Worship Leader

From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. – Psalms 8:2 (NIV)

I enjoy the worship at my church.  It is a time to give glory to God, get prepared to hear that day’s message and join together in unity in our love of God.  The musicians are gifted, the leaders are thoughtful and the room is built for singing.  This is a blessing each time we enter into that place of worship and I am grateful.  That being said, what I love the most is hearing my children worship.

It doesn’t matter that they don’t get the words right every time.  It is okay that they miss a note now and then.  It is perfectly acceptable for them to sit and listen to songs they don’t know. I just love watching a heart for worship grow inside of them.  I love hearing that a meaningful worship song is their “favorite” song to listen to on the radio.  I want them to be worshippers of God with reckless abandon.

I think my flaw lies in waiting for Sunday morning for worship to happen.  I need to lead my children into worship wherever and whenever.  I need a heart that is moved to sing and shout praise to God without fearing embarrassment or shame.  I need the sensitivity to know when a song raised in humility will bring more peace and healing than any conversation could.  This child needs to silence the foe and the avenger.

Lord, help me become more prone to worship than to lecture or discuss.  Grow in me an attitude of praise so that my children will see and hear and imitate.  Make me a worship leader for my family. Amen.

Courageous for the Truth

Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor with you, O king, and if it pleases your majesty, grant me my life–this is my petition. And spare my people–this is my request.  For I and my people have been sold for destruction and slaughter and annihilation. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king.” – Esther 7:3-4 (NIV)

Sometimes telling the truth is easy.  When you are asked if the meal is good and it is good, that is easy.  When you are trying to uncover a conspiracy to eliminate a race of people – a race to which you belong – that is not easy.  There are times that truth telling requires courage because the telling may cost more.  Esther did not know how the king would react to the truth she had to tell.  She needed to be courageous.

But courage is not a skill that is developed; it is a character trait built on the foundation of our beliefs.  We are courageous because of what we believe in and what we love.  If what we believe in is transitory or false, then our bravery will be just as transitory and false.  If we want our children to be brave for the sake of the truth – God’s truth – then they need to believe firmly in God.

Courage doesn’t exist in a vacuum and it doesn’t just pop up like a magic genie.  I need to help my daughters be courageous by encouraging them; encouraging their faith, encouraging their service to God, encouraging their public witness of the Gospel.  The questions rise in my heart, “Do I exhibit courage?  Is my foundation firm enough to help me overcome fear?  Am I standing for the truth despite the possible cost?”  The only answer I can give with confidence is that I am trying.

And that is what I will keep asking my daughters to do; try.  Try to speak up when fear clenches at your words.  Try to live for Christ when others live for themselves.  Try to live according to His word and not according to your fears.  This is what I will try to do in my life and what I will try to instill in my children.

Lord, help me to be courageous. Amen.

The Truth Hurts and Heals

“Now therefore, O our God, the great, mighty and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love, do not let all this hardship seem trifling in your eyes–the hardship that has come upon us, upon our kings and leaders, upon our priests and prophets, upon our fathers and all your people, from the days of the kings of Assyria until today.  In all that has happened to us, you have been just; you have acted faithfully, while we did wrong.  Our kings, our leaders, our priests and our fathers did not follow your law; they did not pay attention to your commands or the warnings you gave them.  Even while they were in their kingdom, enjoying your great goodness to them in the spacious and fertile land you gave them, they did not serve you or turn from their evil ways.” – Nehemiah 9:32-35 (NIV)

The better part of chapter nine in Nehemiah is a recollection of Israel’s spotty history with God.  Their penchant for sinfulness, even in the face of God’s blessing, borders on embarrassing.  At least it would be if Scripture was only a window to past events instead of a mirror of our present circumstances.  I cannot say that I have been any less foolish than they.  I look at their story and I see myself and understand their appeal to God’s mercy and love.

It is easy to forget our pattern of foolishness when we are disciplining our children.  Our memory can become fairly selective when we are dealing with disobedience and disrespect from our offspring.  But when we hide our imperfect past, we miss the opportunity to share the moments when God’s perfection stepped in and saved us.  If we paint the picture for our children that we never had problems and never disobeyed and never fell short we will regret it in the end.

God is perfect and we are not and we should never get those things mixed up.  It is good to remember how much God has done in spite of us.  It is good to remember that His mercy and love alone are responsible for the goodness in our lives.  It is good for us to allow God to redeem the low moments of our lives to speak to our children.  If God can teach me about my sin through the lives of His children, shouldn’t I let God teach my children through my life? Even if it hurts?

