4 Stories of Letting God, Not Pride, Move You Forward

In 1 Samuel, David has not one, but two golden opportunities to dethrone Saul fall literally into his lap. At one point, Saul chooses to relieve himself in the very cave in which David is hiding (Ch. 24); in the other, Saul’s army falls asleep around him and allows David to sneak right up to the slumbering king’s position (Ch. 26).

Everything about both scenes screamed providence. It would have been simple to interpret Saul picking just the right cave, or being let down by an incompetent army, as divine appointment arranging his downfall. Neither is a common situation that one just blunders into.

And this is amongst a spiritual people predisposed towards just such interpretations – and towards David. He’d heard the cries of “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands”, and even though that cry was a more of a poetic call that doesn’t actually indicate superior favor towards David, there’s no question that the future king was popular. The Israelite public would not have hesitated to translate David’s mere possession of Saul’s effects as a divine legitimization of David’s kingship. David’s men may have twisted the prophecies in instigating him to kill Saul, but that didn’t change the fact that God was not on Saul’s side, and everyone knew it.

But David wouldn’t do it. When he cut corners on his obedience in even a small way, he repented.

It goes to show that the humble servant waits for God to remove obstacles in his own way and time.

There was also Moses, who values the things of God over his own ego:

A young man ran and reported to Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

Joshua son of Nun, assistant to Moses since his youth, responded, “Moses, my lord, stop them!”

But Moses asked him, “Are you jealous on my account? If only all the Lord’s people were prophets and the LORD would place His Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:27-29)

Or Paul, who probably has the leverage to shut down his opponents but chooses instead to rejoice in a message greater than the messenger:

“…the others proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely, seeking to cause me anxiety in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Just that in every way, whether out of false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed. And in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice” (Philippians 1:17-18)

And, of course, our Savior sets the prime example:

Again, the Devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. And he said to Him, “I will give You all these things if You will fall down and worship me.”

Then Jesus told him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him.” (Matthew 4:8-10)

This is actually a difficult thought for me, because it sounds like passivity, and I hate passivity. It’s been keenly observed for years now that passivity in Christendom, especially among men, has done a great deal of damage to homes and churches. Too often, “safe” Scriptural readings basically tell Christians to just not do anything – too much “be still and know that I am God” and not enough “fight for your families” (Nehemiah 4:14) – missing the balance that there’s a part that’s God’s and a part that’s ours.

But we would do well to remember that passivity can be either the refusal to act or the refusal to act well. Both are forms of surrender – to fear, indecision, and apathy, which turns people into spiritual slouches; or to one’s emotions and instincts, which can create domineering or violent menaces.

In these cases, David, Moses, and Paul are not being still. They are most decidedly fighting. Have you ever wrestled with a choice and actually found yourself more panicked at the thought of doing nothing? Bingo. It takes great strength to reject a power-grab opportunity that falls right into one’s lap. It takes immense character to pass up a fair potshot at another, which your own friends and followers are perfectly happy to execute for you, and trust God with your legacy instead.

When there was a clear conflict of interest for David, Moses, Paul. and Jesus, they conscientiously chose against their pride. Whatever other fair arguments happened to be going the same direction as their pride, they just didn’t trust them. They chose to err on the side of humility and counted on God to reward them for it.

God’s ways almost invariably involve patience and trust, precisely because we lack it, and lie in the opposite direction of our pride, precisely because we desire it. Sanctification is the point, not upward mobility. When we ask for a miracle, God instead shows us a mirror. And Scripture bears stories in which God never did move someone forward, because they were unwilling to surrender these parts of their hearts.

But at the right time, God moves the humble servant forward. Be in position for this, by being continually set against your pride. God will see it. He will not let you overthink or shame yourself out of his will for your life.

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

3 Ways to Run an Awesome Worship Ministry (Or Any Other Kind)

Last night, the worship ministry at my church was thrown a party. We were fed heaping mounds of Qdoba’s in appreciation for everything we do for our church.

I say this not to brag of myself, but of our leaders. For such a party being thrown really tells you more about the kind of leadership we operate under, than anything else.

In short, it’s the best. But you’re probably wanting to know why, rather than just read those three words and walk off musing. In a world where so many people dread Mondays because of self-focused and incompetent bosses, good leadership is like water in the desert. It should be shared whenever possible.

