we should know that they are very normal and they are to be expected and accepted with faith.

Even so, these circumstances can very quickly steal our joy and then lead to anxiety and depression. And yet we are instructed in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians to “rejoice in the Lord always”and to “not be anxious about anything.” These are not suggestions; they are commands. But how can this be? I mean, isn’t joy like love? Isn’t it just a spontaneous feeling that comes over us at random times? Emotions can’t be commanded, can they? Don’t they just happen?

Well, no… In fact, the Bible makes a regular habit out of commanding us to feel certain things (check out Psalm 42:5, Matthew 10:28, Romans 12:15, Ephesians 4:32, Ephesians 5:20, Colossians 3:15.) We are commanded to feel, not given the option to feel them. We are not to wait for these feelings to come or to wait until circumstances are right to feel them. In other words, the power of Christ must become greater in our lives than the power of circumstances.

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But we still experience feelings of anxiety from time to time, don’t we? The Bible tells us that the cure for anxiety is prayer. The cure for the feeling that something bad is going to happen that is is beyond our ability to control is to call on the one who can actually do something about it! The cure for anxiety is faith in the mercy, sovereignty and absolute goodness of God.

And you should know that you will not always be in a state of freedom from anxiety. Anxiety is not something you overcome once and then never have to deal with again. It will be a recurring challenge in our lives, so we must continue to pray and continue to trust. The Christian life is about constant, ongoing responses of faith to God and the degree to which you, as His child, will feel His peace and His joy is determined by your response to His goodness.

Depression

What about depression? Should we just, as many people suggest to those who suffer from depression, “get over it”? Should we just choose not to feel depressed anymore?

From my own experience I know that many people are very insensitive about the reality of depression. Because of this, people who struggle with it are often afraid to talk about it. And that is unfortunate because burying depression and being made to feel ashamed of it is exactly the opposite of what a depressed person needs.

Learning to deal with my own bouts of depression was a long journey of discovery for me. But over time I learned to determine which of my seasons of depression were caused by sin, which were caused by a lack of faith, and which seasons were just brain-related imbalances that were somehow part of God’s good and mysterious plan for me at the time.

I accepted those seasons in faith that God would somehow redeem them and I can testify that he has redeemed every one of them; none of that time was wasted.

Medication

What about medication? We know that depression is sometimes caused by a lack of faith, a failure to believe that God is who He says He is. And sometimes it is caused by anxiety, by worrying about things over which we have no control and don’t trust God to work out for our good. All of us need to deal with these issues on a regular basis, but once you’ve honestly dealt with sin and faith issues, if the depression persists, it is not wrong to ask for and take medication. There is no shame in that!

But please, please, please talk to God first, seek Him in prayer. Ask for help and prayer from a trusted brother or sister in Christ. Depression can be a spiritual problem but it is not always a spiritual problem. One thing is certain: the last thing you want to do is try to medicate a spiritual problem. This will not work and will likely leave you worse off.

You Are Not Alone

The power of Christ must become greater in our lives than the power of circumstances. We access His power by submitting our wills to His, by rejoicing regardless of our circumstances, and by praying in faith, believing that He is both sovereign and good.

If you are suffering from anxiety or depression right now, choose to rejoice and choose to pray. If the depression persists, ask a pastor or a close friend to help you work through the possible spiritual causes. If depression still persists, talk to your doctor about medication.

Do not be ashamed. You are not alone. I know it’s difficult – it was for me – but working though my depression and opening up about it turned out to be the best way through it.

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Finding Peace in the Promises of God (Phil. 4:4-9)

2014-07-17 sermon graphicThe truth is that if you are a child of God, He will never leave you or forsake you. But it is also true that you can feel more close to Him or less close to Him based on how you respond to His commands and promises. When you look back on your life you will either say that “God was faithful and I rested in His peace…” or that “God was faithful but I kept worrying about everything anyway…”

One thing is sure: God will be faithful. He will not leave you, He will not forsake you. But the degree to which you, as His child, feel His peace is determined by your response to His goodness.

