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Applause

Remember The Applause

When was the last time you truly applauded something? Maybe you cheered loudly as you sported your team’s color for the Super Bowl or perhaps you’ve recently seen an amazing concert where you screamed as you heard your favorite song. Regardless of when, where, or for whom you ‘applauded,’ there is something exciting about giving praise. As Christians, we are called to make loud applause for our King. We know this and we have been programmed to think that our applause happens most consistently during weekly worship services. Yet the reality is, an applause is short lived and we are called to live out a standing ovation in all things, at all times, when it comes to proclaiming Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Applause has become a rather secular word in many ways within our culture. Lady Gaga was not shy when she sang ‘the applause, applause, applause’ entertaining fans throughout the nation. Yet, as I was contemplating the idea of applause, I realized that it is merely a way to give proper attention by honoring a certain thing at a very specific time. Whether it is a sporting event, a musical show, or an election, applause is a form of human involvement that esteems something. However, by the same token, applause doesn’t last forever. Applause is specifically designed to eventually die out. One of the best Biblical examples I can think of is the celebration of Palm Sunday. Jesus came into town on a donkey and was heroically honored through the act of people throwing down palm branches and applauding His entrance:

They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!” (John 12:13)

Yet, we can read on and see that the beautiful response He received eventually became silenced and met by a new crowd with a very different opinion proclaiming “crucify Him” instead of “Hosanna.”

So how do we keep our applause resounding?

How do we, as Christians, allow people to see our excitement about our faith? Indeed, we have something worth focusing our attention on completely and fully through our loud praises. How can we allow others to participate in the greatest celebration we and they will ever know? I have created a way in which I remember to applaud Jesus in my everyday life through a helpful acronym entitled CLAP:

C – Correcting
L – Long
A – Adore
P – Point

C-L-A-P encompasses some of the important elements to living a life in standing ovation, a life in unending applause for who Jesus is and what He has done.

The first step is held within the C, which stands for C-orrecting.

The truth is that we all have to correct some areas in our life for our applause to ring out authentic to others around us… and we can’t correct without first surrendering. If we truly want to be transformed into the likeness of God, we must be willing to surrender and correct the areas in our life which are currently not bringing the rightful praise to our God.

Next we must L-ong for His presence.

It is pointless to applaud someone or something you have no desire for.We can’t long after something without having a desire first.We must learn how to long after Christ and His heart. In fact, praying or singing, “Break my heart for what breaks yours” is one of the most humbling and dangerous prayers. As we long for God in all areas of our lives, we desire to see His heart for things clearly – this gives Him a lasting applause.

The next part of C-L-A-P is to A-dore.

Adore is a beautiful word and I love the very sound of it because to adore something is to be completely overwhelmed by its entirety. I adore my puppy. She can do no wrong. Even when she is wrong, I see her wagging her blonde tail and sticking out her little pink tongue and all is forgiven. We must adore Christ. We must applaud Him by constantly recognizing that He is a good God and that He loves us. It is very hard to adore something that you do not love. We must recognize God first loved and adored us. If you struggle with adoration, perhaps you need to fall in love all over again with your Savior.

Finally, we must P-oint.

We must release our hands metaphorically from making noise and point to something bigger than ourselves. Pointing requires focus just like a bow and an arrow needs a target. We must make sure that our actions are pointing towards a Kingdom mindset. It is very hard to focus on something that does not consume and capture your mind.

To truly applaud God as center of our lives we must re-learn how to C-L-A-P. We must be willing to correct through surrendering the areas in our lives that are doing Him a disservice as His ambassadors. We must long to be with Him. The more time we spend desiring Him, the more He hears the praise, glory and honor He is due. We must also adore Him. We can adore Him through all areas of our lives, while we serve others and while we serve His personal purpose for us. Lastly, we must point to Him. It isn’t enough to just correct our shortcomings and then long after and adore Him; we must point others to Him. Our applause is muted if we are unable to share it. The joy of cheering is best done in a crowd. We should want others to applaud Jesus just as much as we enjoy devoting our attention to showering Him with lavish praise.

