Church · Heart

Hatch or Go Bad: What It Means to Give Everything To Jesus

One of my very favorite websites is Babylon Bee.

I don’t know who is behind it, but they write the absolute funniest satire pieces about Evangelical Christianity in America.

A while back, I came across this post about adoption. I thought it was funny, but there was also enough truth in it to make me angry. 

Then, a few weeks later, I was in a service recently where they gave an altar call for salvation, and they quoted the verse that is often used in that context, Romans 10:9.

“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

“All you have to do is believe,” the speaker said.

And I got angry all over again. 

The more I started thinking about why these two things upset me, the more I saw the same issue manifesting itself over and over again. It popped up in things I was reading, and in conversations I was having. And even as it was stirring in my heart, Jason was led to preach about it at the church we’ve been attending.

I couldn’t run away from this problem.

Church, I’m angry. And I’m heartbroken. Why? Because we have really not surrendered to the lordship of Jesus.

You see, that verse the speaker quoted? She left part of its instructions out during her altar call. Romans 10:9 says that we have to both believe what the gospel says about Jesus and declare him as Lord over our lives. If we only believe in God, we are no better than demons, according the James. But there is teaching out there, lots of it, that subtly or overtly contradicts the idea that Jesus has absolute authority over our lives.

That Babylon Bee article has a ring of truth to it, because we are content, as a church, to let other people do hard things for Jesus and think that we don’t have to.

Some friends of ours who are missionaries in the Czech Republic were at our church last summer, and shared the story of how God called them out of their very normal lives and asked them to give up all of it and go to Europe to reach the lost. They told how when God called, they had no choice but to respond in obedience. But after the service, one of the ladies in the congregation told them she couldn’t believe they said yes to missions; that  she would never be able to do the same if God asked her.

This is why I’m concerned.

We live in a world where even the church is surprised by obedience to God. Let me be very clear: if you truly follow Jesus, the issue of obedience should already be settled in your heart. Yet for many who call themselves Christians, it is not.

It terrifies me that there is a whole generation of people who think they claim the name of Christ while telling Him all the things they will categorically not do.

And the things we refuse to do for Christ can take on many different faces: fasting, going to Africa, homeschooling, adopting a child, walking away from that unhealthy relationship, giving generously or sacrificially in the offering at church, serving in the nursery, praying for someone in public… I could just keep going and going.

Some of these things are probably no big deal to you. Others may hit closer to home. But I have heard people, Christian people, say that they could not, would not, do each of these things, even though in many cases, that was exactly the thing that God was asking them to do.

The reason we think it’s okay to say “no thanks” to God because we have not understood the magnitude of what it means to call Jesus our Lord.

“Jesus is Lord” is not just a cute thing we say. Lord is much more than just a church word that is a synonym for God. Think back to what you learned in school about the feudal system. Lord referred to the master or owner of a certain parcel of property. The lord had subjects, and whatever the lord said was the law.

This is hard to understand because we have nothing like a lordship relationship today in America. God is not our employer. We cannot negotiate for better benefits, or angle for a promotion. We cannot move on to a different job when the demands are too high.

The only appropriate response to a lord is to obey everything he tells you to do.

“Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

The relationship Jesus has invited us into is one where we die, and he is resurrected in us. Everything about our old life – our hopes, dreams, desires, wealth, ambition, habits, hobbies, diet, family, friends, possessions, home, physical safety, even our lives themselves—are surrendered to him. We leave nothing off the table. He is allowed to add, remove, and change as he sees fit.

C. S. Lewis describes it this way:

 “What we are trying to do is to remain what we call ‘ourselves’, to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be good. We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way–centered on money or pleasure or ambition–and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly, And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do….He never talked vague, idealistic gas. When he said, ‘Be perfect,’ He meant it. He meant that we must go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are hankering after is harder–in fact, it is impossible. It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being an ordinary decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.” (Mere Christianity, pp. 198-199)

Lewis penned these words more than sixty years ago, church, but not much has changed.