Our worship ministry is entirely a volunteer outfit. We’re not paid (and there are many reasons that’s a good thing); it’s a practice-heavy gig, occupying hours of time outside rehearsal; and we’re thin enough at a couple positions that the same two or three people have been manning them for almost the entire decade.

Yet we musicians are happy to take our posts every week. We revolve around schedules around it; we leave our egos in the car; we practice our parts. There’s no drudgery; we look forward to it every week. In fact, as I look back on the 2010’s as they slip past us this month, I consider it one of the highlights and privileges of the decade.

What is it that our leaders do so right?

 

1. They create an environment of trust.

It’s a badge of honor out there, apparently, for managers to be able to strap a man to a plow and make him produce; there’s a sort of awe in the corporate world towards the type who can generate results, “get things done”.

But in the church, intended by God as a sanctuary for the heart, what’s the point in getting things done if you trample hearts in the process?

Our ministry leaders would probably say there is none. That’s certainly how they act. They show genuine kindness and concern for the condition of the hearts working for them. In one sense, that’s really just good leadership, church or no. Treat people well, they stay loyal. But given how rare it remains in the world, it’s worth mentioning.

The leader I play for, in particular, has this winning habit I’ve always appreciated: if he even suspects that he has miscommunicated or that there has been any hurt from the way he’s expressed himself, he circles back later and makes sure things are well. He’s conscientious about this, without coming off as obsequious. 95% of the time, there’s no problem. But even in the 5% (and I don’t even remember the last time), there’s little worry, because you always know he’s going to endeavor to set things right. It creates an atmosphere of trust.

 

2. It’s a collaborative effort.

Our leaders recognize the talent around them and welcome opinions – on new songs (or existing ones), new technology, new directions, and new recruits.

This is actually a really vulnerable thing for a leader, asking for opinions. What do you do when you get opinions you don’t want to hear, or opinions you simply can’t act upon? This is why many managers just don’t bother.

But ours do, and simply put, it makes people feel valued. They still can’t implement every idea they hear, and there’s only so much change they’re willing to have on the plate at any given moment (if they want it done right). But they can still ask, and they do. It means they know they don’t need to be the ones to know or be everything in the ministry (and can’t be anyway).

 

3. They make it a community.

It’s one thing to meet for practice and then bolt off the stage and head home without a word to anyone. Some ministries, apparently, do things that way.

But ours sits down and reads Scripture together. We ponder the tough questions. We consistently challenge and refine our own definitions of worship, seeking to make it as authentic as possible, and our leaders are at the head of that. And some of the most raucous, offbeat, wildly off-topic and hilarious conversations I’ve ever had, took place around our table.

You just can’t replace the value of that. It makes practice an anticipated time, relaxing nerves and cutting out diva mentalities. It ensures a constant striving towards our Savior, instead of a grind or an autopilot ministry. It’s, well, a family.

 

For the sake of avoiding big heads, I’ll probably stop there, but there’s more I could say (like the constant prayer or the intentional individual compliments). In the end, this is a ministry that earns the extra mile. It’s not just about enjoying music. These are people I’ll follow, people for whom I’ll give my best shot at even disliked worship songs, because they seek to be like the Savior I already follow. They aren’t perfect at it. Nobody is. But they strive. And they remind me it’s really God I’m giving my shot for.

And if some burgeoning worship leader out there happens to improbably stumble upon this tiny blog and be improved by this on-the-ground witness of successful ministry, well, it’s been a good day.

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, feel free to share on social media.

When God Moves Us Fraidy-Cats

23746683041_6dd4b048d1_zThis weekend, I helped someone move, and there was a cat involved.

Some cats handle moving better than others, staring wide-eyed with fascination out the window as a world beyond their understanding flits by.

This was not such a cat. She has to be the most timid beast I’ve ever met. For weeks, she has been crouched behind whatever will give her cover while her owner clanked dishes into boxes and thumped belongings around – the usual chaos of moving. At one point, once almost everything was packed up, she hid behind a book on the floor. A book. The front cover was upturned, and she hid her face behind it, rump protruding from behind.

And once she was safely in the car and there was nowhere left to hide, she simply turned her face to the corner and kept it there for the entire ten-hour ride.

