Friday, 17 June 2011
The Serenade
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A troubadour stands below the window of his truelove. His heart aches to be in her presence . . . to see her face again. Lovingly, he begins to sing a song expressing his undying love for her. The rest of the world fades into the background as his thoughts are only of her. As the serenade continues he anxiously watches the window for any sign that she is listening. He pours his heart and soul into his song, pushing through the fear that she isn’t. His persistence pays off. As she throws open the window and smiles down upon him, his heart bursts with joy.

This was a vision I had recently during Praise and Worship service. Our Praise and Worship Team was on the platform singing. Our purpose in doing so is not to entertain, so if you come for a show, see the hostess at the door for your refund. Our role is to welcome the presence of the Lord into the service and to lead the congregation into worship. That day it felt like our songs were going out and hitting a brick wall. Ever see on TV where someone tells a joke and no one laughs? They play a sound effect of crickets chirping. That’s what it felt like.

So I began to pray and ask the Lord why the service seemed so dead. We were singing a song saying that we should get to dancing and leaping and shouting, and we might as well have been saying get to slouching and snoozing and sleeping. Then God gave me the vision of the singing troubadour. Who were we singing to -- the congregation or to God? At once I envisioned myself as the troubadour singing at the windows of heaven. My heart ached to be in His presence. I sang with praise in my heart and on my lips. The rest of the singers and the congregation faded into the background. I looked for any sign that He was listening as I poured my heart out. Finally I felt that the windows had been opened as His presence, a sweet Spirit, filled the room and my heart was joyful. I began to see the change in others as they also felt His presence.

Deuteronomy 6:5
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.

God desires our praise and worship. Praise is defined as the offering of grateful homage in words or song, as an act of worship: a hymn of praise to God. Worship is reverent honor and homage paid to God. If we sing a song just to sing it or because we like how it sounds or to hear how good we sound, it doesn’t do anything but make a sound. But if we sing a song from a place in our heart that loves the Lord and wants to shower Him with our love and affection, then we are making a joyful noise and He will be moved.

2 Chronicles 20:21-22
After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the LORD and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: “Give thanks to the LORD, for his love endures forever.” As they began to sing and praise, the LORD set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.

When King Jehoshaphat learned that a massive army was coming against him, he sought the help of the Lord. He called the people of Judah to a fast. God answered their cries and assured them that the battle was not theirs, but His. They were to go out and position themselves, but they were not to fight. They were to stand still and see the salvation of the Lord. Jehoshaphat then appointed the singers who went out at the head of the army. As they began to sing and praise the Lord, He fought the battle for them. Our praise and worship moves Him.

When Paul and Silas were sitting in prison (Acts 16), they weren’t crying and wringing their hands. They were singing hymns and praises to God, and it says the other prisoners were listening. A mighty earthquake shook the prison and they were freed from their chains. It wasn’t just Paul and Silas that were freed, but everyone in the jail. How many people come into our services bound down by sin, sorrow or pain? We sing a song about this event in Acts. One verse says, “Some midnight hour, if you should find you’re in a prison in your mind. Reach out and praise, defy those chains, and they will fall in Jesus name.” Our praise and worship moves Him.

Ephesians 5:19-20
Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Praise and Worship isn’t just an agenda item to be checked off during Sunday service. It is a time to set aside all our cares and worries and anxiety and fears and focus on God. We can’t just get up and sing four songs and say, “whew, that part is over – next”. We shouldn’t feel rushed or bored. Quit thinking about where you are going to eat lunch or checking out what everyone is wearing or worrying what someone might think of you if you got to dancing, leaping and shouting. This is our time with God, so don’t waste the opportunity. We need to be in one mind and one accord. I think that’s why sometimes I feel the presence of God more during our praise team practice than I do on Sunday mornings. But you don’t have to limit yourself to Sundays. You can sing and praise Him at home and get into His presence. Our praise and worship moves Him.

We need to be like the lovesick troubadour whose only desire is to be in the presence of his truelove. He doesn’t care if people passing by think he is a drunk or some lovesick fool. He doesn’t care how he looks to the world. He only cares that his truelove will come to the window and shine the light of her love down upon him. He clings to the hope that one day they will always be together.

 

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Posted on 06/17/2011 7:04 AM by Susan Nelson
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Friday, 10 June 2011
Invite People to the Real Church
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“I want to invite you to our church. You will love our Pastor – he is such a nice guy and makes you feel welcome. He is a great speaker and his sermons are never long and boring.”

