Monthly Archives: January 2011

Pour your heart into worship

When it comes to worship, the question is not, “Did you give God your time, talents, money, or praise?” The real question is, “Did you give God your heart?”

On the one hand, I believe that Scripture teaches that our worship is empty if our heart is not involved. On the other hand, I was curious whether or not it really made a difference. So I decided to use a case study approach to try and find the answer. I examined two examples of worship—one good and one bad. Comparing and contrasting the two, I discovered that one worshipped God with their lives while the other only gave their possessions.

Here are the results of my study:

Churches in Macedonia – 2 Corinthians 8:1-7

Ananias & Sapphira – Acts 5:1-11

Influenced by grace (1)

Influenced by Satan (3)

Lived in great affliction (2a)

Lived in great affluence (1-2)

Gave out of their poverty (2b)

Gave out of their surplus (1-2)

Exhibited selfless generosity (2c)

Exhibited selfish duplicity (3‑4, 8-9)

Gave as much as possible (3)

Gave as little as possible (3)

Proactive – they initiated the gift (3b)

Reactive – they were caught up in the emotion of the crowd (4:32-37, 5:1)

Begged for the privilege to give (4)

Felt an obligation to give (4:32‑37, 5:1)

Concerned for the needs of others (4b)

Concerned for the opinion of others (4)

Gave their lives to God (5)

Gave their possessions to God (1-2)

Act of worship (5)

Appearance of worship (2-4)

An encouraging example to follow (1, 6-7)

A frightening example to avoid (5, 11)

God doesn’t want our time, talents, money, or praise.  He wants our heart.


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Posted by on January 28, 2011 in Preaching, Worship


One more reason to pray

Reading about a suicide bomber walking into an airport is never a good way to start the day. It is even more distressing when you realize it is an airport you will soon be changing planes in. If that doesn’t drive you to your knees in prayer, I don’t know what will.

On Monday, a suicide bomber carried a suitcase into the Moscow Domodedevo Airport and set off an explosion, killing 35 and wounding an additional 180 people. In 2 1/2 weeks, my wife and I will have an 8-hour layover at Domodedevo. Carol and I will be traveling to the House of Grace, a guest house for Russian pastors in Tsibanobalka, near Anapa, on the northern coast of the Black Sea. Our journey takes us from Seattle – Los Angeles – London – Moscow – Krasnodar, and then driving three hours to Tsibanobalka.

When the news broke about the bombing in Moscow, several people asked if we were nervous. My wife’s response was, “Either they will reroute us, or it will be the most secure airport for the next six months.” Checking my own pulse, I concluded I am not worried for several reasons:

  • We don’t fly for two more weeks. They will have it resolved and cleaned up by then. I’m sure security will be ramped up by then.
  • We don’t actually leave the airport. We merely go from the International arrivals to domestic departures.
  • My travel insurance and life insurance are paid up.
  • A sense of “been there, done that.” In 1993, I took a team to Russia one week after tanks fired on the Russian White House (Parliament Building). In 1994, I was in the Crimean Peninsula one month after a cholera outbreak. In 2000, I was in Nigeria three months after violent battles between Christians and Muslims. What’s one more bomber?
  • On a serious note, each of the previous events motivated me to review Psalm 91 and meditate on the truth that God is my refuge and strength. If I am abiding in the shadow of the Almighty, if I take refuge under his wings, then I can be secure in any storm.

Just because I am not worried doesn’t mean I will not ask people to pray for our trip, with an emphasis on praying for safe travel. Events like this are certainly a wake-up call to pray, pray, pray.


Posted by on January 26, 2011 in Prayer, Russia, Travel


Why schools have show & tell

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Posted by on January 24, 2011 in Fun


The cycle of grace giving

How many of God’s blessings do we miss because we do not worship God? How many heavenly resources are left on the shelf because we are unwillingly to believe God’s promises? How many of God’s riches go unused because we refuse to trust God? How impoverished are we because we won’t put God first in our lives?

I wrestled with these questions this week as I prepared to preach on the subject of finances, “Worship God with your Treasure.” It was impressed on my heart several times that there is a sequence to receiving God’s blessings. We give first to God, then he blesses us. Far too often we have it backwards. We think, when God blesses me, then I’ll give. But God says, give first, and then see what I will do.

We find that instruction in Proverbs 3:9-10. We are to give the firstfruits to God. Far too often, we give God our leftovers. When we give, he promises we will then have plenty.

In difficult economic times, the first thing to go from our budget is charitable giving. We move our daily needs and lifestyle choices farther up our priority list and giving to God farther down. When we do that, Malachi 3:8-10 explains that we are robbing God of the honor that is due him. Rather than be thieves, we are to bring the whole tithe into the storehouse. When we do, we will be amazed at what God does and how he provides. In fact, he throws down the gauntlet and challenges us to test his word. Once again, we are to give first, and then receive blessings second.