I was tempted to make fun of her.

But then I saw myself in her.

The cat had no way to comprehend what was happening. It was beyond her. Cars, houses, moves, jobs, thunder, sunshine…she lacked the faculties to understand a tenth of it. All she knew was that she was being moved into an unfamiliar environment, without knowing how long, sound and fury all around her.

Yet the humans in charge knew it signified nothing. We knew it was an unremarkable move between states. We knew it would all be over soon, that she’d be okay, and that she would eventually grow into her new surroundings.

We are this cat.

When God moves us, it scares the willies out of us, honestly. We haven’t the capacity to see or understand a tenth of what’s going on. The spiritual clanks and crashes behind what we see and hear, the purposes of God in it all – it’s on the same level to us as elevators and internal combustion are to the average cat.

And so we turn our faces to the corner, and a little part of our hearts (maybe not so little) resenting God. We want our old place, our comfortable toys and occasional plate of tuna water.

But God sees a greater reality. Wonderful things are happening, or at least necessary. He knows our destination, knows his purpose, knows all the plans he’s carefully laid out. He is not callously throwing us to a new owner, or casting us onto the street.

He has packed everything we need and sent it ahead of us; he has arranged for its unpacking when we arrive.

When we drive through thunderstorms on the route, they will not destroy us; when the sun rises and sets on our journeys, he remains our light.

And most of all, he himself will be there.

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and welcome you into My presence, so that you also may be where I am. (John 14:3)

And though we hide from him in fear and frustration, he keeps pursuing us, like I did with this cat. He seeks us in our hiding places, turning over unpacked bags and blankets until he finds our trembling form, and reassures us.

Will we wander out again? Will we peek out from the maze of dollies and askew furniture, walk back up to our Owner, and take a drink from his water again?

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch.

Delight Amidst Mordor: the Hard Part of Psalm 37:4

Take delight in the LORD, and He will give you your heart’s desires. (Psalm 37:4)

Hoo, boy. Few Bible verses carry as much potential to turn us into mercenaries.

“Love God and he’ll give you things” – yeah, that’s just begging to go down the wrong alleys. How do we handle such a verse? How do we treasure God and his opinions on things in light of such an offer? It’s Scripture. It can’t be wrong. So there must be a solution to this conundrum.

Don’t obey God to get things, obey God to get God. – Tim Keller

For me, it is the sheer intensity of “delight”.

1378807888_1c49b58b1b_z“Delight” doesn’t just mean a vague affection, certainly not a conditional one. It means delight. An intense love that crowds out other considerations. I don’t just like my mom – I delight in her, such that I’d make her a priority over a great many things. Same with my friends. (That’s why they’re friends.)

Delight can’t be faked. God sees right through it, and we’d never trust our own motives without it. When we delight in God, the first half of Psalm 37:4 outshines the second half, which sidles up to us out of nowhere while we’re absorbed with God.

I know – tall order.

How do we delight in God so freely when we have so many beefs with all he has allowed? It’s the question instantly begged upon the word “delight”.Some of our lives resemble Mordor – ashes and geysers everywhere you look.

That was the fork at which I stood.

All I can say is, I chose delight. It wasn’t some saintly nobility – I just knew the way back was cut off.

Simon Peter answered, “Lord, who will we go to? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68)

And I found that things really do operate the way God describes.

The Christian who desires more money must release it, trusting so fully in God’s creative provision that charity becomes the greater joy.

The Christian who desires upward mobility must instead wash feet.

The Christian who desires more friendship must offer it, gushing like a spring upon those around him (as Christ did) rather than incessantly drawing inwards.

The Christian who desires a spouse must be filled with Christ now, so that they will not grasp like an empty one.

The Christian who desires justice must not seek it by his own hand, but depend on God’s watchfulness and convicting power. (You might be interested to know that justice is actually the strict context of Psalm 37).

At each point, our desire is tested to determine its worth. Some would survive the fire, others would not (Psalm 37:4’s applicability to Lamborghini’s is doubtful), but all must be sublimated to Christ.

And no matter what the cherished object, we must delight in his timing.

God has a funny way of keeping dreams alive. It’s one of the great paradoxes. He brings our dreams around. But they happen in his way, according to his calculations and machinations, and often with a more eternal reach (like the artist whose future work might raise souls instead of curtains).