And nothing much will, unless we get on our faces before the Lord and repent our love affair with the world and with our own comfort, and ask him to come and crucify our flesh. We must commit anew to following him with our entire lives–whatever that means for us, whatever we have to lay on the altar. If we want to call Jesus our Lord, it’s all-or-nothing.

This is what is missing from our lives.

This is what is missing from our churches.

And this is what is missing from our witness.

When we do not understand that Christ has asked us to surrender everything, we cannot effectively ask others to do the same. We have no authority to assure them that surrendering all to Jesus is worth it. If we have not also given everything to follow Jesus, how can we ask someone else to walk away from that lifestyle that they’ve claimed as their identity? To go through with that pregnancy? To abandon their false gods, and in the process, lose their families and their familiar culture?

When we are not completely surrendered to Christ, we fall into error in our gospel witness. We either sit in hypocritical judgment of people who are enslaved to sin, pointing fingers and acting like it is easy to surrender everything because we haven’t actually surrendered anything. Or, we try to soften the demands of the gospel, saying they can love Jesus and keep their sin, which is dangerous, because as Rosaria Butterfield puts it, “We are acting as though we think ourselves more merciful than God is.”

If we want to be a bold and effective witness to the world around us, we need to be able to look our unbelieving friends in the eye and truthfully say to them, “You are going to have to give up everything to find life in Jesus. You will have to give up everything, just like I have. But it will be worth it.”

So what will it be church? Will we surrender everything to Jesus and embrace the call to make him Lord? Will we be hatched? Or will we go bad?

 

 

Church

A Final Letter to Our Church

To the saints of God in Ozark, chosen and dearly loved:

Our hearts are full today, our last Sunday with you. Before, we thought we have might have a lifetime to share our hearts with you. But now, as we prepare for one last chance to speak to you, it doesn’t seem like enough. We have so much left to tell you.

It is no secret that we think of you as our third child. We have spoken at great length about the labor it took to bring you into existence and the way you required more from us than we even knew was in our power to give. But we have also made known the rewards we found in serving you, our deep love for you, and the pride that swelled in our hearts in moments when we glimpsed just how far you had come.

How do we say goodbye to you now?

Our building on 20th Street has never been, in and of itself, our church. So even though we may shed some tears when we close the doors for the final time today, it’s not the building that we grieve. It is your precious souls, the group of us together, and knowing that we may never all be gathered together in the same way this side of heaven that makes us weep.

Come this afternoon, the Lord may begin to scatter us all in different directions, to new fellowships, new ministries, or new callings. But for now, while we remain together, may we remind you of a few things that are dear to our hearts?

Remember that true worship of God always takes our eyes off of ourselves and our own circumstances, and focuses instead on His greatness and majesty. Don’t underestimate the power of this simple act. When God came to Job in the whirlwind, He never answered Job’s questions, He just reminded Job of how big He was (Job 38-41). We would do well to remind ourselves often of those same things.

Remember that the best and truest way to discern God’s voice is to immerse yourself in His word. Any other great endeavor requires extensive dedication, training, and discipline. How much more so the immense task of following Jesus? It is not legalism to work hard at learning the stories of the Bible, their context, and even memorizing their very words. The Holy Spirit can only remind us of the things we have already learned, and we are privileged to hold the very words of God in our hands, so endeavor always to learn them as well as you can.

Remember that aside from the Holy Spirit, the best help you have in following Jesus is those who are walking with Him alongside you. Growing together will not happen on accident, and there is power in praying with and for each other.

Remember that following Jesus is not something you only do on Sunday mornings. This world is not our home, but rather we travel through it as ambassadors of Christ everywhere we go.

Remember that Jesus told us we would be hated for following Him. Persecution was a catalyst for the spread of the gospel in the book of Acts, and still spurs on true followers of Christ around the world today.

Remember that nothing is impossible with God. We don’t always understand His ways, but He is never powerless to help us.

Remember you are the shepherd of your children’s hearts. While your pastor and church should come alongside you as you commit raising your babies in the fear of the Lord, those little ones’ first and most influential spiritual leader is you.