“I want to invite you to our church. We have the best singers – you’ve just got to hear them. They can sing anything from traditional to contemporary.”

“I want to invite you to our church. The people are so nice and get along so well. And we have some of the best cooks you’ll find. You can’t pass up one of our church dinners – everything is so good.”

“I want to invite you to our church. We have a great youth program. There are classes for every age group. They do lots of activities with the kids and take them on field trips.”

“I want to invite you to our church. We have installed all the latest technology in the sanctuary and the Bible study classrooms. You could even watch the sermon from home and not even have to get out of bed!”

Luke 14:23
And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.

We are encouraged to invite people to church. After all, how will the unsaved become saved unless they hear the word of God? (Romans 10:17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.) We extend our invitation to friends, family and even strangers we might encounter in the course of our day. But our invitation is usually more than giving someone a place and time to show up. We feel compelled to “sell” our church. After all, there are a lot of churches around that people could choose from. We want them to know what makes our church special or different from all the others. The size and location of the church, the pastor, the teachers, the choir, the social connections, youth programs, music style and aesthetic appeal can all be factors to someone who is “church shopping.”

If our goal is simply to fill every seat in the sanctuary, then this is a great approach. All we have to do is make sure we have a great pastor, who preaches brief, non-boring sermons. We’ll need a rocking choir that will keep the people on their feet. We can paint the place inside and out and install new fixtures and amenities. We can plan lots of family friendly activities and events that will appeal to young and old alike. We’ll keep the engaged and entertained – they’ll never want to leave.

Has your church become more like a social club than a house of worship? Has it become the place to come see others and to be seen? A church is indeed what we call the building that is designated for Christian worship. But as I have quoted before, being in a church building doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes you a car. However, the real church isn’t the building, regardless of its architectural excellence. The real church is the body of believers united by their faith in Christ. This is the church we should be inviting others to join.

With this in mind, let’s rethink how we can invite others to our church. As good “fishers of men”, we want to cast a wide net. We shouldn’t pick or choose who we ask based on how they look or what we think about them. God says it is His will that none should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Also, when inviting people, we shouldn’t think about what our church does or doesn’t have in terms of programs or amenities. Maybe you haven’t invited people because you think your church is lacking in some area – like not enough programs for youth or maybe you think the music is bad. Maybe the person you invite will become a youth pastor or a great singer or musician! But that won’t happen if you don’t do your part. We need to trust God to take care of these things.

In extending the invitation, think spiritual instead of material. Who cares if you just put down new carpeting or if your praise team includes a cool dude who plays drums? Are they looking for a place to relax or a place to rest their soul? Instead, invite them to a place where they can feel and be in the presence of God. Invite them to a place where they will hear the word of Truth preached, that will go out and not return void. Invite them to a place where they can find out what it means to have a personal relationship with their Creator. Invite them to a place where they can become a part of body that loves Christ and loves one another. Invite them to a place where they can learn who Jesus Christ is and what He did for them – a place where they can freely choose whether or not to accept Him as their personal savior.

Philippians 3:18-21
For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.

Not everyone you invite is going to stay. We take it so personally when we invite people and they either don’t show up or they never come back after the first visit. Did you invite them to church or did you invite them to a relationship with Christ? If all you did was invite them to come hear the choir or a sermon in a building, then they just missed a show – no big deal. There’s another one next Sunday. But if you have shared the Gospel with them and invited them to hear the Word of God and be changed, then you have done your part. If they reject the opportunity, they have not rejected you, but have rejected Christ.

Not everyone who comes to your church should stay there. In John 6, Jesus said that no one could come to Him unless the Father draws him. We need to do our part – inviting and welcoming people – and let God do His, which is determining who will become a part of the body of Christ. Just because someone attends your church doesn’t mean they are a member of the body of Christ. If they have no intention of following Christ, then we need to let God remove them from our midst instead of fighting to hold on to them so we can keep up our precious attendance numbers. Otherwise, they might become a cancer to our church body.

If we aren’t inviting people to church for the right reasons, then we are in danger of becoming like the hypocritical Pharisees. Jesus said to them in Matthew 23, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” There is more to church than a building or rituals or traditions. To be a part of a church is to dwell in Christ. In Revelation, we read about the New Jerusalem and the new heaven and earth. Here there are no churches on every corner. There are no denominations. There is only the Body of Christ dwelling with God.

