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Friday, October 1, 2010

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Songs of Righteousness

“Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:23–24 ESV)

For the last month I, along with a team of three other guys, have been preparing to launch a new campus for our church in an Elementary School about five miles away from the main campus. I am going to be the worship pastor and can't wait for it to begin this Sunday. Most of my time preparing for this new role  has been spent researching and purchasing the equipment we need to do what we want to do there, developing the different ministry teams for the church, and working with the web guy and the design guy and the print guy at our church to make sure we have everything we need for the new campus to run smoothly. It's been a lot of work, but I have learned a ton and sincerely enjoyed the preparations. However, with it now four days away from beginning, I am getting anxious. This morning our 2 month old son woke Lauren and I up at 5 am (the second time he had woken us up last night) and I was grumpy. I started thinking about all the things I still need to get done for the new campus, all the people I would have to call, all the homework that I've put on the back-burner to get through this week, and in the end I was taking out my stress from those things on Lauren and Kyler. 

After Kyler finally fell asleep, I sat down at the kitchen table and opened up my bible to read, the whole time anxiously hoping that the baby monitor in front of me won't light up with his cries and interrupt my breakfast and quiet time. I'm working through the minor prophets right now, so I was just expecting to read some of Amos and walk away with only a better appreciation for God's revelation through his interplay with Israel, valuable no doubt, but sometimes hard to make relevant to my life. God had different plans for me this morning. I got to chapter 5 and started to see a familiar theme. I had read just a few days before in Hosea, but it's familiarity stifled some of it's impact. Amos, the shepherd prophet, started to list all of the sacrifices and festivals and songs that Israel would sing. As he listed them he wrote how God has rejected all of those things. God was tired of their sacrifices and ceremonies, he didn't want to hear there singing or there instruments. When Amos was prophesying, Israel was not walking with God. Although they maintained temple practices, they also kept altars in the mountains to sacrifice to foreign gods. They neglected the poor among them and abandoned many parts of the law. So what God told them through Amos, is that if they are not going to act with justice and righteousness, he doesn't want their worship. God tells Israel to let justice flow down like water and righteousness flow like a river. Those things would worship him. 

When I read that, my heart beat rose a little bit and my countenance dropped in a way that only the Holy Spirit and his conviction can do. This morning I was so worried about the show of worship, I was so concerned with the songs and the liturgy, that I neglected truly worshiping God by treating my beautiful wife and helpless two month old with frustration and unwarranted anger. There is a constant theme I have seen throughout the prophets and which is reiterated through Christ himself. If we are not living with justice and righteousness, if we are not seeking mercy and forgiveness towards each other, if we are not devoting ourselves to knowing God and the glory of his presence, then our worship is detestable to him.

Lord Jesus, I confess that so much of my worship falls upon your deaf ears due to my own sin and misplaced passions. Forgive my iniquities in your gracious eyes and accept my praise on behalf of my integrity, which I have because you alone have saved me!

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Living Bones

“And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.”” Ezekiel 37:3

The Indiana Jones movies were some of my favorite movies growing up (still today?). But I must admit, as a kid watching them, I couldn't help but be scared every time Indy would walk into an old tomb or an underground sewer and be surrounded by the bones of explorers who went before him. From the filmmaker's perspective, these bones created a great contrast to the living Indiana Jones exploring the same treacherous artifacts as the bones laying around him. But for a boy, I was always scared that Indy wouldn't make it. I was worried he would become just another skeleton for some future archeologist to pass over in search of grails and arks and whatnot. Even at a young age, I knew that dead was dead, bones were bones, and that once you were a skeleton, you weren't going to be anything else but dust after that.

During another one of Ezekiel's crazy visions, he is brought into a scene from Indiana Jones. The Spirit of the Lord takes him to a valley filled with dry bones and asks him if these bones could live. Most people if asked that would respond with the obvious, "No," since dead is dead and bones are bones. But Ezekiel knew that God was unpredictable, so he merely responded "O Lord God , you know." As the story goes, God commands Ezekiel to prophesy over the bones to give them flesh and breath, and that which was once dead was given life. 

I can only imagine the scene. At one moment surrounded by what looks like the remains of a horrible massacre and the next minute in the middle of new life, breathing bodies rejoicing in every new breath. Over and over in the Scriptures God shows that not only does he delight in creation, but also in re-creation. God delights in taking my dead, dry bones and giving them new life, breathing His breath and Spirit back into that which is breathless and soulless. What a wonderful God we worship!

Lord Jesus, let us live in the newness of life that you give us. We praise for taking what sin has killed and giving us your breath!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

From Omni to Chili's

“Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom.”” Song of Solomon 2:15

About a year ago, Lauren and I were making our way down from Dallas to Austin to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. We set a budget, went to Priceline and found an incredible room in the Omni Hotel. The weekend was spent eating $25 plates, going on aimless walks through downtown Austin, eating crepes out of a trailer near Zilker Park, buying records at Waterloo Records, and enjoying an elegant and exciting weekend in the unique Texas hippy culture that is Austin, Texas. It was incredible.

