Monday, October 26, 2009

The Habits of This Highly Effective (but Lost) Church Lay Leader

"Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks."- John 4:23

I am an active part of our church's worship ministry and have been serving in such a role (or similar role in other churches) for 35 years. But it wasn't until just in the past eight to nine years or so that I've really come to understand what true worship really is. Up until then, if someone asked me what worship was, I would respond with going to church for a couple of hours, singing and/or playing a few hymns, listening to a sermon and going home. Or I might have said that it was the first twenty minutes of the same said service, where we would sing/play in order to "warm up" the congregation for the pastor's sermon.

Sadly, a lot of people don't get it when it comes to what it really means to be a Christ-follower and they don't understand what worship is really all about. I was one of those folks. And what's worse, I was in many leadership roles for a lot of years before I came to an understanding of what it means to follow Christ and to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. I made a great member of my denomination, but I really didn't follow Christ and I most certainly didn't know the real meaning of worship.

I think if I had written a book about the worshipper's lifestyle several years ago, it probably would have looked like a poor facsimile of one of Steven Covey's popular "7 Habits" books... And it would have probably been aptly dubbed by those who knew me best as "The Habits of This Highly Effective (But Lost) Church Lay Leader." It would have included chapters like: 1) Dressing for Success: Putting on the Sunday Game Face, 2) Communication: How to bounce a long prayer off a ceiling and/or turning prayer requests into pry-er requests, 3) Manipulation and The Inner Circle: How to Win Friends in High Places, 4) Absolute Abandonment: How to attend Church every time the door is open and still not "get it", 5) Daily Walk: The Do's and Don'ts of living the life, 6)Serving: Working up a sweat (to try to get into Heaven), 7)Treasures: Giving when I want something back, 8) Personal Holier-than-thou-ness: My stuff doesn't stink, but yours sure does, 9) Testing: just learning all the stuff for the "final", and last, but not least, 1o) Whose Church is it anyway? (It's all about me.)

The truth is I was taught how to live the Christian life, but like so many others, I really failed in actually understanding what it meant to truly know Jesus in a personal way. As I have shared in previous posts, I went through all of the motions of becoming a Christian, but there was no substantial evidence of Christ in my life outside the walls of the church or Christian circles.

And then the gig was up.

Life began to fall apart for me. My husband had died. I was left with very little monetarily. I left a poorly paying ministry-related job in our denomination's state convention office for another that seemed to pay better, only to realize that was a BIG mistake. Then I spent the next nine months searching for another job, all the while my credit was going into the toilet and my former employer was to blame. In addition, I was having all sorts of nightmares about my dead husband. Then I started having nightmares following watching a series of movies similar to the "Left Behind" series as well as the first of "Left Behind" movies. I could see myself in the role of the associate pastor in that first Left Behind movie - although I was one who was a church lay leader, I had all sorts of knowledge, but really had no relationship with God.

Then, like Humpty-Dumpty, I fell apart.

And nothing I did or said would put Humpty back together again. I knew all of the right stuff to say... all the right things to do. But somehow, life just wasn't playing out right for me.

And I couldn't figure out why.

Soon I started paying attention to some things, and decided to have a heart-to-heart discussion with a long-time friend, who knew me well. And it was in his office that I finally came to the point of genuine Surrender.

After thinking about a lot of this, I would like to share several thoughts with you along the lines of the same topics that I think would have been in my facetious book above and spend the next several weeks talking about what it means to be the kind of worshipper the Father seeks. However, I would also like to be certain that I am not just filling the heads of some folks who may be in the same position as I was in prior to having a real relationship with Jesus, and not introducing their hearts to a real, vibrant, personal relationship with Jesus. As I write these posts, while parts of them will be tongue-in-cheek, I want to be sure that they always come back to pointing folks to a Savior. So we will come back to the topic of true worship and what that actually means, according to the Bible.

I also want to make it clear that it's not my job to be The Holy Spirit. There is a Holy Spirit and I am not Him. Nor do I want to do His job for Him. However, I am expecting that God could use this series to open the eyes and ears (and hopefully, hearts) of those who may be in the same position that I was just a few years ago. Rest assured, however, that if you happen to read these posts (or any other of my posts) and find yourself in that same position, there is a Savior... And you can know Him. He already knows and loves you. I'd love to show you how you can know Him!

So, stay tuned. We'll go for several weeks, through most of the Thanksgiving and Christmas Seasons. There may be some weeks when we break because God will lead us to do something a little bit different. But for the most part, this is where we will be headed for the next several weeks.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Christmas Card list....

"O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up;you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying downand are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue,behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before,and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;it is high; I cannot attain it." - Psalm 139:1-6

It's already beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here! Rehearsals for Christmas performances have started. A friend of mine said it best yesterday:" Yes. I am a church musician. I fa-la-la-la-la in October!"

Last night, I purchased the first of the Christmas gifts for three of the men on my list. I was delighted to find that the little things I found, though trinkets to be sure, will be cool gifts for some guys in my family that I know well.

I also bought a small box of Christmas cards the other day. While we don't typically send out cards to a gazillion folks as some people I know are in the habit of doing, we do send out a few to some folks on our list.

It was the Christmas card list that has me thinking today... Some of the names on that list used to be very close friends. Friends that I spent a lot of time with on a daily basis in the past. Friends that I could tell you everything about, including what they would order from a fast food place back in the day. But time and distance has delegated that those friendships now are a part of nothing more than the Christmas card list....

