What 4 Services a Weekend has Taught Me

There is a statistic that says the average Christian goes to church once every 3 weeks. For myself, and many of the people that I serve with, we attend a bit more frequently than that. The Church that I serve currently hosts 4 weekend services and we have held multiple services a weekend for around 7 years now. That means every weekend there are 4 separate gatherings of people, 4 different worship settings (same songs, but different crowds), and 4 different opportunities to preach God’s word.

Here’s what I’ve come to realize. What happens during a church service is much less dependent on what’s happening on a stage or platform, and much more dependent on what’s going on in the hearts of the people than we realize. Often we put an emphasis on a worship team being well prepared both musically and spiritually and rightfully so. In addition, we look to who will be teaching or preaching that day to be fresh, engaging, and to make the Word of God relevant to our life. We should have that expectation as well. However, being able to observe 4 services a weekend has brought home a reality. A worship team can be completely prepared, a Pastor can be ready to preach with passion, but a crowd can shut it all down. Afterall, not even Jesus could heal anyone in Nazareth.

Here’s 3 things I’ve learned about creating an atmosphere that allows God to move in our services:

 

  1. Faith and Expectation Moves the Heart of God

It doesn’t matter how full the room is, but it does matter how full the hearts of people are with faith and expectation. Recently I preached to our noon service. It was an unusually low crowd which meant the room was less than half filled. The service before it was full and lifeless. The noon service was sparse, but there were a group of people there ready to worship and receive the Word of God. During that very low attendance service, 4 people gave their lives to Jesus. Again, how many people are in the room isn’t as important as how much faith and expectation is in the room. I think we underestimate the power of being in the room during a worship service. I mean really being present and engaged in the room. Don’t just go to church this weekend, go to church this weekend with faith and expectation

2. Worship Creates an Atmosphere

Those who hunger and thirst will be filled. It’s a promise from God. This is probably redundant given my previous thought, but it doesn’t matter how many people are in a room, it matters how much worship is in a room. I’ve personally witnessed weekends where God’s presence filled a room and lives were touched, and on the same weekend, there were services that never got off the ground. It was the same worship team, the same worship songs, the same sermon, and the same communicator, but the difference was worship. If you fill a room with worship, God will fill a room with His presence. It helps to remind myself that not only do I need God’s presence, but there are other people in the room who need God’s presence as well. That’s why I make a point to be in the worship session in all 4 services. I may have already encountered God’s presence that day, but I’m worshipping for the one who hasn’t.

3. The Team is the Thermostat of the Church

I don’t know where this quote came from, but I love it. It’s been said that we should “be a thermostat and not a thermometer.” In other words, don’t walk into a room and take the temperature, rather walk in determined to set the temperature. That’s very true, but I’ve realized one or two people can’t do that on their own. It takes a team of people being determined to set an atmosphere of worship, expectancy, faith, excitement, warmth, and hospitality. In a big picture way, it’s how we love people. When a team of people takes ownership of creating this type of atmosphere it transforms a building into the House of God. A place that is welcoming, a place that is loving and accepting, a place where people can encounter God’s presence, and a place where people can be forever changed.

As believers lets be consistent in our attendance, but let’s also be missionaries in our church services. Let’s attend church on a mission to build faith and expectation, to set an atmosphere of worship, and to serve people with a passion. Those things transform an ordinary room into an atmosphere where Jesus can be Jesus.

