Senior Pastor Duane Mabee's weekly Pastor's Ponderings can be read here, as seen in the printed church bulletin.
February 20, 2018 :: Author:
Each year, North River participates in the worldwide work of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) through its generous missions giving. I thought you might enjoy reading about some of the things that you have been a part of. Recently, the C&MA sent a letter to our church thanking us for our giving to missions. With the letter was a flyer listing 10 Highlights of God at work through the Alliance in 2017. You had a part in making all ten of these things happen.
More than $1 Million Given in Aid to Disaster Relief – Through the CAMA Disaster Relief Fund, you helped more than 75 families in Houston and Florida and 220 families in Cuba restore or rebuild their homes. You provided food vouchers in Puerto Rice, and 1,000 earthquake victims in Mexico received gas tanks and gas vouchers. Your gifts are continuing to allow the local Alliance church to lead these relief efforts.
Syrian Refugees Embraced – In the United States, Europe, and the Middle East, Alliance workers are reaching out to Syrian refugees, providing necessities like food and clothing as well as counseling, education, job training, and discipleship. In Mafraq, Jordan, distribution of mattresses by Alliance workers has topped 30,000. Every month, 700-800 refugees in Lebanon receive compassionate care.
Bible Soon Available in New Language – Eight million people living in a Central Asian country may soon have access to a Bible in their own language through the efforts of our Alliance workers and their ministry partners. One local woman, when asked to test the translation, exclaimed, “I haven’t seen a Bible in 30 years. This is a miracle!”
Gospel Spreads in Mexico Despite Cartel – Our new church plant in Mexico purchased property next to a feared drug cartel boss. “He’s killed dozens of people. Don’t cross him,” a church member warned our international worker. Despite the risks, the congregation baptized 31 people in the first two years and desires to plant four more churches.
Seeds of Revival Sprout in Europe – Though many think the European church is dying, Alliance workers report that many young Europeans are open to faith. Since the Alliance entered France 40 years ago, 29 churches have been established. Alliance churches in France, Spain, Germany, and Italy regularly baptize and disciple new believers.
Well, that’s the first five highlights. We’ll look at the next five next week. As you can see, we have helped make an impact around the world. These things could not be happening without the prayer and financial support of churches like ours. Thank you for giving to advance the gospel around the globe.
February 8, 2018 :: Author:
Reading for Growth
Do you regularly read the Bible for your own spiritual growth? Don’t read into that question any sort of finger waving rebuke. That’s not what this is. As I think about the people I respect the most spiritually, one thing seems to be consistent. They all enjoyed reading the Bible and it showed in their lives. They read it because they wanted to know God better. As they read the Bible they allowed it to speak to them about their own lives. They read it prayerfully, stopping to talk with God about anything that stood out to them. Reading the Bible wasn’t a grim task imposed on them by some outside force or perceived guilt. It was a chance to communicate with their best Friend.
One thing that made the early church a great church was that the people in it actively pursued spiritual growth for themselves. Acts 2:42 says “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers,” (ESV). It doesn’t say, “the apostles’ forced them to…” The people eagerly pursued the things they needed to grow spiritually, and they did it with “glad and sincere hearts” v. 46.
Good relationships are built on open communication and trust. What is true of human relationships is also true of our relationship with God. We learn to love and trust God more, the more we openly communicate with Him.
If you are not actively reading the Bible for your own spiritual growth, I encourage you to take a step in that direction today. Again, don’t see this as a finger waving rebuke. Don’t take on Bible reading as a grim ritual you have to force yourself to do every day. See it as an attempt to get to know your Friend better. A good friend doesn’t make you feel guilty if you can’t call every day for a specific amount of time. But, a good friend does want to stay in regular contact.
To help get started, I suggest you pick a translation you find comfortable to read. I can make recommendations if you would like. If you don’t have a good translation, let me know. I have some I can give you. Pick a book of the Bible that interests you and you feel you can get something out of. Don’t start with Leviticus or even Revelation. Start with one of the gospels or pick Acts and read along with the sermon series. Read an amount that works for you. The goal is to get to know God better, not to read through a specific number of pages. Pray about what you read. You can pray simple prayers like, “Lord, I think You wrote that for me. What do you want to say to me through it?” Or, go as in depth in prayer as you know how.
I encourage all of us to eagerly pursue spiritual growth for ourselves, starting with devoting ourselves to reading the Bible.
January 18, 2018 :: Author:
As we celebrate North River’s 25th anniversary, it is appropriate to look back to identify and celebrate the things that God has done for and through North River.
I worship God because people have come to faith in Christ through the ministries of this church. Others have heard the gospel clearly proclaimed. God has graciously supported several mission fields and missionaries through North River. The ministries of the camp, the district, and oversees missions have been enhanced by North River’s participation. I look forward to hearing many stories like these during our anniversary celebration.
It is also appropriate for us to look forward to what we want God to continue to do through North River. As a step in that direction, the Board and Elders have approved an updated mission statement for the church. It is: >
We exist to worship God, show the love of Christ, disciple believers, and share the gospel locally and worldwide.
Church, that is our mission. It comes from the Great Commandment (Matt. 22:37-40) and the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20). This is what we must do if we are going to be the church Jesus wants us to be.
To be the church Jesus wants us to be, we must worship God in spirit and in truth. We must learn to express our love and gratitude to Him for Who He is and for what He has done. Our worship will take many forms as we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
To be the church Jesus wants us to be, we must show the love of Christ to each other and to the world around us. We must love other people with the same intensity and determination that we love ourselves. We must love them by treating them the way we want them to treat us.
To be the church Jesus wants us to be, we must disciple believers. We must teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded. We must build them up to maturity in Christ. We must train them for works of service.
To be the church Jesus wants us to be, we must share the gospel locally and worldwide. We must witness to those in our neighborhoods and families. We must reach out to those in our communities and we must actively participate in reaching the world for Christ.
Church, that is our mission. May God give us boldness through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to push forward in accomplishing this mission over the next 25 years and beyond. Happy Anniversary!
January 4, 2018 :: Author:
Two Most Important Priorities
Last Sunday, the adult Sunday school class looked at Mark 12:28-34. In that passage, Jesus explains our two most important priorities in God’s eyes. In essence, what He said was: “Since there is only One True God, you should focus everything you are – your desires and affections, your personality and uniqueness, your intelligence and will, and your strength and self-control – on learning to love Him. And, since loving God also means loving what He loves, you should pursue learning to love the people around you with the same intensity you have for loving yourself and with the same determination to obtain what is best for them as you have for obtaining what is best for you. There is nothing more important that doing these two things.”
Since these two things are the most important priorities God has for us, I can’t think of anything better to focus on for 2018. Maybe our New Year’s resolution should be, “We’re going to focus on learning to love God and other people better.” Think about it. Put some specifics around what changes that would require and what it would look like in your life. Then spend some time alone with God asking Him to show you if that is what He would have you do this year.
