Broken Lives

Our broken lives were changed, when You broke the night with day. — God Be Praised, by Jon Egan

Check out the video here.

My wife and I are playing music at our church this morning, and God Be Praised is one of the songs on the list. It has a piano piece during the verses that takes up my attention so I can’t sing at the same time. But the first line of the third verse is the above quote, and it is my favorite line of all the songs we’re playing today.

Why? Because it captures so much in so few words.

What does it capture?

My state – On my own I am broken, I am shattered, I am in pieces.

His grace – Because of Him, as the pieces of the chains that bound me fall to the ground, the rubble of the life I tried to build begins to come together into the masterpiece He intended.

The victory of Christ – The night has been broken, the bondage shattered, the stronghold demolished. Light and life have come through Christ.

The finality of this change: Christ’s work is done. “It is finished.” Our lives are being changed, yes, but the primary catalyst for change – His victory – is already settled and established.

As the spiritual kingdom of this world shatters all around me, and as the world I tried to build comes apart, light shines in the darkness and unrelenting love creates a new life out of the ruins.

This is how His Word is coming to life in my heart today as we sing.

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Don’t You Know

A while back I posted about building a spiritual fire in worship ministry, followed by a post on bringing the heat. I used the “fire triangle” as an analogy. To have a fire, you need fuel, heat, and oxygen. Remove any one of the three, and you no longer have a fire. The fuel for worship ministry is technical excellence, the foundation on which we build everything else. The heat is the excellence of heart, the passion and the energy we bring into our ministry.

My worship pastor pointed out that even with both technical and heart excellence, we still require the action of the Holy Spirit in order for worship to be meaningful and effective.

“Apart from Me you can do nothing” – Jesus.

The movement of God is absolutely a necessary part of the “fire triangle” of our worship. And every worshiper I know is well aware of that fact.

What I also note is, so many act like we have to beg God to show up and then hope for the best.

We often use terms like “leading people into His presence” or “taking the congregation somewhere we’ve already been” in terms of going somewhere else to get to God. We speak of inviting or welcoming God’s presence into the sanctuary or place of worship. We ask God to come join us.

We forget:  God is in us.

The big change in the New Testament gospel message isn’t simply that our sins are forgiven. Don’t get me wrong, that’s huge and I’m grateful. But that was a means to an end. Our sins separated us from God (see Isaiah 59:2). The cross does away with them. Our salvation by grace through faith in Christ unites us with God – puts His presence right inside of us, which was the promise all along. Emmanuel, God with us.

Everywhere we go, God is there. Not just in the sense of “omnipresence” like God is invisibly but spiritually everywhere and there’s no place we could go where He cannot (Psalm 139 speaks to this).

No, God is alive and active inside of His people. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit; God is working in us, Christ in us – the hope of glory.

So the question isn’t “Will God show up today?” or “Did we welcome His presence properly?”

The question is, “Did I set my mind on Him? Did I recognize His already-present activity in our midst? Did I come here with my agenda and idea about how things would go, or did I set all that aside with the recognition of His presence among His people?”

One of my pastors spoke of invoking the presence of God on a daily basis – not that we have power to command God to show up, but we have the ability to remember and remind ourselves that God is already here.

He would ask, using 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Don’t you know?” And the question is valid, because so often our words reflect that we’re not appreciating this spiritual reality.

Oxygen is all around us. Sure, there are ways to smother a fire, just as we can quench the Spirit. And there are special moments where God moves in a powerful and unexpected way, breathing on our embers and causing a flame of revival or a deep response to spring up from the smallest fire.

But if we’re committed to living for God, we’re going to be experiencing His presence as routinely as we breathe in and breathe out. He becomes a part of our lives.

<blockquote>”19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NASB</blockquote>

Bringing the Heat

“I’d rather have someone sold out in passionate pursuit of God who can barely hold a tune, than some concert-level professional with no spiritual intimacy.”

I’ve been writing about building the fire of worship in ministry, starting with the needed structure of technical excellence as fuel. 2nd Samuel 6 has been my source text for this topic.

The next leg of that fire triangle is the heat, or in the case of worship, the heart.

