This Sunday, I Worshiped God By Building A Roof

“Worship” is a very confused word.  Most often when we hear it, it is meant to communicate something about singing religious music or attending a religious event in a religious location.  So now that I’ve irritated you by using the “R” word 3 times in one sentence, let me assert that I do not believe the word “worship” refers to that which we would consider “religious.”

Worship, in my opinion, is speaking or acting in a way that puts Jesus first, Others second, and You last.  When you do this, you’re acting the way Jesus would act if He were You….no matter where you are.  THIS is the heart of worship, and this weekend I had the pleasure of working my butt off with a few dozen volunteers to rebuild a terribly damaged roof for a 91-year old low-income widow.

Two of my favorite verses about this:

“I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  (Romans 12:1-2)

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)

I am certainly supportive of gathering with other followers of Jesus to worship….BUT, how would the world be impacted if Christians were focused on worshiping God primarily outside of religious places and events?


Most Christians Today Are Not Contagious – Are You?

“It’s Not “Go And Become Disciples”” Jesus did not say, “Go and become disciples.” Of course, you can’t give what you don’t have, so becoming a disciple is important. But for at least one generation, we have emphasized “becoming” at the expense of “making.” The result? We have created a spiritually obese generation of disciples with no vision to make other disciples. They are spiritual overeaters that don’t get enough exercise. It has created a huge bottleneck for reaching younger generations with the Gospel. Most Christians today are not contagious. We sneeze and nobody catches what we have. The solution? There is a lot to it – like training. But the starting point is that we need to recast the vision for “making” disciples. And what if you are already making disciples? Make sure you’re equipping your disciples to “make” disciples, not just “become” disciples. You’re not making disciples until your disciples are making disciples.” –Patrick Morley


Your Reputation: Self-Sacrificial or Self-Righteous?

Would you consider yourself a follower of Jesus?…a “Christian” (which literally means “little Christ”)?  If so, then hear this: The world we live in could care less about the doctrines we believe, because they don’t believe that we care.

The way we live our lives, the way we gather together, the way we position ourselves in the world, our financial priorities…everything must reflect Him.  If not, then we are missing His intent, thereby missing Him within us, and mis-representing him to the world around us…and falling into the same trap as the Pharisees.

What was Jesus’ reputation in society? A man of extravagant grace to the weak and sinful, but strongly opposed to the religious establishment that put up barriers between people and God.  He personally sought relationship with His Father through holy living, fervent prayer, and personal sacrifice…but in His dealings with the surrounding culture was characterized by such scandalous grace for those in need, and mercy for those living in sin, that He was excommunicated and murdered by those who thought that godliness was about upholding all the rules and keeping impure people out of the fellowship.

In our world, in our culture, in this day, we need to reflect the truth that each of us has been forgiven of much.  We need to be known and appreciated as people of self-sacrificial love for people who don’t believe what we believe, rather than a bunch of self-righteous zealots who shut the door of the Kingdom of God in peoples’ faces.

What pattern is your life weaving?


Are You More Focused On Grace Or Truth?

Most of us are one or the other, but not both.  It can switch back & forth; depending upon the circumstances we find ourselves in, or the current condition of our own fragile egos.  Grace-oriented people tend to live from their hearts, focused on finding the good in others and building bridges between people.  Truth-seekers are more about discerning wisdom and meaning in everything, understanding the world within them and around them in terms of what is right & wrong.

Which are you?  Which is right?  Which is more reflective of Jesus, and His will for us?

Jesus is both.  He has the uncanny ability to hold one without losing grip on the other.  We’re most often not like that.  (This is probably going to sound funny, but I think that women are better at this than men.  It’s related to multi-tasking, and everyone knows that men, for the most part, are lame compared to women in this.  Do I mean that women are stereotypically more like Jesus than men?  Yeah probably.  But that has nothing to do with this blog, so I digress….)