December 28, 2017 :: Author:
Questions to Think About
Here are some questions worth pondering.
What did you do today that only a Christian would do?
What did you say today that was Christ speaking through you? >
What do the people see who on your pathway fall? Do they see you alone, or Christ as your all in all?
December 14, 2017 :: Author:
Righteous and Merciful?
What do you think of when you think of a “righteous” person, (righteous meaning morally upright, not “excellent” as in today’s common usage)? I would venture to say that many would think of someone who is stern and unbending when it comes to the application of rules. A strict disciplinarian might also come to mind; someone who would apply punishment to the full extent allowed by law. Few, if any, would use the word “merciful” in their description, but the Bible does. At least it does in the picture it painted of a man it also calls righteous.
In Matthew 1:18-25, the Bible describes Joseph, the man who would become the adoptive father of Jesus. During the period in which he was betrothed to Mary – a period meant to prove Mary’s purity – it was discovered that Mary was pregnant. Joseph knew that he wasn’t the father and he had limited options available to him as to what he could believe about Mary. This was a relationship ending discovery. It also had severe – potentially lethal – ramifications for Mary. If the full extent of the law was applied, Mary would be stoned to death.
We don’t generally associate justice with this kind of mercy, but we should. Christian, as you pursue righteousness don’t forget that being a righteous person should also include mercy.
Here’s how the Bible describes Joseph, though. “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly,” Matt. 1:19 NIV. Now there is an interesting view of righteousness. Joseph had to be hurting. It appeared that the woman who was to be his wife had been unfaithful to him. It seemed his plans had all been shattered. He would be humiliated and single. In a scenario like this, most would expect a “righteous” man to push for the maximum discipline allowed by the law. It would be expected that a “righteous” man would demand that the sin be exposed. That would be what the sinner “deserved”. That would also exonerate the righteous man. But, that’s not the picture of righteousness the Bible paints here.
Being righteous, Joseph could not simply ignore what he perceived to be sin. He had to deal with it appropriately. But, righteousness didn’t preclude showing mercy. Joseph would do what he had to do, but he would do it quietly, with as little unnecessary harm to Mary as possible. He would show mercy. Righteousness includes mercy.
By the way, that’s also why Mary was pregnant – because God’s righteousness includes mercy. We all deserve to die for our sins. That would be righteousness applied to the full extent of the law. But, because God’s righteousness includes mercy, He was sending His Own Son to be born of Mary. His Son would take the punishment for our sins so that God could show us mercy. God’s righteousness includes mercy.
December 7, 2017 :: Author:
When the angel Gabriel stepped into Mary’s room to announce that she was going to have a baby (Luke 1:26-38), he said some amazing things about what the Child would be like. Mary’s head must have been spinning.
The Child’s Name would be “Jesus”. That was a very common name in Mary’s day, but its significance for this Child would be off the charts. It means “Yahweh saves” and that is exactly what would happen. During His lifetime, Jesus would save people from disease and deformity. Many would be healed by His touch or His word. He would also save people from demon possession. When He spoke, demons would flee. They became fearful any time Jesus drew near. Jesus would set people free from their sins, too. He told more than one person to “Go in peace. Your sins are forgiven.”
Gabriel also said that the Child would be called “holy”. He would be holy in the sense of being unique and set apart, for God had selected this Child to perform a function no one else would ever be able to. Jesus is unique in that He is the only One Who will ever be able rightfully to claim that He is 100% God and 100% man. But, Jesus would also be holy in the sense that He would be completely without sin right up to the very end of His life. He would never have any sin of His Own, but moments before He died, Jesus would take all the sin of the world – all your sin and all mine – upon Himself and carry it to the cross. There, He would pay the penalty for it all so that we could be forgiven if we will trust Him and receive His offer of salvation. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus – Yahweh saves – would save His people from their sins. He would provide salvation for everyone who will believe in Him, receive His offer of forgiveness, and make Him their Lord. Does that include you?
Mary’s Child would also be called “The Son of the Most High” and “The Son of God”. It is doubtful that she fully comprehended that. We don’t. Somehow, God intended to create within her womb a Child that would be 100% human and 100% God. This Child would literally be God’s Son. He would serve as a mediator between us and God in ways no one else could, (1 Tim. 2:5). He would be able to sympathize fully with us (Heb. 4:15), but also relate fully with God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once asked, “If Jesus Christ were not true God, how could he help us? If he is not true man, how could he help us?” Mary’s Child would be – is – both.
The Child would also fulfill God’s promises to the patriarch David. God had promised to give King David an heir that would rule over Israel forever, (2 Sam. 7:16). Mary’s Child was to be that forever ruler. Gabriel seemed to want to emphasize that message, because he said it twice. “And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
November 30, 2017 :: Author:
Great Reasons to Celebrate Advent
This year, the Advent season begins on Sunday, December 3. Advent is a time we set aside each year to focus on the first coming of Jesus Christ and to prepare our hearts to celebrate all that God did for us on the first Christmas.
The word “Advent” means arrival and it refers to the arrival of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, into the world. Jesus’ birth is important because more than 2,000 years ago, God stooped down from Heaven and became a human being. God initiated intimate contact with us in this way because He loves us and wants to be with us forever. He loves us, but there is a problem that separates us from Him, and He came to solve the problem. On that first Christmas, the Son of God was born as the Son of Man. But, He wasn’t just any man.
Isaiah’s words should give us strength, hope and joy. They should fill us with confidence in God and in His love for us. They provide great reasons for us to celebrate Jesus this Advent season.
The prophet Isaiah told us what the Child born on that first Christmas would be
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Is. 9:6-7 ESV).
The Child would be a human child – one of us, one like us – but He would also be very different from us. He would rule in a very significant way. “The” government – all government will eventually be placed on His shoulder. He will reign over all things. His Name and His character will be called Wonderful Counselor – no one ever taught like Jesus or did the kinds of miracles He did. He is the Mighty God – He became 100% human, but also remained 100% God. He also is the Everlasting Father – this Child is the Living Word Who has always been and always will be. He is the Creator of the universe. He is the Prince of Peace – He will bring everlasting peace on earth, and He made it possible for us to have peace with God. God Himself will ensure that all of this is accomplished.
Isaiah’s words should give us strength, hope and joy. They should fill us with confidence in God and in His love for us. They provide great reasons for us to celebrate Jesus this Advent season
October 10, 2017 :: Author:
Growing Up in Christ
One of the Holy Spirit’s primary roles in the life of every believer is to help them grow-up in Christ and become spiritually mature. We call that “sanctification”. The Spirit takes Personal responsibility for our spiritual growth. He will produce in us the fruit of the Holy Spirit, (Gal. 5:22-23). But, we don’t grow to be spiritually mature on autopilot. We cannot expect the Holy Spirit to do all the work. We have an active role to play in the process.