Remember that the gospel is a message of reconciliation. This means we should seek to be reconciled to God, but also to one another. Never leave a church in anger or with unresolved conflict. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).

And above all else, remember the greatest promise of the Bible is this: God with us. Nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39). No matter where we go, His presence goes, too.

It has truly been a joy and honor to know and serve each of you.

With all our love in Christ,

Pastor Jason and Amy

Church

On Closing our Church

Oh, my friends – where do I even begin?

We announced a week ago that we are closing our church, and so many of you have reached out to us to find out how we are doing, and I haven’t quite had the right words to answer that question.

The truth is, we are grieving. Deeply. Every week we discover a new painful part of this process, and the whole thing has just been plain hard. We’ve cried a lot and there is no easy band-aid to put on this pain.

But….. But, but, but…

God.

My God is in the business of redeeming what is broken.

If you’d asked me a year ago what that means, I would have told you something that sounded really nice, probably using a mosaic as an analogy, how things can be more beautiful because of their brokenness.

But now that I’m having to live that out, I’m finding out God’s redemption is so much bigger than I gave Him credit for. Closing our church is both more broken and more beautiful than I ever could have imagined. I ugly cry almost every day, and God’s grace is there, big in my big pain. God’s grace is there in friends who weep with us, holding us tighter than I would have ever imagined they would do. God’s grace is there in the prayers that poured forth in our living room night after night, sparking revival in our hearts. God’s grace is abounding to us.

Friends, I didn’t know it could be like this.

I knew in my head, theologically, that God is present in the midst of suffering. But the truth is, I think I secretly believed that God’s leading meant a win. That because he asked us to do it, our church couldn’t help but grow bigger and better all the time.

And if I’m being really honest, I think I secretly believed that the people who had planted other churches that closed had missed God’s leading or disobeyed him along the way somewhere. That it couldn’t be God’s plan to lead someone into hardship.

And yet, here we are.

So just what are God’s plans for us?

Most of us who have grown up in church know Jeremiah 29:11, about God’s good plans for us. But what does that even mean?

If you back up a chapter, you will see that Jeremiah was prophesying to the nation of Judah during what was basically foreign occupation by the Babylonian Empire. More and more of the people of Judah were taken captive to Babylon, until Nebuchadnezzar’s puppet king, Zedekiah, rebelled, and the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in retaliation (see 2 Chronicles 36).

The people of Judah had no context to process this large-scale punishment for their collective disobedience to God. They were sorry. They wanted to go home. Why wasn’t God hearing their prayers?

Because of this, some prophets were saying that God would deliver them from the oppression of the Babylonians in two short years (see Jeremiah 28:2-3).

But they were wrong. So God prompted Jeremiah to write this letter to the exiles:

“’Build houses and settle down…. Marry and have sons and daughters…. Seek the peace and prosperity of the city into which I have carried you into exile…. Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them,’ declares the LORD. This is what the LORD says, ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:5-11, emphasis added

Most of the time, I think I am more like the false prophets in this story than I am like Jeremiah. I want there to be a quick fix just around the corner. An “all better.” A why behind my pain. And instead, God says to his precious chosen people, “buckle up. The answer to your prayers is going to be a long time coming. But I know what I’m doing.”

After all, why would God have to reassure us that his plans were not for harm, unless it felt very much as if they were?

And though we don’t like to talk about it much in the church, that is how walking with Jesus often is.

We have taken verses like Jeremiah 29:11 out of context, and fooled ourselves into believing the gospel says “Come and prosper.” We want to believe that God is always leading us to places where we will be richer, happier, healthier, and more successful than we were before.

But what the gospel of Jesus Christ really says is, “Come and die.” We don’t want to the Lord to lead us into places of brokenness and betrayal and heartache, but that is so often the road he asks us to walk.

To know Jesus is to know suffering.

I don’t want that to be true, but I just can’t get away from verses like this:

“You will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake” Matthew 24:9

And this:

“In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

 And these:

“[Peter and John] left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name [of Jesus].” Acts 5:41

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope….” Romans 5:3-4

 “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison….” 2 Corinthians 4:17

 “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamites. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10

“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” Philippians 1:29

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James 1:2-3

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trail when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4:12-13

The truth is, God does have good plans for us. But we have to let Him define what that good is. And we have to know that the fullness of the good He has for us will not be achieved in this life.