I encourage you to remember the “applause, applause, applause” as Lady Gaga so aptly said. Remember it when you give short lived applause to temporary things. Remember it when you participate in it with others and I pray that you remember to live it out through the use of a C-L-A-P-ping when it comes to your faith. I can only think of one reason to give a standing ovation for eternity with saints and angels surrounding God’s throne and I want all of us to get better at practicing it while on earth, all the while, helping others applaud with permanent tribute.

 

Church

Why Forgetting the Church and Just Following Jesus is Not an Option

I am not great at sound-bite theology. You know the kind I am talking about. It’s those pithy little sayings, often in 140 characters or less that seem so spiritual, deep, and insightful. They are easy to remember… getting passed on time and again until they become accepted as a given, collective, cultural,  truism. To oppose such massive wisdom makes one appear to be as out of touch as your basic Neanderthal. Worse yet, in Christian circles it makes people think you are certainly not spiritually mature and may not even be a true follower of Jesus.

The latest of these maxims drives a wedge between following Jesus and being connected to the church.

I cannot count the number of times I have had people say, things like, “I don’t want to get caught up in all that church stuff. I don’t need all that. I just want to follow Jesus”. On the surface it sounds so pure, so right, so spiritual. But is it really? Is it what Jesus calls us to? I dare say that every time Jesus hears one of His followers jettison the church in favor of some personal, individualistic, walk with Him, He has to at least wince, if not weep, or even get a bit ticked. Why do I say that? Simply for this reason. Jesus says that the church is His Bride and He loves His Bride. He loves His Bride so much that according to Ephesians 5:25-27 He gave up His life for her, was willing to die under the excruciating pain of the Cross for her, was willing to sacrifice it all for her sake. Make no mistake, Jesus absolutely loves the church, more than we can imagine. It is His Bride who He intends to perfect and beautify so that on a great wedding day, at the end of this age, that Bride will be presented to Him, holy, pure, beautiful, and spotless. That Bride will be His glory and joy. Jesus loves the church. Why don’t we? Saying that you Love Jesus but can’t stand the church is like telling me that you think I am awesome but my wife is a complete loser. Sorry pal but we are going to have some words over that, and maybe a bit more than just words.

You can’t have me and disrespect my wife. It is no different with Jesus.

An issue of Newsweek Magazine had a very provocative article titled, Forget the Church Just Follow Jesus. In the article Andrew Sullivan does a masterful job of explaining this growing phenomenon. Sullivan points out that a major reason people are taking to this road of abandoning the church, yet still trying to follow Jesus, is because of the ways in which denominations, leaders, and local congregations have abused their positions and been drawn to power rather than servanthood. As a voracious student of history and a pastor for 30 years, I clearly understand the abuses, problems, and damage that is so often found in various expressions of the church. The history of the church is littered with heartbreaking examples of exactly what Sullivan writes about. On an emotional, psychological level I understand why people bail and want to go at it alone, or nearly alone, with Jesus. It is simply easier. You don’t have the messiness of dealing with people. You don’t have the debates over theology or the practical out-working of it. You don’t have to deal with leaders who have gone off the deep end. It’s just easier. But it also breaks Jesus heart.

All of the problems that you see in the church are just like problems you see outside the church.

People abuse power, from presidents of countries to presidents of home owner associations. People argue and divide over the smallest disagreements, from political parties to married couples. Since the church is made up of people we should not be surprised to see the same sinful behavior. But what we should see in the church is the people of Christ responding differently to those things. In the world we argue, attack, and vilify and then we take our ball and go home convinced of our own righteousness and everyone else’s depravity. Incredibly that same cycle has become part and parcel of life in the church. There will always be such struggles because we are still people beset by a sinful heart. But it should and it must be different in the church. It is the Bride of Christ that must show the world how to wrestle through those disagreements and struggles. It should be the church that shows the world what it means to reconcile with your brother or sister who has sinned against you. It is the church that should show what a redeemed community looks like. It is the church that needs to live out what it means to love your neighbor. Loving one another does not mean we always agree and get along. It means we continue to forgive and serve one another in spite of  not always getting along. You can’t do that in isolation. It must be done within the context of this community we call The Church, the Bride of Christ, His Body.

The minute I say church, many people immediately go to the local congregation on the corner.