The Blanket

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I know there is prejudice and racism in our world. Unfortunately it may always be a part of our world. It happens in obvious ways and not so obvious ways. Prejudice comes from throwing a blanket over an entire group of people. People are generalized into groups like “cops,” “black,” “white,” and any other description you would like to use.
When you take away the blanket you find that there are many different descriptions within the “groups.” For instance, there are good cops, bad cops, average cops, superstar cops, lazy cops, and even perhaps some crooked “cops.” Now, change “cops” to any other race, group, or people and it remains the same. Heck, you can even throw the word “christian” in there and all of the previous descriptions could still apply in some cases on some level.
Once the blanket is removed you realize something else. Within each group there is a better description. We aren’t black people, white people, hispanic people, or asian people. We are just people. We are hurting people. We are scared people. We are lonely people. We are forgotten people. We are marginalized people. We are people who long for hope, but are sometimes hopeless people. We are people who desperately want to find meaning and purpose in this world.
Blanket removed, generalizations set aside, and focused narrowed. Now, you begin to see something even more powerful than people. You see a person. A person uniquely made in the image of a creator. A person uniquely loved by God. A person that Jesus laid down His life for. God loved the world, interpreted as each person in the world, so much that he laid down his life for them. He did this so that “whoever” regardless of their “group” might find eternal and abundant life in him.
Governments and political parties divide us into voting blocs. We divide ourselves based on culture and common walks of life. God loves us personally and individually. I wonder how a God view of this world would change the current climate of our culture. Let’s remove the blanket. Let’s take away the generalizations. Let’s the see the unique person that is only on this earth for a limited amount of time. A limited edition. A one time offer. A person made in the image of their Creator.
Take away the blanket. Remove the generalizations. I am a person. I am a person in need of grace. I am a person in need of love. I am a person that needs to be heard. I am a person in need of faith. I am a person that longs for respect, honor, and significance. And so are you.
Let’s shape the world around that view.
“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Galatians 3:28

The Struggle is Real – 3 Tips for Preparing for Sunday

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It’s amazing. Those Sundays seem to come every week whether I am prepared or not. Every week I take a day and half of another one to put together a sermon for the weekend. In addition, I spend time tinkering all the way up until late Saturday night. I know that is probably an astonishing amount of time for a 35 minute talk, but I need every bit of it. Even with that amount of time dedicated to a sermon it is still lacking some weekends. Not all of us can be Andy Stanley. In my case, I’m just shooting for at least Andy from Parks and Rec.

I’ve struggled to both change and improve my preaching. This certainly isn’t written as an expert, but just to share my struggle. Here are 3 things that I have come up with that I feel like have helped me improve.

1. Content before entertainment

No one wants to be the person that sees a bunch of glows on the faces of the people you are speaking to. No, I’m not talking about the glow that Moses experienced after being in the presence of God. I’m talking about the glow of an Iphone that is visible on the face of people when you are speaking from the pulpit. I’m sure they are searching scriptures on YouVersion and not scrolling through Facebook, but either way no one wants to be boring. If you aren’t careful you can end up losing your message in jokes, illustrations, and other things that are an attempt to make the sermon palatable. My practice is to take one study session to just put the content together for the message. Later, I will come back and look at the message to see how I can make it funny, or more enjoyable to listen to. At the end of the day, heck at the end of my life, I won’t be judged by how good my jokes were, but whether or not I taught people the Word of God.

2. Fresh not new

The bible says there is nothing new under the sun. When it comes to teaching scriptures, coming up with something new can be downright dangerous. Some new thought and suddenly everyone is in robes, head shaved, and drinking a big glass of kool aid. My job isn’t to teach anything new. It’s to take old truths and established principles, and make them fresh. With the Holy Spirit’s help, the job of a communicator is to bring the ancient scriptures into today’s issues of life and help make them relevant. This is probably the thing that I struggle with the most. Making scriptures applicable and helpful on Monday and not just inspiring on Sunday is much more difficult than it sounds. This is where we need the help of the Holy Spirit giving us wisdom to teach the Word of God. Paul told Timothy, “a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15 Amp). The struggle isn’t for something new, its for something fresh. Fresh comes from the Presence of God.