Someday, we will be with Jesus, and he will wipe away every tear from our eyes. That is our future. And even now, in the midst of all we suffer in this life, He is ALWAYS with us. That is our hope.

Jason and I are taking comfort in the far-off future we have in Jesus, no matter what the immediate future holds. We truly have no idea what is next for us. We have not had any job offers or interviews, but we have peace that God will go with us into all of our tomorrows. We are spending more time on our knees than ever before, and if only for that we are grateful for this season and how it drives us to seek more of God.

Thank you to everyone who has been praying for us and taking time to encourage us along the way. We are humbled by your love!

Blessings,

Amy

PS. I am indebted to many anointed writers and musical artists whose work God has used to speak to me over the last few months. If you are in a season of brokenness (or want to know how to encourage someone who is), I recommend The Hardest Peace by Kara Tippets, When God Doesn’t Fix It by Laura Story, and Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. If you’re looking for music, what we have on repeat around here are The Glorious Unfolding by Stephen Curtis Chapman, As Sure as the Sun by Ellie Holcomb, Majestic by Kari Jobe, and How Can It Be by Lauren Daigle.

Church · Heart

Christian Songs Lyrics Explained: Fire Fall Down

One of the things we sing a lot, at least in evangelical circles, is for fire to fall down, or for God to send his fire. In fact, we sang this Matt Redman song, “Here for You,” in our own church just a couple weeks ago, boldly voicing our desire: “God, let your fire fall down.”

If you look at this very literally, it seems like a crazy a thing to ask. I’m not sure any of us want God to send an actual fire into our church in the middle of one of our services (although that would be kind of cool.)

God did actually send literal fire down a number of times in the Bible. The time that comes most immediately to mind, at least for me, is Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal and Ashtoreth on Mt. Carmel. Israel had embraced idol worship, and Elijah had prophesied a drought over the land as God’s judgment for their worship of the idol Baal (whom they believed provided them with rain, crops, and fertility). After three years, the land was dry and barren, and Elijah made king Ahab and his false prophets an offer: Let’s build sacrifices to our respective gods on the top of this mountain, but not light them. Whichever god answers our prayers with fire is the true God.

They accepted, so Israel gathered at Mt. Carmel to watch the showdown between this one man of God and the 850 prophets who served the nation’s idols.The false prophets went first and called out to Baal for hours. They wept and wailed, and even cut themselves in an attempt to get his attention, but to no avail.

Then Elijah took his turn. He repaired the altar of God, arranged the meat on it and then drenched the sacrifice with water. Now it was going to take a honest-to-goodness miracle for this thing to catch on fire. Elijah stepped forward, and prayed a simple prayer that demonstrated his absolute faith that God was able to do this:

At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: ‘Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you,Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.’ Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, ‘The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!'” (1 Kings 18:36-39, emphasis added).

Elijah asked, and God answered with fire. Not just any fire, either, a supernatural fire that burned up all the things we use to contain fire: water, soil, stones. It is this image that is often in my mind when I sing about fire falling down. But this is far from the only time that God sends fire in Scripture. God rained fire down on Sodom and Gomorrah. God sent a pillar of fire to guide the Israelites in the desert. God sent fire to consume the sacrifice when Solomon dedicated the temple in Jerusalem. And tongues of burning fire appeared over the heads of the believers in the upper room on the day of Pentecost.

These are all instances of a literal fire coming down from the sky. And as I said before, I’m not sure that’s what we are asking for when we sing these songs. So what are we talking about? We should be careful to consider what the Scripture says about God and His fire.

So often, in the church, I think we equate fire with zeal, as in “being on fire for God,” and some nebulous feeling of being excited about God. But the fire of God is much bigger than that.

Want to hazard a guess at which book of the Bible mentions fire the most? It’s Leviticus, which is not a book we often enjoy reading or studying, but it can teach us a lot about what it really means to ask for God’s fire.