They think of the organizational structure, a denomination, they think dead orthodoxy, religious legalism. They think of the pastor who hurt them or the church split that so devastated them. I am not talking about how a church is organized on a local level, or the various groups that have had such tragedy in their midst. I am talking about the church universal, what the Apostles Creed means when it says, “I believe in one holy, catholic, apostolic church”. That has nothing to do with the Roman Catholic church or any other particular structure. It is about the Bride of Christ throughout history. The Bride Jesus loves. I love that church. Right now she is a battered and disheveled bride. Her hair is a mess, lipstick smeared, gown torn, vail askew, one heal broken, knees scraped, and nylons full of runs. But she is still His Bride and He adores her!

The answer to the woes of the church is not to point out all her flaws and then retreat into isolation saying you don’t need or want the church. The answer to the flaws is to ask, what can I do to make that Bride ready for her wedding day? What can I do to help present her to Jesus as a beautiful, perfect bride who will bring glory to Him? To do that you absolutely must be in community with other followers of Christ. You must be willing to work through the hardship and struggle of community in order to experience the joy Jesus takes in His bride. I am not saying you have to be a part of any particular structure, denomination or group. People will make decisions to disconnect with local churches for many reasons. I am not debating that. What I am saying is that the sound-bite theology of forgetting the church altogether and just following Jesus is in the long run, dangerous! It is dangerous to your spiritual growth and well-being because you cannot grow in Christ with out being connected to the Body of Christ. It is simply not possible. Any part of the body that is connected to the head is by default connected to the rest of the body. Cut yourself off from the rest of the body and you cut yourself of from much that the head wants you to experience.

Jesus loves the church. It is the worlds best hope. For all its flaws and dysfunctions, the Bride of Christ is the worlds best hope.

Rather than cast stones at her and flee into an individualistic, pietism of just me and Jesus, we must embrace the Bride, give her a hug of encouragement and then do all we can to prepare her for her wedding day. Idealistic? You bet it is! But that is because Jesus always places the ideal before us and says, reach for it, run to it, strive for the best that God has for you and the world. Failure is not an option and neither is giving up on the Bride. I love the church for a simple reason, Jesus loves the church so much that He gave His life for her. Can we do anything less?

 

Depression

Christianity and Depression – Part Four: Living as an Introvert

I’m an introvert.  It’s no secret, and, to those who have spent thirty seconds around me, it’s no surprise.  I can’t say that my introversion informs my depression any more than I could say another’s extroversion informs their excitement.  While your personality and your mental health are mutually exclusive to a certain degree, I have found, in my years of participation in Christian community, that, just as we have a long way to go making room for our depressed brothers and sisters, so too do we have a long way to go in making the Church a kind of place where introverts can connect.

Over the last few years, as my involvement in Christian leadership has expanded, I began to notice a disturbing trend: a trend that boiled down to the formula “church = party.” I lost track of the number of conversations I had with other pastors and well-intentioned church folk on how to make the church more enthusiastic, sociable and X-treme. Quietly I wondered where amid the cacophony I was supposed to fit in.  As an introvert who deals with clinical depression, often the last thing I would choose to be a part of involves such things, and in my reading of Christian history I believe we as the present iteration of the historical Church may even be approaching error wanting to make Christianity more about the party than what it really is:

We are simply to be the community of followers of Jesus Christ who exist for His worship and the expansion of His kingdom.

Therein lies part of the confusion.  Isn’t the idea of Christian worship supposed to elicit exuberance?  Oughtn’t we be endlessly and overly excited by our relationship with Jesus such that we overflow with outward praise?  After all, Paul writing in Philippians 4:4 tells us to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say Rejoice!”  How much clearer could our biblical mandate to party for Jesus be?  I guess introverts like me, and even those dealing with mental health issues, ought to buck up and get with the program.  But notice how Paul follows up that very verse: Philippians 4:5 says “Let your gentle spirit be known to all.  The Lord is near.” How could that be?  How could Paul tell this congregation to rejoice always but then to let their gentleness be that which makes them known?

Could there be room for both the excitement and the seriousness of faith in God through Jesus?  Of course.

