Tag Archives: church

The Good of the Church

For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.
Psalm 122:9

David sought the good of Jerusalem because within it was the tabernacle, the place which the presence of God Himself inhabited.

We should seek the good of the Church because God Himself inhabits her. We should seek the good of our communities because the Church – God’s people and the very vessel of His presence – resides in them.

God cares about peace and unity within His church and within our cities. He expects from His children reverence for the Church because it is the body and bride of Christ. It is the instrument of His redemption and authority in the world.

The Church should be a source of gladness for us because it is the gathering of His people for His glory.

For the sake of God, we must seek the peace, unity, prosperity of the Church. For the sake of the church, we should seek the peace and prosperity of our community and the world.

Sometimes, we struggle to respect and love the Church. We forget, because of her many shortcomings – and because of our many shortcomings – that she is the instrument of God’s work, power, glory, authority, and redemption in this world. She is the vessel in which His presence resides.

She belongs to Christ and should be loved and respected as His body and bride.

We resent the church when we are hurt by her. We lose hope for her when she or a part of her (especially her human leadership) fails. We separate her completely from the world, though she exists in it for its good.
I should remember, too, that as a member and leader in the Church, I have a need for all her members to seek the peace, unity, and prosperity of the Church.

Let’s pray this way:

God renew my love for the universal Church and for my church, because Your presence resides in her. Give me a love for my community because Your church resides in her. Give me a love for the world because You love the world and placed Your Church in it for its good.

Imagine if there were no resentment, anger, hatred toward the Church in your heart or mine ever again. Because she is the body of Christ, we’d work tirelessly for her good and the good of the communities and the world in which our churches reside.

Relevant Worship

But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (‭John‬ ‭4‬:‭23-24‬ NASB)

God is no longer concerned about the place where you worship because worship is about more than location and prescribed rituals. God seeks worshipers who will worship Him from the heart under the initiation and guidance of the Spirit as informed by Scripture. This is the only real worship.

God seeks worshipers who will genuinely worship Him in a way that is initiated, guided, and empowered by the spirit and informed by His truth, His Word. He is not concerned about worship happening in a particular location. He is not interested in worship that is simply a rote reenactment of prescribed rituals that is not done in spirit and truth. In fact, because God is spirit, there is no other way to worship Him but in spirit and truth.

God seeks worshipers. Therefore, He initiates worship. He has allowed us the honor of worshiping Him.

But many of the things that concern us in worship are not important, not even relevant. What is relevant? The Spirit, His guidance, and the Word of God as it informs our worship. We must focus on these things.

When we forget these things, we go through the motions in our worship. Those of us who are worship leaders are sometimes just trying to get through a Sunday. We get overly concerned about all the details.

But what each of us needs, regardless of our role in corporate worship – whether leader or participant – is to focus our hearts on God’s Word and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When we worship privately, we must begin with a focus on God’s Word and His Spirit. It doesn’t matter where we are or who we are.

It is not in our nature to be this kind of worshiper, but His grace can change our nature.

Father, let us be the kind of worshipers You seek.

Love Covers All Transgressions

Hatred stirs up strife,
But love covers all transgressions.

Proverbs‬ ‭10‬:‭12‬ NASB

We need love, and we need to give love. God has shown us love, and He has shown us how to love through Christ, His Son. He wants us to love as He has loved us.

God doesn’t want us to stir up strife, but to love one another, forgiving sins, preserving peace. Sadly, though we have seen His love for us through the blood of Christ spilled on the cross, we must be reminded to love rather than hate.

When fellow believers sin, we often look for ways to expose their sins, to bring them to justice. (Now, there comes a time when – if a believer refuses to repent – sins must be exposed in the course of biblical church discipline. We have not reached that point – we’re talking here about beginning this process from a place of love.) Instead, let’s ask God to change our desires. Ask for the desire to love them, forgive their transgressions, and keep peace.

Love. Don’t hate.

Forgive. Don’t condemn.

Visual Worship, Part 3 | Imagery

Lighting and visual media are incredibly useful tools in the hands of the worship leader, producer, and planner.  In part 1 of this blog series, I discussed whether or not these tools are necessary, and in part 2, I wrote about the use of lighting.  Today, I want to talk about the use of imagery in worship – both videos and stills.

For most of us (unless we’re pastoring or leading in larger facilities with a lot of projection capability), this really means presentation backgrounds – the imagery that you show behind song lyrics – with the occasional stand-alone video or still image.