In the book of Leviticus, God’s fire meant a few different things, and they are a pattern for what fire means throughout the rest of the Bible.

Judgment

In Leviticus, the people of Israel frequently turn away from God by grumbling, complaining, losing faith, acting irreverently, and turning to idols. In these instances, God often judged people for their disobedience, and on more than one occasion, the Bible says that fire came out from the Lord and consumed people (Leviticus 10:1-2, Numbers 11:1-3). Through Christ, we are no longer stand accused of our sins, but for those who reject Him, the judgment that awaits them is often described with images of fire and burning (as in Mark 9:43).

Sacrifice

By far, the majority of references to fire in the book of Leviticus had to do with sacrifice. Leviticus is all about instructions for the priests in their duties, one of which was continually offering ritual sacrifices on the altar before the Lord. The fire on these altars was supposed to remain burning at all times. Those who loved God continued to make burnt offerings to God throughout the rest of the Old Testament, and as I mentioned before, there were several occasions when God sent fire from heaven to show his pleasure for a sacrifice his people offered to him (Leviticus 9:24, 1 Kings 18:38, 2 Chronicles 7:1).

Sacrifice looks a little different for New Testament believers. Jesus died once for the sins of the whole world. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t bring anything to offer to God; on the contrary, because God has done so much for us, we owe him everything. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer you bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1).

Purity

Another primary way that fire was used in the book of Leviticus was for ceremonial purity. Because God is holy, and cannot abide where sin is, His people needed to be set-apart and clean. A large portion of the book of Leviticus talks about what makes a person unclean, and how the Israelites were to purify themselves. Things that had touched disease, bodily fluids, mold, or had been in foreign possession had to be purified also, and anything that could withstand fire was usually purified that way (as in Numbers 31:23).

In the New Testament, believers aren’t purified outwardly through ritual, but inwardly through obedience and submission to Christ. New Testament writers often remind us to be joyful in the midst of difficult circumstances, because they often purify our faith and draw us nearer to God. Peter calls these “fiery trials” (1 Peter 4:12, ESV) and Paul teaches, “We also rejoice in our sufferings; because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character, and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).

God’s Presence

To me, the most significant thing that fire represents in the Bible was the very presence of God. In Leviticus, when they were setting up the tabernacle, God signified that He was with his people by appearing in their midst as a pillar of cloud by day and as a pillar of fire by night. And I don’t think it’s any coincidence that when God poured out His own spirit on New Testament believers that what they saw “seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them” (Acts 2:3).

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Asking for God’s fire is a big thing, but for those of us who are serious about forsaking ourselves and following after Jesus, I think it’s a wonderful and appropriate thing for us to ask from God. We just need to be mindful that when we sing and pray “fire, fall down” we are not asking for a warm glow of affection for God. We are asking for his blazing, consuming, awesome presence. We are asking for God to come as rightful judge. We are asking for Him to look with pleasure on the meager offerings we bring before Him. And we are asking for God to draw near to us in His fullness and to burn up everything in our lives that is displeasing to him so that we can know Him more and walk in closer step with Him.

Church · Heart

What We’re Talking About When We Sing Christian Songs

Worship

When I was in college, I was part of an on-campus Christian organization. As we grew we did a lot of things, but the way we got started was through a weekly evening of worship at one of the fraternity houses, of all places. (Actually, it was the one with the worst reputation. Isn’t is just like God to reach into a place of darkness and shine brilliant light?)

Eventually, we had this idea to bring in Christian artists and host a concert for them, giving them all of the proceeds, if they would agree to come and lead our worship night, where anyone could attend free of charge.

Thinking back on this as an adult, I am astounded we got anyone to come. I can’t imagine those concerts were very lucrative for these artists. We were a small school and our biggest auditorium didn’t hold much of an audience to speak of, especially not if these artists were used to playing in big arena.

But they must have seen our hearts or something, because some people came anyway, and led worship for us like we had asked.

