Paris, Prayer, and Terrorism

The attacks this weekend in Paris shocked us all.  The attack was clearly coordinated, just as the United States experienced on 9/11.  Many people changed Facebook status to drape their profile picture in the colors of the French Flag.

Soon, of course, other conversations began.  People blamed President Obama.  Presidential candidates declared this would never happen if they were president.  Some declared they were praying for Paris, while others said prayer didn’t do much good.  Several folks pointed to a simultaneous tragedy in Beirut – twin car bombs killed 44 people there – and wondered why the ISIS event in Paris caused more of a stir than the ISIS event in Beirut.

Preachers weighed in, some declaring that all Muslims are evil and must be eliminated.  Other preachers said we can’t paint all Muslims as evil anymore than we can say the KKK represents all Christians.

In the midst of all these conversations, I wonder what Jesus would say?  Here’s what I think He would say:

  1. Love your enemies.  No doubt Jesus would say that.  That means we want good for them, whether my enemy is a Democrat, a Republican, a Muslim, a Hindu, or an ex-spouse.
  2.  Find a way to bring good to this moment.  The promise of Romans 8:28 is that God can bring good in all things.  France is one of the most secular countries in the world.  May this moment be used for people to find out that God cares for them.
  3. Nations do go to war because nations are made of sinners.  Sometimes, a nation has no choice.  War will never be pure.  God’s grace is large enough to cover the actions of any solider.
  4. Those who make decisions should pray for God’s wisdom.  Allow Him to open their eyes to true reality.
  5. His children should pray for the victims, for healing; for the families of those who lost loved ones, for comfort; for those who live in the effected areas, for knowledge of God’s presence; and for those who committed the crimes, for God to deal with them justly.

To really follow Jesus is not just to post the first thing you think or feel.  To really follow Jesus is to pause and ask Him, “How do I follow you right now?”

Four Common Misconceptions about Worship

Four Common Misconceptions about Worship:

  1.  Worship is style.  Nope.  Worship is a position of the soul.  To worship means to give worth.  We give God our greatest worth, we attach to Him our greatest value.
  2. Worship is about music.  Nope.  You can worship God with music, sure.  But the main thing, Jesus said, was to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.  You can worship in silence, in the beauty of creation, in reading a book, while holding a child, while looking at an article about how a bird’s wing works.  You can worship God all the way to the edge of the universe and then beyond.
  3. Worship is dull.  Nope.  It is true that people have taken the good news of the gospel and bored people with it.  I like what one theologian said, “It is a sin to bore people with the gospel.”  Worship is alive and active.
  4. Worship can be done by myself, I don’t have to go to church.  Nope.  Okay, this one is partly true – you can worship in solitude.  But to worship ONLY in solitude is cut yourself from the body of Christ.  You and I need a worshiping community to steer us and support us.  I have never known someone who worships alone only, to worship in a healthy way.

“That’s Not Worship!”

I’ve heard every kind of discussion about worship you can imagine. I’ve heard people complain about the music being too loud. I’ve heard complaints about drums and guitars. I’ve also heard complaints about too many hymns, the music being too slow, and the volume being too soft.

Lest you think all the complaints were about music, I’ve also heard complaints about prayers being too long, or too short. People complain prayers sound too formal and complain we have are too causal in the way we address God.

And of course I’ve heard people complain about the sermons. My all-time favorite was the woman who complained my sermons were not deep enough. She knew this because she understood them. She figured if she understood them, they couldn’t be deep enough. I’ve heard the sermon had too many stories, or not enough stories; it lacked a main point; and of course, the most common complaint of all, it was too long. No one has ever complained that my sermons were too short!

I’ve been told, “I hate it when people clap during worship” and asked, “Why don’t people shout and jump?” People share they believe you shouldn’t bring coffee into the worship center, and others tell me we should offer a full breakfast on Sunday – for free!

When it comes to worship, everyone has an opinion. “That’s not worship” they say. Maybe that’s the problem. We think worship is for us. It is about our taste, our tradition, our desires.

The reality is worship isn’t for us. It is for God. It honors Him. It is about giving Him priority in our souls. Worship happens in that moment when you open your soul to Him.

You can worship with rock and roll and with Bach and Beethoven. You can worship with pipe organ and with drums. There is no sacred volume, either loud or soft.

I’ve worshiped God navigating my boat down the Wateree River, and in our worship center. I’ve worshiped God in an ultra-formal, high church, pipe organ service, and under a tent singing in the desert of Mexico. I’ve worshiped God in a seminary chapel with a thousand voices singing praise and in my truck, singing along to the radio.

Only God can truly decide what worship is or isn’t. A good rule of thumb is whatever helps people experience the presence of God is a good worship environment. We also need to accept we need different environments for different people. But let’s not condemn someone because they need a different environment than we do.