I spent the majority of my ministry career, prior to my current appointment, as a contemporary worship leader, leading the party each week, feigning excitement when it didn’t come naturally – it was exhausting.  Over the last year and a half serving on the staff of a liturgical church, we worship through recitation of the Creeds, rote prayers, weekly sacramental communion, kneeling, hymn singing, and I feel refreshed each week that we do.  I argue that we need both of those expressions of worship, and the many more that exist within orthodoxy (charismatic, traditional, blended, etc.), not only because the types of worshiper varies dramatically, but also because the God we worship is infinitely larger than any one form of worship could hope to express.  God is both endlessly exuberant and endlessly somber; infinitely elated and infinitely sorrowful (Isaiah 53:3); immanent and transcendent, and our worship ought to try to at least approximate His vastness, though we could never come close.

I challenge you to consider how much room you make for the seriousness or excitement of Christianity. It is not a bad thing to be an introvert, just as it is not a bad thing to be an extrovert. Weigh your conversations about how exciting things are against your conversations about how deep, meaningful, even silent they could be.  And if you are like me and wary of engaging in Christian community because the specter of a personal element can be off-putting, know that the part of you which is introverted is indeed a part that reflects the image of God, and it is one that the church sorely needs.

 

How to Lead Worship

How to Lead Worship

As someone who has lead corporate worship in the Church for the past ten years, I’ve come to understand and appreciate the importance that music plays in people’s lives. As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow famously wrote, “Music is the universal language of mankind.” So it should come as no surprise that the songs we sing on Sunday morning can, and should, have a profound impact on the gathered Church.

That’s why, as a Worship Pastor, I take the task of planning a worship service very seriously. While worship is about so much more than music, there’s no avoiding the fact that music has a vital role to play in our worship. God Himself commands us to sing His praises all throughout Scripture (Psalm 96:1-3, Psalm 47:6-7, Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16), and we ought to do so to the best of our ability (Psalm 33:3).

I need to be careful, however, to always ensure the spotlight is on God, not me. After all he’s the one we gather together to glorify, not the worship band. So, I can focus on choosing songs that will allow me to show off my voice, or I can focus on choosing songs that the congregation can easily learn and sing along to. I can focus on choosing the latest and greatest songs that may lack theological content, or I can focus on choosing songs that proclaim the character of God and the work Jesus accomplished on the cross. I can get caught up in my own little world while leading worship, concerning myself more with my own worship time rather than the congregation’s ability to worship, or I can focus on helping people encounter God through the songs that we sing. While it seems obvious where our focus should be, how many times have you sat through a church service where the opposite was true?

With that in mind, I’d like to share with you the outline I use when planning a worship service that helps me keep God as the focus above all else. If you’re a worship leader, my hope is that while reading this “how to lead worship” you’ll prayerfully take these thoughts to heart:

1. Live a Life of Worship

Does your life throughout the week reflect the image you project on Sunday morning? As a worship leader, the greatest impact you’ll have on the lives of your congregation is the example you set with your lifestyle. It doesn’t matter how great a musician you are, or how well planned and executed your worship set was on Sunday morning if your life outside of church isn’t a reflection of the One that you lead people to worship every week. That doesn’t mean we need to be perfect. Far from it. But we can’t lead people in true worship if we don’t experience it in our own daily lives.

2. Is God the Center?

When we sing, the purpose should be to bring glory to God. Whether we sing songs about His holiness, His love, His righteousness, or the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ, our songs should always be firmly focused on God. But so many modern worship songs today focus on us, rather than God. Other songs, while having a great melody that’s easy to learn and which may elicit an emotional response, offer little theological content. Do songs like this bring glory to God, or glory to us? Our focus must always be on singing songs that bring glory and praise to God alone.

3. Traditional vs. Contemporary

There was a time when I refused to lead my congregation in the singing of hymns. Because I grew up in a traditional Baptist church that sang only hymns and choruses (with as much liveliness as you’d find in a morgue) I associated hymns with that negative concept of church. I doubt I’m alone in experience. But because of that kind of experience, I believe many of us pit traditional hymns against contemporary worship songs as if they’re adversaries, when in reality the opposite is true. I now have a deep appreciation for hymns because of the rich theological content they contain, and I love how their more complex lyrics can so nicely complement the simpler lyrics of many modern worship songs. So I don’t advocate singing only traditional hymns or only contemporary worship songs in your worship service. Instead, the ideal scenario is a healthy combination of the two.

