Is Worship That Complicated?”

“Sing to the LORD, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day.
24Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
25 For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.
26 For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.” (I Chronicles 16:23-31)
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     Everybody these days has a convention. If you love comic books, fantasy, sci-fi there will be a comi-con gathering in a major city somewhere near you. And you can attend with several thousands of others and be as geeky as you want. You can even dress up as your favorite characters from movies and graphic novels.  Believe it or not this is one of the attractions  to attending one of these events.  A word of warning though, just because you can dress up in spandex like a superhero, doesn’t mean you should dress up like a super hero.  While you might find someone who looks good in their super hero get  up, most of these folks were the same ones you saw at the state fair last month. And a steady diet of deep-fried snickers and cheeseburgers with a donut for a bun do not a pleasant super hero outfit make. Some things one simply can’t unsee.
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  But as I said everyone has a convention. Baseball teams will host a gathering in the winter and you can meet your favorite players, get autographs ask questions.  In order to identify with them, we wear our favorite players jersey.  Football is the same way.
   Even we as Christians, get in on the act.  Nobody meets like the United Methodists.  From Ad Council to charge conference, to Annual conference to a world-wide general conference we are the “meetingist” group you’ll ever meet. No superhero costumes, but plenty of those donuts.
  I received a brochure in the mail the other day for a worship convention.  Not a convention where we meet and actually worship (aka church) but an actual convention and expo about worship.  I counted a list of close to 200 displays on the floor. Everything from chairs to live streaming technology to sound and speakers.  Software and video lights and temperature control. Keynote speakers on innovative and high tech worship as well as worship directors and worship leaders.
  I had a couple of thoughts as I leafed through the brochure. One was I wonder if when people attend these things do they dress up as their favorite worship leaders?  People dressed up like Hillsong?  Wearing cool hats like some in the band Rend Collective?  Instead of spandex a bunch of clergy wedged into their skinny jeans  and fake retro glasses, slightly mussed  hair to look like worship leaders or famous preachers? One guy being ironic wearing a Brooks Brother Suit comes as Billy Graham?
   The other thought was wondering when worship became so complicated?  Please understand I like all the innovation. I love the technology. I helped pioneer an extensive online worship at one church I pastored. And to be honest, I probably love contemporary worship a bit more than I do traditional. And truth be told If it were closer, and I had the time I wouldn’t mind attending and seeing all they have to offer. My wife would probably make me leave the skinny jeans at home (again you can’t unsee things) but I wouldn’t mind attending.
   At the same time, as I said I wonder if in our attempt to make worship bigger, faster and stronger if we’re in danger of losing the point. The focus of our worship ought never be ourselves. Or what we enjoy or what we “get out of the service” worship is supposed  to be about our gathering togethe,r and honoring God . Lifting HIm up. Giving Him praise.  It’s about resetting our lives that tend to get out of kilter.
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    Life has a way of pushing God to the side and exaggerating our difficulties and anxieties. And our own selfish natures lead us toward worshiping ourselves above everything else. When we worship, truly worship we allow God to remove us from the throne of our hearts and take His rightful place as Lord. We are reminded he is greater than our problems and anxieties. True worship isn’t about God becoming relevant to us. It’s about our lives finding relevance in Him. The mode and method don’t matter if they don’t bring us properly before the throne of God. That’s also  why worship ought not be reserved for one day a week. While certainly all of our lives ought to be worshipful, we all need to take time every day, worship be reset and find our relevancy in Christ again.
  As I looked at that brochure I saw this highlight: “The Hideaway- A place to sit in with the presence of God, reflect, pray, and allow your spirit to be renewed.”  There in the midst of  a busy expo are people in the presence of God being reset and made relevant. A people in worship.  May it be so for all of us.
In Christ,
Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><
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Happy?

 “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’[a] If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. (John 15:20 NIV)

Full confession moment: One of my pet peeves is the never-ending lists that tell the church, and most noticeably church pastors and leaders, what they are doing wrong and how to fix it. While I’m sure many of these are well-intentioned, they often come off a person looking for popularity and readers at the expense of the church.  They often also ignore  the fact the pastoring a church, or being a church leader is hard.  Not every church can be turned around with your five, or ten suggestions. I also note many of these are written by people who are not clergy or have never been a church leader (I’m looking at you Rachel Held Evans).   I’ve just never seen the percentage in bashing the Body of Christ.

So I begin this with a little trepidation today that I not fall into that mix.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to drop my top 10 sure-fred church fixer ideas at you. It’s merely my attempt to explain my statement, I really don’t care for most TV preachers. In fact, I almost never watch them. From time to time I’ve been asked which ones do I watch and which one’s do I like. The answer, is honestly, none of them. And I do not mean that to be judgmental, although maybe it is a little bit. But truthfully, I don’t watch many of them simply because so many have the same message: “It’s great to be a Christian, God’s going to bless you with being a Christian. Being a Christian is the greatest thing on earth and if you give your life to Jesus, He is going to make you happy.”