One of those nights, Todd Agnew came. I had heard his songs on the radio and was excited to hear him play for us, both at the concert and at our worship night, which was first. I had a really full schedule that semester, and hadn’t been around when some of my friends picked him up at the airport and got him settled at our school’s bed-and-breakfast-type inn. We had decided to have the worship night at the old cathedral on campus, because we were expecting a larger crowd than we typically had on an average Monday at the fraternity house.

I had come from work and got there just as it was starting. I expected to see Todd Agnew up on stage, but the only stage lights that had been turned on were the ones behind him, outlining only a vague silhouette of a man on a guitar.

“Tonight isn’t about me,” he said. “It’s about the Lord.”

And he proceeded to teach us about worship. He pointed to Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well in John 4, where Jesus tells her that the kind of worshipers the Lord seeks are those who worship in spirit and in truth. Todd challenged us: how often do we sing words we don’t understand or words we don’t mean? If God wants people worshiping Him in truth, are we doing that?

Those questions have stuck with me all these years, and I return to them often, evaluating the way I sing when I sing to the Lord and the lyrics of the songs I’m singing to Him. My favorite songs contain rich imagery and language taken directly from the Bible. But I also love songs that force me to stop and ask, “Do I really mean that?” Is God’s grace alone really enough for me? Would I really follow Him anywhere? Do I even know what I’m asking when I ask to see God’s face?

Lately it seems a lot of other people have been asking those same questions, particularly as it applies to the Hillsong United song, “Oceans.” The lyrics to the bridge of this song say, “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders/Let me walk upon the waters/Wherever you would call me/Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander/And my faith will be made stronger/In the presence of my Savior.”

That is a big thing to ask. And a lot of other people in Christian circles have been pointing this out, and asking us, do we mean it? (I would contend, that if we are call Jesus Lord, we should be praying these things. There is no way to follow Him halfway, but that’s another post for another day.) I am glad that “Oceans” has sparked those questions for people

But “Oceans” isn’t the only song we should be applying those questions towards. We should be asking questions of every song we profess to sing to God. We should be asking:

  • What does it mean?
  • Is it biblical?
  • Do I mean it?

I can’t answer that last question for you, but I can help with the first two. Studying worship lyrics has always fascinated me. As a teenager, I loved reading a passage of scripture and realizing it was the inspiration for a song I liked. And as I’ve gotten older, I have intentionally sought out the history and meanings behind songs that are a part of our tradition, from the most contemporary worship songs to the oldest hymns.

I want to start sharing some of that information here. It’s so easy to get caught up in lyrics that sound good, or that are set to a nice melody. I’m guilty of that as much as the next person. So I thought we could spend a little time together examining the things we say in Christian songs, and what it really means to say to those words to our Lord, so stay tuned.

But in the meantime, would you do this with me? Next time you go to church and sing worship songs, would you read the lyrics before you start singing–I mean really read them? Start asking yourself the questions above. What do these words mean? Do these words line up with the truth in the Bible, to the best of your knowledge? And most importantly, do you mean them?

Church

Ice Buckets: We did it.

I’ll never forget the first time I heard Caleb say the word “Jesus.”

Jason and I were youth pastors and my parents kept our boys on Wednesday nights while we were at church. When I swung by mom and dad’s house on the way home to pick the kids up, my mom showed me a picture book she had been reading to Caleb. It was a very simple story, less than 10 pages, that presented the message of salvation that we, as Christians, believe.

On the last page was an illustration of the risen Christ. My mom pointed to the picture and asked Caleb who it was. He pointed to the picture also, and in his sweet, one-year-old voice he said, “Jesus.”

There have not been many moments in my parenting journey thus far where I’ve felt like the things I’m doing and teaching are getting through and shaping my boys into the type of men I’m praying they become. But when those moments come – oh, how my heart swells within me with love and joy and pride in who God has made my children to be. That night was one of those nights.

To hear my sweet baby’s lips utter, for the first time, the name that is above every name, to know that even as a small child, he knows that name, that he’s being raised in a home that speaks the name of Jesus, and teaches the power of that mighty name – that was a day I was proud to be Caleb’s mom.