The truth can hurt, but it also heals.  The truth helps us teach our children that sin is always the way to pain and God is always the way to healing.  The truth teaches us that obedience is not a weight around our necks; it is the life rope that pulls us from the wreckage of a sinful life.  Truth hurts like resetting a bone, but it allows us to heal correctly.  This is why confession is good for the soul.

Lord, help me to be a truth teller.  Help me be transparent with my children about the work You have done in my life to save me from sin.  May the truth about my life, good or bad, be used by You to help my children walk in Your ways.  Amen.

Following Through

So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. – Nehemiah 6:15 (NIV)

It is good advice in baseball, football and basketball.  It is key in a golf swing and sought after in valued employees.  Follow through; the discipline of finishing what is started.  Nehemiah had follow through.  Not once did he see any challenge as an excuse to end his run at completing the task God had set before him.  In fact, it seems Nehemiah saw them as opportunities for God to reveal Himself to His people and those who would stand in their way.

We seem to have lost our sense of follow through in our post-modern sentiments.  Shows are cancelled part way through their season, people quit jobs because they don’t “like” their boss and we change our opinions more often than our clothes.  We hop churches, jump fences and switch allegiances.  Our steady drift toward the importance of the individual has eroded the emotional strength and mental maturity required to make sacrifices and hard choices.  We don’t follow through.  I don’t follow through.

I want my children to finish what they start and I want them to finish well, so it is incumbent on me to stick with those things I have committed to with tenacity and toughness.  I need to develop the disciplines and determination Nehemiah brought to bear on his work.  I need to know what it is I am about and be about it without hesitation.  Prayer, time in the Word and time in community will need to be where I live each day with eyes and ears ready to see and hear what the Lord has set before me.  I will need to develop a heart and mind intent on following through.

What is it the stops us from see the finish line?  Why do we find ourselves making excuses instead of making plans?  I will start with the mirror and say that it is easier to stay where I am comfortable.  Thank God that He does not leave us alone in our comfort.  He chastises us to pursue something more – the abundant life – by speaking conviction and encouragement into our hearts.  He brings others into our lives to spur us on.  He points us to the story of Nehemiah and shows us the value of follow through.  God brings everything we need each day to finish well, but He has left it to us to make choices that get us there or not.  I want to get to the finish line at the end of each day.

Lord, help me to follow through in life.  Help follow through in work, in play, in relationships and in pursuing You every day.  May I finish well in everything I do each day.  Give me the discipline and desire to pursue the finish line with passion, integrity and hope. Amen.

A Vigilant Community

From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me. – Nehemiah 4:16-18 (NIV)

Watchfulness can rarely be overrated.  Being prepared for whatever may come is a valued trait in soldiers and police, but it is also incredibly important for community.  Nehemiah knew that sometimes the best defense isn’t offense, it is vigilance.  He put into place the means and the manner for his community to be safe and secure.

In each community there needs to be a sense of vigilance.  There are enemies to every fellowship, family or congregation and they are waiting for apathy or infighting or corruption to set in.  The problem with community is that we can get so internally focused that we forget about the world outside.  We can become ignorant of the world’s allure and cruel intentions, or we can get an inflated view of ourselves in comparison to anyone outside our group.  These do not build healthy communities.

There is a tension in being a safe community that is still welcoming to those who want to enter in; vigilance against ill will and in expressing good will.  We need to look out for one another.  We need each other.  As a father, I need to be vigilant for my family, to watch for those things that may harm the ones I love, but I also need to be open to those who may enter into our community and lead with love.  It is less about looking for a fight and all about being prepared when the fight comes to our doorstep.

Nehemiah wanted to get the wall built.  He wasn’t looking for a fight.  He just wanted his people to be safe and secure.  Sounds like a good attitude for a father and a friend.

Lord, help me be vigilante to defend what I love and extend love to others.  Give me the strength of heart and mind to be watchful over the communities you place me in.  Amen.

Pagan Kings and the Will of God

“This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: “‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah.  Anyone of his people among you–may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem.  And the people of any place where survivors may now be living are to provide him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.'” – Ezra 1:2-4 (NIV)

I think there is an assumption among Christians that the only place our kids can get shaped by God is in and by the church.  We can work towards insulating them in a cocoon of church activities and groups because we think that will protect them from sin.  This view, however, makes God less powerful and providential than His omnipotence would suggest.  God used numerous situations to shape His people that were outside the community of faith.  In the passage above, God is using a pagan king to replant His people in the promised land.  A pagan king.