All of which sounds wonderful. Except that it’s not really true.When I read the Gospel’s, I don’t see Jesus saying a whole lot about our being happy. In fact, he spends his time saying a lot of things like the passage of Scripture above. He tells me I have to pick up a cross, not a burden, but I have to die to a lot of things to follow Him. He reveals me my natural self centeredness  and want of material stuff make it harder to follow Him. That whole camel through the eye of a needle saying by Jesus in Matthew 19:24 is a bummer.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Jesus doesn’t really care if I’m happy or not.  I don’t think your happiness is His first priority either.  At least if we abide by our culture’s definition of happiness equaling comfort.First of all we are terrible judges  on what will make us happy in the first place. How many of our poor decisions began with “It seemed like a good idea at the time”. Secondly there is a lot of spiritual growth we will not experience if our only goal is to be happy. Just before the passage above, Jesus specifically says God prunes us back in order that we might bear fruit.  Spiritual formation isn’t always easy and it might not always make us happy.

And we haven’t even begun to talk about the ministry or mission. Ministry and mission don’t always make us happy. It’s hard. It isn’t always rewarding. Sometimes the people we  minister to aren’t very nice or appreciative. There are days when all of us would rather sip Iced Tea on our front porch than deal with the broken of the world.

That doesn’t mean that following Jesus isn’t joyful. There is a difference between Joy and happiness. Happiness tends to be self-centered and temporary. Joy comes from God and it sustains us. When we follow Jesus we will always have joy. But it doesn’t mean it will be easy or make us happy.

This is what it comes down to. We are to be Christians not because it makes us happy, but because it’s true. We don’t follow Jesus because He makes us happy. We follow Jesus because He is the only Way, The Only Truth and the Only Life.  What Jesus is concerned with is our obedience, not our comfort. There are days that obedience is incredibly easy and does make us smile. And days when it won’t. We are called to be obedient nevertheless.

But here is the interesting thing. When we become less concerned with our comfort we find greater comfort than we ever imagined in God’s presence.  When we stop worrying about our happiness we find a joy that goes beyond description. The less we worry about being “Happy” the more we smile and laugh as God’s infectious joy permeates our lives.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

Any room for losers in the Kingdom of God?

You have made us a reproach to our neighbors,
    the scorn and derision of those around us.
 You have made us a byword among the nations;
    the peoples shake their heads at us.
 I live in disgrace all day long,
    and my face is covered with shame (Psalm 44:13-15 NIV)

 

 

Olympic fever continues in our home as we enter into the second (only second?) full week of the Olympic games. Michael Phelps wins his 500th gold medal, Katie Ledecky dominates to the point where she is out of the pool, dried off and sipping a Starbucks before the silver medalist touches the wall. The USA woman’s gymnasts show that power and grace come in small packages. And the directors of the Rio Olympics assure everyone that it’s perfectly Ok to dive into the green water. It’s been quite a week and we haven’t even talked about Usain Bolt’s dominance in the 100 meter. I’ve heard that in the next Olympics, he will run it backward to make it  more fair.

So it’s pretty much the same old Olympics. Compelling stories. Gracious, and not always so gracious competitors (We’re looking at you Hope Solo). Heart warming and heart breaking stories.  I’ve often wondered if the popularity of the Olympics doesn’t only lie in that it plucks our jingoistic heartstrings, but that it simply always delivers the entertainment it promises?

I have noticed something different about these Olympics. I’ve noticed an abundance of a witness to the competitors Christian Faith. Now we always have some of that. Atheletes will point a finger to the sky as they cross the finish line, thank God  for being with them, or my personal favorite, giving a nod to “The Man Upstairs”

But these testimonies seem much more sincere and articulate. Maybe I’m looking for them, or the social media has caught on to it. But I’ve heard incredible testimonies from the USA diving team, swimmers, Gymnasts etc. Even Michal Phelps talked about reading Rick Warren’s “A Purpose Driven Life” and how influential it was on him.

But the most impressive testimony I heard was from gold medal swimmer Maya Dirado who, when asked about her faith and the difference it made said “I don’t think God cares if I win.”  Let that sink in for a moment. Because if that’s true, it means that God also doesn’t care if we lose.  And that’s a good thing

While I appreciate the witness of the Christian athletes, I think it also can give the false impression that God is only there for the winners. That he only has a place in his heart for those who bring home the gold, who have success in life. It’s potentially easy to give God thanks when everything goes well. But for most of us, we don’t get the gold. We have plenty of moments where we don’t come out on top.  And we might wonder is there any place for the losers in the Kingdom of God.