4. Balancing Complexity and Simplicity

Poet William Cowper once wrote that “variety is the spice of life,” and I believe that’s true of the music in our worship services. If we sang only hymns we may gain a strong theological foundation for our worship, but we might lack modern worship music’s ability to emotionally stir our affections toward God. But if we sang only modern worship songs, we might make worship more about the way we feel than about who God is. So it’s not a matter of focusing on how complex hymns can be, or how simple modern worship songs can be, but rather it’s a matter of balancing the two together. Personally, I incorporate at least one hymn into every worship service, and often it’s more than that. The real goal should be to ensure that your worship service has a nice mixture of more complex, theologically rich songs (hymns or otherwise) and simpler worship songs that enables everyone to worship God with both their hearts and their minds.

5. Avoid Mindless Worship

Mindless worship creeps into our worship services more than we realize. If we sing the same songs often enough, eventually we stop thinking about what we’re singing, and the words can lose all meaning to us. That’s one reason why I like to introduce a new song at least once or twice a month. A fresh song can often give us a fresh perspective. It’s also the reason I don’t force songs on my congregation if they clearly don’t connect with them after a couple attempts. It doesn’t matter how much I love a song, if it’s not connecting with the congregation then there’s no value in singing it. But we can’t always do new songs, so it’s important to help the congregation connect, or re-connect, with the old faithful songs. That might mean incorporating a personal story with the song, reading Scripture that ties in to the message of the song, or simply reading some of the song’s lyrics before to let the meaning sink in. Whatever method you choose, remember that the end goal is to help people encounter God.

6. The Twenty-Year Rule

A few years ago I read a book by Bob Kauflin titled, “Worship Matters.” It’s a must-read book for every worship leader. But if there was one teaching from the book that stuck with me above all else, it was Kauflin’s concept of the Twenty-Year Rule, which he describes as follows:

“If someone was born in our church and grew up singing our songs over the course of twenty years, how well would they know God? Would these songs give them a biblical and comprehensive view of God, or would they be exposed only to certain aspects of his nature and works? Would they learn that God is holy, wise, omnipotent, and sovereign? Would they know God as Creator and Sustainer? Would they understand the glory and centrality of the Gospel? Or would they think worship is about music, and not much more?”

The Twenty-Year Rule is at the forefront of my mind when picking songs for Sunday morning. While every song I pick isn’t going to be a complex breakdown of the character of God, as we’ve already discussed, I do want to make certain that the songs we sing paint a picture of who God is. That might mean I focus on His holiness one week, His love the next week, etc., but in the end I want to ensure my congregation is getting a comprehensive view of who God is.

7. Tell the Story

In the end, it all comes down to telling a story. Years ago, when leading worship was still very new to me, I picked songs without much rhyme or reason. All I did was follow the standard worship service model: start with a few fast songs and work your way towards ending with a few slower songs. I’d make sure a lot of these songs were done in the same key as well, because naturally that meant they fit together better.

I’ve learned a lot since then. I’m still very concerned with songs fitting together, but in a much different way. I realize now that the songs I choose need to tell a story. A big factor in being able to do that effectively is working with your pastor to know the sermon topic and Scripture he’s going to be teaching on each week. Armed with that information, you’ll be able to more effectively select songs around a particular theme that will complement and enhance the message being preached. If the theme is about the holiness of God, then tell that story with your song choices. If the theme is about Jesus as our Savior, then tell the story of our trespasses with sin and the Amazing Grace that God offers us. People connect with stories. And if your songs tell a story, then your congregation will experience a greater connection with God through singing them.

Remember that in the end your primary role as a worship leader is to be a teacher. If you’re telling a story, it’s for the purpose of teaching people the meaning of that story. Through the songs that you sing, you’re teaching people who God is and what He has done. And that’s a great story to tell.

 

Grace and Mercy

The Ten Lepers: Grace, Mercy, and Thanksgiving

Have you ever given someone a gift and received no letter or word of gratitude in return? While I don’t believe in keeping score, I can indeed remember a few instances where I was a little taken back by the lack of thankfulness for a gift that I had given someone. In fact, if you are anything like me, you might have even wondered, did they get the gift and if they did, did they not like it? The reality is,” thank you” is so easy to say, yet often not expressed nearly enough.