The previous post looks at 2nd Sam 6:1-10 to see what happens when we don’t have the right structure in place in worship. But structure and musicianship is not all there is to quality worship ministry, just like arranging wood in a fire pit doesn’t actually give us a fire.

Starting in 2 Sam 6:11-23, King David makes a second attempt to bring the Ark back to Jerusalem, and this time, he starts it right. The appropriate people are carrying the Ark by the poles built into its frame. No ox cart is involved. On top of that, sacrifices are offered every few steps, and the King himself steps up to lead the worship and praise.

Here we see David’s heart in a right position before God and the people. Most of my thoughts here come from what Pastor Herbie Thompson shared with the Bellevue Christian Center worship collective for June – credit where credit is due.

Herbie pointed out that David leads by example in three ways which reveal his heart for God. First off, David worships with liberty.

Technical excellence calls for us to take worship seriously, but heart excellence calls us to be liberated and willing to set aside what seems proper. We must sometimes abandon dignity for authenticity in our worship. As worshipers in the view of others – whether on stage or in every day life – our expression of what’s on our heart provides an example and permission for others to follow.

What does that look like practically?

– Many traditional churches teach dancing is bad or at least dangerous. But when I read accounts of worshipers dancing before The Lord, I realize that it’s ok to permit my body’s movements to demonstrate the emotion in my heart that words cannot fully express. It’s not about my skill in dancing, it’s the fact that my heart moves me to dance before Him even as He dances over us (Zephaniah 3:17).

– I didn’t know I could get angry with God until I read the Psalms and saw worshipers expressing anger and frustration to God. Now I can be more honest in the hard times.

– We sing songs that speak of bowing down or kneeling, of raising hands in surrender, or of jumping for joy. It may not look ‘professional’ but my heartfelt physical response matching the words I’m singing – that tells others that they can do the same in church or in their everyday life.

– We often have times in between songs where we encourage the congregation to express their heart to God using their own words. If we never show what that looks like, if we never risk stumbling over spontaneous praise for fear of how it might appear or affect our reputation for technical excellence, then we’re not giving permission for the people to express their hearts freely.

Our structure has to be in place, but we can’t be bound to what’s written in a schedule or what’s printed on a page. We have to be willing to operate in liberty, so that those we’re leading can learn how to worship liberally.

The heat we bring to worship is also expressed by using all our might. David didn’t hold back in his dance and celebration. He didn’t encumber himself with the robes of the king or the heavy crown – he put on a functional priestly garment and got footloose. His physical and nonverbal actions communicated exactly what his mouth was saying.

How often do I bring that level of heart into my worship, in private or in public? Do my gestures and movements and expressions communicate the same as the words I sing? Am I singing about joy with a strained look on my face, or playing piano gritting my teeth as I try to get every note right? Am I singing a song of humility and brokenness with a wide grin on my face?

And am I giving it my all, or am I holding something back? Our expressions of worship may be the only tool someone has to figure out what worshiping God means. Do they see me bring half-hearted effort as if I have somewhere I’d rather be? Or do they see me give everything I’ve got, shouting praise till my voice is raw, because He’s worthy?

Pouring all of ourselves into worship teaches others how to do the same.

Finally, David worships with his title. He gets up as the King and he shows the people how important worshiping God is. “If the King is doing all that, then God must be important. If the King is dancing, and offering all these sacrifices… if the King took off his robes and crown and set aside his dignity to worship God, then so should I.”

David made it all about God. David took what seemed like the most important thing about him and turned it into worship of Him. Like the elders in Revelation 4 throwing down their crowns before the Throne of God, David shows the people that it isn’t about the King of Israel, it’s about the God of Heaven and Earth.

David correctly shows that the title is not as important as the testimony. His actions will be respected by those who saw him set aside his dignity for the sake of worship.

With titles and dignity, we can go one of two ways. We can turn them into another aspect of how we worship God, or we can use them as an excuse to take away from our worship of God. Michal goes that route in vv. 16-23. She goes off on David about how “the King” has distinguished himself – her primary concern was for his title, not for his heart toward God. She becomes a spectator instead of a participant, judging instead of joining.

It challenges me because it’s so easy to watch and critique instead of engaging in worship. “I wouldn’t do it that way. I would have played this song instead, it fits better.” When I find myself in that position, I need to watch out!