I think Dirado, in her own way gets it right. God’s love and acceptance of us goes beyond individual achievement. God’s plans for us go beyond any individual success or failure. God is still God and still loves us in our moments of failure as much as he is in our moments of triumph. Just because we stumble, or fall does not mean we have put ourselves outside of His will for our lives.

The Bible gives us a much broader understanding of God’s relationship with us. Look at the verses at the top of the page. This comes from Psalm 44, one of the Lament Psalms.  Laments are exactly what they sound like.  A recognition that life isn’t going right. That someone has lost.  They are frank and raw discussion about feeling abandoned by God.  They even sound a bit whiny at times.

I love the fact the lament Psalms are  in the Bible. They assure us that  there is a place for us when we feel abandoned, when we lose. They remind us God still loves us when we get a little whiney with us. Those honest discussions and prayers always bring the psalmist back to God.

 

So could it be that we are called to have a witness for God when we succeed and when we fail? Might both places gives us a opportunity to share an incredible message of faith?  Wherever you are today, at the top of your game,or  if your only goal is to finish the race in one piece, I want you to know God loves you. And your life is a part of God’s kingdom. God has a place and purpose for all of us.

 

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

Truth Matters

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:32

 

 

Olympic fever is upon us.  That strange affliction that causes us to stay up late at night and watch sports we never would pay any attention to any other time of the year.  I’m talking to all of you who stay up late watching rhythmic gymnastics. The only worse afliction, of course, is Winter Olympic fever, where we cheer people sliding rocks on ice or cross-country skiing.  For all you  cross country skiing advocates out there, I’m sure is an exhilarating athletically endeavor. I’m just saying no one wants to watch it outside of an Olympic year.

I freely admit I get caught up in it. Watching the best athletes from all over the world compete. Hearing their stories. And of course cheering on our  own athletes. We get incredibly patriotic during the Olympics, or at least I do.

I even watch all of the opening ceremonies, those over the top displays telling the world what a wonderful country this is in which to hold the games.  While I sat watching an, in my opinion, incredibly underwhelming, and frankly dull opening ceremonies from Rio, one thing did catch my eye.  They had someone portraying Albert Santos-Dumont proudly get into his plane and fly over Rio.  His flight was a wonderful accomplishment. However, in case you didn’t know many in Brazil consider Santos-Dumont as the first person to fly a plane, not the Wright Brothers The commentators chuckled and said something to the effect, ” I wonder if anyone in the US will be upset by this?”

In the middle of a ceremony, touting the history of a country, in front of the entire world, they add something blatantly, historically inaccurate. Not just inaccurate, but simply not true.  I admit at first, I was a bit upset at the claim. I grew up near Dayton, Ohio, birthplace of both Wilbur and Orville. That history of their flight is an important part of our heritage. But  as I began to think about it, I saw here as  deeper, and much more disturbing issue at play here.

It was the fact no one seemed terribly bothered by it.  The commentators chuckled people relay didn’t react I saw every little on social media. It attitude seemed to be one of, well if that’s why they want to believe, so what?  What difference doe sit make what hey want to believe?  Apparently the idea of relative truth, what you believe is truth for you but it doesn’t have to be true for me, has infiltrated even history itself.

Does truth make a difference?  Not just what we believe, but is what we believe true? Is the such a thing as an absolute truth that we must hold to? Is there truth that isn’t shaped by culture isn’t malleable by popularity and trends? And does that truth make any difference?

This is what makes Christianity so stunning to the world and why it creates such controversy. The Christian faith, unapologetically  says that not only is there an absolute truth that we can know that truth and that truth desires to know us. When we claim that Jesus is the way, we  mean there is no other way to find salvation, joy, happiness worth having except through him. When we say he is The truth we do not mean He is a truth for us but not necessarily the truth for someone else. We mean we judge all things, their worth and how true they are by Him. We do not judge Jesus to be true by how much he meshes with current culture or thought. No, we measure the truth of our culture by Jesus and His word.  When we say He is the life, we mean just that. Not a life, but the life, a real life that makes a difference, that matters is found in how much we follow after the  one who is true.

As I said, this puts us at odds with a world that has lost any  understanding of absolute truth. so how do we convince them?  The best apologetics to our faith lie in how we live. A world that doesn’t believe in an ultimate truth will only come to believe it when they witness it in the lives of ordinary people. When they see us live out a difficult and at times inconvenient truth, when they see us going the extra mile, forgiving the unforgivable, loving the unlovable turning the other cheek, loving with a unconditional love, then they will believe.  Then and only then will they see the truth. And then they will be set free.

Does truth matter?  Yes it does. But not just for us. There is an entire world lost to the truth, who are desperately looking for something that is true that  doesn’t shift. They are looking for hope, and freedom. Will your life show them the truth?

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><