Thinking outside the Box (Just A Thought #27)

How many times have you heard the phrase "Let's think outside the box?" I’ve heard it more times than I care to. I am no longer going to think outside the box. I propose something new. Let’s get outside of the box, turn and set the box on fire!

Let's embrace God, and all that He has for us. Let's live, breathe and focus on the Lord daily. He is a God of Life! He is also a dangerous God. Let's not forget that either. God in the OT was not to be taken lightly! He hates sin and dealt with it accordingly! Rather it was sending fire down from heaven or opening the ground up to swallow people who sinned He was not a God to be trifled with. He still isn't! His view of sin has not changed. Should we be afraid of God? Remember the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom! Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:9; 9:10 and 15:33 all talk about that. However He was, is and always will be an awesome God. This is a God who created the heavens and the earth, who moved the sun back in the sky and sends a fiery chariot to pick up Elijah! God did the unexpected. He still does. He is worthy of our praise because there is none like Him. He is worthy of our praise because He is God!

In the New Testament Jesus also did the unexpected. He turned water into wine, raised the dead, spit in people's eyes, walked on water and died for our sins! The apostles and men and women of faith throughout history have also seen God move in and through them in remarkable ways.

So why do we settle for anything less? Why do we become complacent in our Bible reading, prayers and faith? Why are some people so set in their ways that the slightest variations in church cause massive heartburn to the regular attendees?

It's time to shake off our spiritual lethargy. It's time to take a fresh view on our faith. Let's renew our focus and devotion to the Lord. Let’s embrace the LIFE He has for us. Let's step away from the things that bleed the life out of us and step into the joy the Lord has for us in His unexpected, fresh ways.

Church is good, traditions are good, God is Great! I am not knocking church or church traditions. I am saying there is more than routine. There is hope! There is Life! I don’t want to settle for second best or a lackadaisical Christianity. I want to experience all that God has for me! I want a fresh awakening! I want more than punching a time card of faith. I want all that God has for me! Life!


New Song Rising

My wife and one of our close friends have started a blog on Worship. This is Sarah's (my wife) first posting:

Lifestyle Worship

I have had the opportunity, several times in the past, to lead worship in small groups and churches, either alone, or as part of a worship team. At times I really enjoyed it, and at times I wondered why God had picked me. After all, there were others around with better skills and more outgoing personalities, not to mention, voices that could actually carry further than three feet from where I stood.

When I thought about my role, I often considered choice of songs, corresponding Scripture, applicability and the desired heart response of the congregation, as the important things I could bring to the table. I would pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit and for His working in the hearts and minds of His people. I asked the Father to glorify Himself and to use me in spite of my weakness. I would look at each service as a chance to lead others into worship, through which they could meet with God on a new level.

The Lord’s grace is abundant and He is so patient with us as we learn His ways and His heart. I am thankful for the many opportunities He has given me to express praise to Him publicly, and for His gracious acceptance of the worship I have given. However, it is becoming clear to me now, that the focus and intent I have had, has not always been pure.

First, there has been the issue of pride. Every time I have compared or contrasted myself and my abilities to another, and wished to be as vocally and musically sharp as them, I have rejected my own essence–that with which God has blessed me. A humble person can be who God has made them, knowing that dependence on Him is their only hope. A proud person seeks those things which will affirm their worth in the presence of others. I have discovered, that as opposed to what I used to think, many wonderfully talented and skilled people are beautiful examples of humility. It doesn’t matter what we can or cannot do. What truly matters, is whether we have been able to accept what God has placed within us, and offer it back to Him with a spirit of thanksgiving.

Second, I think back on some of the stressful times I have had “preparing for worship.” Can we, in fact, prepare to worship? Of course, if that includes asking God to “create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit in me.” But preparing song lists, Scriptures and “themes” for our corporate times of worship would actually be considered “preparing for a worship time.” Nothing wrong with that–just that it will not leave us any more prepared for worship. Only the Holy Spirit can do that, and only when He has been invited to do so. Then, under His guidance, we can lead others to worship in spirit and in truth.

So, this week I begin preparing to lead others in worship at a brand new church gathering. I pray that as I seek the Lord, He will reveal to me what it is to live a life of worship. I am excited about different forms of worship–songs, scripture readings, meditation, art, poetry, spoken praise, banners, dance, etc… Yet, somehow, I know that there is more.

This morning I can’t shake the phrase, “It’s not how you worship, it’s who.” If I desire to lead others to worship Christ, I need to know Him intimately. I need to be able to demonstrate what He means to me. I need to know His names and their meanings. How desperately I long for Him to reveal more of His plan and power to me! How greatly I need His peace to flood over me so that others see it and want to know where it comes from! His greatness is so vast, His character so immense that I run out of words. Yet, as part of living a life of worship, I need to use the words I do know, to describe Him to others.

All of this being said, my greatest need is perhaps to rest in my Father’s love for me and stop striving to be a “good worshipper.” If I change that to “God worshipper,” I have transferred my focus to where it ought to be.


Jonah and the Fish!

I was thinking about Jonah this week. I was talking to my daughter about some of the lessons to be learned from that little 4 chapter book. This was preceded by a conversation with a man a few days back who also mentioned the lessons to be learned from Jonah.

It took me back to a message I heard delivered by a man working with Teen Challenge. I don't remember the sermon but I do remember the 4 points. Allow me to share them with you.

Chapter 1. Jonah ran from God.