The world is a scary, treacherous and sometimes dangerous place, but it is small compared to God.  If He chooses to work through a pagan king to bring His children home, who are we to question?  When I consider the different choices that face our family, I have to remind myself that fear is not a factor.  We are His children and He will bring us safely to His side, but we don’t get to decide who or what He uses to get us there.

I want my children to be safe.  I want them to be protected, but more than that, I want them to walk the road that God has set before them.  This is going to be a challenge, because I may have to trust people and situations that seem “unsafe” for my children.  I don’t relish those moments of decision where God is calling my child to be in a worldly place under worldly people.  I pray that I will be ready when those moments come.  I hope that I will see God’s hand at work in those situations and trust in His will and wisdom rather than my own.

Lord, help me to trust You with my children.  Give me the strength to let them go into the world, trusting that you can use even the things of this world to shape them for Your glory and honor.  Remind me of Your faithfulness and mercy when those moments arise.  Amen.

Community Matters

The whole assembly then agreed to celebrate the festival seven more days; so for another seven days they celebrated joyfully.  Hezekiah king ofJudahprovided a thousand bulls and seven thousand sheep and goats for the assembly, and the officials provided them with a thousand bulls and ten thousand sheep and goats. A great number of priests consecrated themselves.  The entire assembly ofJudahrejoiced, along with the priests and Levites and all who had assembled fromIsrael, including the aliens who had come fromIsraeland those who lived inJudah.  There was great joy inJerusalem, for since the days of Solomon son of David king ofIsraelthere had been nothing like this inJerusalem.  The priests and the Levites stood to bless the people, and God heard them, for their prayer reached heaven, his holy dwelling place.

When all this had ended, the Israelites who were there went out to the towns ofJudah, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. They destroyed the high places and the altars throughout Judah and Benjamin and in Ephraim and Manasseh. After they had destroyed all of them, the Israelites returned to their own towns and to their own property. 2 Chronicles 30:23-31:1

The word community gets thrown around a lot, but often it means other things: cooperation, organization, group, clique, etc.  Community is more than all of these combined and yet we think we can achieve it on Facebook or Twitter.  Community is deeper than a profile picture and more work than clicking a “like” button.  Community costs us something.  Community spurs us to action and to change.  Community is where God places the stones together to build Himself a house.  The people ofIsraelhad lost their identity as God’s people and lost their sense of community, but Hezekiah brought it back.

When we gather together with others in community, it requires things of us that organizations and clubs and online groups will never ask of us.  ForIsrael, it required action against the false gods and those who worshipped them.  The community that Hezekiah rebirthed in the celebration of the Passover motivated the Israelites to change the world around them.  When we are part of a community of believers, we should be motivated to change our little corner of the world.  This requires more than showing up on Sundays.  Community calls us to engage with one another, to love one another and to share that love with our neighbors.

The trap that so many of us fall into, as individuals and as congregations, is to isolate ourselves from the world.  We become less of a community and more of club.  We set-up guidelines and rules and boundaries to “protect” ourselves from the influences of the world, but what we really do is slowly eliminate the impact we have on the world.  We have to do better than that if we want to see salvation come in our neighborhoods, towns and cities, and our children need to be involved all along the way.

Real community sends us out.  Real community equips us for mission field.  Real community empowers us with confidence, because we know we are not alone in the work of the Kingdom.  I want my children to experience real community, and we are fortunate to be part of a church that lives and breathes community, but it has to be encouraged at home.  We need to make sure they are engaged in the lives of others at church.  We need to provide opportunities for them to serve.  We need to be engaged in the life and ministry of our community.

Lord, help me to stay rooted in the community of believers and engaged in the ministry you have called them to.  Help me to find ways for my children to be engaged in that community and empowered by that community to serve our neighbors.  Let us not just celebrate our salvation, but go out and share that salvation with the rest of the world.  Amen.

Answering God’s Call

So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him.  Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. “Let me kiss my father and mother good-by,” he said, “and then I will come with you.” “Go back,” Elijah replied. “What have I done to you?”  So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his attendant. – 1 Kings 19:19-21 (NIV)

In a land of false prophets and false gods, it is impressive that Elisha has a heart worthy of a prophet of the one true God.  It is impressive that not only has Elisha and his family survived in the midst of this world, but thrived.  Elijah doesn’t find him hiding in a cave or living in poverty, but driving a team of 12 oxen.  He had the markings of a man blessed by God and yet he left it all for a cloak across his shoulders.

God’s call is a blessing beyond compare.  It defines action and gives focus to our thoughts and dreams.  God’s calling is His fingerprint on the purpose for our existence and we are all called, including our children.  Are we ready for our children to answer God’s call on their lives?   Are we preparing our children to be God’s servants?