What was once an intimate relationship has turned to a once a year greeting from one another. We may send a Christmas brag letter to these folks, just to catch them up on all of the news of the past year... but little else transpires to keep the fires of the friendship burning. We may occassionally see one another from time to time and attempt to pick up where we left off, but it really isn't the same.

I hope that my relationship with God doesn't ever become like that. I hope God doesn't ever become a Christmas card list friend.

One of the things that used to scare me when I was sitting in church years ago was when pastors or Christian friends would talk about having an "intimate personal relationship with Jesus." I never understood what that meant. But in a very real sense, this is what I have grown to understand that it means:

God knows me.
God KNOWS me.
God knows ME.

Every single part of me.

My heart.
My head.
My hair-brained moments.
My genius attempts.
My likes.
My dislikes.
My personality.
My fears.
My cheers.
My challenges.
The things that make me tick.
The things that make me sick.
The things that make me laugh.
The things that make me cry.

Inside and out.
Upside down and sideways.

He knows ME.

And He loves me!

And you're asking... How do I know that?


The Bible tells me that He sent His Son as a gift. (John 3:16, Romans 3:23)

He sends me little gifts and surprises sometimes that are tailor-made for me.

He answers prayer, sometimes before I have even asked.

And I am getting to know Him in the same way.

What He likes.
What He doesn't like.
What makes Him smile.
What makes Him cry.
What makes Him tick.
What makes Him sick.
What makes Him happy.
What dissappoints Him.

And I am trying to live my life to please Him.
I want to do things that will make Him happy.
And though I know that He is never "surprised" by the things I may do for Him, I still try to do little things that I know will bring Him joy.

I want that relationship with God to stay current. I want to visit with Him in His house regularly. I want to spend time with Him daily... talking, listening, learning from Him. I want to do things that will make Him happy.

And it never fails, He is always giving me the best little gifts of love that show me how well He knows me and that He thinks of me, too.

So, I ask you... What does your Christmas card list look like?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

He's Got Your Back!

"I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." -Psalms 16:8-11

My friends, Bruce Wethey and Lisa LaCrosse, are a unique couple. Bruce is a professional violinist and Lisa is a professional flautist. They met in Miami many years ago, while playing with the Miami Symphony. They are among some of the finest musicians in our country, having played in some of the best concert halls in the country (can you say Carnegie?), and having had a following as classical artists.

It's not often that you see folks in the classical field with the giftedness that Bruce and Lisa have to offer cross over to the Christian instrumental side of music. Actually, more often, Christian artists are sometimes guilty of crossing over to the secular side of music and leaving faith far behind them.

God had a different plan for these two, however, and they now travel as Christian instrumentalists, trading Carnegie Hall for local churches, and doing ministry. Bruce has played with folks like Twila Paris and Michael W. Smith, among others, but more often than not, you will see Bruce and Lisa traveling together across the country as a husband and wife team, as lead worshippers together with local church folks. They understand that their calling is to meet folks in ministry and to offer their gifts back to God. And they wouldn't have it any other way.

A little of their story...

Lisa has struggled with non-malignant brain tumors and has had several surgeries over the years to remove them. Yet, Lisa will be the first to tell you that when following Christ, there is a joy that sustains her!!! She trusts completely in the loving care that her Heavenly Daddy gives to her. She knows that even in the midst of pain, and the trials that come with her daily battles, she can trust Him to take care of her every need.

It was during the first of one such surgery that Bruce found himself face to face with the question of his own eternity, and he met with a pastor who befriended him during Lisa's hospital stay. That led to the beginning of his journey as a Christ follower. Lisa, on the other hand, had come to Christ as a teenager, while watching a Billy Graham crusade on television. She will quickly tell you that she was not discipled following that decision. And it wasn't until much later that she began to grow in her relationship with Christ.

I remember one particular time a few years ago when we were at our church in Virginia, and Lisa had had yet another surgery just a few weeks prior, and Bruce and Lisa came to Virginia, to minister to the senior adults* there. I was absolutely amazed that she was there!!! I asked her how in the world she managed to do that! She told me that her biggest issue at that time was exhaustion, but that the "Lord would provide her strength."

(* Quick funny story about that particular concert: I am a looooong way from being old enough to go to Senior Adult functions, but because Bruce and Lisa were friends, and because I had actually won a contest to name their latest album at that time, Offering, I begged our Senior Adult Pastor to allow my husband and me to crash the party.... He gladly gave in. When I got there, Bruce made sure to "card" me. :) That's the only time I think I have ever been "carded" at a church event. Smile.)

Often, I think we get discouraged when we hit some kind of a snag in our walk and we wonder if God is really there for us. And we do like Elijah did: we go and hide our own makeshift caves, and then start to get depressed because things may not necessarily be "peachy" for us. And we'll start to whine and moan and complain... But then, God comes around and asks, "What in the world are you doing in here?" And in that still small voice, He shows us Himself... (I Kings 19:12)

Whatever it is that you are facing, remember that God is in control. He loves you and He knows about every single thing that you are going through. And while there may be times that we may not understand what it is that He is trying to accomplish on this side of glory, we can know that His plans for us are perfect and His ways are true. And somehow, someway, He will use whatever those circumstances to benefit His kingdom and His glory.

Following Christ doesn't bring about the absence of trials and tribulations. But what I can tell you is that you can still find joy in knowing that your loving Heavenly Daddy has your back.