So, in all of this, I reflect on three questions:

What holds me back from liberty in front of other people? (Is it fear of their reaction, is it concern for my reputation? Is it shame or perceived unworthiness?)

What do I hold back in worship that keeps me from giving all my might?

What are the titles I hold that I deem most important, and how do I turn those around into amplified expressions of worship? (i.e. father, husband, manager, coach, writer)

Technical excellence and heart excellence are what we bring – the fuel and the heat. Next I’ll look at the last leg of the triangle essential for maintaining fire: the oxygen of the Spirit.

Fit to Praise

“I’m gonna let go, really worship, letting my dance come forth… Dance! Da-ance! Let the Spirit move you, dance! Da-ance! Holy Spirit in you, dance!” (lyrics to “Dance” by Jesus Culture)

About two months ago, I split my original blog up into separate topics based on the advice of some fellow writers. That way, a reader knows roughly what to expect when they go to the blog.

But I can’t split my life up into neat sections quite as easy as I can the blog. So sometimes there’s overlap, and this is one of those moments.

I write a blog about fitness, or more accurately, my struggles with fitness and diet. Several years ago, I was a contracted Spin instructor at the base gym. I peppered my music set lists for exercise classes with driving Christian songs that were mostly well received. Even now, these songs make up a big part of my workout playlists on my iPhone.

Most worship albums have at least one or two high energy high tempo numbers that can be a fresh addition to a cardio routine or jog on the track.

And why not? Exercise can be an act of worship. In the military, it’s part of my job, so it’s one way I can demonstrate excellence based on my desire to please God. “Whatsoever you do in word or deed, do it as unto The Lord.” (Colossians 3:17)

Exercise improves physical health, of course. But it also relieves mental and emotional stress, giving a healthy outlet for frustration. Why not incorporate a spiritual component and get my mind on the things of God while “beating my body into submission” at the gym? (see 1 Cor 9:24-27)

Still, I assume I’m preaching to the choir. If you like to work out, and you like Christian music, then no doubt some of it finds its way into your playlists.

Listening to worship music can also trigger spontaneous moments of response to God’s goodness. I came home from the gym tonight and figured out my dinner plan. I got it started cooking, and decided I wanted to keep moving, keep working out a bit. So I started doing aerobics in my kitchen, with high knees, cross-steps, ski jumps, grapevines, arm motions, short jogs… it was great.

(I made sure no sweat dripped into the food.)

David Crowder Band’s Our Love is Loud came on, and I wanted to sing along. Why not? I’m hearing and singing “We lift our voices, louder still, can You hear us? Can You feel we love You Lord, we love You, we love You…” while lifting up my hands for the added aerobic difficulty. Why not consciously lift my hands each time as an expression of praise while working out?

Let the Praises Ring came on after that, with its verse: “Oh Lord, my God, to You I give my hands. Oh Lord, my God, to You I give my feet. Oh Lord, my God, to You I give my life.”

As Paul said to the Athenians,

for in Him we live and move and exist. (Acts 17:28 NASB)

So I’ll worship on the stationary bike, I’ll worship as I walk around the track, I’ll worship as I dance around the kitchen.

Because worship has to be a part of my life too, and as I said before, it’s very difficult to separate everything out into nice little compartments. That’s an exercise in futility and a game I don’t want to play.

So what songs jump off the worship albums into my gym set list?

(Note: I didn’t choose the vast array of Christian rock/pop/alternative/metal music that is also perfect for a workout. I specifically wanted to look at worship songs.)

Dance and Holding Nothing Back by Jesus Culture

God’s Great Dance Floor and Sing Sing Singby Chris Tomlin (the latter song off of Passion: God of this City)

Let the Praises Ring and Salvation is Here by Lincoln Brewster

Our Love is Loud and No One Like You by David Crowder Band (among others by the same band)

We Shine and All Because of Jesus by Fee (particularly the version of We Shine off Passion: God of this City)

All I Do and Take It All by Hillsong

Happy Day by Tim Hughes

Let Everything that has Breath by Matt Redman

So Good to Me and Freedom by Darrell Evans

Live God Loud by Acquire the Fire

How about you? Are there any worship songs in particular that get your feet moving? Let me know in a comment, please. Maybe I can add them to my playlist!