Our involvement in the sanctifying process requires specific, intentional effort. Colossians 3:5 tells us to “put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature,” (NIV). Ephesians 4:22-24 says to “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness,” (NIV). That sounds like hard work, doesn’t it?
No one Christian will practice all the spiritual disciplines, but Christians who do not practice any of them will remain spiritually anemic and immature. If you want to be spiritually healthy, you need to develop the habit of intentionally pursuing spiritual maturity for yourself. Plus, a church can only be spiritually healthy when most of her members are intentionally pursuing spiritual health.
Don’t get discouraged. The Holy Spirit will help us with every step of the process. Plus, we are already loved and accepted in Christ Jesus. We don’t have to work hard to be good so that He will love us. But, if the Spirit of Christ lives in us, we will pursue spiritual maturity because we love Jesus. That pursuit will entail some hard work.
Every Christian should take an active and intentional interest in his or her own growth in Christlikeness. We do that by cooperating with the Holy Spirit and keeping in step with Him, as Galatians 5 instructs, but we also do it by following specific practices that help us gain spiritual insight and discipline. There are many resources for learning about the spiritual disciplines and I would encourage you to check them out. If you need suggestions, let me know.
At a minimum, every believer should be learning how to read the Bible for spiritual growth. This is different from reading for information or just reading because someone told you, you should. Every believer should be learning how to read the Bible on a regular basis while looking for the Holy Spirit to apply it to his or her life. The Spirit may use the Bible to encourage, direct, correct or rebuke us and we should be actively listening for Him to do that. Every believer should be learning to relate to God through prayer. This is more than dropping off our request list each day. We should be learning how to relate to God, worship Him, express ourselves to Him and listen to His voice. There are other spiritual disciplines that we should all practice like: Scripture memorization and meditation, reflection, confession, silence, fasting, etc.
August 17, 2017 :: Author:
More Than Any "Isaac"
Jesus said that the most important thing you can do is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” (Matt. 22:37 NIV). So, how does a person know that he or she loves the Lord?
Some might suggest that you demonstrate love for the Lord by the amount of money you give. That could show love for God, but it doesn’t always. Jesus pointed out that some people give a lot, but don’t love God. Others would say that you show love for God by your acts of service. Acts of service might show love for God, but 1 Corinthians 13 says that it is possible to do astounding acts of service, but not have love.
Obedience is a good indicator. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will obey what I command, (John 14:15 NIV). Obedience is a key ingredient in our relationships with God. It’s hard to claim that you love the Lord if you ignore what He tells you. Let me give you another indicator. It involves obedience, but it goes a step further. You can know that a person loves the Lord by what he or she is willing to give up when the Lord asks them to. Abraham is a great example.
Gen. 22:9-12 – “When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here am I.’ He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.’” (ESV).
What a gut wrenching picture! We may have a lot of questions about this incident, but one thing is certain: Abraham loved God enough to give Him whatever He asked for, even if it cost him the most precious thing in his life. Abraham’s life and everything God had promised were bound up in Isaac’s life. But, when God said, “give up your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love,” (22:2), Abraham replied, “For You, I’ll do it.”
The sincerity and depth of our love for God is tested and displayed by what we are willing to give up for Him when He asks us to. What we refuse to give up when God asks us to, becomes our master.
The most important thing you can do is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” (Matt. 22:37 NIV). That means to love Him more than any “Isaac” that may have captured your affections, whatever your “Isaac” may be. Do you love God?
August 3, 2017 :: Author:
We Exist to Build Better Beleivers
A.W. Tozer – “Theological truth is useless until it is obeyed. The purpose behind all doctrine is to secure moral action.”
Tozer was right, though his statement may not have gone far enough. Biblical truth that is known but not applied is worse than useless, it is dangerous to our souls. It is deadly to our relationship with Christ.
Without sufficient Biblical knowledge, a believer is likely to be deceived by any slick talking religious teacher that comes along, (Eph. 4:14). That’s why one of the key responsibilities of the church is to teach disciples. They need to know what the Bible says and what it means. They need to understand the central doctrines. But, Jesus didn’t stop there. He didn’t say just teach them to understand, He said teach them to obey everything I have commanded you
, (Matt. 28:18-20). A person who has solid Biblical knowledge but is not obeying it shows by his actions that he does not love Christ, (Jn. 14:23-24).
Being a Christian involves both learning and obeying. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will obey what I command,” (John 14:15). Obedience is not optional. If we are not teaching people to obey everything Jesus commanded we are not making disciples. We need to teach them so that they understand, but we must also teach them to obey. It’s the church’s job.
But, what is the church’s job is also your job, whether you are in a leadership position or not. You are the church. The job of the church belongs to every believer, which means it belongs to you. So, how are we as a church doing with that job? How are you as an individual doing?
Are we teaching them what they need to know? Biblical literacy is at an all-time low in the United States – even among Christians. Many Christians do not understand the basics of the faith. A growing percentage believe that Jesus committed sin while He was alive. Many also believe that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead never to die again. Worse yet, they cannot tell you what difference it would make if those two things were true. That means we have failed to teach them somehow. We cannot wring our hands at the pitiful state of their Biblical knowledge without looking at ourselves in the mirror and asking, “How did we fail to get that across to them?”
Are we teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded? It doesn’t do any good to have heads full of knowledge if they don’t obey what they know. It is deadly to collect knowledge if we don’t obey.
We exist to build better believers, by both teaching them and teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded. It> class="MsoNormal"
July 27, 2017 :: Author:
“I’m bored!” We have all heard that complaint more often than we care to count. It is usually made in a very whiny tone. You can hear it in your head right now, can’t you? It’s one thing when it comes from a child or youth. It’s another thing altogether when it comes from an adult, or even a church.
The complaint of boredom is often accompanied by an assumption that it is someone else’s job to rectify the problem. In most cases, however, the bored person has all the resources they need to solve their own problem. Frequently, all they need to do is do what they already know they should be doing. What is true of individuals is true of the church as well. If we are bored and disillusioned with the church, it may be because we are not doing what we are supposed to do.
One of the three primary reasons the church exists is to make new disciples. When a church fails to do that, it cuts itself off from relationships with people outside of the church. There is no flow of new life, new people, or new disciples into the church body. The lack of new life leaves the church to grow introspective and self-absorbed. That never results in anything good.
If we want North River to be a dynamic church, we need to be actively and meaningfully engaged with non-Christians. We need to be making disciples. It is why we exist.
To make new disciples, though, means we must continually meet new people. We need to develop relationships with people we don’t currently know. That scares many of us, but it doesn’t have to. Even introverts can do this. I know – I’m an introvert. Extroverts, you have no excuses.