It is difficult to delight amidst the Mordor of this world. But if we choose it anyway, we will be rescued, pulled out of the cataclysm and awakened in a new home.

The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;
    he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
The Lord helps them and delivers them;
    he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
    because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37:39-40)

The Problem With Both “He Will” And He “Won’t”

800px-Cloudy_sky_1_(Unsplash)I’ve had my share of unanswered prayers.

Let me rephrase. No prayer goes unanswered; there are answers we like, answers we don’t, and answers we’re still awaiting. It’s better to say, I’ve had my share of answers I’ve disliked.

Some I still dislike. We must carry some bitter answers for years before we glimpse the Romans 8:28 in them.

Fortunately, this didn’t drive me away from God, just turned me into a bookworm. I read much fine academia on why God doesn’t grant every prayer. I also absorbed my share of theological self-righteousness, because some of those writings are so steeped in nastiness towards spiritual error that their authors probably aren’t much closer to God than those they criticize. (As the man said in Ratatouille, negative criticism is fun to write.)

I emerged from that leg of my race with a solid theology of suffering and an expectation of nothing from God.

Especially when it comes to faith.

I know why God doesn’t grant every prayer, even if prayed in faith. It comes down to what he wants to do in a situation. He’s more qualified and better positioned to pick the best path for us. He is also running 7,399,999,999 other plans that have nothing to do with us (!).

But I can get too far into this.

If we’re bad at knowing what’s good, and if (to be honest) denial and disappointment have such spiritual value, why would he ever grant a prayer? Why bother asking for anything at all?

Veteran followers won’t be surprised to learn that I’ve won prestigious awards from the International Overthinking Society, but this really is where my thoughts ended up. I’d approach every prayer with skepticism – without exception. I wasn’t making myself expect a “no”; it was just my gravitational pull.

To explicitly say “God never grants prayers” would have been ridiculous to my own ears. But, well, sometimes the lies we’re believing aren’t evident, showing up only at crunch time.

I knew something was off. But in my overly literal mind, surrender was the only honesty I knew.

So I felt stuck between two paradigms.

Between “he will, just have faith!” and “he won’t, grow up”.

Then I arrived at a revelation for which I can only credit the Holy Spirit.

Neither paradigm requires relationship with God.

You can go through your entire life “believing in faith” for any impermanent, worthless thing you desire, and never hear a word from God. Some do.

You can go through your life praying for very little, beating your desires down harshly, justifying it all with theology – and never hear a word from God. Some do.

But engaging him – seeking his will, listening for answers, accepting both possibilities, trusting that sometimes it glorifies God to fulfill a desire, sometimes to supply something better – is what requires relationship. 

So God makes that kind of prayer the most effective. It’s a brilliant setup. Otherwise we’d content ourselves with one of the two paradigms and walk away without relationship.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:5-6)

Not doubt…what?

Generously.”

Not doubt his character.

That’s the application of faith that can be trusted. No matter the answer, we can trust his character and must not doubt it.

 

 

A Teasing Sense of Humor and How to Crucify It

crucifyGrowing up and as a young man, I always had to be the guy in the room with the joke.

Always. Whenever anyone said something, my brain would immediately look for a way to turn it into a tease.

Combined with not being very good at it, this resulted in years without a lot of friends. As I grew older, I got better at it. At the teasing part, that is, unfortunately, not the “just knock it off already” part that people were no doubt wishing I’d master.

And then…I would wonder why I wasn’t getting anywhere socially.

Clueless, I tell you.

Then, for some reason, one day I started asking myself, “What do my role models do to engender such trust with people?”

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Thinking It’s Up to You: Another Wave We Mustn’t Look At

christ_walking_on_the_waters2c_julius_sergius_von_kleverThe lesson of Matthew 14:22-33 should be rote for us by now. Peter sees Jesus walking on the water, gets out of the boat, and walks out to meet him – until he starts paying more attention to the waves instead of Jesus. That’s when he starts to sink.

Keep your eyes on Jesus, the lesson teaches us (echoed by Hebrews 12:1), and not on the wind and waves of your circumstances.

Great lesson.

Unfortunately, we’re all still rather bad at it.

Sometimes I wonder if that’s because we don’t realize all the many forms that “looking at the waves” can take.