The X Factor

No, I’m not talking about Simon Cowell’s show.

I’m thinking, as usual, of worship. Specifically, I’m wondering about how we minister as lead worshipers, those folks up front in the church, playing and singing, and hopefully pointing the congregation to Jesus.

x fac·tor

Noun
  1. A variable in a situation that could have the most significant impact on the outcome.
  2. A special talent or quality.

What is that “X Factor,” that special something that makes the difference between satisfactory and superb?

For one, the superb worship leader isn’t trying to be superb. It’s not about him or her. It’s about God, the team, and the people.

Part of that special quality is observing and responding to needs of others – making it about God and the congregation, ducking out of the way. Saying “Come along with me” and charging ahead while being aware enough to realize when no one’s coming. It’s easy to get caught up in powerful emotion, to be swept away in the worship. And sometimes we can feel like everyone’s there with us, when in fact, the folks in the congregation are looking at watches and reading bulletins. Of course we can’t please everyone, but we can go too far with what pleases us.

Communication is also a key part. We have to be aware of what’s going on, and a lot of that is what the leadership is sensing. Paying attention to non-verbal and verbal cues keeps the worship in proper order. Communicating vision and direction to the team keeps everyone going toward the same goal.

Beyond that direction, there’s an ebb and flow to the music, a crescendo here, and a fade there. Sensing the spiritual dynamics of the service can create space for free worship, the unstructured corporate response of individuals to the love of God. Being aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the team ties in with this. We start to understand that certain members might be able to add to a specific song, or musicians playing less common instruments will better minister in a particular song. So once again, we build room into a set, we add flexibility to the rigid in order to create a better experience.

I think the X Factor comes down to a right understanding of availability and adequacy. Worship is a God-thing. We can’t even really do it without His help, because it’s a response to His revelation. It’s not possible for us, of our own willpower and skill, to make worship “adequate” enough. God brings the adequacy – He does the work. But we do have to be available; we do put all our skill and energy at His disposal, to glorify Him and minister to His people.

We put everything on the figurative altar of worship, and God turns it into something meaningful.

So ultimately, He’s the essential quality, the One who makes all the rest come together and matter.

Strong Language

Continuing the A to Z blog challenge, we come to ‘T’ for which I have chosen theology.

As worshipers seeking God, we must have an understanding of Who He is and what He says. We need words for how He interacts with us and the qualities He displays. Theology provides us with that language, and gives us a much-needed standard (as near to a standard as one can get with matters of faith) which keeps us going straight.

We are to be people of truth – another strong contender for the T blog – since Jesus declared that those who worship the Father must worship in spirit and in truth.

Theology is the active study of that truth, the search and observation of God’s interactions with humanity, the organization and classification of thoughts and concepts about God. It’s the ‘science’ of religion, supplying clear vocabulary, enabling in-depth discussion and further study.

Research by people like George Barna and David Kinneman show a Western Christianity that is dreadful in its lack of theological foundation. There are far too many of our brothers and sisters running around proclaiming maturity after years in church pews, but with little to no grasp of core biblical truths. People would claim to follow Christ and yet hold to teachings that directly contradict Scripture.

It’s like kindergarteners playing house, trying to imitate the grown-ups around them.

I’m talking about myself in so many ways here. If I think I’m above all that, and I have such better understanding, all I’m doing is making myself the spiritual emo kid standing off to the side watching everyone else with contempt while remaining completely uninvolved in anything productive or beneficial to the kingdom. So I’m no better, nor am I claiming to be.

Disciplined efforts to learn more about God – not just through personal experience but through systematic study of the established truths of Scripture – this is part of what I believe it means to worship in truth.

We don’t just rely on haphazard encounters with God. We also benefit from intentionally engaging God’s Word with the perspective of teachers in the Body and the works of spiritual giants in the past. That way, we’re not learning every so often as we go about playing church, we’re building our understanding in the same way that 2nd grade material builds on 1st, and 3rd grade lessons require a grasp of the 2nd grade teachings.