Here are some best practices I’d suggest for backgrounds:

  1. Think about colors. Your service should have a color palette that is established with the use of your stage lighting and graphics. This makes for a visually cohesive whole. Here’s what I don’t mean: everything the same color. Talk about overwhelmingly monotonous! Two to three colors is best – ones that work together well.*  If it looks obnoxious to you, there’s a good chance it will look obnoxious to your congregation.  Learn about color theory if you don’t know it already.  Here’s a great article on the subject by Camron Ware of visualworshiper.com. For sermon series, I’d suggest an ongoing graphical and lighting theme to tie the whole thing together.
  2. Think simple. Stills or motion backgrounds with lots of colors can be garish and can backfire on you if you’re trying to create a cohesive theme.  Too much motion (too fast, too big) can be distracting to say the least.  Simple motion gives the feeling of energy without pulling the congregant away from the lyrics.
  3. Think abstract. With a few exceptions, I generally stay away from recognizable imagery – especially photos or live-action video.  There’s a certain cheese factor to a lot of these type of images, and something easily recognizable can be distracting. Abstract imagery gives a sense of something, a mood, without presenting an object or place to latch on to.  You really only want your congregation to latch onto the words. Close up shots of waving grass, a somewhat blurry sunset through the trees, rippling water – videos like these can be the exceptions because, though they are real things, they are presented in an abstract fashion that makes them better for background use.  A wide shot of a landscape distracts because it’s so easily recognizable.
  4. Think in stages. There are natural phases to your worship service. Use the imagery to help define those stages.** Let’s say the “gathering” (or opening or call to worship) portion of your service consists of an opening song, a welcome, and an opening prayer.  You might use the same background imagery for each of those elements, or at least stay with the same color, then shift to another color or imagery selection with the next stage of the service. Typically in our services, there will be an unbroken string of two to three songs that we will tie together visually in this way.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully it’s helpful to you. Please feel free to leave your questions and comments. I look forward to them!

*Regarding lighting, the folks I’m addressing here are those who have very basic lighting systems. The smaller to mid-size church with a simple setup and one person overseeing the musical and visual parts of the worship ministry. Hopefully, if you have a more elaborate lighting system, you have people who really know what to do with it and can move beyond these simple uses.

*Check out Constance Cherry’s book The Worship Architect for more info on this.

A Little Sad. And Really Happy.

I’m a little sad today.

I left a job at NASA’s Johnson Space Center today for the third time. I started work with the Public Affairs Office Web Team in May of 1999. I left in 2003 to pursue ministry in Florida, and I returned to the web team in 2008. I was laid off last September and returned to a different position at JSC in November.

As I head to my exit interview in a few minutes, I can’t help but think how big a part of my life the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has been, how much I’ve learned there, how many great people I’ve gotten to know.

I’m a little sad today. But I’m also incredibly excited.

Monday, the movers come. In a little over a week, Kacy, the girls, and I head to Maryland to begin a new adventure. I’ll be serving as Pastor of Worship and Media at Allen Memorial Baptist Church in Salisbury. This is a move orchestrated by God – no one involved in the process has any doubt about that. There are fears, questions, concerns as there always are with a move of this magnitude. (We’re leaving family, friends, and church for an opportunity 1,500 miles away.)

But I’m excited about the challenge and the joy of doing ministry full time, of embarking on the journey God has for me and my family.

I’m a little sad today. But I’m really happy.

To My Magnolia Creek Baptist Church Family

The past five years as part of your fellowship have been a blessing to me, Kacy, and our girls. We will miss you, and we pray that God blesses you greatly as you reach up in worship and prayer, reach in in fellowship, and reach out to impact your community.

It’s been a joy to serve with Brett Dutton, my friend, brother, and pastor. I’ve had a blast leading worship alongside Karen Flachman, Dianne Cook, Mike Daniher, Reid McLelland, Will Shivers, Trice Ham, Steve Shivers, and Thomas Circenis, as well as others who’ve served in the worship ministry like Christian Capdeville and Taylor Lonsford. God has built a great worship ministry at Magnolia Creek due in large part to your service and sacrifice.

We have made so many good friends that I don’t want to try to name them all because I will mess it up. Please know that we love you, and we will miss you. MCBC has been our church home and will continue to be part of us. Think of this: the DNA of Magnolia Creek Baptist Church will help shape the future of Allen Memorial Baptist Church in Salisbury, Maryland. How cool is that?!

God bless you, my church.
Jud

Redeemer

As I read Leviticus 25 this morning, I was reminded that God did not become Redeemer when Jesus died on the cross.  Here we see the redemption of land, slaves, and the poor.  We are reminded of the kinsman redeemer.

We see that, even in the beginnings of His relationship with the newly freed nation of Israel, as He formed a covenant with them at Sinai, God was Redeemer.  He was concerned with the redemption of those who could not redeem themselves, with the freedom of those who were powerless to free themselves.  God had freed His people from Egypt, and it was His intention to keep them free.

It was their own refusal to abide by the covenant that kept the Israelites from being free as God desired.

As followers of Christ – the Church – we are that nation’s successors, in that we are God’s people.  Like Israel, we sometimes stubbornly refuse to obey.  But God’s intention in the death and resurrection of His Son is that we would be free.

He didn’t simply make rules allowing for our physical redemption as He did in Leviticus.  He gave Himself that we would be redeemed effective, spiritually, eternally.  Jesus was and is the ultimate kinsman redeemer, who gave His life that we might be free from sin, free to live lives that glorify Him.

Not only did He give us the opportunity, but He empowers us to be free.  The very Spirit that raised Christ from the dead is in us (Romans 8:11), giving us what we need to live as the people of God.