Here is the audio for this week’s sermon:

Or click here to download the MP3

It’s All About You, Jesus… I Think

The value of interdependence is largely forgotten in our times. People live in close proximity and have small lawns but all seem think they need their own lawnmowers. Thousands of people hit the highways each day, generally one per car, all going to roughly the same places. Inside each vehicle, the experience is highly customized—temperature, lighting and music are all adjusted to the liking of the solo passenger.

Marketers love this, but we’re losing touch with something along the way. We’ve come to think of ourselves as a collection of self-contained units, with limitless custom options we should feel free to demand. Live this way all week and you’re bound to bring the same expectations into your weekly worship gathering. If everything else we consume is bite-sized, individually packaged and tailored to our needs, why not our worship experience as well?

The Worship “Environment”

We demand personal, individualized expression. And wherever there’s demand, supply is sure to follow. On offer from the worship music industry is an endless variety of songs whose adverbial bias is tilted strongly toward the individual and personal. When I studied the repertoire of my own congregation, the trend was obvious.

The text of the most prominent songs we sing revealed a 6:1 ratio of individual personal adverbs used over words that indicate corporate expression like “we,” “we’ll,” “we’re” and “our.” Even when we do stand corporately, we sing as individuals because, for the most part, that’s how we go about our lives as the body of Christ.

This is not to say there is anything wrong with individual expressions of gratitude and worship; that has its place. But is that place standing with several hundred others engaging in the same individualized activity?

It’s easy to underestimate the importance of the words we put into people’s mouths when we lead in song. Consider the fact that people are more likely to leave a worship service with the words of a song, rather than a sermon, stuck in their heads. The sermon does matter greatly, but in the short-term the mind clings to what’s easiest to remember.

Ambiguously Romantic

I do hope we’d rather lodge in people’s minds a clearly worded song like “In Christ Alone” than the ambiguously worded “Draw Me Close.” Lyrics like “You’re all I want / You’re all I’ve ever needed / You’re all I want / Help me know you are near” could easily be mistaken for a romantic ballad by someone who hears them in the wrong context.

This of course is not inherently sinful; after all, the Bible does use male/female “romantic” language at times to characterize God’s relationship with his people. But as Keith Drury puts it in his chapter of the excellent book The Message in the Music: Studying Contemporary Praise and Worship: “None of us alone can be the bride of Christ; only together collectively are we His bride.”

Our worship songs could use more lyrics expressing the love relationship between Jesus and the collective Church, replacing “I, my and mine” with “we, our and ours.” In this group context, the romantic aspect—even the marriage metaphor—can be wholesome, biblical and proper. Begin to use this “romantic” language in the context of individualized expression, on the other hand, and things start to get a little weird. The lack of clarity may not be intentional, but it does have consequences.

Go Corporate

Songs of individual expression have dominated in recent years. This is a result of both what the worship music industry supplies, and the choices of song leaders. We should avoid overcorrecting by banning the words “I” and “me” from our repertoire, but certainly there are songs written as individual expression that can be modified slightly to reflect a more corporate and congregational tone. We should desire more body coordination and less isolated, individual movement.

Changing our song lyrics to reflect that desire won’t cure the problem, but surely it’s a suitable token of our intentions. We sing, “it’s all about you, Jesus,” but we say it in a way that makes it rather obvious that it’s about us, too – and sometimes ONLY about us. And it is about us, because worship—if it is true worship—will cause us to be transformed more to the likeness of Christ, both as individuals and as His Body.

Did I Just Unfriend You?!

Did I just unfriend you?!? Possibly.

Is it personal? Probably not. Let me explain.

Here’s the short version. If I know you offline, we can connect through my personal profile. If we only know each other online, we can connect via my page when I post links to all of my writing and preaching. For the extended version of the explanation, read on.