The writer of Hebrews speaks to his audience about their need for basic teachings, and indicates that a discipline of practice will help believers mature properly:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14 NASB)

In the same way, Paul talks about taking full advantage of the gifts provided to the church:

As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, (Ephesians 4:14, 15 NASB)

Strong theology gives us powerful words that fuel our worship. As we realize more and more who God is and what He has done for us, we find more reasons to draw nearer, more cause to praise Him, more passion to help us chase after Him.

And when we find Him, overwhelmed by the reality of His love, we worship in response to the truth.

Safe Prisons

Today, for ‘S’, I thought about the title of this blog: Wanton Disregard for Safety. That doesn’t sound sensible, so I thought it good to elaborate.

There’s an oft-quoted line attributed to Ben Franklin, that “those who would trade liberty for security deserve neither.”

Certain voices in America are now suggesting that perhaps the Constitution has to change, because we live in a different time than that of our forefathers. Perhaps some of the protections on certain freedoms need to be limited further, because, what else can we do in the face of unexpected and indiscriminate terror attacks on the public? The logic justifies ubiquitous security cameras and intrusive door-to-door searches like that conducted in Boston. It explains the IRS mindset that private e-mails are free sources of information, and calls to mind the recent CISPA measure that passed the House, enabling companies to share private information. Of course, the desire for security informs the gun control debate, as our society tries to balance freedom and the Second Amendment with safety, security, and good common sense about the use and proliferation of weapons.

Franklin’s quote came up with regularity after the passage of the Patriot Act under President Bush. Those who opposed his administration’s efforts in the War on Terror used the quote to question invasive TSA searches, Guantanamo Bay, indefinite detention, and military tribunals.
The desire for security is innate and powerful. If not for myself, I wonder how I can better protect my wife, my children, the property I care about, and the free society I love. When something challenges that safety, it’s hard to resist withdrawing behind locked doors, shutting out the dangers of the world, and finding a place of limited peace.

There’s a spiritual parallel. I believe the opposite of Franklin’s statement is true for the Christian. Those who trade security for liberty find both.

Many of us have built fortresses to withstand the chaos of life: financial stability, an upwardly mobile career, the all-important protective bubble around our children, the certainty of knowing what will happen next, the not too cold not too hot Goldilocks religion so common in Western Christianity.

When troubles challenge us and we hide in those man-made places of refuge, we give up the freedom to move, to fully live, to experience the provision of God in the midst of the trial. To guard that security, we become bound to and consumed by the effort of maintaining whatever we’re trusting in. We choose safe prisons and solitary confinement over the presence and protection of the Good Shepherd.

When we abandon those high safe walls and step out into the world, we are indeed at risk. But that’s where He is, and He’s beckoning for us to come and follow. It’s hard to follow from a fortress that doesn’t move.

There’s a tale in King David’s time of Eleazar, one of David’s mighty men. At one battle, the people of Israel flee, and only Eleazar remains to stand against the enemy, fighting until his hand can’t even let go of his sword.

and after him was Eleazar the son of Dodo the Ahohite, one of the three mighty men with David when they defied the Philistines who were gathered there to battle and the men of Israel had withdrawn. He arose and struck the Philistines until his hand was weary and clung to the sword, and the Lord brought about a great victory that day; and the people returned after him only to strip the slain. (2 Samuel 23:9, 10 NASB)

The second account of the story gives crucial information: Eleazar wasn’t alone. His king stood with him against the enemy.

After him was Eleazar the son of Dodo, the Ahohite, who was one of the three mighty men. He was with David at Pasdammim when the Philistines were gathered together there to battle, and there was a plot of ground full of barley; and the people fled before the Philistines. They took their stand in the midst of the plot and defended it, and struck down the Philistines; and the Lord saved them by a great victory. (1 Chronicles 11:12-14 NASB)

In the midst of the confusion, in the harsh realities we face outside our carefully crafted fortresses, we can find security greater than any we can create for ourselves. We encounter “the peace of God, which surpasses comprehension” (Php 4:7). We realize that true liberty is found in the presence of the Lord (2 Cor 3:17).
That’s why Pastor Saeed can go to a place like Iran and face cruelty and opposition. He knows a freedom that outshines any man-made refuge, one that can’t be stopped by chains or a jail cell. That’s why brave men and women throughout the last two thousand years have been able to forsake all and pour out their lives in service of others, strangers they’ve never known. Some risk all to reach into oppressive regimes in order to meet the spiritual and physical needs of the people. Some spend all they can to minister to those the world calls worthless, to break the chains of modern-day slavery. Some forsake friendships and family ties in order to pursue the life-changing liberty we casually enjoy.

