Hear the Holy Roar

Our Church sings a song written by Chris Tomlin called “Praise Him Forever.” I must be honest; it is one of my new favorite worship songs. While I love the tempo and how easy it is to learn, the words are always the critical part. This song contains a line that I had never heard before in all my years in Church. It is important to sing with understanding, so I want to spend a minute to dissect the phrase. The line is, “Hear the holy roar.”

The concept of hearing a holy roar comes from the idea that one form of praise is shouting with a loud voice. The picture is of a person standing and shouting their praise loudly to God, focusing less on a melody and more on volume. This shows I am giving God all my emotions, voice, and energy. For one person to do this would sound loud and awkward, but when a group does it together, it will become a roar to those in the distance.

I have been to an NFL football game in Arrowhead stadium here in Kansas City. It is one of the loudest stadiums in the world. When the team takes the field or scores, you can make out the shouts of the people next to you, but not everyone. The noise just blends into a roar of praise. This is the idea behind the statement. We are not shouting our praises to a team, but rather the God of heaven in a holy and pure way.

When the people of God stand together and sing, sometimes it is quiet reverence, other times a beautiful melody of blended voices, and still other times it is a holy roar as people praise him with a loud voice.

Behind the Scenes of Worship Leading This Week

I was walking through the back of our Church building after our first program Sunday this past week, and I overheard a lady speaking to another woman about the worship. Honestly, it was not mean-spirited gossip or someone causing division. It was a woman expressing her opinion, and she said, “Worship was a little long today, and I wish we had done each song about half as long.”

There was a moment where I wanted to stop them and say, “If you knew what happened today, you would be thankful we even had worship.” I kept quiet, but I thought it might be important to share a story with you.

The sermon idea had been set for a year, and about a month ago, I started working on the worship to accompany it. I created a list of possible songs that made a connection to the sermon topic for the day. Two weeks ago, one of our worship leaders picked out the final list of songs they wanted to play. I typed up the worship plan for Sunday, and it was shared with everyone on the worship team.

In the week preceding Sunday, members of the worship team listen to the songs online. Then they practice the songs with their instruments to be prepared. We have wonderful worship leaders at our Church who take their job seriously and are ready to lead every week.

Late Saturday afternoon, I received a text stating that our worship leader was sick and possibly had Covid-19. She was set to get tested on Sunday morning and would not be there for worship. She and her family would not be leading or participating in Church in any way.

I immediately contacted another worship leader and asked for help. She took the songs that were planned and headed to the Church building to practice them and try to prepare. She contacted other people from the team and tried to throw together additional singers and musicians. So on Saturday evening, everything changed from the leader, the main instruments, and the singers, all while keeping the same songs because some of the team knew them well and everything was already in our presentation software.

Finally, these incredible people showed up early on Sunday morning. They prayed and practiced for about an hour. Limited changes were made because of the timing. Then these people all stood up and led worship and even sang a special chorus that was the sermon text put to music.

All things considered, it was a good morning. Was worship polished and perfect? Nope. Did we offer praise to God? Yep. In fact, if I had not told you this story, most of you would have never known anything happened. People stepped up, everyone helped, and no one complained.

I have no hard feelings about what I heard this woman say in the lobby of our Church building. The leaders knew it wasn’t perfect, but they lead in the best way possible. At moments like these, I come to appreciate the Church and all the people who love the Lord and serve there each week. Even when it is not flawless, God is working both in and through his people, maybe, especially when it is not perfect.

Don’t Take It for Granted

When we take something for granted, it means “we believe this thing will always be available.” We “accept its presence without question.” This leads us to a “lack of gratitude” for this thing and a “failure to take it seriously.”

Those are explanations I found while searching this topic on the internet. It is a common phrase that people use when they realize they have undervalued someone or something in their lives. They didn’t appreciate each day as a special gift given by God. They didn’t make time to treat that person as special and thank them for their contribution to their life because they assumed they would be able to do it tomorrow.

Today God has given us another day and possibly another week. Throughout this time, we will be surrounded by people, and many have special meaning to us. Our phone is full of names of people who love and support us. We can wait till another time to connect but remember that these people may not always be available, so we had better take it seriously. Be careful of living a life where you take things and especially people for granted.

When God Surprises Me

My wife and I had been praying about a significant situation in our lives.  Day after day, I had bowed my head before God and asked him to intercede.  After about two months, a series of three phone calls answered my prayers.  In fact, God did exceedingly more than I could have asked or imagined.  Our prayers were answered wonderfully, and I was astonished.  It was, in the words of some Christians, “a total God thing.”

Upon reflection, I wondered why I was so surprised that God had answered my request.  Maybe the simple answer is that it shows a lack of faith on my part.  Perhaps the shock came from seeing so many prayers left unanswered.  That might not even be true. God may have just said “no,” and I refuse to accept it willingly.  It is also quite possible that I have missed seeing the answers God does provide.  I pray and pray and don’t notice the little answers he gives me day after day.  For whatever reason, my surprise at his great work this time was clear and evident. 