Through the years I have made a lot of connections. These connections are of several varieties:

1. Relational Affinity

Unless you are a spammer, I think we all start building our circle of Facebook friends the same way. A person we know and see in offline life joined, told us it was cool, and so we joined too. Then we found other people we knew – co-workers, family members, etc. – and our circle of friends expanded. For some people, that’s as far as it ever goes. When they receive a friend request from someone they have never met offline they’re puzzled. Sometimes curiosity gets the better of them and they accept, but often they just decline.

If you are a person who is not very widely known (and there is nothing wrong with that!) you probably know (offline) pretty photomuch everybody on your friends list. And I think, among all the useless, time wasting aspects of Facebook, this is probably one of the better uses for it: to stay connected with family and friends both local and distant.

2. Ideological Affinity

If you are someone who writes and your writing is published somewhere online or in-print, you begin to receive friend requests from all over the world from people who resonate with what you wrote and would like to hear more. This is especially true if you have a blog post (like this one) go viral. You get a lot of requests and accept them, assuming the person making the request is interested in what you might write in the future. It’s all good – I appreciate your support and interest.

3. Theological Affinity

As I have begun to make a habit of posting my sermon audio online, I have again begun to receive more friend requests from people who, presumably, find the teaching helpful and interesting. Who knows, there may be a watchblogger* or two out there as well, waiting for a misspoken word with which to piece my very soul! If you’re not THAT GUY, I appreciate your support and interest and the opportunity to share God’s word with you.

The Problem

The problem is that as the friend collection grows – I have roughly 1700 “friends” right now – Facebook becomes increasingly impersonal. I have no context for the online relationship I have with many people, therefore the personal material they post that shows up in my newsfeed is pretty random and therefore usually meaningless.

So in an effort to re-personalize Facebook, I’ve been unfriending quite a few people lately. But I haven’t done it correctly and as a result some people wonder why. I have reflexively trimmed some people from the list, thinking, “I’ve never met this person. Why are we Facebook friends?” without taking into account the fact that they might want to remain connected to me for reasons other than than whether or not we know each other offline.

I hadn’t thought about it very much until I received a message from a recently unfriended person asking if they had said or done something that offended me. They hadn’t, and if they took the time to write a note to me about it I assume the connection was meaningful to them. So, I need to give people the opportunity to remain connected.

So here’s what I’m doing:

1. I would like to reclaim Facebook as an avenue for connecting with people that I either see regularly in real life or people that I know well who now live at a distance.

2. For those of you who have connected with me because of my writing, speaking, teaching, preaching, music, etc. I have a Facebook page where I post all of that material. You can “Like” the Facebook page here or click on the graphic below.

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In future when I unfriend someone, I’ll include a link to this post and an invitation to “Like” my Facebook page so we can still stay connected. When we are connected this way your personal events, photos, quotes, etc. won’t show up in my newsfeed. Not that you’re not interesting; I’m sure you are. But I would like my newsfeed filled with my most personal connections.

*Watchblogger: An derogatory term for an individual who establishes a blog for the purpose of attacking, smearing, and/or discrediting a specific faith group or belief system. They frequently use quotes selected out of context, misquotes, guilt-by-association, genetic fallacies , ad-hominem attacks, and other tricks to maximize their impact. (Definition courtesy: http://www.religioustolerance.org/gl_w.htm)
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Prophecy & Tongues: Using Spiritual Gifts to Build the Church (1 Cor. 14:1-25)

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 3.28.18 PMIn non-Charismatic Protestant churches, discussing prophecy and tongues is like going to an area of the city that you’re curious about but never go to… because you’re not sure what’s going to happen there!

We’re often wary of the weird activity we’ve seen that has been passed off as prophecy and tongues. Some believe that these gifts are not for today, that they were only for the early church up to the time when the canon of scripture was complete. Some want to keep the Holy Spirit contained.

The wildness of the Holy Spirit sometimes frightens us because he is not under our control and we like to be in control (or is that just me?) So what is the place of prophecy and tongues in the church today?