The first step is to make a mental change. We need to stop thinking of strangers as scary and potentially harmful. We need to see them as potentially the most interesting people we will ever meet. We need to think “that person could be my new best friend if I would just get to know him or her.” That little change in the way we think will do two things. First, it will make it a lot easier to introduce yourself. Second, it will help you focus more on getting to know the other person and less on how nervous you are.
We need to be actively and meaningfully engaged in building honest, caring relationships with non-Christians. We need to get to know them. We need to learn to love them. We need to develop relationships with them where we listen to what is important to them, and share with them what is important to us – which will include the gospel. If we do that, we will solve our boredom problem.
We need to be making new disciples. It’s why we exist.
July 20, 2017 :: Author:
We Exist to Worship
Christ has a purpose for the church. When the church lives up to that purpose, she glorifies and pleases Him. She also becomes a dynamic community that captures the imagination and passion of every believer. That is why Christ’s purpose for the church must become our purpose for the church.
Biblically, the church exists for three primary reasons: To Worship God; To Evangelize the Lost; and To Build up Believers
. This three-fold purpose encompasses all the relationships of the church. Worship touches on her relationship with God. Evangelism deals with her relationships with people outside of the church. And, building up believers focuses on the relationships within the church. To be healthy, a church must do all three of these things and keep them in balance.
Everything starts with worship. If our relationship with God isn’t what it needs to be nothing else will be, and worship roots and nourishes our relationship with God. Everything we are and everything we do must flow out of that relationship.
Psalm 96 tells us that we should worship God for Who He is. We are to “bless His Name,” and “declare His glory,” (v. 2-3). His Name is His character. It is a short-hand way of referring to everything that makes God, God – His personality, His faithfulness, His holiness… you get the picture. God’s divine attributes make Him worthy of all our worship. He is good. He is love. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise. He sees everything. Understands everything. He will judge with righteousness and make all things right. These attributes make God worthy of worship. If He were deficient in any one of them, we would be in dire trouble.
Psalm 96 also tells us to worship God for all He has done. We are to, “tell of His salvation from day to day,” and declare “His marvelous works among all the peoples!” (vv. 2-3). God’s spectacular works of creation, redemption, salvation, and reconciliation make Him worthy of our praise. He sustains creation by His mighty power. He adopts those who trust in Jesus as His Own children. He forgives sin and removes it from us as far as the east is from the west. He protects. He guides. He restores. He heals. If God were deficient in any of His marvelous works, we would be in dire trouble.
Worship is our response to God when we recognize Who He is and what He has done. It is the declaration of our love for Him. When we worship God, we serve Him. We minister to Him. Our focus is on Him – what He wants and what pleases Him. We give Him the things that he desires. We make sure that He is pleased with them. It is about Him. It is for Him.
Worship is a key reason we exist. It is a primary determinant of the health of our relationship with God. Do we excel at fulfilling our purpose to worship? Is He pleased? Is our relationship with Him healthy?
July 13, 2017 :: Author:
Christ and His Church
Christ loves His church. Ephesians tells us “…Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless,” (Eph. 5:25-27 NIV). That is a beautiful word picture. Christ’s relationship with the church is the perfect model of how a man should treat his wife. Christ loves His church.
He also has a design for His church. Christ sacrificed Himself to make her holy, clean, radiant, and without fault. That means He has a standard for what His church should look like. He knows what He wants His bride to be.
Christ’s love and design for the church create some boundaries and establish some targets. One of the boundaries is: It is Christ’s church, not ours
. It is important to keep that in mind. Forget that a woman is another man’s wife and you may end up in a fight. Forget that the church is Christ’s bride not yours and you will find yourself on the wrong side of a fight with God.
One of the targets is: Christ’s purpose for the church must become our purpose for the church
. The Bible gives us the purpose of the church. It isn’t a mystery. Jesus gave it to us in the Great Commandments and the Great Commission. Everything Jesus wants His church to be and to do can be found in those two statements. The church is to love God with everything we are and everything we have, and love other people. The church is also to make disciples of all nations. She is to baptize those disciples and teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded.
We can summarize the purpose of the church in three categories: W
orship God, E
vangelize the Lost, and B
uild up the Believer. These three categories touch all the relationships of the church – its WEB of relationships, if you will. The categories have some overlap, but worship primarily deals with our relationship with God, evangelism with our relationships with the lost, and building up believers with our relationships with each other.
For a church to be healthy and pleasing to Christ it must strive to develop in all three areas and maintain an appropriate balance between them. A church that doesn’t is like a three-wheeled motorcycle that only has one or two wheels. The form is there, but it isn’t going anywhere. It isn’t living up to its purpose.
Over the next three weeks, we are going to focus on each of these three areas in turn: Worship, Evangelism, and Building up Believers. I hope you will join us, as this will set an important tone for North River.
June 22, 2017 :: Author:
Are These Goals Ours?
We have been working our way through the Core Values of the Christian and Missionary Alliance on Sunday mornings for the last several weeks. These values are the same values that Jesus displayed during His earthly ministry. You could easily argue that they should be the core values of every believer. I am suggesting that they should form the basis of our core values as a church.
Since we’ve been in this process for a few weeks, it will be good to review the ones we have looked at so far. Instead of stating them again in their long form, though, let me give them in a condensed version.
We pray because it is crucial.
We manage our resources for God’s glory.
We strive to obey all of God’s Word.
We are actively reaching the world.
Do these active statements fit who we are here at North River? If the “we” in each statement above is replaced with “I”, do they accurately describe you? Could we put examples under each statement that demonstrate that they are true?
Thinking about them this way challenges me. It keeps this from being an academic exercise. If we value these things, then it should be easy to find examples in our lives and ministries that prove each statement. That’s how you know they are truly core values and not just attractive statements.
We have two more statements to go after today. Let me give them to you below as a preview.
We rely on the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
We take faith-filled risks and endure change to achieve God’s purposes.
Try these values out. Kick them around a bit. Do they describe who we are? Do they describe North River? Do they describe you? If not, are we/you willing to strive to make them our goals?
June 8, 2017 :: Author:
I Want to Miss Him if He Leaves
“If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference
― A.W. Tozer
If Tozer’s comments were true 60 years ago, imagine how true they are today. The church today has far more tools at hand which has only served to make us more self-reliant. The church has more wealth, or at least more cash flow, than it did in the 1950’s, and far more programs are available to us. The result is a sense that we can pretty much handle anything that comes our way. We don’t sense a need for the Holy Spirit.
The question that bothers me is: “If the first sentence in Tozer’s quote above applied to our church, how would we know?” Would we miss the 5 percent that the Holy Spirit was doing before He withdrew, or would we be so accustomed to doing things on our own that we would simply adjust? Would we seek to recover the missing 5 percent by spending more, starting a new program, or declaring “that’s just the way things are these days”? I am concerned that the Holy Spirit has already stopped working in many of our churches, but no one has noticed.