At moments when God shows up and does his fantastic work, we have two options.  One is to focus on ourselves and our issues.  We lacked faith, we were blind, or we are hardheaded. God can surely surprise us all. 

The other option is to allow this answer to prayer to result in praise.  There is a need to stop for a few seconds and thank God for his mighty work in my life and possibly in yours. We need to take time to thank God for his consistent provision and unstoppable power.  We should pause and lift his name and point others to his might work in our lives.  The surprises of God should result in a time of praise.   

What if today each one of us stopped and vocalized our thanksgiving to God?  How would your attitude be different if you acknowledged his work in your life?  How would our world be different if they heard the voice of his people celebrating his surprising work?

Counselors, Chiropractors, Friends, and You

I once had a doctor who attended a Church that I led, and we got into an interesting conversation one Wednesday morning. It started because of a discussion during a men’s breakfast. One of the men was complaining of a sore back and was going to a chiropractor that afternoon. I was curious to know a doctor’s thoughts on chiropractors, and so I cornered him and asked his medical opinion.

He responded that there are two types of doctors in the world. These descriptions also applied to several other professions, including chiropractors. One group will try to fix your problem and then move on to other patients. The second group is the people who want to get rich off you. They attempt to fix your problem but then follow that up by telling you that you need ten or twelve more visits. Then he said something like, “Keeping people broken can be beneficial.”

With that conversation, some things became clear to me. Not everyone wants you to put your life together correctly. Several people benefit from your life staying a mess. Some can cash in on your financially while others like the emotional dependence it brings.

One challenge in life is to surround yourself with people who want the best for you. Fill your life with people who have the desire to see you achieve and not get something from you. This is incredibly difficult to accomplish when others see numerous ways to take advantage of you. You can feed their emotional or even financial needs. You need people in your life who pour into you instead of taking from you.

The flip side is also true. Be the kind of person who offers help and hope without expecting anything in return. Do you want your friend’s life to get better, or do you like the fact that they need you? Do you want other people to be healthy and whole, or would do you feel a sense of satisfaction that they depend on you?

A good friend, like a good doctor or chiropractor, wants you to be healthy, both mentally and physically. A charlatan keeps you coming back for more.

A Lesson from Youth Group Transitions

Tonight, the Church I lead will have students involved in youth group from sixth grade to seniors in High School. We start with our Jr. High and High School students together for the food and lesson, then break up for the small group time. Through the years, I have noticed an interesting transition that happens during a student’s time in this ministry.

The Junior High years for each youth are a time of much-needed growth. Their bodies are growing and changing, their views are moving from toys to teenage things, and their faith is solidifying. These students attend and spend a great deal of time watching. They watch the leaders, their peers, and older students.

Somewhere along this journey, a transition happens. These wide-eyed teenagers become young adults. No longer do they watch with the wonder of a young child; instead, they become the role model that others observe.

This is an important transition because a young person’s attitude toward youth group changes in the process. Suddenly that child who enjoyed and connected at youth group is not interested in going. It no longer feels the same for them. I often remind parents and teens alike that there becomes a point where you are not the one being influenced as much as you are the one influencing. Those younger attendees are looking up to them for guidance and direction. At some stage, youth group becomes more about what the student provides than what they receive.

When this happens, I have sadly watched through the years as many teens quit coming. I think this occurs for two reasons. One, they don’t want the role of leadership. Two, they are convinced that everything should be for them. The most significant step of growth in any teenager and any adult, for that matter, is when they realize their example casts a shadow over those younger than themselves, and they take it seriously.

Leadership is needed in the kingdom on every level. We can attempt to run from our influence, or we can embrace it for the good of the others. Either choice is going to impact someone for God.

An Introduction to Life

A friend of mine recently recommended listening to a podcast called “Everything Happens.” It was one I had never heard of, so I was curious to check it out. I have only listened to the one episode of which I was referred, so I cannot make a judgment on all the material.

With that said, the introduction to this podcast was the most intriguing I have ever heard. While the content of the whole thing was good, the best part was the introduction. The author Kate Bowler shares a little of her story and her message, and I want to share it with you. I believe it captures the heart of a believer wrapped up on this human body.

Hi, I’m Kate Bowler, and this is Everything Happens. Look, the world loves us when we are good, better, best. But this is a podcast for when you want to stop feeling guilty that you’re not living your best life now. We’re not always having an “Eat, Pray, Love” experience. I used to have my own delusion of living my best life now. I’m a Duke professor, wine and cheese enthusiast, wife, and mom. Instagram gold. Then I was diagnosed with stage four cancer. That was four years ago, and I’m still here. And now I get it. Life is a chronic condition. The self-help and wellness industry will try to tell you that you can always fix your life. Eat this, and you won’t get sick. Lose this weight, and you’ll never be lonely. Believe with your whole heart, and God will provide. Keep this attitude, and the money is yours. But I’m here to look into your gorgeous eyes and say, hey, there are some things you can fix and some things you can’t. And it’s okay that life isn’t always better. We can find beauty and meaning and truth, but there’s no cure to being human. So let’s be friends on that journey. Let’s be human together.