This sequence is repeated again in the New Testament, this time in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15. As the chart illustrates, this is the cycle of grace giving. We give first to God (6-7). God then makes his grace abound to us so that we have enough (8a). This in turn allows us to give more to God (8b). Which then causes God to bless us even more (10-11). As a result, the needs of others are met (12a) and God is praised and glorified (12b-15).

This requires a huge step of faith. Our fear is that if we give to God, we won’t have enough to pay our bills or enjoy our normal lifestyle. But what might God do if we take him at his word and give him first place in our checkbook? Might he cause us to be healthier so that we spend less on doctors and prescriptions? Could he cause our car to get better gas mileage or our tires to last longer? Might God help us find better deals on groceries or move our neighbor to offer free baby sitting? What might God do to meet our needs if we chose to honor him and put him first?

How many of God’s blessings will we receive if we choose to put God first? Let’s put him to the test and find out.


Posted by on January 23, 2011 in Finances, Personal growth, Preaching, Scripture


Have I bowed down to the idol of “bigger is better”?

A couple of days ago, I wrote about my struggle of faithfulness versus fruitfulness. I confessed that I want to be perceived and praised as “successful.” I now realize that I have been engaged in idol worship. As a pastor, I have been worshipping the idol of church growth.

Author Will Mancini crystalized my sin in his book, Church Unique: How missional leaders cast vision, capture culture, and create movement. He explains that “the primary culprit of popular church growth methodology–the iniquity of church growth–is not the teaching in and of itself but the tendency to nurture growth idolatry in the pastor’s heart.”

As the author explains,

Growth idolatry is the unconscious belief, on the soul level, that things are not OK with me if my church is not growing. I have struggled with this sin, and I know many other leaders do too.

An idol is anything we add to Jesus in order to make life work. The irony is that in the call to preach the gospel many ministers fail to apply the gospel personally in ways that free their heart from a performance trap. This performance, of course, is measured most easily by church attendance, so the temptation to compare is always as close as our heartbeat. For some, the competition nurtured through sports fanaticism or market indicators magnifies the intensity of having to grow. When it’s time to attend a pastor’s gathering, deep emotions are connected to how the church is doing. If it’s growing, we can’t wait to find subtle ways to tell our ministry colleagues. If it’s not, we hope no one asks (or we just don’t attend the group).

Ouch! That quote describes the struggle of my own heart. My perception of my own success rises and falls with our church’s weekly attendance figures. If attendance is up, I’m a success; if it’s down, I’m failing. When people ask how the church is doing, I try to find creative ways of describing internal growth because our numbers reveal our growth is flat. Add it all up, I conclude there must be something wrong with me as a pastor.

I need to repend of my own idolatry. I need to be reminded again that God rewards faithful service. I need to refocus my attention on depth versus breadth–commit myself to build deeply into the lives of people and let God determine the breadth of my ministry.

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Posted by on January 22, 2011 in Books, Church, Ministry, Quotes


Principles of Worship

I am currently preaching a series on “The heart of worship.” On each of the sermon outlines, I provided the following list of principles I have developed over the years as I have thought about worship.

We tend to equate worship with:

  •  Music. When the music stops, worship ends.
  • Church building. We focus on corporate worship.
  • Sunday. We limit worship to one hour per week.
  • Our preferences. We dismiss anything outside our “likes.”

Worship is a celebration of God:

  • Worship is focused on who God is and what he has done (Revelation 4:8-11).
  • Worship is an active response to God whereby we declare his worth (Psalm 96:4, 8). 

Worship should include a wide range of expression:

  • Musical—stringed instruments (Psalm 98:5); trumpets, brass (Psalm 98:6); cymbals, tambourines, percussion (Psalm 150:4, 5).
  • Verbal—praise, singing (Psalm 138:1-2); joy, gladness, singing (Psalm 100:1-2); creativity and new songs (Psalm 96:1; 98:1); continual expression (Revelation 4:8-11); silence (Habakkuk 2:20).
  • Physical—bowing, kneeling (Psalm 95:6); dancing (Psalm 150:4); clapping (Psalm 98:8); service (Romans 12:1-2); gifts (Philippians 4:18).
  • Emotions—joy, gladness, singing (Psalm 100:1-2); humility (2 Chronicles 7:3); brokenness (Job 1:20).