As a church and as a denomination, we believe in the filling of the Holy Spirit. Our statement of faith says, “It is the will of God that each believer should be filled with the Holy Spirit and be sanctified wholly, being separated from sin and the world and fully dedicated to the will of God, thereby receiving power for holy living and effective service.” We believe that churches and individuals should be empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Being filled with the Holy Spirit doesn’t have to be a weird thing, but it should be an identifiable thing. In the New Testament, believers were “known to be full of the Holy Spirit”. In fact, it was part of the selection criteria for filling a ministry position, even a position distributing food, (Acts 6:3). Churches were known to be full of the Holy Spirit, (Acts 4:31). So, what would it look like for us as individuals to be full of the Holy Spirit? How would people be able to identify it? What would it look like for our church to be full of the Holy Spirit?
Church, my desire for myself and for North River is for the second sentence in Tozer’s quote to characterize us. I want to be so filled with the Holy Spirit that 95 percent of what I/we do would immediately stop if the Holy Spirit withdrew and everyone would know the difference. Is that your desire?
May 25, 2017 :: Author:
The Alliance Core Values are a set of Biblical values that The Christian and Missionary Alliance believes should guide all our churches. They answer the question “Why do we exist?” They give direction to our decisions and ministries. And, they help shape how we do what we do.
With that in mind, here are the Core Values along with their scriptural basis. We will be looking at each one over the next several weeks. Take some time to get familiar with them. Give some thought to how they might direct what we do and how we do it.
Alliance Core Values:
Lost people matter to God. He wants them found. (Luke 19:10).
Prayer is the primary work of God’s people. (Philippians 4:6-7).
Everything we have belongs to God. We are His stewards. (1 Chronicles 29:14)
Knowing and obeying God’s Word is fundamental to all true success. (Joshua 1:8).
Completing the Great Commission will require the mobilization of every fully devoted disciple. (Matthew 28:19).
Without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we can accomplish nothing. (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).
Achieving God’s purposes means taking faith-filled risks. This always involves change. (Hebrews 11:6).
May 18, 2017 :: Author:
Your Actual Neighbors
When Jesus was challenged to name the most important commandment in the Bible, He didn’t hesitate. “The most important one is to love the Lord your God with everything you have and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these,” (Mark 12:29-31, paraphrase).
We do our best to love God and love people – in general. But, what if Jesus meant for us to take that “love your neighbor” thing literally? In The Art of Neighboring
, Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon make a strong case that He did. They ask, “What if He meant that we should love our actual
neighbors? You know, the people who live right next door.” They recognize the figurative aspect of it, too, but it is easy to say that we love our neighbor when “neighbor” is a nameless faceless concept. Love is only real when it is shared between people who know each other and relate on a level deep enough to irritate each other. Until then, love is just a fantasy.
Pathak and Runyon give a simple test to determine whether we love our literal neighbors. They suggest that you draw a grid representing the eight houses closest to yours. For each house list three things from memory: 1. the names of all the people who live there; 2. one thing about each person that you could only know because they told you – not something you can see like “he has red hair,” but something like “he has a degree in chemistry”; 3. one thing you know that requires a deeper level of knowledge like “What are their hopes and dreams? What would they say about God?”
Can you do it? Only about 10% of people can list all the names. About 3% can list something about each person that can’t be observed from a distance, and only 1% can tell you something deeper. How can we love our neighbors, though, if we don’t know them like we want to be known? How can we be a light in our community if we have no idea who lives in our neighborhood?
Relax, the challenge isn’t for you to “get out there and win all of your neighbors to Christ.” Jesus said to “love your neighbor,” He didn’t say to “target them.” Love them the way you want to be loved. You don’t want to be someone’s project or target. You want people to love you like you are for who you are.
As your relationships with your neighbors develop, your conversations will naturally drift to the things that are important to you and the things that keep you up at night. Friends share those kinds of things. If you’re collecting that level of information about them by not sharing it about yourself, they will likely feel like a target. The things that are important to you will include your faith, but you will be able to share it as naturally as you would the fact that you like the Braves and hate opera. The Holy Spirit will take it from there. Your job isn’t to proselytize them. You don’t have to have a slick presentation to run them through, or be able to answer all their questions. Your primary job is to love them.
May 11, 2017 :: Author:
Be Honest and Authentic
The book Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them
by the Barna Group is a statistic heavy, but fascinating look at those who choose not to attend church. It is a good read for Christians because we have some significant misconceptions about what the unchurched are like.
Forty-three percent of the U.S. population is unchurched. Thirty-three percent of the total U.S. population is De-Churched. Only 10% have never attended a church. Get ahold of what that means. Thirty-three percent of the total U.S. population were at one point active in church, but aren’t any longer. They have tried church and decided it isn’t for them. Why?
There are a lot of reasons people drop out of church. I won’t go into all of them. You might want to get a copy of the book and check them out. One reason stands out to me. They were looking for honesty and authenticity in their relationships in the church, but didn’t find it. “If we are honest with ourselves, authenticity is not always a characteristic of church life,” (Barna). It should be, though. What these “dropouts” are looking for is exactly what Jesus said should define Christian relationships.
Part of what they are looking for is the ability to openly process doubts and questions about the faith and how it connects to the world as it is. They want to be listened to. They want their concerns to be dealt with honestly. They don’t want pat answers that don’t address the realities they are facing. Churches need to provide an “honest and safe place for people to wrestle with doubts and questions, so they can discover for themselves – while still remaining connected to the Christian community – that historic Christianity offers compelling answers to life’s most important issues.”
We shouldn’t run and hide from difficult questions about the faith. We don’t need to hide behind easy answers or trite phrases that are only understood in Christian circles. Jesus never avoided the tough questions. The gospel is sufficient and can handle the honest wrestling of those who investigate it. We need to get comfortable with their questions and challenges.
We also need to be more open and honest ourselves. This generation does not want to be a part of a group of people who appear to have it all together. They are not fooled or impressed. This generation values openness and honesty about the struggles and failures of life. They prefer to be around broken people – not “perfect” people – and we are all broken in many ways. It does little good to hide that, and it may be causing people to become discontent with the church.
How do we engage those who dropout or are on the verge of dropping out? It may be that the best place to start is by being more honest with them about who we are and the things that cause us doubts and questions.
May 4, 2017 :: Author:
It's Good to Learn to Serve
“It’s good to learn to serve,” we say, and we’re right. Jesus modelled that. He washed the disciples’ feet and then told them: “Since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you,” (John 13:12-15, NLT).
So, we organize service projects. They can be a lot of fun. We pick a project we want to do, then go with a group to someone’s house to work together on things that we do well – or at least acceptably well. The people we serve are usually quite appreciative and we get a great feeling of pride and accomplishment.