3. Helpful not original

It’s actually a form of spiritual pride to withhold helpful information from people because you didn’t come up with it. I once handed a small group lesson to a guy who promptly gave it back to me because he couldn’t teach anything that God didn’t give him. The problem is that the stuff God was giving him wasn’t very good or helpful. I guess God was just having writer’s block or an off day. His group fizzled because he couldn’t be humble enough to use other people’s material. I enjoy writing and speaking. I love developing content and sharing ideas. However, my main responsibility is to equip people with the word and help them live a victorious spiritual life. I’m a preacher not an artist. There is an art to preaching, but I can’t elevate art above the preaching. Give credit where credit is due if you use material from other people. (This blog was inspired by a blog from Hillsong) Let people know where you got it so they can get plugged into great resources that will hopefully help develop them spiritually as well. It’s great when I come up with something that I think and perhaps others think is really good. I hope that I am constantly learning and developing original material. However, it’s not about me. I’m here to serve people and I want to do that with the best material possible whether it’s mine or someone else’s.

Why There Isn’t Power in the Name of Jesus

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Acts 19:13-16
13 A group of Jews was traveling from town to town casting out evil spirits. They tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus in their incantation, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this. 15 But one time when they tried it, the evil spirit replied, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” 16 Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered.

There isn’t power in the name of Jesus, my hispanic friend. He’s a good guy and all, but there just isn’t any power in his name. If you need a helping hand for a move, he’s a nice guy and I’m sure he would be glad to help you out. If you need someone to complete your foursome for a round of golf, I’m sure he would like to join you. However, if you need a personal Savior, eternal salvation, or divine healing I’m afraid Jesus, my hispanic friend will let you down.

There have been many people whose name contained those same 5 letters in that precise sequence. So when does the name become more than a name? The 7 sons of Sceva found out that even alluding to the same name that Paul spoke of rendered them defeated and wounded. It sets a clear precedent that power isn’t in the name, but in the person of the name. Without a knowledge of what Paul described as “the mighty God in Christ” the name of Jesus becomes an incantation akin to Hocus Pocus, or Abracadabra. Perhaps we have even been guilty of utilizing the name as a good luck charm, or a hopeful incantation.

How do we have power in Christ through His name?

1. Guard Your Heart – In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to Hallow or Sanctify His name. The name Jesus should be set apart in a special place in our hearts. We should consistently reverence the name that is above every name.

2. Have a real and authentic relationship with Jesus – We may be able to fool others about our relationship with Jesus Christ, but we can’t fool everyone. Even demonic forces recognize when we are trying to evoke the name of Jesus in an inauthentic way. However, they have to respect and recognize the authority of the person that is in a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ. Power is the by product of a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ.

3. Worship the Name – When we elevate the name of Jesus in worship we bring heaven to earth. The name becomes more than just 5 letters in a certain sequence, it becomes the name of the Person who has all power in His hand.

There is only one who stands as our savior and healer. There is only one who is fully God and man. There is only one who was dead, but is risen and lives eternally. There is only one soon returning king, and it isn’t Jesus, my hispanic friend.

Church, Here is Why I’m Standing Firm

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Here is a list of why I’m in the church and I’m not going anywhere:

1. It’s Not About Me

You want a traditional church. Great. Sing weird songs and find beauty in stained glass. It’s not for me, but if its for you, go for it with everything you’ve got. You want a church with an IMAX screen. Great. Throw that rock concert fist in the air and worship Jesus with everything you’ve got. Preference doesn’t matter to me. ISIS and The Taliban are beheading people for believing that Jesus is the only savior of the world, but by all means, let’s get offended and leave the church over song styles and whether we have regular lights or LED lights. Ultimately, the church is for me, but its not about me. I shouldn’t have been let in, I don’t deserve to be a part, but by God’s great grace I got in and I’m not going anywhere. Find a church you like and devote yourself to it.

2. The Church of Jesus Christ is the Hope of the World

Hey church, I would like to remind us that we are still the City on the Hill. We are not simply a non profit organization and we are not another good community group. Governments will come and go, cultural fads will boom and bust, and even nations will rise and fall, but the church of Jesus Christ will stand. We are built on a solid rock. We are built on a strong foundation. We are anchored by a cornerstone that cannot be broken. I see other religions and ideologies that influence through fear, intimidation, and even violence. We are the light outside of the common culture of fear, despair, and hatred. We are the light that shines on a hill beaming faith, hope, and love.