Definition of Worship:

Worship is an act of reverence (adoration) by men and women (creature) to God (Creator) made in response to God’s revelation of himself (his person and his works) expressed by an offering (sacrifice) of ourselves through our life (personality, abilities, gifts, obedience; Romans 12:1-2, 6-8), substance (time, resources, finances; Philippians 4:18), praise (adoration, thanksgiving; Hebrews 13:1), and service (good works, evangelism; Romans 15:16; Hebrews 13:16).

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Posted by on January 21, 2011 in Preaching, Scripture, Worship


Given a choice, would I rather be faithful or fruitful?

Given a choice, would I rather be faithful or fruitful? My heart says “fruitful” while my head says “faithful.”

Why the discrepancy? Probably because I know that while God honors faithful service, people celebrate fruitful results. If I’m honest, I long for the applause of the crowd more than I desire to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant” from the audience of One.

I have reflected on this issue the past couple of days after preaching on the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) this past Sunday. The passage teaches that God entrusted each one of us with talents, gifts, and abilities, and that they are specifically tailored to us (verse 15). He has given us neither too much nor too little. Rather than compare ourselves to others or complain about what we have or don’t have, we are to get busy and use our talents for God’s kingdom. At an appropriate time, God will open the ledger and hold us accountable for what we have done with his gifts (verse 19). Faithful service will be rewarded (verses 20-23) while unfaithfulness will be punished (verses 24-30).

 It strikes me as interesting that God rewards faithfulness, not fruitfulness. In the case of the parable, one person brings back 2 1/2 times the result of his compatriot (verses 16-17). And yet they both receive the same three-part reward. They receive the same praise–“Well done, good and faithful servant,” the same promotion–“You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much,” and the same invitation–“Enter into the joy of your master.”

God expects fruitfulness, but he rewards faithfulness.

If that is true (and I believe it is), then why am I not content pastoring a small church? Why do I round up our attendance figures when people ask how large our church is? Why do I look with envy at larger congregations?

Do I really believe that God rewards faithful service? Or am I too concerned about how others evaluate my ministry? Maybe I need to go back and study the passage again.


Posted by on January 20, 2011 in Character, Personal growth, Preaching, Seattle


Legendary customer service

Not all businesses practice customer service. Some have it in their DNA while others merely have it on their website. I discovered both within a span of three hours.

I took my car to Car Toys to get a problem fixed. Fourteen months ago, I had the folks at the Bellevue Car Toys install an adaptor so I could plug my iPod into the car stereo. It was designed to charge the iPod while it was playing. It worked fine until recently when the charging portion became intermittent. Some days it worked and other days not. After explaining my problem, the service tech explained a module on the adaptor failed and needed to be replaced. He did it free of charge. He said it was a new part and he should charge me, but he told me to save my money for a new stereo.

Thanks, Car Toys! That’s what I call legendary customer service!

In contrast, my wife and I are traveling next month to the Black Sea in Russia. The final leg of the journey from Moscow to Anapa is on S7 Airlines. I received word from a friend that they tried to book tickets for April on S7 leaving from Anapa and found out there were no seats available. As they continued to check, they learned the Anapa airport is closed until June for remodeling. When they inquired what S7 was going to do for passengers like ourselves, they replied they were contacting people about changing their destination to Krasnodar, three hours away. We would have to exchange the ticket and pay any additional fee. When our friends inquired whether S7 would provide a bus from Krasnodar to Anapa, they received a clear reply, “No, that is not our problem.”

Wow, S7, That’s what I call legendary(?) customer service(?)!

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Posted by on January 19, 2011 in Customer Service, Russia


Do I look that old?

I received my first “senior discount” yesterday. Do I look that old, or is it the company I keep?

I took my car in to get a part replaced. While I was waiting, I went across the street to McDonald’s to get a cup of coffee. The person at the counter (a manager, I think, by his attire) asked, “Senior discount?” I replied, “No.” He came back, “Do you want one?” I responded, “Ok, I’ll take one.”

After sitting down and starting to drink the coffee, I thought to myself, “Do I look that old? Or is the fact that the only people in McDonald’s at 9:00am on a Monday are senior citizens?”

Granted, I have been on AARP’s invitation list for five years, and I do qualify to order off the senior’s menu at Denny’s. But still, me, a senior?

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Posted by on January 18, 2011 in Fun


Worshipping God through service

In his book, Desiring God, author John Piper makes the case for changing one word in the old tradition. Instead of saying, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” Piper states, “The chief end of man is to glorify God BY enjoying Him forever.” Piper believes that “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him.”


In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), the faithful servant is invited to share his master’s joy (25:21, 23). Thus, one of the ways we can worship God and share in his joy is to serve him faithfully. That is the point I tried to make in a sermon on Matthew 25:14-30 entitled, “Worship God with your talents.”

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Posted by on January 17, 2011 in Preaching, Scripture, Worship