I think we should do more of that kind of service. But, is that what Jesus meant? He had just washed the dirty feet of a bunch of men who had been traveling. Not your most pleasant job. He did it by Himself while others watched. No one particularly appreciated it – in fact one insinuated that He was crazy. He would, soon, perform the ultimate act of service – dying in our place. In the process, He would be abused, rejected and abandoned. That’s being a servant.
I don’t want to paint the picture too bleak, but often when we talk about serving, we’re talking about doing things that we like to do, with people we enjoy, for people who appreciate our effort. We really don’t know what it means to serve, though, until someone treats us like a servant and we lovingly serve them anyway.
That thought struck home while I was performing an act of service a while back. I confess my attitude wasn’t good so I probably forfeited any reward I might have received. Those who wanted the job done made it clear that they wouldn’t be doing it. The people who benefited from the work would neither help or appreciate the fact that it was done for them. It wasn’t a pleasant task. I don’t enjoy doing it. I felt treated like a slave. That’s when it struck me again that talking about being a servant sounds great and “Christian” until someone treats you like a slave, but it is only then that we begin to understand what Christ was really talking about.
Do we realize that most of the attributes that define Christian maturity cannot be developed or demonstrated outside of the context of difficult relationships? Think of the fruit of the Spirit, (Gal. 5:22-23). How do you prove that you are loving, patient, gentle, faithful or self-controlled in an atmosphere where everyone treats you well? You cannot be sure that you are patient or self-controlled until someone pushes all your hot buttons at the same time. When that happens and you maintain control, you begin to see Christlike maturity at play in your life.
Being a servant is the same way. You can only begin to see that you are a Christlike servant when someone treats you like a servant. “I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.” Sigh… maybe I will have a better attitude next time.
April 26, 2017 :: Author:
Relationships Are That Impoartant
I have been studying the Apostle Paul’s writings a lot lately and have been struck by how important close relationships are to our spiritual growth. Significant aspects of Christian maturity can only be developed and proven within the context of close, personal relationships. Attributes like patience, love, kindness, goodness, etc. cannot be developed or demonstrated in any other way, nor do they make much sense outside of the context of close relationships.
God’s design for all believers is that they will become part of the Christian community called the church. Being part of a community communicates certain privileges and responsibilities. Because of that, Paul spends a lot of time instructing believers to develop godly characteristics that lead to better relationships. These relationships become part of our sanctification process in several ways.
They motivate us to pursue godliness. We tend to get complacent and need other people, who know what is happening with us, to push us to grow in areas where we are weak. We can use our relationships with other believers to motivate them, too. Paul did. At least three times in the book of Philippians he used his relationship with the Philippians to motivate them to strive for greater holiness.
God’s glory is demonstrated through our godly relationships. He wants to demonstrate His glory to all of creation. According to Ephesians chapter 2, He has chosen to do that through His ability to reconcile sinful mankind to Himself and His ability to reconcile bitter human enemies to each other. The fact that God can form one united body out of people who formerly hated each other shouts His majesty to the universe. His glory is magnified by our unity in diversity.
Relationships also become part of our Christian maturity because they reflect the relationships within the Trinity. Relationships are central to Who God is, so part of imitating God must include imitating the relationships within the Trinity.
Relationships are part of our sanctification because they build the unity of the church, and the unity of the church is a sign to the unbelieving world around us. Paul said that our unity is a sign to unbelievers that they will be lost, but we will be saved, (Phil. 1:28). When they see us unified and loving each other in ways the world can’t produce, they understand that there is something supernatural happening among us, and that serves as notice to them that they need to be saved. Jesus also pinned His glory and our reputation on our ability to love each other.
Who knew that the way we get along with each other was so important?
April 13, 2017 :: Author:
The Message of Easter
One of the most meaningful things you will ever know is that God loves you – and He loves you just like you are. The message of Easter is that God is not up in heaven scowling at you. He does not have His arms crossed over His chest. He is not disappointed with you thinking, “that one will never be good enough”. The message of Easter is that God loves you so much that He sent His Son to make it possible for you and God to have a relationship – and it worked.
Jesus said, “God loved the world [including you] so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him, (John 3:16-17 NLT). There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” (John 15:13 NLT). And, that is exactly what Jesus did. He purposefully gave His life on that cross for you, so that you could have a relationship with God. Then He rose to life again on that first Easter Sunday morning to prove that it worked. God accepted what Jesus did.
In the book of Ephesians, Paul wrote: “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding,” (Eph. 1:3-8 NLT).
The message of Easter is that God loves you – a lot. He loves you now, just like you are. He loves you so much that it “gave him great pleasure” to do whatever it took to redeem you. He loves you so much that He wants to adopt you into His family. He loves you so much that He has done everything necessary to make it possible to forgive you and set you free. All you need to do is receive and rely on what He has done for you. If you would like to know more about how to do that, I would love to spend some time explaining it to you.
April 6, 2017 :: Author:
Shout Out Loud!
It’s Palm Sunday. Today we commemorate that day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. He was welcomed by the exuberant praise of the masses. The people were excited about what they thought He was going to do for them.
As the people celebrated they shouted things like: “Hosanna!” which can be a plea for God to save them. It means “save now”. If that’s the idea they had in mind, they probably meant it in a different way than the way we might use it. It’s very likely that, since they were quoting a well-known scripture passage that was used at this festival, that they meant it more like “Praise the Lord” or “Hallelujah”. They shouted, “Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord!” Little did they know what all that blessing would entail. They also didn’t realize how much blessing His coming would bring to them.
We see this “Triumphal Entry” from a totally different perspective than they did. We know what blessings Jesus brought when He rode into that city. We know the meaning of His cross and how it really does “save now”. We know that He was truly blessed of God, and that because of all He did, we can now be called “the blessed of God”, too. We have far more reason than they did to shout, “Hallelujah,” “Praise the Lord,” and “Blessed be the One Who comes in the Name of the Lord!”
I know that we are not the shouting kind – at least not in church – but, I can’t think of a better reason to get excited and a little too exuberant than what Jesus Christ has done for us. I hope that this morning your hearts are filled with praise for the Son of God Who loves you and gave Himself up for you. I hope that – even if you can’t work up the nerve to shout out loud – that you’re shouting on the inside in worship to your Risen King. And, if you let out a little shout, so be it. You might have to revive the person next to you, but it will be good for them.
Blessed is He Who came and is coming again in the Name of the Lord! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!
March 30, 2017 :: Author:
What does it mean to communicate? The prefix “com” means together. The word “communication” itself comes from the Latin for “to share together”. I knew part of that, but I am indebted to Medefind and Lokkesome’s book Upended
for the basis of the thoughts I’m about to share. I’ve run off in my own direction, though, so don’t blame them for everything.