3. I Want to be Ready

I need the church. The church needs me. Both are true, but one is more vital to my salvation. God uses the church to mature us. God uses the church to equip us. God uses the church to develop us into His plans and purposes. God uses the church to encourage us. The church is where I have built relationships that sharpen me. The church is the place where I found responsibility that has matured me. The church is where I have found a purpose that was greater than my own. Ultimately, its through the church that God has been preparing me to be a part of His bride that will be ready for the return of Jesus Christ. The church is God’s plan for the “perfecting” of the saints.

4. I Love Jesus

I love Jesus, Jesus loves the church, so I love the church. I love Jesus, Jesus gave His life for the church, so I give my life for the church. I don’t know how long I will get to ride on this dust ball called Earth. I’m presented with many options of things to live for and occupy my time while here. None of which will ever compare to Jesus and His church. It’s an honor and a privilege to dedicate my seconds, minutes, and hours for His cause and passion. My only prayer is that I will love His church the way He loves His church.

Why Sundays Matter

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Hebrews 10:23-25
23 Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24 Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

3 Reasons Why Sunday Matters in Your New Year:

1. Jesus

Jesus is worthy of our first and best. Dedicate the first part of your week to him in worship. When we gather to worship Jesus as a church we are proclaiming our public faith in the promises of Jesus Christ. We are declaring that there is salvation, healing, and power in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Sundays are much more than an obligation or religious tradition. Our corporate worship times are a declaration that we are holding tightly without wavering to the unwavering promises of God. We are a public Testament that Jesus Christ is a soon returning king.

2. Others

It’s interesting that the reasons listed in Hebrews for regular church attendance aren’t for our personal blessing. The writer doesn’t say that you might miss your Word from God, or that you might miss an encounter with God, or that you might miss your chance for a blessing. All of those are great and all of those happen in the House of God. However, his main reason for gathering in the House of God on a consistent basis was for the benefit of others. We are there to help motivate, we are there to help encourage, and we are there to serve a greater purpose than ourselves. Never underestimate the power of being in the room. My worship helps create an atmosphere of freedom for someone to find Christ. My support of the Word of God helps build faith for someone to experience their encounter with God. My smile and handshake helps encourage others in their faith. My serving helps set the table for others to enjoy God’s great banquet. Maybe you don’t need this Sunday, but someone else does. We don’t gather for the sake of ourselves alone, we gather for the sake of others. I want to be a part of someone’s salvation story, someone’s day of healing, or someone’s day of breakthrough. Great things happen on Sunday and I want to be a part of it.

3. Me

Last on my list is ourselves. Why? Because serving God through church attendance may be about others, but you can’t serve others without being blessed yourself. There is an immense joy in finding a purpose greater than yourselves. As a Pastor I get a front row seat to watch God move and bless the lives of the people that serve in God’s great house. Are their lives perfect? Absolutely not. Do they still have problems in their lives? Sure, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. Do they have an enduring joy and peace greater than their circumstances? Without a doubt. You can’t give your life away in the service of others without finding a better and truer life in Christ.

There are legitimate reasons for missing church. Vacation times and sick days top this list. However, to sit at home or to be occupied with hobbies and recreation is a distraction from your purpose as a believer in Jesus Christ. You can’t give your life away in worship to Jesus and service to others without finding a better, truer, and more joy filled life.