If you’re not a pastor, you may not understand this, but the love and pride that I have for my children is very much like the love and pride that I have for my church. When we were in beginnings of the process of church-planting, an experienced pastor whom we love and respect gave us this sage advice: Jason and I would need to see ourselves as the “mom” and “dad” of our church.

While I understood what he meant in theory at the time, his words weren’t particularly meaningful to me until we were actually in the position of pastors at our campus.

When my church aches, I ache. When my church rejoices, I rejoice with them. When we have to teach them the same lesson over and over again, I get frustrated. I have to remind myself daily that maturity for children and for churches does not come overnight. And when I see the smallest glimmer of the fruit of our labors–signs that the church we parent is really getting everything we’ve been teaching, that they are growing in the Lord and embracing everything God desires for them to be–in those moments, my heart is so proud and so full of love I feel like I could burst.

Today was one of those days. 

Today we got to celebrate the second anniversary of our church launch – a milestone not all church-planters have the privilege of seeing. But we also got to celebrate something amazing that God did in the hearts of our people, something that makes me so happy and proud it brings tears to my eyes. We challenged our congregation to give generously to the missionaries we are supporting this month – Sam and Lisa Paris – with the promise we’d do the ice bucket challenge that’s been all over Facebook if they hit $1200.

To be honest, I was a little hesitant putting that figure on it. I wasn’t trying to get out of doing the ice bucket challenge by naming a figure so large. In fact, the day I published the challenge, I was still debating between $1000 and $1200. Twelve hundred dollars just seemed like so much. That’s a huge missions offering for our church for one month, and we’d just surpassed it last month for Care2Learn. I really wasn’t sure we could do it again. But I felt like that was the number I should ask our church for, so I put the figure out there.

And my church, you wonderful people we pastor, you blew me out of the water.

We gave over $1700 to the Parises this month. Seventeen hundred votes with our wallets, crying out “we believe reaching the lost with the gospel matters.” So this morning after church, our people got to drench us with ice water. And I was so happy to have to do that, because it meant we were generous towards people who are sacrificing much more to proclaim the name of Jesus where it has not been heard.

To the Parises: Thank you for your obedience to God’s calling. We are so privileged to partner with you in this small way.

And to my beautiful, wonderful church: Happy second birthday. I couldn’t be prouder of you. You make me crazy sometimes, but your momma loves you so much. I can’t wait to see what this next year brings!

Church · Heart

Ice Buckets, and Giving, and What it Means to Really Make a Difference

If you’ve been on any type of social media in the last week, you are probably aware of the ice bucket challenge for ALS awareness.

I figured it was only a matter of time before it got around to us, and sure enough, on Tuesday, a couple of people in our church had challenged Jason and I to participate.

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s, is a horrible, cruel, ugly, undiscriminating disease that preys on young and old alike. One of my favorite high school teachers lost her daughter, a sweet, vibrant girl I loved, and picked up from school a few times, to ALS. Watching her go from a strong, healthy, normal teenager to being wheelchair-bound is the definition of life not being fair.

I am glad that people are learning about, talking about, and spending money to fight ALS. And while there are some legitimate questions being raised about how much this challenge actually helps people with ALS, concerns over what kind of research the money actually funds, and objections from people who support other important causes, like clean water in third-world countries, it’s hard to argue with the numbers: as of yesterday, the ice bucket challenge had raised $31.5 million for ALS research, a 1600-percent increase over what was given during the same period last year.

So it’s good that people are giving to ALS. I’m not saying that those millions of dollars for ALS do not matter. It’s fun and easy to give in ways that seem tangible and concrete like this. In July, our church brought in one of our largest monthly Cause offerings to replace the small, falling-apart backpacks of our school district’s weekend feeding program. Your generosity was noticed by our community, and those who work closely with these hungry kids were moved by our gift.