We have a choice. We can throw a heavy bar across the doors of our lives, closing ourselves off from every danger, shutting the world out and ourselves in – safely imprisoned. Or we can throw wide the doors and charge into the world around us, aware of the dangers but more aware of the opportunities and liberties found in the footsteps of the Savior.

May we be found on the spiritual field of battle, arms sagging, taking our stand back-to-back with our King.

Quality Time

Catching back up to the A to Z blog challenge… I took too much time over the weekend and failed to get Q and R posted. It’s amazing how fast stuff piles up.

If I don’t make the time for writing, I find I won’t get much done. It’s intentional, a choice, a setting of priorities that I must then carry out.

Otherwise I find myself scrambling to keep up, or looking back on missed opportunities.

My daughter turns 14 in June, and my wife and I aren’t quite sure how we feel about that. On the one hand, she has often been so helpful and mature, and on the other hand, we worry she may not be fully prepared for adult life. And of course there’s the fact that as parents, it’s hard to let go.

Our children grow so fast, but the distractions and trials of life often keep us from noticing the passage of time until it’s too late. Especially when they’re young, but even when they’re older, parents often worry about their relationship with their kids.

Are we spending enough time with them? Are we getting quality time? Do they know how much we love them?

One of the hard lessons as a parent is that we can’t make quality time without quantity time. We don’t get to flip the switch and say, “I’ve got ten minutes right now, let’s make it awesome, okay GO. Instant quality.”

Quality moments happen here and there as we spend a significant amount of time and put forth significant effort to make it as good as it can be.

The same is true of our relationship with our Father in heaven, isn’t it? I never feel like I’ve really connected when I take five minutes in the morning to glance through a devotion and whisper a prayer. I hardly feel close to God when I forget Him in the daily shuffle and only remember just before bed.

And just like with kids, greater quantity doesn’t ensure quality unless we put forth effort. I’ve been to prayer meetings and worship services where I come in exhausted. Sitting there half asleep listening to the prayers and songs of others, maybe mumbling an Amen or Yes, Lord… that doesn’t grow my relationship to God.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that just like with fitness, the collection of little things we do all day is more important than some arbitrary measure of ‘devotion.’ Keeping God in mind, staying true to our beliefs, maintaining frequent prayer, and meditating on His Word is – in my experience – more beneficial than trying to read five chapters of the Bible a day or hitting an hour-long prayer goal.

But there should also be those special moments, as with any relationship, where we take extra time to be together, to grow closer, to learn more about the other party. And that will often only happen when we set aside time.

We are called upon to seek the Lord, to draw near to Him. He’s taken several steps to reach out to us, hand extended. How we respond determines the quality of our relationship to God.

We make time for what is important. Our kids see that. Our friends see that. Our spouses or significant others understand it. God is no different in this respect.

I have to make a quantity of time available, and as I do so, I’m sure to discover a better quality of time. That’s not just my opinion, not just a hope or common sense. It’s His promise.

“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” – James 4:8

Owned

In thinking about various aspects of worship, I came to what I believe is the most important:

Our worship must be our own.

Trust in Him at all times, o people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Psalm 62:8 NASB

Since I’ve been recovering from foot surgery, my wife has been driving me to work, so she has been picking me up for lunch each day. We’ve been enjoying the rare treat of time together during my work day, and we’ve been going out to lunch. I saw very quickly how daily visits to fast food franchises have been affecting my diet and my wallet. Sure, I can make decent choices and save some money or some calories. But the fact is, eating out every day is not the most wholesome and healthy option.

It’s so different from selecting my own ingredients, preparing each item or dish to my liking, adding in spices to match my personal taste.

So too when I sit down to worship – whether with worship music (David Crowder’s “After All” and Hillsong’s “Alive in Us” are playing in my ears as I type) or with Bible study resources.  How much of my worship comes pre-packaged and processed for me? How much is coming from my own heart responding to the Gospel and the God of grace?