Here is the audio for this week’s sermon: click here 

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5 “Good Son” Character Traits You Need to Renounce

When it comes to being forgiven, maybe you think you’re exempt because you believe there isn’t very much that you need to be forgiven for. If that describes you, you are probably a fairly unloving person. In Luke 7:47 Jesus says that “he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Often this is a character trait of people like me who grew up in the church. In many people’s eyes (and especially in our own eyes) we’ve lived “better” lives than the rest of you. After all, there are a lot of bad things that we haven’t done.

But this perception is simply NOT TRUE. In reality, we’ve just sinned in less visible ways. We are like the older brother, the “good son” in the Prodigal Son story.

You know the story… the prodigal, the younger brother leaves home in disobedience, blows all his money, and sins in every way he can imagine. The “good son” – the older brother – stays at home and obeys his father, is wise with his money, and has high moral standards. And yet in the end its the younger brother who knows he deserves nothing and begs for mercy. The older brother believes his father owes him for his good behavior.

Many of us who grew up in the church think like the older brother:

1. We think highly of ourselves
We think this on the basis of all the bad things we haven’t done. We haven’t pursued wild living, we haven’t done drugs, we haven’t slept around, we didn’t end up broke in the gutter… so we’re “better”.

2. Others think highly of us
We have a “good reputation”. We think of ourselves and are thought of by others as “good people” who do very little wrong and must be on “good terms” with God. Appearance is more important to us than reality or authenticity.

3. We love to have people in our debt
We love to make them feel – and let them know – that they owe us something. If they’ve been out there living it up and we’ve been stuck in our bubble of safety all this time, they better work awfully hard in our presence to win back our favor! This also draws attention away from our own flaws. Our flaws, like the older brother’s are usually less visible, but from God’s perspective they are no less ugly.

4. We are likely to be punitive
We often believe the lie that we’re better. We believe that other people have done bad things and should beg for our forgiveness for the rest of their lives. Those who have wronged us need to pay for what they’ve done! They need to work their way up to our status level.

5. We’re likely to be ungracious
When someone wrongs us and asks for our forgiveness, we like to hold it over them for just a little bit longer. We’re don’t act like the father of the prodigal; we’re not out there looking for them, looking down the road to see if they’re coming, waiting with anticipation.

rembrandt-prodigal-returnsDo you see yourself in this description? I see myself.

As a result, our relationships are often characterized by the making of accusations and holding people to a standard of perfection that we ourselves only appear to meet. We must maintain our higher standard, protect our reputation… and so we are often ungracious and punitive.

Instead, our relationships should look like this. In the words of Thomas Oden:

“Where forgiveness pervades a relationship, it is no longer dominated by aggressive charges, counterclaims, and legalistic attempts to recover damages… The Lord’s Prayer makes it clear that we are bound to share with others the forgiveness we have received from God.”

So, “good sons” and “older brothers,” recognize that you too have been forgiven much. Now, go and love much. Share with others what you have received from God.

3 Ways to Rescue Worship in the Local Church

If you walk into almost any evangelical church and inquire about “worship,” you can expect to be directed to someone who leads music. “No, no,” you might say, “I’m looking for the people responsible for planning corporate worship at this church.” But it’s a lost cause.

In most churches, the battle is already over: music equals worship; worship equals music. The capacity to differentiate between the two is functionally non-existent. The “worship leader” is the person who leads the group of musicians we call the “worship team.” When these people are on the stage we’re worshiping; when they’re not we’re doing something else. Simple, right?

You may hear comments like, “After the worship, we’ll hear the sermon.” But if the sermon only begins after worship has left the building, we may as well head home before it starts.

This odd hegemony of music—not as one aspect of worship, but as worship itself—is a fairly recent construct. I believe it is a destructive trend in the modern church. What gave the music the right to demand so much?

Concert or community?