Last week, Lauren and I celebrated our second anniversary. But instead of waking up to room service and downtown rooftop pools, we woke up every two hours to a fussy and hungry baby, to feed, burp and change his diaper. After a sleepless night, we spent the rest of the day carrying around a car seat and diaper bag meeting our pediatrician and other specialists. Instead of meandering through parks holding hands, we walked tiredly through doctors offices and waiting rooms, spit up on our shirts and the all too familiar "deer-caught-in-the-headlights" look of week old parents on our faces. For dinner we had plans of using a gift card and escaping between feedings for an hour to our local Chili's for a quick meal, but after a day of parenting and Lauren recovering from a C-section we ended up calling in the Chili's order, setting up a romantic dinner on our kitchen table and having a 20 minute meal while the baby hung out with Grandma in the nursery. 

A lot can happen in a year.

I find it funny sometimes how much pressure can be put on couples to make anniversaries spectacular. Don't get me wrong, a weekend away dining finely and living largely is fun and a great way to celebrate a marriage. But we often times miss the point. By placing the weight on the spectacle, by putting all of our efforts into anniversary plans and expensive gifts, we often times do so at the expense of putting our efforts into the 364 days in between anniversaries that make or break marriages. That's all Satan has to do. Distract us and shift our priorities just enough to make us forget what honors God about marriages. God doesn't care whether we spend $1 or $1,000 on an anniversary gift or if we can outdo ourselves each year with elaborate plans and surprises. God cares if we cherish and hold our spouse even after they blow up at us after a bad day, He cares if we choose to not look at porn and save our eyes, passions, and thoughts for our wives alone, He cares if we utilize our marriage to be an example in faith to show that it is God's glory and sovereignty that matters more than our reputations, paychecks, and social status. 

As I went to bed that night, I looked at my wife then at our baby sleeping in the bassinet. Despite the vastly different wedding anniversary that day, I couldn't help but praise God. The rest of our lives we will be threatened by little foxes trying to sneak through the fence of our marriage and destroy all that God has planted. Some of the foxes will be obvious, but most will be subtle--a slight shift of focus, an underlying fear, a disproportionate love of a child, unmet expectations and the unending pressure to live a life full of genuine love in an inauthentic and soulless world. But that night as we fell asleep, as the baby sighed his sleeping sighs while swaddled tightly for the night and as my wife's breath grew longer and deeper as she slipped into a hard sleep, I knew that we were resting in a garden protected by the grace and mercy of God, safe at least for the night from the crafty little foxes trying to break in. I hope that our future anniversaries will contain more one on one time than this last one, but I'm so happy we don't need the fireworks for it to be romantic. 

Lord Jesus, we are incapable in ourselves to be godly and to guard what you have sown. Protect us with your grace and glory from all the snares the devil sets for us and let our marriages be a picture of your love! 

Monday, July 12, 2010

Thus Begins Fatherhood

“Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD.” (Psalms 128:3-4 ESV)

As I write this, my beautiful wife is sleeping in a hospital bed filled with pillows from constant feedings with our new son swaddled and sleeping in a "milk coma" on her lap. The cold fluorescence of hospital lights have become common place and the room on the eighth floor of Medical City hospital has become a far too familiar surrounding for us over the last five days. What began as a routine induction that was supposed to bring us back home on Saturday turned into a five day stay and a long recovery from 3 and a half hours of unsuccessfully pushing out a baby and an unexpected C-section. Although Lauren pushed with all of her might, God made her with an overly prominent sacrum, which made it so our son couldn't come out that way. So in many tears and faith that seemed smaller than a mustard seed at the moment, we trusted the doctors choice for a C-section and welcomed our healthy son into the world an hour later. 

It's a peculiar thing becoming a father. From 5pm Wednesday evening when we began the induction process and 10:04 pm the following night when our son, Kyler, was born, something truly miraculous happened in my heart. Years of stunted maturity and foolishness seemed flushed out of my body and soul and was instantly replaced by the joyful weight of responsibility that all new fathers are filled with the moment they hold that child they've been waiting nine months to meet. Praise God that Lauren was able to make it through the painful delivery and that God put such smart doctors in our life to keep both my wife and my new son safe. 

As they continue to sleep behind me, and the room is not filled with crying babies or nurses or other various hospital machines, my mind began to race back to a verse I read a few weeks ago while reading through the Psalms. I had read the above verse before, but without feeling the weight of fatherhood, its message was lost on me. When I initially thought about being a father, my mind went straight to the responsibility of providing through working, or being actively involved with helping my wife with the everyday tasks of having a newborn, or holding Kyler until he stops crying and all of those other things that come with being a dad. All of these are part of it and important, but they are not the most important responsibility I now have as a father. If I want to be a responsible dad, the Psalmist writes that I must lead by fearing God. When I fear the Lord, my wife and my children will thrive and be blessings. 

