Timeless Truth

2020 was supposed to be a year of vision, of new beginnings for many people. Now almost eight months in, we are facing some of the uncertain moments of our lives. As a person dealing with an enormous amount of uncertainty and fear, this year has certainly demoralized me in far greater ways than I could have imagined.

But this has been a season of unexpected growth and learning in so many ways. James reminds us to “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

As a Christ follower, it is not a question of IF you will face trials but WHEN you will encounter struggles. And the measure of your life is based not on what happens to you but how you REACT to what happens to you.

Covid-19 has quite literally changed the world we once knew – as much as we want to deny it, the post-Covid world will look quite different. The way we approach everyday life, restaurants, church, social gatherings – everything will have a different feel going forward. And this will likely last far beyond the successful development and distribution of a vaccine and other treatments that are coming.

People have lost jobs, family members, friends, livelihoods, dreams and so much more during this season. More than those things, many have simply lost HOPE and the ability to dream again. Zoom meeting dread fills our days. Failure and compounded delays continue to demoralize us.

Jesus reminds us in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” This truth has not gone away in a 2020 dominated by Covid-19.

For those looking for hope, I point you to words that have guided believers for centuries, words divinely inspired by God and meant to be a guide for life especially in the worst moments:

  • God will finish what He started.
    • “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6
  • God is not surprised; He knows what is coming and goes before us.
    • “The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes…” – Deuteronomy 1:30
    • “For you shall not go out in haste, and you shall not go in flight, for the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.” – Isaiah 52:12
    • “I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron.” – Isaiah 45:2
  • God will strengthen us.
    • “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10
    • “He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.” – Psalm 18:34
  • God’s power is strong where we are weak.
    • But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. – 2 Corinthians 12:9

In this season, the circumstances may look different; the methods have changed and things have become more difficult to achieve. But it doesn’t alter the fact that God is STILL on the throne and working.

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
  now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.
Isaiah 43:19

Do we have a heart to hear and see what God is doing in this moment? Let us rely only on seeking Him for strategy in this season and know He can still do the impossible.

Living Stones School of Worship: Lessons Learned

In the fall of 2019, I started an exciting journey into learning key fundamentals of worship ministry. As someone who has been active in worship ministry for a number of years, I felt it was important to return to the basics so I knew I was operating in the right mentality while serving. I sensed this was an inevitable journey I had to take as I believe learning is one of the most important activities a leader can be engaged in.

I’d like to highlight some of the most important lessons from the year of courses and material.

PERSONAL WORSHIP

A very strong focus was made on personal worship and abiding in Christ. Serving in worship ministry is meant to be an overflow of your personal devotion and worship. If there is not a strong pattern of abiding in Christ already in your life, your service to God in worship ministry is not as authentic as it seems to be.

The more we are intentional in pursuing Christ, the more He will give us a heart to pursue Him. We are not naturally inclined to want to spend time in His presence. Our natural and fleshly world leads us to be selfish and focused only on our internal goals. But when we have a heart to be like Christ, we develop a desire to pursue Him more and that is strengthened by God.

In our efforts to glorify God with our service in ministry, if we do so without the presence of God and that being a guiding force for us, our service will be limited in its effectiveness. We can be the most talented or hardworking team member, but if we are not regularly pursuing Jesus and seeking to operate out of the power He gives us we will be limited in our effectiveness.

EXCELLENCE VS PERFECTION

In our service of ministry is our goal excellence or perfection?

Many worship leaders and musicians get so caught up in the idea of perfection – their musical craft has to be so perfect and flawless that is what defines quality worship.

Unfortunately, this is not the biblical concept of excellence or what God desires. Ultimately, God desires a heart that is intent on pursuing Him. This involves being intentional with every decision and action you take. Is Jesus involved in your major and minor decisions? We can know we are living a life driven by excellence when we are seeking God’s direction even in minor steps in life.

There is an important truth for us to remember: We can work hard to find success in an endeavor and we can even succeed according to the world’s standards. We will achieve fame and recognition – but we still may miss the mark on achieving excellence in Christ.

Excellence is a fruit of a fully submitted life to the Holy Spirit. If you devote your life to being excellent in a Christ-like manner and seeking to exalt His name above your own, you never know how your lifestyle of biblical excellence will affect people around you.

Our purpose as ministry leaders should be singular – reveal God – and nothing less.