I’m writing this post from a booth at Sumter Cut Rate Drugs. There is an adorable little blonde headed girl seated at the next booth over. I think she is two. When her grilled cheese sandwich came, her Mom and Dad told her to bow her head and fold her hands. She did while they prayed. There was something in her simple trust of her parents that sent joy to my soul. I praised God for reminding me I am His child. My soul opened, and I worshiped.

Five Things Giving Does to Change Your Soul

Five Things Giving Does to Change Your Soul:

  1.  Giving attacks your self centeredness.  It forces you to consider another person’s needs and feelings.
  2. Giving attacks your addictions.  Addictions, whether to porn, alcohol, food, drugs, work, anger or whatever cause you to focus on yourself. Giving turns you away from your appetites to look at a bigger picture of the world.
  3. Giving systematically makes you focus on cash flow and thus turns you away from debt.  American families are drowning in debt.  Debt produces anxiety, conflict, and unrealistic expectations.
  4. Giving liberates you from the status quest.   Giving will help you consider if it really matters if the purse has a label, or if the car is symbol of status or transportation.
  5. Giving makes room for something better.  When we give, we make room for God to bring greater blessings into our lives.

So what are you waiting for?

A Great Giver and the Man Who Could Have Been…

I’ve known some great givers in my life. I can’t tell about some them because they are still living. They would be embarrassed if I called them by name. God blessed them and they blessed others by their generosity. But I would like to tell you about a great giver and a man who could have been a great giver.

My step-father, Lawrence, was a great giver. Lawrence came into my life when I was eight.   He married my mother, who had been widowed. I knew Lawrence was generous when he bought me milkshakes that my mother wouldn’t allow me to have!

I remember every Sunday Lawrence writing out a tithe check. This was a step of faith because we only got about 8 checks a year from selling oranges and cattle. Yet Lawrence trusted that God would provide. In our home church, when the preacher needed a new car, Lawrence would talk to a couple of other church members, they would come up with the money, and the preacher would get a new car.

But Lawrence was not generous with just money. When our cousin Willard was done picking watermelons from his field (usually about 200 acres – which is a big field!), Lawrence would take the truck and me and say, “I hate to see those watermelons go to waste. Let’s go get a couple.” A “couple of watermelons” would turn into 77 piled on the back of a Ford pick-up. We would stop at every widow’s house in our community of Lemon Grove and drop off four or five melons.

Lawrence would see young ladies come to church dressed in old clothes and he would arrange for them to shop at the local dress store. The girls never knew where their new clothes came from. Lawrence saw needs, and he wanted to meet them, because he knew God had blessed him. He was like a mainline pipe that brought resources to other pipes so God’s work could be done.

I knew another man who could have been a great giver. He had made his fortune and found that he was still missing something. God had begun to work in his life and he had returned to the faith of his childhood. He made the decision to join our church and then offered to take me to lunch.   Over lunch he asked me about tithing. I explained it the best I could. I told him that God had probably blessed him with all his resources so he could begin to know the joy of giving. He looked uncomfortable, and changed the subject.

A few months later, the rich old man suffered a stroke and passed away. When he died, he had given nothing to God’s church, to the work of Jesus. Whenever I think about that man, it breaks my heart. He died with his fortune intact and his gift of giving unused.

Which man do you want to be?

Six tips on Fasting

Six Guidelines for Fasting

  1. Prepare your mind. Before you begin, think about why you want to fast.  Ask God to help you.  Pray that every rumble is reminder to focus on our Father.
  2. Drink water throughout the fast.
  3. Go easy. Gentle exercise, such as walking, is good, but don’t overexert yourself.
  4. Determine the length.  A set amount of time will help you know there is a finish line.
  5. Pray. Fasting and prayer are linked throughout the Bible. Whenever we fast, we are admonished to pray, which facilitates our spiritual growth and renewal.
  6. Don’t brag about fasting.  It is between you and the Father.
  7. Break the fast smart. Small meals, easily digestible.

– adapted from Charisma magazine

Three Reasons Not to Center Your Life on Yourself

Three reasons not to center your life on yourself:

  1.  You can’t stand the weight.  Your own strength is strong enough to carry the load.  Your own wisdom has blind spots.  Your own perspective isn’t broad enough to give you an accurate view.  People who try to carry the load themselves usually self-destruct because they think they can carry more than they can OR because they over estimate their capacity.
  2. You wind up being a slave to your own shortcomings and faults.  We all have flaws.  If you center your life on yourself, you wind up thinking your problems are bigger than anyone else.  Your sins get outlandishly magnified, so you think you are the only one who has ever sinned like you have sinned.  You project your distortions onto others and think they think you are worthless.
  3. You wind up being boring.  You life is all about the quest for more.  You think more money, more stuff, more success, will finally bring you the peace your soul needs.  Instead, you climb on a hamster wheel of trying to satisfy an out of control soul.

So save yourself some heartache – center your life on Jesus.  He can bear the weight.  He forgives your sins.  He helps you live an interesting life.