Why is this important?  Because I think we’re all lopsided toward Grace OR Truth, and if we’re really going to live the life of Jesus, and reflect Him to the world around us, we need to learn to embrace the TENSION He invites us to live inside of between the extremes.  This is about balance.  This is about the big picture.  This is about Jesus’ ability to teach unashamed against sin, and simultaneously to extend friendship to the sinner.

A group of very religious men once brought to Jesus a lady who had been caught in the act of adultery.  (which brings a bunch of questions into my mind, but once again, I digress…)  They wanted to see which side Jesus would land on.  It was a trap, because the law of the land at the time demanded that the woman be stoned to death. I can almost hear their rage-filled, raspy voices yelling condemnation.  Jesus, after ignoring them for a bit of time, simply says “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  One by one, they all let go of their stones and leave. Jesus speaks to her:

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”  (John 8:10-11)

I think this is absolutely amazing, and something that all of us who want to follow Jesus need to learn more about.  Jesus extends grace/friendship, “neither do I condemn you”; but maintains truth/right & wrong, “leave your life of sin.”

This hits me between the eyes….between the extremes of legalism/judmentalism on one side, and looseness/complacency on the other.  Am I condemning someone that Jesus is calling me to love? Am I ignoring the sin of someone Jesus is calling me to confront?

What is Jesus saying to you today?


Living With Godly Focus In An Unraveling World

I really liked this morning’s devotion in “Jesus Calling”…

“Seek to please Me above all else.  Let that goal be your focal point as you go through this day.  Such a mind-set will protect you from scattering your energy to the winds.  The free will I bestowed on you comes with awesome responsibility  Each day presents you with choice after choice.  Many of these decisions you ignore and thus make by default.  Without a focal point to guide you, you can easily lose your way.  That’s why it is so important to stay in communication with Me, living in thankful awareness of My Presence.  You inhabit a fallen, disjointed world, where things are constantly unraveling around the edges.  Only a vibrant relationship with Me can keep you from coming unraveled too.”  (Matthew 6:33; John 8:29; Colossians 3:23-24)
This resonated with me for a few reasons:
  1. I need constant reminders about what is truly important.  According to scripture, the only things that are going to last into eternity are God’s Word, His Kingdom, and People.  Holding onto the “please God above all else” mantra gives me a filter through which to judge my motivations & activities.  How are the priorities of my life, and the effects of my character, living-out God’s Word or reflecting His Kingdom or influencing the people I am surrounded by in daily life?  THAT is the question.
  2. I’m prone to temptation.  Have you ever had a stray, evil from the pit of hell, burst into your consciousness and race through your mind out of nowhere?  me too.  Scripture calls that temptation….”we are dragged away and enticed” (James 1:15) to throw away our allegiances to Jesus and follow the desires of our flesh for a minute, or two, or more.  This is the enemy’s sabotage of the Holy Spirit’s reign in us…and I need to set my heart & mind constantly on Jesus as my focus.
  3. The stability of my spirit, and God’s within me, unravels a bit with every choice I make that dishonors Jesus as my first love.  This happens in cycles with me: recognition of sin, repentance, victory, joy, laziness, sin, repentance…..and so on.  

I actually DON’T agree with the devotion’s words “only a vibrant relationship with Me can keep you from coming unraveled….”  That implies perfection in our relationship with Jesus as attainable….which I do not believe is possible this side of death.  That’s part of why Jesus had to die in the first place!  In my view, the sentence could be better written “only a vibrant relationship with Me can put you back into order each and every time you become unraveled.”   When we are weak, He is strong.


Overcoming Evil With Good

I can’t think of a better way to respond to the anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks, or to honor the people who senselessly died there, than to share about the good, life-giving projects that Catalyst is involved with.  There always seems to be plenty of bad news in the world; but by sharing & giving away some of the time & energy & resources we’ve been given, we can overcome it with good…at least in the world within our reach! 

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

“Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

Click this link to learn about the good that 100 volunteers did for a struggling single mom and her family in August 2014 at the HOWARD PROJECT near Portland, OR.

Any act of self-sacrifice done on behalf of another, with no benefit sought for the giver, overcomes evil in this world and becomes a conduit for the overpowering love of God in it.