Don’t Forget the First Commandment

The first three books of the New Testament tell of different interactions where Jesus gives us the two most significant commands in the 613 given to Israel. In Matthew chapter 22, Jesus is tested and asked, “Which is the greatest commandment in the law?” Mark, chapter 12, appears to be the same story, but the question is phrased, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” Luke, chapter 10, says that Jesus is asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Each of these stories results in Jesus giving the people two responses instead of one. First, he gives them the Shema as it is called. This is basically the John 3:16 of the Old Testament. It is the words found in Deuteronomy chapter 6. You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all our soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.

Then he gives a second command that is found in Leviticus chapter 19. We are told there to love our neighbor as ourselves. Luke gives us a further explanation as the questioner wants to know, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds with the story of the good Samaritan.

These stories give us what Christians call “The Great Commandments.” Believers often summarize them in two simple statements; “Love God and love people.” These phrases are so familiar that even people who have never read the Bible could probably give you those two instructions for faith.

Over the second half of my ministry, I have noticed a shift to placing the attention on the second command. Quite often, I have heard ministers say something like, “the way that we love God is by loving people.” Therefore, a Church emphasizes community action and service.

These are noble endeavors, but I feel they are misguided in their presentation. Jesus never calls these “one commandment.” He says they are two and called them “these” in a plural sense. There are two separate things he is saying, and there maybe be overlap like a Venn diagram, but they are not the same.

I fear that Christians have emphasized the second to the neglect of the first. Jesus clearly says there is a first and greatest command (Matthew 22:38) – first, of greatest priority, the number one thing we should be doing. The most significant thing a believer does is to love God with all their being. They give God their heart, soul, mind, and strength.

The reason I mention this is because of the neglect I see happening in faith communities. We have led people to believe that if they help a neighbor, then they have done all that God requires of them. That is not true. God demands all our attention. Loving him includes pouring out our emotions in worship, surrendering our soul to him in repentance, learning about him with our mind, and serving him along with others in his name. We must be careful of reducing faith to being a nice person who cares little about God. A believer is kind because they have given God everything. Our lives come from the overflow of faith in God, and it impacts everything we do, not just a few hours we offer a neighbor.

Quick to Listen, Slow to Respond

Quick is not a word associated with spiritual development. Most of the uses of the word quick in the Bible are negative and connected to our anger. There is one place that breaks the rules, and it is in the book of James. He writes in chapter one, verse nineteen, that each one of us should be “Quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

This one piece of instruction could be the single best advice that everyone, especially in 2020, needs to follow. Everyone, including Christians, seems to be quick to respond, and it is often with anger or fear. We hear a story or see a thirty-second video clip, and immediately we take to our platform and let everyone know our thoughts. For many people, that platform is social media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, blogs, and a few other ways allow us to vocalize our thoughts within moments of some seemingly big event.

Unfortunately, we are wrong so often. Later we find out that the video was edited, the scenes before and after were omitted on purpose, the story we heard or read was only half true. Because we did not take the time to carefully listen before we responded, our thoughts do damage.

James tells us, be quick to listen and slow to speak. Tell yourself; it is okay to not respond to an incident no matter how big it seems for at least 48 hours. Take the time to ask questions, read multiple viewpoints, do research, and, most importantly, remove the emotions to see the facts. Anger blinds us to truth and causes us to say things that harmful in ways we do not understand.

Significant events are coming. What we are seeing is just the tip of the iceberg. I am not saying that the followers of Jesus need to remain silent forever. This is not a plea for us to dial down our faith in the public arena. Instead, this is a request that we place listening as the highest priority on our list of actions and let our words come slowly from a place of thought rather than emotions. Quick tempters are destructive and quick listeners are constructive. No one was ever hurt by listening too intently.

I’m Religious But Not Spiritual

This guy I know post questions on social media every day for connection and entertainment. He recently posted, “How much of your life is impacted by religion?” His followers are mostly non-Christians, so I was not overly surprised at the number one answer, “none.”

The second-highest number of responses did surprise me a little. It was “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” The best I could gather from their comments was that most of the people liked the idea behind faith. They loved the concept of heaven and really wanted to go there. These people knew there were things in this world that cannot be explained by natural means. They were trying to live “good lives” (whatever that means) and “be kind to others.” It was also clear from their words that these people did not want anything to do with the Church. They wanted God with no structure and no rules. They like what faith has to offer, but they want it on their terms.

My response is quite the opposite of those I read on that post. I am religious but not spiritual. On my own, I have no real concept of God, heaven, or even what it means to live a good life. There is no standard of right and wrong without God’s word. While I may have some crazy ideas about what lies beyond the known world, I need the one who lives there to explain it to me. As a result, I read my Bible and pray daily, I spend time with Christian people in organized groups, I attend worship each week, and I am a member of the local Church. I want to come to God on his terms.

Both groups of people want the good things that faith has to offer. One group wants it to be a free for all pursuit with no requirements of behavior or actions. The other wants to commit to the things God desires of us and allow him to run the show. We need a system of belief and worship to bring us closer to connecting with God and not a bunch of unique ideas that lead us back to ourselves. Religion might seem restrictive, but it is the only way to know the one true God.