In true communication, we share together
thoughts, ideas, feelings, dreams, plans, etc. You know what it is like to listen to someone ramble on at length without ever taking a breath to let anyone else speak. I am willing to bet that, like me, when the monologue stops you don’t know what the person was talking about. You stopped listening well before the speech. Communication didn’t happen. Nothing was shared together.
Good communicators know that you must form a connection. People need to know that you care about and want to hear what they think. You also must say what you want them to hear in ways they can receive. Jesus was a master that this. He intentionally found ways to connect with listeners. He asked them questions that showed that He cared. He told simple stories that connected what He wanted them to know with what they already understood. He demonstrated a knowledge and acceptance of their world. He didn’t approve of everything they were involved in, but He accepted them where they were.
This has huge implications for our communication. If we are frustrated because we don’t feel like people are listening to us, maybe we shouldn’t start by trying to state our case more forcefully. Maybe we should start by listening more – caring more about what they want to say. Maybe we should “share together” rather than share more of what we want them to hear.
This simple change will help all our relationships. But, it could also change how non-believers listen when we present the gospel. Medefind and Lokkesome quote novelist E. M. Forster’s pejorative comment “poor little talkative Christianity” to show how many non-believers feel about us – always talking, never listening. We tend to want to give them answers and correctives. What they want, though, is to be heard, understood, and accepted as they are, not as they think you want them to be. It’s only after they feel like we’ve made that connection with them that they will be willing to hear the gospel from us.
Jesus was a master at connecting with non-believers. It would be worthwhile to spend time reviewing how He made connections and showed people that He cared. Then, go out and do some communicating. Share together with people and let them know you’re listening.
March 23, 2017 :: Author:
Deeply Flawed, Yet Deeply Loved
“The beautiful message of the Gospel is that though you are deeply flawed, you are even more deeply loved.” Rob Reimer – Soul Care
God proved that He loves us even though we are deeply flawed. He loves us even when
we are deeply flawed. We have a hard time believing that, but God proved it when “Christ died for the ungodly (us)… God demonstrates His Own love for us in the: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” (Rom. 5:5-8).
Here is an incredible truth. God doesn’t love you any more when you are good, or any less when you aren’t. His love for you is not diminished because you have acted foolishly or sinfully. His love for you doesn’t increase when you are accomplishing great things for Him. He doesn’t love Billy Graham any more than He loves you. You might want to read that last sentence again, because I’ll bet you are like me and you have a hard time believing it.
To believe that God’s love for you changes based on your performance, is to locate the motivation for God’s love in you. That makes you the center. But, the motivation for God’s love is centered in Who God is. God is
love. Love originates in Him. It does not fluctuate with our fickleness, (Thank God!). Of His Own free will, God has chosen to love you. He promised that He would always love you. Nothing you can do will change His mind or cause Him to break His promise. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Rom. 8:38-39 NIV).
Though you are more deeply flawed than you realize – so am I – God loves you more deeply still. His love for you will not change when your eyes are opened to see further into the depths of your sinfulness. He already knew about it.
Knowing the unchanging, unending nature of God’s love for you should have two results. One, you can rest in His love. New insights into the depths of your sinfulness won’t rock your faith. Two, it should cause you to love God more. “We love Him because He first loved us.”
I encourage you to take some time this week to meditate on God’s love for you. Take some time to read through passages in the Bible that talk about His love.
March 16, 2017 :: Author:
Talk With Them
In their book Upended
Medefind & Lokkesmoe quote Mother Teresa as saying “Today it is very fashionable to talk about the poor. Unfortunately, it is not fashionable to talk with them.”
Think about that. It’s true, isn’t it? It is easy to talk about the poor. It’s easy to talk about inner city violence. It’s easy to discuss race relations. It is easy to talk about at risk teens. Identifying the problems and giving perceived solutions come naturally. Talking about
them puts us above the people and situations we discuss. But, actually talking with
the people involved, that’s quite another story.
The same can be said about the lost. To play off Mother Teresa’s comments, in the church it is fashionable to talk about the lost. Unfortunately, it is not fashionable to talk with them. That is far more difficult – so, it seems.
A challenge was issued in one of our board and elders meetings that I would like to extend to all of us. One of our elders challenged us to strike up a conversation with someone while waiting in line at a checkout counter. Then, to make the last question we ask the person something like, “Where do you go to church?” That’s a simple idea, but I bet it makes some of us, including me, breakout in a cold sweat. Why? Talking about the lost is fashionable. Talking with them isn’t.
Part of the reason we find talking with the lost so difficult is that we think we need to know what to say. We have, in a way, placed ourselves above them. With that comes the pressure of being the one who has all the answers, and we know we don’t. We also have a strong, and probably accurate sense, that they don’t want to hear our answers. Let me encourage you. You don’t need to know what to say.
Let’s think about starting somewhere else. Why not start where we want people to start with us? When you meet someone for the first time, do you want them to tell you what you to do in an area of your life that they know nothing about? If they did, your response would probably be, “You don’t know me or my situation, how can you tell me what to do?” And, you would be right to feel that way.
Why not turn that scenario around? Why not get to know them, first – really get to know them? Instead of talking to them, why not talk with them? That involves listening to them with a desire to understand them. It means hearing their stories and caring about what impacts them. It means, not needing to know what to say in the beginning, just asking the kinds of questions you would like to be asked by someone you just met. It means showing them that you value them as they are. Then, as you get to know them, you will realize that you do know what to say to them about Christ, because you know their needs. You will also discover that they are more open to listening. Go out and talk with some non-believers this week. Make it your aim to just get to know them. See how it goes.
March 9, 2017 :: Author:
Be All There
On the bookshelf behind me is a painting by one of our daughters. There is a quote on it from Jim Elliot which reads, “Wherever you are, be all there.” I don’t do that well. It has never been easy, but in our age of multitasking and digital distractions it is almost impossible.
We believe so much in our ability to multitask that to suggest that we can’t do it seems as ludicrous as saying the Pope isn’t Catholic (no disrespect to the Pope). But, people who use their smart phone while driving are just as impaired as a drunk driver! You may not believe that, but your insurance company does. Multitaskers score very poorly at multitasking itself, (Medefind and Lokkesmoe). That’s not hard to believe. I have had to terminate more than one employee because they wouldn’t stop multitasking and focus on their job.
My concern here isn’t your employment, though I would be happy if this note helped you keep your job. My concern is our relationships. One of the ways we serve others with our communication is by being fully present while they are speaking. Too many children and spouses have checked out of the relationships in their family because they don’t feel like anybody is listening anyway. When they talk, they feel like that their parent or spouse’s mind is miles away.
Let me give an example. Years ago, I had a boss who would clean out his wallet every time I came to his office to talk with him about something. His eyes and his attention were focused on the stuff in his wallet; never on me. It was a weird habit. I would have taken it personally except he did it to everyone. It makes you wonder what could be left in there to clean out. The result was, his employees stopped communicating with him. Why bother? He wasn’t listening anyway.