Mine is not your grandfather’s diatribe against the dangers of “rock and/or roll.” I’m a big fan of the genre. As a musician and songwriter I write, play and sing rock music. But it has some handicaps when, as a style, it is applied to Christian worship.

It can drown out the most important element: the human voices of the congregation. Rock music is inextricably intertwined with concert culture. It calls for big sound, bright lights and lots of juice to run it all. Anything less will be seen as a pale and inadequate.

Rock music isn’t primarily a participatory activity. The crowd might sing along at a concert, but they paid good money to see a performance. Give people a concert atmosphere, and concert behavior is what you’ll get.

I’m not proposing we abandon the notion of a designated song leader altogether. But the purpose of a leader is to lead, and I would suggest that if you are a song leader and very few people in your congregation are singing when you lead, something is not as it should be.

So what is worship, then? One definition is “a response to the revelation of the Lord consisting of both adoration and proclamation of the greatness of God and his mighty works and of serving him by living out his character in gracious service to others.” Can that include music? Absolutely, but it is so much more. So how can we recover a fullness of meaning? Let me make some suggestions.

What can be done?

1. Put music in its place
Music is not an inferior element of worship, but it is only one aspect of it. In many churches, the verbal proclamation of the gospel as a determining factor in the quality of corporate worship is secondary to the quality of the music. Every musician should strive for excellence, but when musical genre trumps truthful proclamation, we have an idolatry problem on our hands.

2. Win the battle for terminology
Whenever someone calls a musician or song leader the “worship leader,” suggest a better term. Whenever someone says something that narrows the scope of worship to music, draw their attention to that fact. This may be seen as nitpicking, but it does have an effect on how people conceptualize worship.

3. Redefine the “worship experience”
In modern terms, most people are convinced that they have not “really worshipped” or experienced intimacy with God if there hasn’t been an accompanying emotional high. Of course an emotional high can be part of a worship experience, but to suggest that this is normative or that you’ve failed at worshipping if you haven’t experienced it is ludicrous.

Every time we respond to the revelation of God through word or deed, through adoration or proclamation, through singing or by an act of charity, we are engaging in worship. If you are a leader in your church, it is worth pointing out that every believer is a worship leader.

Surely this recovery is an effort worth causing some discomfort in our churches.

How To Do Communion So That Nobody Gets Hurt

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 3.03.36 PM1 Cor. 11:29-30 – “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”

Wow – this is serious stuff with real consequences! Spiritual problems can have physical results. There were people in the Corinthian church who were weak and ill and some who even died and the cause of this was spiritual. Now, this doesn’t mean every weakness, illness and death has a spiritual cause, but sometime that’s the case. And it also doesn’t mean that that if you’re “super-spiritual” you will never get sick.

However, there is no reason to think that these verses are less relevant today than they were when Paul wrote them. You can eat and drink judgment on yourself in this way. You can be come weak, you can become ill. In some extreme circumstances, could your life actually be taken from you? I’d say it’s possible…

But, he goes on to say, “if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.” If we would just regularly go through this process of self-examination, confession, and repentance… If we would just judge ourselves in this way, then we wouldn’t have to worry.

Here is the audio for this week’s sermon: click here 

If you would like to engage in the process of self-examination that you’ll hear near the end of the sermon, you can find an explanation of the process here.

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Screen Shot 2014-07-19 at 8.02.40 PM“If the subject is sin and repentance, it should go without saying that we should never sneer at a broken and a contrite heart. How many times do we forgive someone? Jesus dealt with this famously when He said the right number was 70 times 7. And that does not mean that once the sinner gets past 490, then pow, right in the kisser. Our forgiveness for others should imitate God’s forgiveness of us, and it is obviously impossible to outshine Him.

Jesus taught that someone could sin against us seven times in a day, and that upon a profession of repentance we should forgive him each time. Now, along about the fourth or fifth incident, I might begin to suspect that my friend is not dealing with the root issues — but I am still to forgive (Luke 17:4).” – Doug Wilson

70×7