Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Excellence in Music Ministry, Life

I attended the Shepherd's Conference in March of this year at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA where John MacArthur preaches. It was a time of great encouragement and excellent Bible teaching from Godly men who have a deep understanding of God's Word. Some of my favorites would be John MacArthur, Al Mohler and Phil Johnson.

Since my function in our church at Sylvan Way Baptist is to lead people in worship, I figured that the appropriate workshops at the conference I should attend would be on music and worship.

I went to a couple and really enjoyed each one, but one thing in particular stuck out at me and that was to be excellent in what we do because God deserves nothing less. To work our hardest to achieve excellence in our music. This made sense and started me thinking on how we can do little things in a service that are less than our best.

As a musician, excellence would mean consistent and tight rhythm, on-key vocals, playing the right chords, not going too fast or too slow, being cohesive, etc.

It would be a crying shame if we were to do anything less than our best when performing our instruments and voices, not that we are performing for the church, rather, we are performing for the Lord.

This should also beg the question... If excellence in music ministry is important, how much more so in our life? After all, obedience is, in itself, worshiping God. We have to lay our pride and motives aside and allow Jesus to be Lord when we obey his Word. When we do that, we are, in effect, worshiping Him. It's awesome! We cannot live our life as we want and then come to church for an hour on Sunday and worship God. It does not work that way. We are deceived if we think it does. We worship God in music when we praise Him for His mercy, grace, compassion, love, healing, protection, etc. We worship Him when we sing of how great He is. We cannot, however, worship God this way if we do not have a relationship with Him. It comes from our outpouring of thankfulness, humbleness, sorrow, joy...from what He is doing or has done in our life.

It is so important for church leaders (even the worship leaders) to be excellent in what is good and innocent in evil (Romans 16:19). We must be examples as to what worship really is (hence the worship leader title).

I recently held a meeting for our worship team and we talked about the excellence factor in what we do as musicians. We have come a long way in how we play together and it's been a huge blessing to have talented people who also want excellent music.

Needless to say, we remember that God told us to make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the Earth. We also remember that worship is... not to us, not to us, oh Lord, but to Your name be the glory.

Even if our best isn't as good as someone else's best. The important thing is that we are trying our best and giving God back... the gifts he gave us in the first place.

With this in our team's minds, we are really fortunate to be able to attend a Christian Musicians Summit being held at Overlake Church in the Kirkland, WA area. We'll be led in worship by Lincoln Brewster, Paul Baloche, Laura Storey and a bunch more. The workshops will be right on target and super beneficial for any musician striving for excellence. Can't wait!

For any musician out there... keep practicing to become better! God deserves nothing less. And whether you play something or not, remember that obedience was always considered of more value to God than sacrifice was. Today, obedience is still crucial and we must still worship the Lord with it.

God bless!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Obedience and Sacrifice

Most of us are aware that there is a certain amount of obedience that is required of us no matter where we are in life. On the way to work we have to obey the law and stay at the speed limit. When we get to work we have to punch in on time. Throughout the day we are to follow policies and procedures. The list can go on if we really think about it.

One of the most fundamental truths for us as Christians is that obedience is something that glorifies God. We glorify God when we are obedient to Him.

Even in the Old Testament, God wanted to see His people obey Him. That was more important to Him than sacrificing, in and of itself.

Sometimes we think that as long as the Old Testament people burned the right animals in the right places at the right time, they were good to go. We tend to settle on the fact that they were allowed to live a legalistic spirituality and that's the way it was done back then. Nothing could be farther from the truth! We will see how this has never been the case, even since Creation.

I have two primary object lessons which will fall on Abraham, the father of many nations, and Saul, the first king of Israel.

1st lesson: A sacrifice is just that...a sacrifice. If there was no value in the object being sacrificed then it wouldn't be much of a sacrifice would it? When God oftentimes commanded a sacrifice it was one that had to be a pure animal, firstborn. The way of life back then was very much dependant on livestock and fields to grow things in. You were rich or poor depending on the amount of animals you had and how healthy they were. Sacrificing your best animal (be it a lamb, goat, calf, etc.) was something that kind of hurt. It was indeed a true sacrifice, hopefully given with gladness to the Lord. Needless to say, the sacrifice that God had commanded would not have been our first choice. Hence, the sacrifice aspect of it...

A great illustration of obedience and sacrifice brought into one story is that of Abraham and Isaac. The story is found in Genesis 22.

God commanded him to go and sacrifice his son (his only son, flesh and bones). Yes, to kill him on an altar like you normally would an animal. To understand the depth of this command and the heart struggle that Abraham undoubtedly would have felt we need to understand the story behind the story.