We are redeemed!

We’re Hated, but Are We Highly Regarded?

All the argument lately over issues of same-sex vs. traditional marriage, including the uproar over Chick-fil-A, led me to blog a couple of days ago, but it also got me thinking about this one I posted quite a while back. Are we – the church – living as we ought? The world sure seems to hate us, but are they hating us for the right reasons?

Worship = Life

Nestled in amidst the passion, boldness, love, persecution – the absolute beauty – of the early Church, we find in Acts 5:13 the words, “they were highly regarded by the people.” It’s true that Jesus said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26) So, what’s the catch?

This passage in Acts is interesting because we see a dichotomy – not in the behavior of the Church, but in outsiders’ perceptions of it. A verse earlier, we read that the people saw miracles performed by the apostles. We also see the early Christ followers gathering in Solomon’s Colonnade – that’s part of the temple, the seat of Jewish worship. The Jews – all the people – saw them together in fellowship and worship in this very public place.

We can probably infer as well that the…

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Fighting the Wrong War?

In case you missed it, we Christians are involved in the Culture Wars.  If you haven’t yet, you’ll probably get your draft notice soon.  You’re not allowed to remain neutral.

So what the heck are these Culture Wars?

The enemy is anyone who stands against biblical values.  The heated battle of the moment – thanks in part to the “news” of Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy’s views on the subject – is the issue of same-sex marriage.   The weapons of our warfare are outraged words, political wrangling, boycotts, legislative maneuvering.  What’s at stake – as the name suggests – is American culture.

In this war over the culture, biblical values appear to be steadily losing ground.  Is it because we’re not wielding our weapons well?  Is our strategy at fault?  As I mulled this over, at first I thought that perhaps we’re using the wrong weapons.  That’s part of it, but the full truth is much worse.

We are using the wrong weapons against the wrong enemy in the wrong war. The right weapon is the Gospel.  The real enemy is Satan.  We fight for the souls of men and women who are oppressed.

The Wrong War

Why shouldn’t we fight for the culture?  Well, what is culture?  One definition on Merriam-Webster.com is “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.”  The culture is not some concrete object or place that we can fight over.  It is a set of ideas and values that finds its origin in the people.  In order for the culture to change, the people must change.

That’s how we got here, remember?  Americans used to hold different values.  Now they hold these values.  Therefore, the culture is what it is.

And the people.  All of us – every man, woman, and child on Earth – are oppressed, enslaved by sin.  (Romans 6:20)

Let’s fight the right war – to free the slaves from sin.

The Wrong Weapons

Our only hope of salvation is the Risen Savior who died to free us from the very thing that enslaves us. (John 14:6)  Therefore, our words hold no sway over the souls of men and women.  Only the Gospel does.  In fact, our words just get in the way. (1 Corinthians 1:17)  We cannot change the values of the people by fighting over them, shouting, making laws, or buying a chicken sandwich.

The Wrong Enemy

Imagine the United States Army during World War II.  The soldiers enter France to liberate the land.  They begin gunning down terrified men, women, and children in the streets.  Meanwhile, Hitler’s forces march ever forward, conquering all the peoples of Europe.  In every moment of the Culture Wars this is what we do.

We are using the wrong weapons to fight against people who are oppressed, and it is their oppression that that has led the culture to dismiss biblical values.  Our true enemy is their oppressor – Satan.  (1 Peter 5:8)

The people are so deceived by his lies that they believe God’s hatred of sin to be bigotry.  They are intolerant of the truth, but it’s because they are enslaved.  We can’t expect them to know and love the ways of God until their chains are broken and He remakes them into His likeness.

Let’s stop all the shouting and political maneuvering.  Instead, let’s pick up the Gospel and fight Satan for all we’re worth to free these slaves.

Review | Two Sides by Darren Sutton

Two SidesFirst off, a disclosure – Darren is a close friend, so maybe I’m not being entirely unbiased in my review of this book.  But here’s the deal: I’ve had the opportunity to work with many student pastors over the years, and Darren’s insight, passion, and love for students make him the best of them.

Two Sides is not a book that is designed to give you a specific model for any facet of youth ministry.  Rather, it gives you views from both sides (hence, the title) of different issues that are commonly faced by youth pastors.  The topics range from office hours (fixed or flexible) to curricula (pre-written or write-your-own) to the age of volunteers (older or younger) to summer schedules.  And the contributing authors are experienced youth workers from a variety of backgrounds.

It’s an easy read at 74 pages and isn’t incredibly complex.  The format is straightforward, just as you want a book of compiled essays by a variety of contributors to be, and it provides questions to ponder after each topic.

The book does well what it sets out to do: it gives the reader ideas to chew on.  What does my ministry look like?  How do the views presented here mesh with that?  Which view or combination of views would be the best implementation for me?  Don’t expect to get the answers to those questions from Two Sides, but expect helpful guidance in forming your own answers and strategies.

You can buy the Kindle edition of the book by clicking on the image above.  If you need a hard copy, try here.