Even as I write this, I know I am guilty. I have had far too many conversations with Karla where I sensed her disappointment because I wasn’t really listening. My mind was on something else. My attention was divided. I was there physically, but I wasn’t “all there”. Is that how the people who talk with you feel? Your attention is not really with them. It’s on your device. It’s on some other issue. It’s on what you’re going to say when they finally stop talking. Something seems more important to you than they do. If so, they will stop communicating.
To “be all there” means to block out all other distractions and actively listen. Listen to understand. Listen to hear their heart. See their face. Read their body language. Experience their stories. Share their emotions. When you do that, you signify to them that “you are what is most important to me right now”. You tell them that they are fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s eyes and in yours. Jesus serves as our example. Look at Mark 5:21-34 and pay attention to how He interrupted a very important mission to focus on one woman in need.
I have some work to do on being all there. Do you?
March 1, 2017 :: Author:
Serving with Your Words
When you talk with people, what is your primary goal? You might feel like the answer should be obvious, but is it? Listen to other people when they talk and you will quickly discover that people have different goals for their communication. Some just want people to pay attention to them. It doesn’t matter what they are talking about or why, they just want to be the center of attention. Some want to be impressive. Some want to win; every conversation feels like a competition. Some want to instruct. Some want to entertain. We have many different objectives for communicating, and they change from one conversation to the next.
I ran across this quote from Jedd Medfined and Erik Lokkesmoe again today. They contend that for the believer, “truly great communication is found in serving others well through our communication.” You might want to read that one again. Do you think of your words as serving others? The concept fits well with what we will be talking about from Philippians.
In chapter 2, Paul instructs us to “regard one another as more important than yourselves” and “do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” How well do our conversations match those instructions? To truly serve each other with our words, we also need to ask how well our listening matches those instructions. It is not possible to serve someone well with our words until we have listened to them well.
When you are in a conversation with someone, how well do you listen? Do you listen to understand not only what they are saying, but what’s in their heart? Do you listen with the attitude that what they are saying is “more important than” what you are thinking or what you want to say next? Do you listen to understand or to defeat?
When you are in a conversation with someone, what is the impact of your words? Do you know? What do you intend the impact to be? Can you imagine Jesus saying the same words to you in the same tone?
We will know that we have served others well through our communication when our presence and words have built them up, encouraged them, and spurred them on to love and good deeds. We will know that we have ministered to them through our conversations when they are better, stronger, and more in love with Jesus because of our presence, our listening, and our words. We minister well with our words when the love and grace of God flow from our tongues.
February 2, 2017 :: Author:
What Drives Our Music Choices
In his “Open Letter to Worshippers”, Gary Durbin addresses the selection of songs for worship. I’m not going to quote him, because I feel it is more important to discuss our own philosophy of worship and how that drives what we do.
I have mentioned a few times during this series of notes that worship is not what happens on the platform. It is not “the show”, the music or the preaching. Worship happens as you actively engage with God. It is the connection that takes place in your heart between you and your Savior. Worship is you acting out your love and reverence for God. That understanding of worship is at the core of everything we do in the worship ministry of North River. It also drives our music selection.
We intentionally focus on music that helps you connect directly with God. The lyrics we use will tend toward those that are a prayer to God, that give God praise for what He has done, and that worship Him for Who He is. By “God” in this context we mean God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.
Not all Christians songs, or even what we often refer to as “hymns”, focus our attention on God or cause us to interact with Him. (For the record, the technical definition of a hymn is quite different from the way most people use the word.) Many of the Christian songs we enjoy are not worship. While they are good songs, they do not accomplish our goals for the worship service. We intentionally avoid using those songs. I would give an example here, but I would almost certainly offend someone. The types of lyrics I am referring to tend to focus attention on us, our experience, or things we enjoy. There is nothing wrong with those songs, they just do not promote what we are trying to accomplish.
We also try to select music that fits our congregation. That is not as easy as it sounds. We have very diverse musical tastes in our congregation. We try to seek an appropriate blend, but are intentionally weighted toward the contemporary. In our selections, we also consider the musical abilities of our congregation. We just don’t have as much rhythm or vocal range as many songs require.
Of course, we are not perfect in our selection. We may not use the songs or the blend of styles that you would most prefer. We seek to do our best and to do what we believe is best for North River. Our worship leader puts an incredible amount of time and effort into finding the best music for our church. She appreciates your suggestions, but please don’t be offended if for some reason the songs you most want to hear don’t make it through our filters. Our worship team works hard to do the best we can with the songs we use. Our deepest desire is to draw you closer to God through everything we do in the worship service – music, prayer, preaching, etc. We want to assist you in making those heart connections with God.
January 19, 2017 :: Author:
Not An Audience
Last week, we started talking about An Open Letter to Worshipers written by Gary Durbin who is a worship leader in Denver. Let’s pick up where we left off.
Gary talks about the fact that you are the worshipers – not an audience. An audience mindset pervades the church today, but it isn’t biblical. Worship in the Bible isn’t an audience coming to church to watch the show – the worship – put on by others. In the Old Testament, people had to get their hands bloody to worship. Worshipers are always described as getting actively, physically involved in worship.
Gary writes, “When I ask you to raise your hands, don’t assume it’s a stick up. I’m actually encouraging you to be biblical with your expression. It’s a great thing to express your love for God and get excited. God has also asked us to sing, clap, shout, bow down and even dance. If you do those things at a concert or sporting event and not at church, you should probably do some introspection regarding your worship.”
Don’t get concerned, I’m not going to try to implement dancing in our worship services. Don’t even try to visualize that, it could be gruesome. But, ask yourself, “What does my worship posture say to God? Would anybody watching a video of me get the idea that I’m passionately in love with the God Who saved me? Would they be curious about this God Who has so captured my attention?”
Worship is not what happens on the platform. It is not “the show”, the music or the preaching. Those should be acts of worship for the people presenting them, but for you they are meant to be aids to help you worship. Worship happens as you actively engage with God. It is the transaction that takes place in your heart between you and your Savior. Worship is you acting out your love and reverence for God. You are the performer, if you will. God is your audience.
Again, Gary puts it this way, “Perspective is huge. Make sure you have the right perspective of your role. Look in the mirror and say this to yourself: ‘I am not a part of an audience.’ An audience is a gathering that needs to be entertained. The gathering of God’s people should not be an audience that comes for a show. You are way more than an audience. You are part of a choir of children who call God their Father! We’re united in lifting up anthems of praise to an audience of One—the One true and worthy God. When you keep that perspective, you won’t settle for merely being entertained by our talents. You will intentionally strive to join the praise to our Almighty Audience of One!”
You are not an audience. You are a worshiper. The kind of worshipers that God is looking for are those who actively worship Him (engage with Him) in spirit and in truth, (Jn. 4:23), not those who passively watch others.
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