There is a fascinating story in the Bible that leaves me with more questions than answers each time that I read it. This rather short passage is packed with so much value and so many lessons to be learned. I am referring to the story where in Luke where Jesus healed the ten lepers,

As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us! ”When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:12-19)

There is truly a lot of information to unpack in these eight verses. But first, I would like to preface my initial question. Imagine with me, for a moment, that instead of giving a gift out of the goodness of your heart, the person who was celebrating the occasion actually asked you for something specific. For instance, a friend says, “I would love some nice china for my wedding.” Let’s pretend that you honored the couples’ wish and bought them that expensive china they had asked for. In fact, it wasn’t really necessarily your intention, you might have just as well gone with a different kitchen item, but the direct ask made you change your course of action. Now, would your level of frustration rise when weeks turned into months and no mention of a “thank you” had been uttered?

Jesus was a busy man and Scripture reminds us that he was going to yet another village while performing miracles on his way to the heart of Jerusalem. I imagine Jesus was preparing for His day by sharing stories with his disciples when all of a sudden a man starts to yell out (if this was translated it would be more of a cry of agony) for pity. Notice the man didn’t ask for healing, he asked for pity. Does this strike anyone else as a little bizarre? Clearly, there was an immediate need to address. Here’s what is important to understand about leprosy in order to get the full impact of the story. Leprosy was a permanent and external condition of shame because it was seen all over someone’s skin. Lepers could not hide their illness from the community, so they were shunned and forced to live apart because many people would have been afraid that they could catch this awful disease. Though leprosy was not fatal, studies show that it could affect a person’s voice and vision, as well as the skin, nose, toes, and fingers. Additionally, the leper’s physical condition would continue to deteriorate during his or her lifetime. Because lepers could not participate in worship, most people believed that the disease was due to sins that individual had committed. Why? The Jewish people couldn’t imagine a worse torment than not being able to worship God – for it was the most holy act. In short, leprosy was considered a type of sin. It was considered by the Jews to be a direct judgment of God. Some examples in the scriptures include Miriam (Numbers 12), Gehazi (2 Kings 5:20-27), and Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:19-21). Can you imagine waking up one morning with an irritated itch that rapidly multiplied throughout your entire body? Next thing you know, you are forever shamed with the title of ‘leper’ and are an outcast, removed from all of your family and friends. You are in tremendous emotional and physical pain, while being told that God is angry at you. Your situation is completely hopeless. In fact, you must call out “unclean, unclean,” every time you walk on opposite sides of the pathway. As you do this as a warning to others, you watch all the people stare and scurry.

The leper who cried out to Jesus wanted pity because he probably felt that this was the best case scenario for him – remember the disease was incurable. However, Jesus knew exactly what was needed: faith. This is why Jesus tells the men to go to the priest. In this time, this would have been forbidden because unholy beings could not enter or be next to what was considered holy. The man who yelled in agony could have argued back, “how can I go where I am not permitted?” Yet, we don’t see evidence of this. Instead we see obedience and a heart of surrender as the entire pack of misfits takes just a few steps in the direction Jesus commanded. As they are obeying, they physically watch their dead and diseased skin heal before their very eyes. This immediate miracle radically transforms the broken ten men into new, whole beings.

This story is a phenomenal account of God’s grace. Jesus, the ultimate Father of love, gives no condescending sermon or speech; he simply tests their faith and responds with the mercy they requested. I wish what happened next was what we would have expected – all ten men fall at the feet of Jesus. However, there is only one man who returns. Only 1/10th responded with a “thank you.” As for the other nine, it is the ultimate slap in the face. Surely these men were excited, but where were they in such a hurry to get to? Wasn’t every bit of grace they would have ever needed in the exact spot where Jesus healed them? The story tells us that it was the Samaritan, the foreigner and the least likely to return, who actually did. Samaritans were enemies of the Jews, and this man was previously not a worshipper of the one true God. Ironically, he was the one who responded in the most naturally unnatural way. You see, in this circumstance, it is a natural response to worship and thank God for all He has done even if you grew up knowing very little about worship. In short, encountering God produces a desire to worship. However, there were nine others and I am just as amazed as Jesus when He asked where the others had gone? The story concludes with the one who came back made well. Is anyone else as little confused, weren’t they all healed?