SERVANT LEADERSHIP

A servant is a person who performs duties for others. A leader is a person who guides or commands a group, organization or country. What is a servant leader?

A leader’s role is to serve the people under them well. When you examine your primary motivation for serving in leadership, you can get a sense of whether you are succeeding or failing in the biblical idea of leadership, which is driven by serving others not lifting yourself higher.

Paul prays this prayer for the Ephesians (3:14-19, ESV):

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

One of the hallmarks of true, lasting servant leadership is spiritual growth. Paul prays for the Ephesian believers to be filled with the fullness of God.

As leaders, it is essential to ask ourselves if we have grown spiritually or not during our time in our roles. And if we haven’t, are we taking steps to work through that?

The “serve” part of servant leadership is driven in the end by a crucial question – Do we love the people we serve? If we truly do, we will meet them where they are and help them to the next level in their walk.

DIRECTION & PRAYER

Prayer is a crucial aspect for any Spirit-driven leader. As leaders, we can often get stuck in the mud of trying to force or manipulate endeavors or projects without any foundation of seeking God for direction.

It is essential we assess the condition of our hearts. Honestly asking the question of why we are praying is essential. Are we praying out of religious requirements (to check off a list) or from an internal desire to know Christ fully and exalt His name? We should work to reveal God above all else as Christ followers.

As leaders, our most important relationship is with God. If our connection to God is strong, we won’t let distractions cloud our vision. What does your vision look like today? Are you truly aligned with God?

Worship ministry is one that requires creative strategies and techniques. But if we are not led by the Holy Spirit we will not be effective (according to how powerfully the Spirit wants to move). We will determine our work was a success by human standards but we are so limited by our lack of complete reliance on the Holy Spirit.

If the aspects above are not a focus or priority for us, we are not being effective as worship leaders or team members. When we think of worship ministry, we tend to think of the technical aspects of worship (which are essential) but true success in worship ministry comes from having these essentials first and foremost.

The Final Word

In this season of unease and increased anxiety with the spread of the COVID-19 virus, many, including myself, are caught in a situation where we lost the one thing we crave: control. And that can be absolutely terrifying for a people that seem to have a hold on their lives. But I love that God has reminded me through Scripture consistently that no situation we endure is unknown to Him and He has the final word.

We read in Mark 5:21-43 that Jesus is approached by a ruler of the synagogue, Jairus, to come and heal his daughter who was almost at the point of death. As Jesus is making His way to Jairus’ home, we see a short but powerful moment where a women with a discharge of blood for 12 years touched Jesus’ garment and is healed. A brief exchange occurs and this woman, for the first time in her life, receives an identity. She had been ignored and not respected for much of her life due to her situation and she has a true moment of healing and identity revelation when Jesus calls her, “Daughter.”

As wonderful as this is, the original mission of this journey comes back to the forefront of the story and a messenger from Jairus’ home comes and declares his daughter is dead and Jesus the Teacher should not be troubled anymore.

We are often in our lives stuck in this moment in the process of our miracle. We are in the process and God is working in His ways to make His plans happen. But then someone comes or a situation presents itself and we declare there is no more hope for our miracle. In this COVID-19 virus situation, the scientific community and the government are actively working to get to solutions as quickly as possible so we can move forward past this pandemic. But there is also a sense of, “When will this ever end?” in most people.

But I love what Jesus said to Jairus following this news: “Do not fear, only believe” (Mark 5:36 ESV). And just a short while later, after seeing commotion and people weeping and wailing, Jesus says, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping” (Mark 5:39 ESV).

I am greatly encouraged in this: My situation may seem dead or hopeless to me, but Jesus always has the final word. A solution to our world’s issues seems improbable or impossible. But Jesus has the final word.

When the disciples were facing a vicious storm, Jesus reminded them the wind and the sea did not have the final authority in the situation.

“Peace! Be still!” Jesus said. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. (Mark 4:39)

What situation in your life have you declared to be dead or hopeless? Be reminded today that your story isn’t over till Jesus has the final word in your story!

Seasons

A Time for Everything

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;

Ecclesiastes 3:1-3

The writer of Ecclesiastes hits a vital but often difficult to understand truth of humanity: Every season has an appointed purpose.

As a worship ministry, we have been in a transition-based season for some time now, with changes in leaders and team members. And that can be a tough time period to weather through.