Revelation 21:22-27
But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

Our churches – the buildings – are special places. They are God’s house and we do want them to be clean and look nice and have nice things. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, we get ourselves in trouble when we neglect God’s house. But people do not come to worship a building. They come to worship the One, True, Living God. It’s all about intention and motivations. Do you want to just fill the house or do you want to fill it with saved souls. Do you want your church to be the hip place to be or the place that leads hearts to salvation? Promotion and marketing might bring them in, but only the Spirit of God will cause them to remain.
 

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Posted on 06/10/2011 9:30 AM by Susan Nelson
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Friday, 3 June 2011
Practicing What You Preach
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Each day when I get dressed, I usually put on the same jewelry, even though I have several boxes that hold a variety of earrings, necklaces and bracelets. The only ring I wear is my wedding ring. I wear a pair of silver hoop earrings that my mother-in-law gave me. My watch is a $7 Walmart special. And I always wear a small gold cross on a gold chain . . . until about a week ago when the clasp broke.

I was washing my hands and when I looked in the mirror, I saw the chain dangling on my shirt. My immediate fear was that the cross might have slipped off and was lost. But as I carefully picked up the ends of the necklace, I found it was still there. The necklace has great sentimental value to me. The cross, of course, is symbolic of my faith in Jesus Christ. The necklace is also special to me because my husband bought it for me for Christmas about 10 years ago. That may not seem like a big deal to most people, but to me it meant something. It meant that he understood the change that I had made in my life and the commitment I had made to serving God. Even though he has not made the same choice (yet), he has never held me back or begrudged me any of the time or effort I have made in serving God and supporting our church.

Even though I wear the necklace every day, I am surprised by how often I am complimented on it – especially by people who see me every day. Every baby I’ve held wants to, of course, put it in his or her mouth. My kids at school will touch it and look at it and ask me about it. It has been a conversation starter with adults who have commented on it. I never realized how often I touched it while wearing it until it was gone and I found myself reaching for something that wasn’t there. It has become a part of me and I have felt kind of naked without it.

Isaiah 64:6
But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.

One of the thoughts that ran through my mind was would people know who I am without it? Of course, I know that wearing a cross necklace doesn’t make me a Christian any more than wearing a stethoscope would make me a doctor. I guess I had felt like the necklace was a way to “advertise” Jesus and to let people know what I believe. That led to other thoughts as I wondered if my actions and behavior were where they needed to be. Matthew 7:16 says that “you will know them by their fruits.” Actions speak louder than words or anything you might wear. I wondered how many times when I was wearing that necklace that my actions and words didn’t line up with what it represented. What mixed messages had I been sending?

When our church used to have a van with the church’s name on it, we would joke about being on our best behavior while driving or riding in it. It was in jest, because we all fully understood that our behavior should be the same whether we were in the church van or in our own personal vehicles. While this is true, it would also be true to say that we took our behavior more seriously when we were in that van. We can often get more lax when we are in our comfort zone, like at home.

Recently during prayer, God spoke into my spirit that I needed to check my behavior at home. We feel comfortable with our family at home – they see us at our worst and love us warts and all. But I need to be more careful of my words and actions and be on guard. My husband is unsaved and my daughter, though she has always gone to church with me and has been baptized, is at an impressionable age. He cautioned me to make sure that I am not just giving them the love of a wife and mother, but that I am also demonstrating Godly love. I need to be more patient and understanding and less short-tempered. In other words, I need to quit sweating the small stuff and focus on what counts. This has been easier said than done, because they both do things that get on my very last nerve. But I am trying, because I do want them to see Christ in me and I do want to “practice what I preach.”

As Christians, we have a responsibility to behave in a way that brings honor to Christ. People are watching and some would love to use our failures as an excuse not to serve Him. Does that mean you have to be perfect? No, but it does mean you have to be more open. How will people know that we have a God that forgives us if we aren’t even willing to admit our mistakes?

Hopefully in the next week or so I will make it to a jewelry store and get the clasp on my necklace fixed. I look forward to wearing it again. I had always thought that wearing it said something to others. But now I think it is more of a reminder to me that I need to always be aware of who I am, who I represent and what I am to be doing. Practicing what you preach and keeping it real is essential in winning people to Christ.
 

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Posted on 06/03/2011 9:00 AM by Susan Nelson
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