Jonah was tasked with delivering a message from the Lord to the people of Nineveh. He did not obey. Instead he took matters into his own hand and ran from the Lord. He did not stop. He took off. Thinking he could escape the will of God he jumps onto a ship. Do you ever feel this way? Are you ever daunted by a command from the Lord and want to tuck tail and run? I know there are times when I feel the Lord nudging me in a certain direction and I want to hit the road going the opposite way. Why is that? It may be we will feel embarrassed or unqualified. Maybe we are comfortable where we are at and don't want to upset our nice apple cart. Something to think about.

Chapter 2. Jonah ran towards God.

Jonah could not run far. God allowed a nice little storm to brew up and so frighten the crew that they turned everyone on board out to ascertain if someone there had angered their gods. Jonah finally pops up that yeah he was running from the Lord and was eventually tossed overboard. The storm stopped and Jonah gets swallowed by a big fish. Funny thing happens in there. While sitting in the belly of the fish, which had to smell horrible, was a bit dark and really wet, Jonah comes to his senses and repents. He turns to God. How many times do your circumstances catch up to you and you finally turn to the Lord? Look how Jonah's sin of disobedience affected others. Sin does that. Our sins affect others. Scary when you think about it. However, if we turn to God and repent He will deliver us just as He did Jonah. The fish belched Jonah out on dry land!

Chapter 3. Jonah ran with God.

This is where we want to be right here. Running with God! Jonah gets out of the fish and runs with God. He goes to Nineveh and preaches the word of the Lord. He delivers the message God wanted Him to deliver. The citizens of Nineveh respond to the Word of the Lord and repent! God had told them, through Jonah, of a coming judgment. They respond, just as we should when confronted with our sin, in repentance. God heard their cry and forgave them. Jonah, he was running with God in obedience. He should have stopped there. Jonah went one step to far.

Chapter 4. Jonah ran ahead of God.

Jonah wanted destruction to fall on Nineveh. He kind of felt that with all he did and went through God should go ahead and punish them. He got angry. Even a bit testy with the Lord. The Lord rebuked Jonah for his thoughts. For his anger and frustration. Do you ever run ahead of God? Maybe not is delivering a message but how about in taking matters into your own hands. When your circumstances get overwhelming do you run to God and then with God or do you allow yourself to run ahead of Him and try to solve the problems yourself?

In all of this there is a challenge to me and to you. Live a life of running with God. Don't fall behind or get ahead of Him but run with Him. Stay close to Him. Listen for His voice and obey!


Arms of Love

Rejection. The word drips with misery. It is painful. When we are rejected we tend to reject others.

I was not the most popular child during my growing up years. Skinny, sickly and uncoordinated, I never seemed to fit in. I had friends, but they seemed to come and go. We moved a lot and by the 3rd grade I had lived in Maryland twice and was back in Pennsylvania for the second time.

I hated recess and gym class because I was the kid who always seemed to be picked last. Occasionally a friend would pick me next to last to save me the "embarrassment" of being picked last. Throughout my elementary and junior high years I was beat up, pushed around, chased, and so harassed that I began to fear the very thought of walking the halls. I remember once sitting on a ramp talking to a friend and waking up on the ground. A kid, one I had never met, took a pair of cleats and repeatedly beat me over the back and neck until I passed out.

The there was the other forms of rejection I experienced. Girls. I always had an interest in girls from the time I was very young but never found the interest reciprocated. My brother, who was a year younger than I, always seemed to like the same girls and they tended to gravitate to him. I was once told he was the better looking one, and many just saw me as a "friend", if at all. They would laugh at me if I expressed interest in them. One girlfriend I did have, broke up with me and wanted me to arrange a date with my brother!

These and other areas of rejection were piling up to the point that, by my late teens, I no longer cared. I had developed a wall around my heart that was very thick. I was going to make sure no one hurt me again. I had excepted Christ into my life at the age of 14 but I was not yet ready to let Him reign in my life! I became very thick-skinned in many areas. I still felt the pain of past and ongoing rejections but as time went by the pain impacted me less and less. I remained this way until I was 24. That summer I fell hard for a woman at my work. We hit it off fast and I was determined to keep her in my life. There was a problem though...I wanted to be a missionary and she did not. I ignored her subtle and not so subtle hints in this regard and went on enjoying my summer romance. Then she threw me a curve by breaking off our relationship and saying she felt God had wanted her to do so. I was angry and hurt not only at her but this time at God as well. Again I had been rejected.

Shortly afterward I went to Texas for a YWAM (Youth With A Mission) Discipleship Training School (DTS). While at the school, I met my future wife. However my walls were still in place, firmer than ever. Then one day, a speaker shared about the Father Heart of God. I had a very hard week dealing with the concept of God's love. I had been rejected so many times, I blamed God for that rejection. Finally, int he midst of the class, I felt like I could take no more of this lesson and I bolted from the classroom. I headed for the restroom where I sank to the floor and began sobbing uncontrollably.

I later found out that during this time my future wife, who had noticed my sudden departure, began praying that God would wrap His arms of love around me.

I cannot fully explain what happened during this time. As I sat on the floor of the restroom weeping, I suddenly felt a warmth wrap around my shoulders. It felt as if I was being given a huge bear hug. Almost like a blanket had been thrown over my shoulders. I began to feel the love of God penetrate the deepest areas of my life. My walls began to crumble. My tears switched from tears of pain to those of immense joy and relief. I began to get a true inkling of the Father's love for me.

It took time for me to let God tear down all of the walls I had built up. However, He began a work that day which changed my life forever. It was a process. It took some time but I felt the arms of the Father that day. I felt His arms of love.

"He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carried them close to His heart..." Isaiah 40:11

No matter what pain you have experienced in life...God can tear down those walls. Will you let Him reach out to you with His love?