But an underlying aspect of any ministry is that it, above all else, belongs to the Lord. He operates it and controls the seasons of ministry, the times of building up and the times of transition. Every moment, every transition.

Another underlying aspect of ministry is that it operates best when in alignment with the leading of the Holy Spirit. As we seek to move our worship ministry to another level, a critical aspect is every team member being plugged in to the Holy Spirit and abiding in Christ. Let us aim to be intentional in our walk with God in 2020, and see where the work of the Lord will take us if we will give Him the lead.

I encourage you to look at this ministry, as any other ministry, through the lens of what God is doing and not just what we can see what with our physical eyes.

What do you aim to see in worship moments in 2020? I want to see an environment of praise that honors God and brings people closer to experiencing God for themselves, for moments of active healing and prayer during worship times and a brand new season and atmosphere of vigor and energy in the church that elevates our church to the next level.

I want to see us go beyond striving to succeed each week to thriving on a new level – and that only happens when we yield to God.

The past season may have been difficult, but every season is preparation for the next season of what God is doing – and in the world of the Kingdom of God it is an exciting and thrilling time. Will we be part of it? What do you want to see?

“The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

Exodus 14:14

Transitory

As this decade winds to a close in just a few months and what is likely a wild start to the next one begins, 2019 on reflection thus far can be summed up with one word for me: transition.

At the beginning of April, I was working at a different agency for the State of Oklahoma and was in a rhythm of what seemed normal. In May, the winds of change began to move as I transitioned to a new job in Stillwater, Oklahoma, also with the state government. I moved to a residence there shortly after.

Suddenly, my sense of normal had shifted entirely.

As a person who absolutely does not handle change well, it has been a testing period to see how much transition I could handle at one time.

But in the middle of it all, I remembered the fundamental truth that God is a God of seasons; and in every season there is a purpose.

For anyone going through such a transitory time, some key lessons God has been touching me:

Trust God in the Unknown

Proverbs 3:5-6 English Standard Version (ESV)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.

These verses have been never more true than this year in my life. With every decision there was agony and fear, but when the time to decide came God always came through with clarity. And I have seen God make my paths straight in incredible ways.

I have been engaged in ministries such as ICPF and in my church and community for most of my life, but this year, taking time to reflect, I am in awe of the ways and paths God has opened to be an influence for the next generation. In a recent conference call, I was in awe that individuals on the call listened to someone much younger than them. One thing is clear: every step on my journey has been ordained by God, and I am thankful for every person who has been on this path.

And I know this story is only continuing in an exciting way in this season. I’m reminded of God’s words to Abram in Genesis 12:1 (Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”) Without a clear direction and details and only armed with a command and promise from God, Abram and his clan set out. If only I could reach the faith of Abram in this life. May it be said of me, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Know the Power of Influence

In a typical Google search on influence today, the most common result is related to social media influencers, people who have reached a certain credibility and ability to sway followers.

But I have been recently been challenged by the words of God to Moses in Exodus: “What is in your hand?” We see in this short Scripture God reveals that through Moses’ availability God will reveal His power and glory.

The power of influence goes well beyond what we see in the social media world today. As many have passed from this world this year already, the constant reminder of how short our lives are is ever present. But in the short time we have, will we use what we have to leave a legacy that lasts beyond our lives?

So what do you have? Influence? Position? Friendship? Do you inspire hope in others? Are you a great organizer? A visionary? Are you using what you have within your sphere of influence for His glory?

We have a short lifespan to use our gifts and strengths for God. What will you do with the time you have? Will you answer the question, “What is in your hand?” and be faithful what is given to you?

Life is crazy. It is hard, full of change and transitions. But in every moment, we have an option to exercise positive, godly influence and be part of the story God is weaving. Will we get caught up in the pointless worries of life or will we focus on using what we have for God’s glory?

What are we hearing?

17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Romans 10:17 English Standard Version (ESV)

Thinking back to just a few weeks ago during our church retreat and the powerful time in God’s presence, I am still amazed at that night but have admittedly recently struggled with faith since that time in relation to our church and my own walk.

These words of Paul to the Roman church make a very basic but crucial point: faith comes by hearing the Word.

On Sundays, we are eager to praise and look like we have our faith strong and in practice. We have practiced and practiced the art of looking as if we have it all together.

But if we are being honest, most of us are not really turning to the Word in the crucial moments, when the flesh is tempting us.