I knew early on in my faith that fearing God was important, but it wasn't until 10:04 Thursday night, July 8th, 2010, that the axiom became the unwavering reality it always should've been in my life. The fear of God is the most fundamental responsibility I now have. If God is as great and powerful, as gracious and wrathful as he truly is, then what does that mean in loving my wife, in raising my son, in spending and saving money, in how I use my free time, in how I spend all my time. I have to justify my every step, action, and thought to the greatness of God and his majestic love in my life, and my family will see it and follow in step. 

In a few hours we will go home and be away from the constant help of the hospital staff and on our own with the giant learning curve living in our house the next twenty years. My prayer is that, although there will be mistakes and sleepless nights and stress, that I can rise to the occasion of leadership that submits whole-heartedly to the awesome power of our wonderful God and that one day our Son would find his salvation in the saving blood of Jesus Christ the lamb.

Early in the morning after he was born, while pondering his recent birth and the great presence f our sweet child, I wrote a hymn of praise that I will leave everyone with. We all have joy because God became a son and died and through him we all have hope in this dark world.

Oh joy! What joy a son is born!
The world in anxious wait
For darkness covers endlessly
Where no light penetrates
But light brought forth in God the Son
Has caused the dark to flee
The presence of the Son, the Lamb
Now reigns victoriously!

The Cross! The Cross! Born for the cross!
The Father's glory in his eyes.
Born for the cross, to conquer death
The way to life in manger lies.

Oh Son! What grace that walks between
The twisted hearts of men
The pharisee and lowly thief 
Can all be born again!
A gracious God born humble man
And emptied of his throne
For sinner's sake, and Father's name
Walks to the cross alone.

The Cross! The Cross! Born for the cross!
The Father's glory in his eyes.
Born for the cross, to conquer death
The way to life in manger lies.

Oh Son! So humble bursting forth
From grave to conquering sky.
Though bruised heel has crushed the head
Of Satan and his lie.
Oh Son! Now seated at the throne
Our Lord! Our God! Our King!
The Son suffering for greatest joy
Born for the Cross we sing. 

The Cross! The Cross! Born for the cross!
The Father's glory in his eyes.
Born for the cross, to conquer death
The way to life in manger lies.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Respond With Integrity

“I will ponder the way that is blameless. Oh when will you come to me? I will walk with integrity of heart within my house;” Psalms 101:2

It's easy to praise God once we begin to interact with him. This may sound trite, but really, as we as believers begin to read about Jesus in the gospels and his mighty works, or study the story of the Exodus or just in general see the transformation from sinners into saints in or own lives it is easy for us to look at all the evidence and deem God worthy of our praise. Verbally acknowledging that God is a great God is really a no brainer as we truly see what he has revealed to us through his word, the common grace evident in his creation, and the sanctifying power of his Spirit in our souls. And this is what we should do. God is a God who is worthy of receiving our verbal affirmation of His glory and wonder. However, what will often times happen in my life, and I think it is indicative of a deeper problem of culture, is that I will pour myself out with words before God, telling him how great and wonderful he is...and then stop. My praise both begins and ends with words. Whether they are through songs, or prayers, or through conversations with others, I find it easy to praise God with my lips, but then stop. This seems to be a problem with those who interact with God for a long time. Over and over again in the Scriptures, there is evidence of Israel praising God with their sacrifices and laws, or covenants made to God, or all these different things, but then the actions they take apart from their words are completely separated and run counter-intuitive to what we say to God. I do this so often in my own life, and every time I do it, my words become pointless. The proper response to God's presence is first and foremost living righteously with integrity. If we were to say nothing, but act differently, God would be praised more truly. Whenever we as believing people praise God with what we say but insult God by what we do, our praise becomes insulting to God. 

Lord Jesus, please help us to walk not only with words but with integrity. You are worthy of our righteous living and it is your grace that carries us!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Let God Be God

“The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over many waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth and strips the forests bare, and in his temple all cry, “Glory!”” Psalms 29:3-9

As a worship pastor, I spend most of my time doing everything I can to get people to worship God. Whether it's discussing song choice and order, whether or not to put chairs out, fiddling with lights, or spending hours practicing with the band to get the bridge to that one song just right, the majority of my week is occupied trying to figure out what I need to do for God to be worshipped. As I was reading this morning and thinking about the above passage, it struck me how silly much of what I do during the week truly is. In truth, I don't have to do anything for God to be worshiped. It is very humbling and horrifyingly awesome to know how great God is. His presence doesn't need to be enhanced by me, or by a certain song, or a lighting effect or any other thing. The only thing necessary for God to be praised is for God to be God. Which he is all the time. I fear that a lot of the things that I do on a Sunday morning or any other time I'm leading worship can distract and keep people from what they really need, which is encountering the true God. God doesn't need our help to be praised, we just need to let him be God and he'll take care of the rest.

Lord Jesus, please give me the humility and wisdom to allow you to make your presence known to those who seek to worship you. Let us not be distractions from the Almighty king, so that as people enter into his holy temple, they can't help but cry "Glory!"