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Do Even Harder Things

shovelThere’s a book called Do Hard Things, by Alex and Brett Harris. I’ve heard it cited by a number of hopelessly inspired teenagers who have been drawn out of their comfort zones, I’m intrigued. But I haven’t gotten a chance to read it.

So perhaps it is redundantly that I ask –

Are we really doing hard things?

A young man from our youth group preached a sermon from Acts 10 last night. I hope I’m not simply regurgitating what he said (is that illegal?), for something fell together for me in my own words as I listened, and I’ve got to get it out.

It was not ten chapters into the era of the church, the era of salvation through Christ, that the gospel went from being “just for Jews” to open to all nations. You’d think this turn of events would have been obvious from “and Judea and Samaria and to all the ends of the earth” (1:8). But to get his message across, God orchestrated an encounter between Peter and a Gentile – a centurion of the hated Italian Regiment, natch – and brought the Spirit upon him in full view of Jewish believers. After that, there could be no doubt that the gospel was for Jew and Gentile alike – anyone who would hear the Word and respond.

What’s crazy is that God had to send Peter three visions to get him into position.

Would Peter have gone with Cornelius’ messengers without the visions coming immediately beforehand?

That the visions were needed first – and evidence from his own life – implies that Peter was ready to take the Gospel to his own Jewish countrymen before the Gentiles.

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Pizza Lessons #2: You Never Know

pizza1One of the fun parts of my second job (pizza delivery) is that you never know where the good tips will come from.

Our dispatch system works on a rotating basis. The next driver up “clocks out” on the oldest run available once it’s ready, plus a second run (a “double”) if it’s in the same area and if it won’t be too long a wait for the second order’s items to be ready themselves.

Most of the time, we have no way of knowing how much a customer plans to tip when we clock out on that run. Even with the online credit card orders in which the customer has pre-loaded a tip when they first order, the dispatch system doesn’t show it, and digging deeper into our system to view the tip would be impractical given all the other stuff we’re scrambling to do. One could do it, but so far, the honor system has worked for us. Even when we recognize an address and know they tip poorly, we take the run for the sake of avoiding workplace drama.

In this way, pizza delivery is almost a form of morally acceptable gambling! It’s a lot of fun. You don’t know whether each “pull of the lever” will stiff you or bequeath a ten-dollar jackpot of a tip, but since you’re putting in work and earning a wage regardless, it’s hardly sinful. (I know – that’s because it’s technically not gambling at all. But you get the same slight rush.)

Nevertheless, occasionally we get a driver who tries to game the system.

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Godly is Sexy

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” Proverbs 31:30

godlyA well-known verse. But would you be interested in a male paraphrasing, overheard from an old Air Force colleague of mine?

“For every sexy woman, there are five guys in her wake who got sick of her crap.”

Crude, perhaps. Highly generalized, certainly. And you have to wonder whether all five of those men were as crap-free as he made them sound. (You’ll notice I called the guy a colleague, not a buddy.)

But if you’re rolling your eyes at a male reading of Proverbs 31, you might be surprised to learn that the chapter was written to men. Women have grabbed it and run with it as a means of educating their youngers (praise God for it), but the audience of the entire book of Proverbs is actually men. Read the book sometime; notice all the invitations for sons to learn discernment, to avoid the adulteress and the dripping faucet, to live as a pillar of wisdom.

And those words are needed.

“Desiring a healthy and vibrant sex life in marriage is a good and even wise thing. But for the Christian it’s not ultimate. As a single Christian man, I desire a spiritually healthy marriage before a sexually healthy one, though I trust the former encourages the latter. Therefore, I’m willing to trust God and wait, not because I want to have the most euphoric wedding night with someone I’m perfectly sexually compatible with, but because I want a healthy, God-honoring marriage after the wedding night with the person to whom I’ve just committed my life.” – Hafeez Baoku

I love it when I stumble across an article that speaks to what I’m pondering. It’s a God thing. Got to be. To him be the glory.

We need to be thinking about the after. When real life and boredom assert themselves over a marriage, it needs to be about more than just tan lines and muscles and things that happen after 10pm, because there’s still a 7am to deal with. Get over their surface. Get under their surface; ask God to reveal who that person really is.

That’s going to require a revolution on our part. A renewing of our minds.

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