We say we want revival but our actions and words Monday through Friday reveal otherwise. We fill our ears with everything and anything (doubt, music, entertainment, etc.) but the Word of God and somehow expect to grow in our faith. We speak words of faith and cursing with the same mouth.

Pr. Micheal Todd gave an example in a recent sermon about how a football team can have the best huddle – and discuss the plays and cheer loudly. But if they never move toward the field and play the game, it is all talk.

Pr. Jeremy Foster of Hope City Church (Houston) spoke of something called “hazy faith” this last Sunday. When you drive in fog, you can’t always see where you’re going because the visibility is limited. But you keep going because you have no option. I believe we are in a hazy faith moment of our church right now. We can’t always see the signs of how God is working but we are assured of one thing in Scripture, that He is always working things out for our good, as individuals and as the church.

So I simply ask: When it comes to our faith and moving with purpose, are we willing to move forward and give it everything? Do we truly love hearing from the Word? I believe the momentum from that moment at retreat is just getting started – but if we are not exercising that faith every day that movement will pass and we will remain in complacency. What will we choose this day?

Since the retreat we have returned to normal life and routines. But I close with a few thoughts highlighted by Bro. Bliss at our retreat:
– The enemy has distracted us from the place where we need to be.
– We get so busy in life we forget to reconnect and plug in.
– The enemy comes to attack your PRAISE first. When your praise is being silenced, there is lack of breakthrough.
– Lastly, what we need in this moment as Christ followers is an encounter not to be entertained. Have you had that encounter? If not, will you seek it?

The Purpose of Failure

You try to be productive and focus. But a flood of thoughts come and your mind becomes a messy haze. It is hard to focus on any particular point. It is a moment when you have been told you have monumentally messed up and are going to lose something of immense value in your life, something similar to your job. Or a moment where your decision making reveals your lack of ethics.

You wrack your mind, asking how and why you came to a place where you went wrong. You consider every possible extreme scenario that could end up hurting you.

You wonder, “Why me? Why did I have to go and mess up so badly? Things could have been so much different for me if only I had made better decisions.” Or some version of that.

I was considering the purpose and impact of failure in the course of our lives. Why do we fail? Why does God allow us to go through seasons of failure and lack of success/progress?

I have been through such experiences to realize that failure and the lessons that arise from it can be the driving force to your success.

After down moments in life such as these, I’ve found it incredibly easy to hide in a corner and increasingly desire to be invisible and alone in your mire of despair.

But in hindsight alone is it discovered that the path to your God-intended purpose included this very troublesome but necessary step. The deep anxiety faced in your current struggle and the ability to overcome that arises are the very forces that ultimately propel you to your final purpose.

If you are in that place of failure and doubt about your future, don’t stay there. Move forward; stay focused and don’t let your past hold you back.

In the words of writer and theologian C.S. Lewis, “Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.”

SURROUNDED YET ALONE

You put on that manufactured smile and laugh at the joke you’ve probably heard many times. A youthful, exuberant student seeks your attention just for a few moments. But you are so caught up in your own sadness you can’t be fully present.

This is a reality many face on a daily, or weekly, basis. We have obligations, and we do our best to meet them. And we make sure we look okay for appearance sake.

But the truth is many people have a loneliness that can overwhelm them at times but they learn to put on a mask of happiness so people think everything is okay.

We can be surrounded by people every day whether in church or work life, and yet be more alone than ever before.

And in those moments of loneliness, it is more important than ever to activate the words of Paul to the Corinthians – “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).

We are in a spiritual battle – and those moments of loneliness are moments the enemy looks to use to bring us down – first in our thoughts.

A few steps to take when those moments arrive:

  • Recognize the moment. This moment where you can go in the direction or depression or growing in your faith in the moment is such a crucial time. The enemy knows at this point more than any other point he can bring you down. But when you are aware the enemy is prowling to bring you down, you can be prepared.
  • Know your identity. In this crucial moment we are tempted to believe we are worthless or bring no value to the world around us. But it is in this time we have to remind ourselves of we are in Christ:
    1. We are adopted as heirs through the work of Christ (Ephesians 1:5). Though we were sinners, God loved us enough to accept us – just as we were, no matter how sinful we may have been.
    2. Before we were born, God knew us and set us apart for His master plan (Jeremiah 1:5). We were set apart by God before we were born for something much greater than us.
    3. We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession – so we may declare His praises (1 Peter 2:9).
    4. We are created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). God specifically laid out plans for each of us to play a part in His Kingdom. So that thought that you are worthless or have no value – it is a lie and must be taken captive.
  • Reach out. After you recognize the significance of this moment and reaffirm your identity in Christ, it is not enough to just stop there. Take some time to reach out to a trusted friend and connect with them. We are not called to live this Christian life in isolation. Growth without community is impossible. Make the courageous choice to reach out to someone who can help build your faith in crucial moments.