We will never know the story of the other nine. We will never know how their lives changed or what they said about their healing. We will never know if they lived in regret for never returning with thanks. We will never know so much of what occurred before and after this small passage. Yet, we can be left impacted by what we do know. We know that God honors the cries of our hearts when we respond in faith. In this instance, He responded immediately with healing, but this is not always the case. However, obedience is not optional regardless of the circumstance. Jesus always asks for our hearts before He can get to the physical or emotional need. Yet, even with our hearts turned towards Him and a miracle granted, not everyone worships. In this truth lies the greatest tragedy because we were made to worship. We must remember that our thanks are not nearly as costly as what God has done for us. We must, in all things, give praise to the rightful owner.

All ten lepers were physically healed but only one was made well. Jesus always gives more to the worshipper. The reality is, when we worship we receive the full outpouring of what God is doing in our lives. We can be granted our requests but often times, there is so much more Jesus wants to give. Yet, we leave shorthanded because we forget the simple words of “thank you” which are directly linked to lips of praise. My desire, as I pray it is yours, is to remember the lepers when our lives look hopeless. I chose to aim to remember the nine who forgot the most important thing they would have ever done and the one who knew the value of a true “thank you.” May we always be the foreigner who remembers what God did when we needed His mercy the most.

 

Finding Joy

Finding Joy

It’s amazing to me how joy shows up in unlikely places. You can meet a working woman lavished in designer clothes and fancy luxury cars while living in a mansion for a home and see her unfortunate misery. In the same light, you can see a middle aged man with a family of six having very little to eat and only a small cabin, all the while living with blistered hands from working all day and yet, find an unspeakable joy. Finding joy is not based in money, status, or emotion – it is based on a love that cannot help but overflow.

Mother Teresa once stated, “Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” Still, I wonder as Christians if our joy is contagious. Could your joy capture a person’s heart? Perhaps, you can’t even fathom others seeing joy in you because you can’t be sure that true joy will ever find you again. Friend, it is time you stop waiting and start allowing it to penetrate your soul by the revelation that love is with you.

As I was pondering the most joyful people I knew, I noticed a direct correlation between their ability to receive and give love.  Love produces true joy. I also looked at the most joyous Biblical characters and instantly, David came to mind. David, the Psalmist, was filled with joy. He wrote and sang about it daily. His life was far from glamorous, as he took shelter amidst rocky caves and foreign pastures, but his joy was undeniable. He didn’t wait until the promise of a kingship was fulfilled and he was lavished in royalty, a crown placed upon his head. He lived a life of joy even as he feared for his life. You see, I believe that a life of worship (not just musical worship) produces joy. The reality is, our need to worship comes because of our exposure of Jesus’ love – we have no reason not to live in a constant state of joy because when we understand how deeply we are loved by God Himself.

How tragic it would be to allow one second of Jesus horrific pain on the cross to produce, in us, a moment’s question of His love for us?

Since we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that His love for us is always faithful and unending, should not joy be our ultimate outcome? David understood this even when his circumstances could render everything else miserable; he still decided to have joy. I imagine David’s voice accompanied by the lyre singing,

“My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to You-I whom You have delivered.” (Psalm 71:23)

“For You make me glad by your deeds, Lord, I sing for joy at what Your hands have done. How great are Your works, Lord, how profound your thoughts.” (Psalm 92:4-5).

“Our mouths are filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” (Psalm 126:2-3)

Joy resonated over David not because he was a happy-go-lucky kind of guy, but because he chose to possess joy each and every morning.

If you are looking for the kind of joy that David was known for, start by recognizing God’s love. The longer we walk with Christ, the more we can become physically comfortable to His all-consuming love.

Picture with me for a moment that you were walking the street last week and a car came racing by at lightning speeds. At the very last moment, a person, whom you had never met, pushed you out of the way and used his body as a shield against the car. The next thing you remember is standing, in shock, watching him bleed out on the pavement while you had not a scratch on your body. Would this image ever leave you? Would you not spend the rest of your life with a new perspective? God’s love for us is much greater than this. We cursed him with our disobedience and He decided that His reaction would be forgiveness – taking on our punishment on Himself. This love merits joy. This love can only be met with a heart that displays delight. This love, when fully received, harvests a spirit of gladness. Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice, for His love for you should yield pure joy like a magnet to others, always catching many souls.