What Worship Is & Isn’t

This morning during my Bible time, I came across Psalm 9.  At first I didn’t recognize it, but as I continued reading I realized that parts of this Psalm were the basis for one of my favorite songs from back in my days as a worship leader.  For those of you who’ve only known me for the past 15 years or so, it’s probably hard to imagine me as the guy on a church stage with a guitar and microphone, but that was one of my main roles in several ministries back in the day.
Psalm 9 Song Lyrics:
    I will praise You, Oh Lord with all my heart.
    I will tell of Your wonders. I’ll be glad and exalt in Thee.
    I will sing praises to Your Name, Oh Most High!

Those days are long behind me now; and if I’m being totally honest, I don’t really miss them.  Not because I don’t love to sing worship songs to God…I do.  But as the years have gone by, and I’ve met and sang songs with thousands of worshippers, I have not seen much genuine, lasting transformation happen as a result of it.  I think we’ve put too much emphasis on it.  Call me disillusioned or skeptical, but it’s always bugged me how the word “worship” has come to be defined as “singing worship songs in a religious setting”….and how so many fervent church-goers walk out of the “worship center” and it makes little difference in how Jesus is made manifest in their daily lives.  This is why I’m not nearly as “into it” as I used to be…why I don’t sing all the time in those environments.  I’m often looking around wondering how many of the people closing their eyes, raising their hands, and singing with all their hearts actually really truly mean what they’re singing and intend on living it out on Monday through Saturday….or….do they think that this is what God wants from us, that these kinds of moments are what He needs to see from us in order to bless us.  Is that what worship means?

The word “worship” in the New Testament is most commonly derived from the Greek word “PROSKUNEO”…which literally means to “kiss towards”…or, figuratively, to “blow a kiss”….and it virtually never refers to singing.  Singing was mentioned a few times in the New Testament, but for the most part it was a function of the Old Testament temple.  So what does “worship” refer to? What it DOES refer to is living.  Worship is not a religious activity…it is living a lifestyle that honors, loves, and blows kisses to God in the midst of daily life.
    Worship is being kind to irritating people.
    Worship is obeying and honoring your parents.
    Worship is sacrificing what you want for the benefit of another.
    Worship is telling the truth even when it hurts.
    Worship is speaking words that build others up in love.
    Worship is being a faithful employee.
Worship is living this kind of God-honoring lifestyle, not because was HAVE TO in order to be accepted by God, but because we WANT TO OUT OF GRATITUDE for what He has done for us out of His IMMEASURABLE GRACE!

My favorite “worship” scripture is Romans 12:1-2 – “I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.  This is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is; His good, pleasing, and perfect will.”


Screwing-up God’s Plan For Your Life – Part 2

It seems like my last post struck a nerve!  That’s good.  I think that God’s Word, and thereby His intentions, are often manipulated to mean things He did not intend.  There are many false teachings and myths that are widely believed, and this ends up eroding the faith of people who are seeking truth.  After reading the last post, my good friend Bruce Ecker emailed me the following:

“Wise and helpful words, Shawn. This “God’s will” language was part and parcel of my Christian life for many years. I too consider it a “false…unbiblical” teaching that has created much anxiety and confusion for believers. I finally realized that this language portrays a kind of god that we better “please” or he will somehow punish us for straying from his pre-set path for our lives. The punishment, I suppose, would be intended to get us on the “God’s will” path again. This contradicts so many God/human interactions in Scripture because God can use/does use the unintentional negative situations we may find ourselves in or self-destructive behaviors we bring upon ourselves to bring us back to Him. It’s not fun to deal with it and often we deny our own involvement in our crises (think Jonah), but God is not limited by our decisions/attitudes or the behavior of others. In the OT, Joseph showed his deep trust in God when he told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Joseph understood that God used the evil that was imposed on him by his brothers to save many lives. He had the long perspective. And so should we.”

Some scriptures about what God’s will IS:
“I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2)

“The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.  (Titus 2:11-14)