Imagine giving Hallmark cards to your significant other, but when they open the card, there’s no personal note, no signature, no explanation. Just the poem or joke or pretty words provided by the company. How much would that touch someone’s heart?

Resources are great. The huge variety of worship music is a blessing, and the vast array of Bible study tools is helpful, no doubt about it. But these are tools that should propel my own response to God, not take the place of it.

When we worship in church, do we ever take time to use our own words? Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, and Jared Anderson are all amazing songwriters who can capture the heart of a message in a thought-provoking song, no doubt. But those words are theirs, written for our benefit and use, but still theirs.

How do we make it our own?

Consider the following:

In Bible study or devotional reading, we can set aside the commentaries and articles sometimes, and go to the God who speaks through His Word. Ask, “What does this passage reveal to me about You? What does it say about how I should live for You?” Pray for the Spirit to illuminate the meaning beneath the surface text.

In singing and meditating on music, the songs of others are a fabulous starting point. Can those inspire us to sing or pray our own additions, our own experiences put into words? For example, the current popular song One Thing Remains can call to mind specific trials and ‘mountains’ of mine, and give me the opportunity to cast those cares upon Him in light of His unfailing love.

In prayer, we may have specific structured methods or even liturgical and rote prayers, but these are likewise starting points that help us get out into the depths. Maybe it’s the Lord’s Prayer, maybe it’s an ACTS model (Adoration Confession Thanksgiving Supplication), maybe it’s something else. Whatever it is, I don’t want to stop there. I want to go further, to make my prayer time my own.

At one point, King David wants to make a sacrifice to God. He goes to make an offering, and the owner says, “Here you go, it’s yours, o King.” David says no, and purchases the items. His justification? “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing” (2 Sam 24:24 NASB).

It’s a little bit more costly to take the time to personalize our worship, but the expression of love and the experience of love in return proves well worth the price.

How else can we personalize our time with God? Drop a comment with your suggestions.

Lifestyle Choices

Today’s A to Z challenge letter is ‘L.’ Judging by the title, one might guess my subject is lifestyles.

Lifestyles have appeared a lot in the media recently. I’ve even been told that the term ‘lifestyle’ is inappropriate and rude in certain cases, since some people attest that their actions and desires are by nature and not by choice. I’m not getting into that here… but I am thinking of a particular decision we make and how it affects our lives. And yes, our lifestyles.

The privilege of chasing after God comes with a teensy-weensy price tag attached. I don’t mean to counter anyone’s understanding of grace or faith, and I definitely reject any claim of salvation by works, as though we earn God’s love by being good.

But if we pursue God, there’s an exchange that must take place.

14 For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. – 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 NASB

The mission of the church is to make disciples. As we’re going, as we’re teaching, as we’re baptizing, we are commanded to make disciples. Not converts. That distinction is easy to miss. It’s a lifestyle choice we must make, or reject.

We belong to Him. He’s our King. He’s in control. We’re His subordinates; He’s our commanding officer. We can’t say “yes” to our Savior without the following “Sir” to our Lord.

Think of the storm chaser analogy. Someone doesn’t become a storm chaser and sit at home. They travel; they fly to where the storms are likely to hit, and then they drive out to where the activity is taking place. They go after the goal, and we must do likewise.

Over the years in the military and in the general public, I’ve heard people suggest that “there is a place for religion, and it’s ok as long as it’s not taking over everything else in your life.” In other words, religion is Sunday stuff (or Friday stuff, or Saturday, or whatever day is the appropriate day of the week for a particular faith), and would you kindly keep it in that box for the rest of the week, thanks. Jesus is great for you in the morning or evening at home, but if you could refrain from expressing your faith around anyone else, we’d appreciate it.

Not going to happen.

Why are religious people so difficult about this?

Well it’s not just a little box of “religion” that we’re being asked to put away. It’s our passion and purpose, our love and our hopes and our joy. It’s the fundamental driving force behind our interpersonal skillset. For the believer, our faith is the foundation of our values that motivate our actions, the beliefs that inform our decision-making. It’s not our hobby, it’s not our favorite sport or team. It’s becomes a part of who we are, a spiritual skeletal framework to which everything else is attached.

Paul tells us to be living sacrifices on the altar, chasing after God with all our heart, being transformed in the process. We are to be fully invested – not merely interested.