But when I see pictures of the backpacks we bought, and watch videos of people participating in the ice bucket challenge–things that I think are noble and good and important–there’s this part of my brain that is still ringing with the words that Dick Brogden spoke at the AG Centennial simulcast:

“Dollars for one-time sexy projects can seduce us, that we slide from the greatest impact of missions giving: monthly support for boots-on-the-ground missionaries. And if your church is not regularly, sacrificially, giving to support missionaries around the world, you are not in spirit Assemblies of God. Call yourself whatever you want, but you cannot in truth be part of this fellowship if your budget does not prioritize the mission of God in the uttermost places of the earth.”

I think feeding kids in Ozark matters. I think raising money for ALS research matters. I would never argue otherwise.

Unfortunately, the sobering truth is that a lot of the projects we give to that make us feel that we are helping, and making a difference, do not really have the impact on the needy that we think they do. Robert Lupton, author of Toxic Charity, offers this sobering indictment of our benevolence: “As compassionate people, we have been evaluating our charity by the rewards we receive through service, rather than the benefits received by the served” (p. 5).

However, even supposing that all charitable projects and dollars were achieving everything we hoped they would, it’s hard for me to swallow just how difficult it is to inspire generosity for projects that don’t put something tangible in our hands but matter, perhaps, a great deal more. Because, after all, if we put food in the bellies of hungry kids or save the life of someone suffering with ALS, but never tell that person about the love of Jesus, have we really helped them? And what about the millions of people around the world who have yet to even hear the name of Jesus? Aren’t they worth our dollars, and Facebook activism, and even our lives?

My friends Sam and Lisa Paris think they are. Which is why they are taking their family to Tanna, Vanuatu to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are forsaking the familiar, losing physical comfort, and putting themselves on the line for the sake of the gospel. What they are getting ready to do as a family requires sacrifices that most of us cannot even fathom.

If I take a bucket of ice water and pour it over my head, afterwards, I can go inside and towel off, throw my wet clothes in an electric-powered washing machine, take a hot shower, and snuggle up in a blanket on the couch in my climate-controlled home.

The Parises won’t have easy access to those luxuries in Vanuatu. However, they consider these sacrifices worthwhile. And because I know them, I can say with confidence that they are even a little bit excited about the adventure they’re embarking upon as a family because they know that the things they are exchanging–those temporary, earthly comforts–are worth giving up when you compare them to the importance of adding just one more person to the kingdom of God.

They have taken Paul’s words to heart: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

Our church has the awesome privilege of partnering with Sam and Lisa this month with our CAUSE monies. Not all of us are called to go to Vanuatu. Some of us are called to other places. And some of us are called to stay right where we are and be faithful with the influence God has given us here. But what is wonderful is that even though you and I will likely never see the tribesmen and women of Tanna, we can contribute to them hearing the name of Jesus for the first time by funding Sam and Lisa’s missionary budget.

The single most effective way to engineer lasting change in a community is not through drop-in aid, or one-time projects, but through the consistent, enduring efforts of people who make their homes and build their lives within that community. This is the work of a missionary. That is what Sam and Lisa and their kids are going to Vanuatu to do. Their vision is to establish a long-term ministry in Vanuatu that will continue beyond their lifetimes, providing education, healthcare, and most importantly, knowledge of Jesus Christ to the Ni-Vanuatu people.

Missions is important to the heart of God. It’s important to our church. And it’s important to me and Jason as a family. When we received the ice bucket challenge a couple of days ago, we made a donation to ALS, and we started talking about what it really means to make a difference. As we watched video after video of people publicly participating in this challenge, Jason said casually, “what if people did this for missions?”

His question kept me awake most of the night. What if people did this for missions? What if we did this for missions?

So, since people apparently want to see me and Jason freezing and soaking wet, we offer the following challenge to the people of our church: 

If you give $1200 to Sam and Lisa by the end of the month, we will do the ice bucket challenge, at our church building, in front of all of you. Twelve hundred dollars is the equivalent of supporting the Parises at $100 a month for a year, or $25 a month for an entire four-year term. Many of you have given to ALS in the last few weeks. We gave more than this as a church for backpacks last month. We can give this much to see people come to know Jesus. In fact, I cannot think of any more important way to spend our dollars.

Twelve hundred dollars, by August 31, and you’ll get to see your pastors drenched in ice water.

Are you up for the challenge?