Moving Out of the Wilderness

23 “But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land he promised on oath to our ancestors.” (NIV) – Deuteronomy 6:23

These are the words of Moses in an address to the people of Israel. In this specific section, Moses is describing a future conversation where an Israelite father answers this question from his son: “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” (v. 20, NIV).

In a future where the people of Israel would reflect on the path God led them down, Moses thought it important for a Jewish parent to remind their young son that God had indeed led them out of slavery in Egypt and on the path to the Promised Land.

Their path to the Promised Land led them through several wildernesses. There is immense significance in these places the Jews walked through and how we relate to these times today.

In their exodus from Egypt, the Israelites traversed the following wildernesses: Shur (Ex 15:22), Etham (Nm 33:8), Sin (Ex 16:1), Sinai (Ex 19:1, 2), Zin (Nm 13:21; 20:1), Paran (Nm 13:26), Kadesh (Ps 29:8), Moab (Dt 2:8), and Kedemoth (Dt 2:26).*1

Job refers to the wilderness as “a land where no man is” (38:26), it is a place for various animals and birds, such as wild donkeys, jackals, vultures, and owls (Ps 102:6; Jer 2:24; Is 13:22; 34:13–15).*2

It is basically described as a wild place, unfit for permanent settlement. Nobody would wake up one day and say, I want to spend time in a wilderness, or I want to spend time in a place where you can’t even farm and survive.

Yet as believers, many of us tend to be in such places for seasons and moments of our lives. And we often get stuck there without an idea of how to get out.

For many, this looks like coming to church meetings but having no true spiritual thirst or drive to pursue God on a deeper level. It may even involve serving in many capacities in a church setting, but really having no true passion to pursue Him. On some level, it may look like a general apathy toward your faith and spiritual growth. And you have to ask and be certain of the answer to this question: Is your faith on fire for God? Or are you stuck in a wilderness of apathy? And further, if you are in a state of apathy, is it a matter of urgency to get out of it?

There are many thoughts on getting out of a spiritually dry season but I’d like to point out a few key points:

RETURN TO YOUR FIRST LOVE

In his words to the church at Ephesus, John commends the believers for their endurance in the faith but gives them a warning as well: “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first” (Revelation 2:4-5, NIV). 

Was there a moment in your life when your faith was active and passionate? That you would give anything to be in the presence of God and to serve? Is that the same for you now? Has your love for Jesus grown stronger or have you grown more complacent? Return to those passionate times of faith and loving Jesus.

This requires an intentionality and discipline on your part. But know there is a spiritual battle for your soul, and you have to fight, submitting yourself to God and fighting from a place of victory through Christ’s death on the cross. Remember, it is not about you in the end. You are part of God’s master plan; we all have a part to play and role in this battle.

DON’T GIVE UP

A lot of things may change through different seasons of life, but some things are unchangeable: God is your Father, and you are His child. This same God who created the entire universe, knows you and loves you. So even if you feel spiritually dry and disconnected, God desires you to return to him and sees you as His son or daughter.

Craig Sager, the beloved sports sideline reporter who passed away in 2016, discussed his passion and perseverance even in a trying time as he was dealing with cancer treatments. When he accepted the Jimmy V Perseverance Award, he said, “I will continue to keep fighting sucking the marrow out of life as life sucks the marrow out of me. I will live my life full of love and full of fun. It’s the only way I know how.”

It is easy to get so caught up in your struggles and doubts that you don’t feel like you want to live with passion when troubles come your way, but the words of Jesus ring   true and provide encouragement in those moments: “In this world you will have   trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NIV).

Lastly, let us take advantage of every moment we have to live, per the words of Sager:

“Time is something that cannot be bought, it cannot be wagered with God, it’s not in          endless supply. Time is simply how your live your life,” he said. “The way you think            influences the way you feel, and the way you feel determines how you act.”

  1. Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Wilderness. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 2141). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
  2. Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Wilderness. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 2141). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.