Abraham and Sarah were saddened that Sarah was barren. She couldn't have any kids. When it got to the point that they were getting as old as the turn of the century, they were pretty much done hoping. After all, they were past their prime.

God promised Abraham and Sarah one day that she would bear children and Sarah laughed! Her faith was not as strong as Abraham's. Needless to say, she got pregnant and along came Isaac. God always follows through with His word. This was a miracle to them that God had accomplished and they were ecstatic to be parents. forward a couple decades, maybe, and God tells Abraham that he wants him to sacrifice his one and only son on an altar. Can you imagine the confusion and dread that hit him at that moment? How could he be asked to do that?

I think that Abraham was so convinced that God was sovereign, holy, and perfect that he had no doubt that God would, again, do something that Abraham could not fathom. In fact, in this passage, once Abraham was told to do this it does not show him arguing with God, rather the next verse says that he got up early the next morning with Isaac and started travelling to the mountain that he was supposed to go to. He just did what he was told. He was obedient without a second thought. That's the obedience that God desires from us still today!

When they finally arrived, Abraham bound Isaac on the wood on the altar and raised his hand to slay Isaac. Can you believe he actually made it this far? This is the moment of truth. Apparently he was going to follow through because an angel of the LORD yelled out and stopped him, "Abraham! Abraham!"

Abraham had passed the test. What test...? He was obedient to the Lord with absolutely no reservation. He withheld nothing. Not even his son.

The angel of the LORD said in verse 12, "Now I know you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."

Utimately, he is commended and blessed by the most holy Jehovah (seriously...imagine that!) when he is told by God in verse 18: "...All nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."

That was the point. That is the lesson. That is what we should desire to become like. Obedience without reservation. Faith.

He was also promised amazing blessings back in verse 17 and 18: "I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."

In the New Testament, Paul had referred to Abraham many times when he was trying to convince his readers of the importance of the status of our heart. Paul new that following the right rules was not necessarily an indicator of our obedience to the Lord or how spiritual we are.

Romans 4 quotes Genesis 15:6: "Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteouseness."

In Romans 4:13, Paul goes on to explain that "it was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith."

I don't want to confuse anyone into thinking that we're talking about the importance of faith or obedience as two separate issues because they do, in fact, go hand in hand. If someone articulates their faith in God, that's great! It really means something, though, when it is expressed through their life of obedience to Christ. The same concept applies to our worship of God. We can sing songs that are "worshipful" on Sunday morning, but if we're not living a life of obedience to Christ, then we are not really worshiping Him. In fact, I would say that we would be in danger of glorifying Satan rather than God if we're living a double life, because we are showing others that a "Christian" just has to go through the motions. That's a dangerous life to live if we are misrepresenting Christ.

Let's look at object lesson number 2: King Saul. He was the first king of the Israelites. God had always been their leader and it was supposed to stay that way, but the people being afraid of the surrounding nations and their kings, pleaded with God to give them a king of their own. Can you imagine what that must have been like for God to hear his people ask him for a leader to protect them from their enemies?! Interestingly enough, God had spoken to Abraham when he was still alive and told him that his descendants would do exactly that. God knew it would happen but the fact remains that the Israelites displayed a lack of faith and fear in God. God even warned them that the person that was chosen would be someone that the Israelites would later regret. Enter King Saul.

Saul did a lot of things in his tenure as king that grieved the Lord and caused dissension among some of his people. He is a picture of an angry, power hungry man, but also one who did want to do the right thing...sometimes with his own method.

There was a point in time when God spoke through the prophet Samuel and told Saul that he was going to be used to destroy the Amalekites. This is found in 1 Samuel 15:

"I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys."

Pretty clear instructions: Nothing lives; everything dies.

We fast forward through the fight and see that Saul overtook the Amalekites afterall. Did he finish them off as he was told? Verses 8 and 9 says:

"He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword. But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed."

We see a deliberate disobedience to the Word of the Lord. Remember how I mentioned earlier how important animals and staple products were to making a decent living? They represented wealth. This was a great temptation that Saul gave into.

Imagine if you were asked to be responsible for shredding all the old money in the Federal Reserve. They shred close to $1 million per day, at any one location! Cash, as we all know, is what we usually think we need more of. There would be a great temptation to pocket a little (or a lot) of that cash that is still spendable. Why shred it when it's still good? This is what Saul thought and decided against his better judgement and kept the good animals to himself and his men.

God tells Samuel that he is grieved that Saul turned away from him and did not carry out his instructions. Think about that... if we are not being obedient to God then we are, essentially, turning away from God. That is devastating!