The question we need to be asking our children is not “What do you want to be when you grow up?” but “Whose do you want to be right now and for the rest of your life?”  We work so hard to get our children to choose the right sport, the right school and the right career and hope these experiences will help them find God’s call.  That seems backwards.  We should be doing everything we can, through prayer, study and conversation, to help our children answer God’s call and let Him take them where He needs them, when He needs them.

Once Elisha is called, there is nothing left to do but throw a big BBQ and say his goodbyes.  He breaks ties with his former life and moves forward into the life God has called him to not in grief, but celebration.  The next question we need to ask is of ourselves: “Do we love our children enough and trust God enough to release them to God’s call?”  I wonder how many missionary posts would be filled if parents released their children to answer the call.  I wonder how many communities would be transformed if God’s call was more important than career options in family conversations.  I hope my wife and I have the courage to raise our daughters to answer the call, and the faith to release them to follow it wherever God leads them.

Lord, help me to be brave in raising my children to be called by You.  Give me the perseverance and faith to lead them forward into a life defined by Your call. Amen.

A King No More

Samuel said, “Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel.  And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; make war on them until you have wiped them out.’  Why did you not obey the LORD? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the LORD?”

“But I did obey the LORD,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king.  The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal.”

But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.  For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.” – 1 Samuel 15:17-23 (NIV)

Samuel is pretty clear with Saul that his kingship comes from God, not his stature or character.  Samuel is also clear that Saul has forgotten that God is the king above all kings. As his mentor, Samuel is trying to teach Saul that obedience is the true mark of godly authority.  This authority is given to all the subjects of God’s kingdom, but success only comes to those who reciprocate with obedience.

Children go through the same struggles that Saul faced.  They are given responsibility and the authority to carry it out, but they make the mistake of thinking they can reinterpret that responsibility.  They decide to make adjustments and alterations that cater to their own wants and desires.  They make themselves kings and queens and reject the authority placed over them.  This is the common struggle of children.

In the midst of this struggle parents need to step in with the authority God grants them, in obedience to God and with love toward their children.  Unfortunately authority has gotten a bad rap over the past few decades.  Authority corrupts.  Authority holds us down.  Authority makes us slaves.  These all make great sound bites in cheesy rebellion scenes on TV and in the movies, but usually it is the opposite that is true.  We corrupt authority.  We hold authority down from doing what it was given to us to do.  We try to enslave authority to serve our own purposes.  If we can’t learn to exercise authority in obedience to God, how will our children?

Obedience is the engine that drives godly authority.  It is up to us to give the engine fuel by focusing our will on obeying God.  It is up to us to give our children the tools they need to fuel their own engine.  Pray with them.  Read the Word with them.  Worship with them.  Serve with them.  Live out your obedience to God in front of your children and they will not be far behind.

Lord, help us to understand the beauty and necessity of authority.  Help me develop disciplines of obedience in my life so I can lead my children into that same obedience.  Give me the integrity and strength I need to express the authority You grant to the subjects of Your kingdom.  Amen.

God’s Mercy is a Father’s Mercy

“Do not be afraid,” Samuel replied. “You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless.  For the sake of his great name the LORD will not reject his people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own.  As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right.  But be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.  Yet if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will be swept away.” – 1 Samuel 12:20-25 (NIV)

The people of Israel had asked for a king and God had given them what they wanted, but Saul was not what they needed.  While God was willing to let them suffer the consequences of their disobedience and lack of faith, He also extended mercy.  Even though they had forgotten all of what God had done for them and their ancestors, put their trust in false gods and chosen a king over their heavenly Father, God still showed mercy.  This is a common thread in God’s relationship with His children.

Our children will beg for things that aren’t good for them and occasionally we will relent and let them suffer for their choices.  We will watch them struggle through the pain and humiliation of failure and defeat.  We will hear their complaints and appeals for help and we will extend mercy.  As parents, we extend the mercy that has been extended to us.  Here is a discipline I am working on to put this mercy into practice: each day waking up with a clean slate in regard to my children’s bad choices.

This isn’t some touchy-feely memory wipe, but a conscious choice to treat every day as a fresh opportunity for my children to succeed in righteousness.  It is too easy to see our children with the hindsight of judgment instead of the foresight of vision and hope.  Our privilege and responsibility as parents is to see a future for our children through the lens of mercy.  This helps us to see all of their potential and promise even on their worst day.

Lord, help me to show the same mercy to my children that you have shown me.  Give me eyes to see all the promise they hold and the wisdom to guide them into it.  Help me grow a discipline of starting each day with a clean slate. Amen.