Christmas Story – 2014

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Christmas Story – 2014

Bethlehem. Besides sounding like a tasty french sandwich, this small community plays a dramatic role in the Christmas story. It shouldn’t. It should for the sake of all reasonableness be just another small town that no one has ever really heard of and certainly one that no one cares about. Sort of like the city of Tomato, Arkansas. Which could also be the name of a tasty sandwich. Bethlehem, it was divinely appointed and supernaturally orchestrated that Joseph and Mary would be in Bethlehem for the birth of the Savior of the world. You know you’re insignificant, when the bible says, you’re insignificant. And the bible talks about the insignificance and smallness of the city of Bethlehem. It was small, it was rural, less than 700 people resided there, but for a savior, for a short time, it was home. Bethlehem. It had all of the allure and grandeur of the Port Charlotte Shopping Mall. But hopefully it wasn’t as depressing. Bethlehem, the Walmart of cities. When God chose a place to introduce himself to the world, he chose Bethlehem. Not Rome. Not Rome with its world dominance and its royalty and towering theaters. Not Jerusalem. Not Jerusalem with its religious dominance and its Temple and its high priests. Most stars search for Bright Lights and a Big City, but not the Christmas Star. The Christmas star settled over frumpy and in need of a makeover Bethlehem. This speaks to me. It speaks to everyone who is searching for significance. Most of us weren’t born into stardom. Were not like that baby that was born to celebrity parents and now already has more followers on Instagram than me. What a jerk. Most of us weren’t born with significance. We have to search for it. Bethlehem had no significance of its own, and it wasn’t really searching for it. Bethlehem may not have been searching for significance, but significance came searching for Bethlehem. It’s the beauty of the Christmas story, angels singing, wise men searching, a strange rumor buzzing through a small community. Christ is here. Bethlehem now matters for all of eternity.

Mary. A young girl among many young girls in Israel at that time. I’m not for sure what her aspirations for life would have been. I wonder what she thought about when she laid awake at night and dreamed of what her future would be. I bet it didn’t include things like experiencing angelic visitations and getting pregnant by the Holy Ghost. There was, many years ago, a great king in her family. But I’m not for sure what that really did for her now. In a time of have’s and have nots, she was most likely a not. She wasn’t noble, she wasn’t wealthy, and she wasn’t famous. Like Bethlehem, she was small and probably insignificant. The most popularity she had ever experienced was when her number was called at the deli and everyone looked to see who’s turn it was. Mary. From obscurity to the world’s stage for all of time and eternity in 9 months flat. I wonder what her plans were. I wonder what her hobbies and interests would have been. I wonder what she was good at and what she thought her purpose on earth was all about. I’m sure at no point in her young life did she ever think I’m going to become the vessel of God and through me the salvation of the world is going to come to earth. People will sing songs about me and wear bathrobes to pretend to be me for future millenniums. It probably would have come off as a little cocky if she did. Christmas. God chose places and people outside of the world’s focus to tell his story and celebrate his arrival. Christmas. A night time setting, a small town overloaded with weary travelers, an overcrowded Inn, one forgotten couple, and the birth of a child. No phones, No internet, No cameras, No attention paid by the general public, yet here we are 2 millenniums later talking about Bethlehem, Mary, and Christmas.

Enter Jesus. Grace and truth in one long and wonderful embrace. The glory of God in touchable form. The adoration of angels and all created things. Mercy and Justice stirred into one sip. Incorruptible and Eternal Deity perfectly mixed with corruptible and temporal humanity. Enter Jesus. Leaving glory, adoration, and the comfort of home to enter a manger in a small, insignificant place to be held by common hands. To redeem places and people long sense forgotten. To bring purpose far beyond imagination. Enter Jesus. To leave the splendor of heaven’s gates to knock on our front door. To fill common, ordinary lives, with eternal and extraordinary purpose. Enter Jesus. Born in Bethlehem, killed in Jerusalem, and now seated in glory. Enter Jesus. Not just to temples, palaces, and castles, but to Bethlehem. Enter Jesus, not just to the royal, elite, or famous, but to Mary. Enter Jesus. Into every place, into every home, and into every life. Bringing hope, bringing joy, bringing eternal purpose. So we say, welcome Jesus. Welcome to our world, welcome to our home, and welcome to our life. We echo the song of angels, singing, Peace on earth and goodwill toward all men.