Samuel ends up confronting a defensive Saul who argues that he was obedient to the fullest. When Samuel questions the sound of bleeting sheep in the background, Saul quickly tries to cover himself by (blaming the men in his army) and then saying...

"The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest."

Doesn't that sound like anything we would have done to desperately dig out of the hole that we know we made for ourselves? Saul knew full well that he was in trouble for his disobedience and he was trying everything. He was even desperate enough to tell Samuel that he really kept the animals to sacrifice to God (again...not much of a sacrifice since they weren't his to begin with). Besides that... Samuel is a prophet and he already talked to God about Saul so they knew that Saul was lying before he even finished his sentence. Samuel was frustrated enough to yell at Saul, "Stop!"

Samuel told Saul, after another round of the blame game, something that should have sunk deep to Saul who was very familiar with the sacrifical atonement system of the Old Testament.

"Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams."

God will lay out some guidelines for us and give us direction in our lives that may not make sense all the time, but they are always for our benefit and His glory. As long as we are obedient to Him and what He has commanded us, we will be living a life that glorifies Him and worships Him.

This should be our desires as Christians, for what would be the point to professing faith in Christ if we do not live in a way that confirms it? After all... even demons believe in God..and they shudder about it.

Let us seek His face and pray that we may glorify God in spirit and in truth through our obedience to His word.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What is the Biblical explanation of worldliness?

Many times we think that doing anything the world does is "worldly", however why would anything like working on cars and enjoying fine food be considered worldly, in and of itself? It's impossible for us to not be somewhat engaged in what others do, who are not Christian, because we all have to do many of the same things. We also experience many of the same things, Christians and non-Christians alike... The rain falls on the righteous and the wicked.

According to C. J. Mahaney, he describes the world we're not supposed to love as the organized system of human civilization that is actively hostile to God and alienated from God.

If you remember back to the Old Testament days of the Israelites and the surrounding countries that they lived by, they also had to reject those God-hating and God-rejecting people. Back then, the Israelites were the only ones who followed the true God. All of the other countries were pagans, idolaters, and living in enmity with God. They hated the Israelites for the very reason of their God and their faithfulness to him (although the Israelite history is somewhat checkered).

When we consider the prospect of being worldly we need to know what it is that the Bible warns us about. God created the world and said it was very good. That's one of the first things we read about in Genesis. He gave it to us to enjoy and to cultivate and labor on, so that we can live in it. (the laboring being the consequence of Adam's sin in the Garden of Eden).

We are not, however, supposed to turn around and love the creation instead of the Creator. This is sin. Romans 1:25 says that "they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised. Amen."

Notice that phrase "exchanged the truth of God for a lie". We are deceived if we think that worshiping and glorifying anything or anyone else, but God, is acceptable.

Here is where we see the world, being the fallen world, manifesting itself in us... John 2:16:

"For everything in the world--the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does--comes not from the Father but from the world."

Worldliness is not a battle of specific do's and don't's in the external world. It is a battle of flesh and spirit in our hearts. When Jesus was talking to the woman at the well he told her that the true worshipers would not be confined to worshiping on this mountain or Jerusalem, rather they would worship in spirit and in truth.

Worshiping in spirit is refering to worshiping with the right heart, which fits right into worshiping in truth. We cannot truly worship God if we do not believe and love the truth that he has shown us. Worshiping God is not a matter of location, but a matter of your heart, that only God really knows.

We will break down the three parts to John 2:16 in the next couple posts, talking about what the cravings of sinful man look like; what the lust of his eyes means; and what boasting of what he has and does is implying.

These will give us a very important understanding of ourselves and our ability to become worldly because we can become worldly if we're not on our guard.

As always, let's get some discussion going!

Friday, August 14, 2009


What does it really mean? Is extreme left or extreme right better? Does it make a difference?

I am reading a book right now that is edited by C. J. Mahaney and written by him and some other contributing authors. This book is a book that I would have written had someone asked me to write was on my heart. It touches on the details in our lives that we ALL face day to day and challenges us to consider whether or not we are, or are becoming, worldly.

I'm going to work through this book on this blog and would love feedback to spark some... as Dr. Albert Mohler would call it, intelligent Christian conversation.

To start, what would you say a biblical definition of worldly is? After all, we are not to love the world or anything in the world according to 1st John 2:15, but we also know that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, will not perish, but will have everlasting life, according to John 3:16.

So what is the proper and biblical view of worldiness? When do we start to become like the world in our attempt to engage it? What's wrong with that anyway? This book addresses these questions and we will be answering them with the clear instruction of Scripture.

Any thoughts to start...?