Sunday, March 19, 2017

How to Prepare for Sunday Worship

“Fruitful and acceptable worship begins before it begins.”
Alexander MacLaren

When something is important to me, I prepare. I love to fish. I don’t seem to get enough opportunities but I love to fish. There’s just something exciting about seeing your bobber go down or feeling a tug, and then to fight to reel him in. I hate it when I know that I have to finally leave. I’ll think and talk about that fishing trip for days, even weeks to come.
  But when I feel like something is an obligation, I procrastinate. I’m nearly listless. I shuffle around and get ready at the last minute. I often plan an exit strategy on how to leave as soon as politely possible. I go through the motions, but I really don’t want to be there.
  Periodically, I’ll be invited to some social event where I don’t really know anyone and may not be particularly close to the person who invited me. But I feel obligated, so I go. I try to not complain to Jane, who often is dragged along with me. Checking my phone is gauche. Reading a book is just rude. So I try to appear interested, while in the back of my mind I’m wondering how long before I can politely escape.
  When it comes to Sunday worship, most of us fall into one of those two categories. For some, it’s important and something they anticipate. It’s a highlight of their week. For others, it’s an obligation. The sooner, it’s over, the better. They look for a reason to either not go or to escape quickly.
  Often you can look at someone’s face and know which category they fall into, particularly if you’re part of the worship team or preaching. If someone is an unbeliever or an easily bored young person, it’s not surprising to notice that worship isn’t something they particularly enjoy. What’s disconcerting is to see a believer with a look of boredom or worse, disdain. One wonders what’s going on in their heart when worshiping God or being with His people is something to endure, not enjoy.
  The Christian life, in many ways, is lived from Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day. Corporate worship and being with our spiritual family is a high point of our week and the constant rhythm of our lives. We dare not “neglect meeting together, as is the habit of some” (Heb. 10:25). There’s nothing as meaningful, rich, and glorious on earth as a church family gathering together to worship the Lord. Most Christians believe this. But does it translate into our practice? Or, is the moment we’re sitting in the service the first time we’ve thought about corporate worship in our week?
  If corporate worship is as significant as the Bible tells us it is, then shouldn’t we prepare for it? Can you imagine the worship team just showing up and it’s obvious they haven’t practiced? Or, the pastor stands up to preach and says something like, “I’m not sure what I’m going to talk about today. I think I’ll talk about _______.” If preparation is essential for the leaders in worship, isn’t it essential for the participants? How can we prepare for worship?
  Prepare your heart. Remember, when you were growing up and your Mom told you not to eat junk food or it would ruin your dinner? Come to worship hungry. Feed your own soul during the week with private worship and even family worship, knowing it will help get your juices flowing for more spiritual food. Ask the Lord to lay His hand on the leaders as they prepare, and then to feed your soul and the souls of those around you. Don’t let Satan distract you with a petty, critical spirit over an off key note or an error in the bulletin or a song that perhaps you’re not familiar with.  
  Practice quietness beforehand. After you sit down, take a moment to pray and quiet your soul. Our world is loud and busy. To spiritually dine takes contemplation. It’s why quiet and the call to worship is important.
  Be a little boring. Go to bed at a reasonable time on Saturday night. Sleepy heads make for foggy minds and drowsy worshipers.
 Plan Ahead. Lay out your Sunday clothes and those of your family on Saturday night. Know where your Bible and other materials you might need are. Gas the car and clear the seats for the family. Get up at a decent time so you don’t have to rush, or worse, come in late. Leave home with plenty of time to spare. What does it say about our values when we’re early for a movie or ball game, yet late for worship?
  Anticipate it with joy. Cultivate a kind and joyful spirit on Sunday mornings. If it’s the highlight of our week, let’s act like it. Talk about how wonderful the day will be, wake the kids up with excitement. Turn on Christian music for the whole family to listen to. Put a smile on your face. Refrain from turning on the TV or catching up on Facebook on Sunday mornings. We’re so easily distracted. Safeguard your soul.
  Whet your own spiritual appetite. Read and prayerfully think through the Sunday morning text earlier in the week. We should seldom be surprised at the passage we hear preached. Working our way through a passage before the worship service provides a more fertile soil for the Spirit to work.
  Converse on the ride. On the way to church talk about the passage being be preached. Talk about the things of God. On the way home, use the discussion questions on the insert to more deeply interact with the message. 
  At the worship service, we’re meeting with our Heavenly Father and our brothers and sisters. Shouldn’t the worship be a highlight of the week? It’s a time to re-charge our souls for the coming week. It’s an opportunity to glorify God and minister to others. Yet, because it’s a weekly activity, it’s tempting to let it become routine. One of the ways to ensure that it’s not is to prepare our own hearts and minds for corporate worship each week. 

Can we help you spiritually? Can we help you know Jesus better? Please check out more resources on our church's web page, Gracechurchwi.org. Or, call us at 262.763.3021. If you'd like to know more about how Jesus can change your life, I'd love to mail you a copy of how Jesus changed my life in "My Story." E-mail me at Carson@gracechurchwi.org to request a free copy. Please include your mailing address.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Hollywood, Hypocrisy and Pink Hats

“Jenny was hosting Junior League parties
And having dinner at the country club
Everyone thought they were Ken and Barbie
But Ken was always getting way too drunk
Saturday night, after a few too many
He came home ready to fight
And all his money could never save Jenny
From the devil living in his eyes”
Carrie Underwood in Church Bells


  Carrie Underwood’s new hit song, Church Bells, is a powerful account about the epidemic of domestic violence. It tells the story of a young girl who marries a rich man. But after their wedding, this young wife finds herself trapped in a violent marriage with an abusive alcoholic husband.
  Domestic violence is everywhere; rich, poor, ethnic, Caucasian, religious, non-religious. Statistics indicate it occurs more often in cohabitation relationships than married ones. That’s one more reason, besides the fact that marriage is God’s plan and His best, why we in the Church must be strong advocates of marriage. We’re na├»ve though to believe abuse doesn’t happen in Christian homes. Sadly, it does and it’s far too common.  
  Like you, I was nauseated when the recording of the lewd remarks of then presidential candidate Trump was released. It was deplorable. Though it was crude “talk,” what concerned me the most was that talk, as in the case of former President Bill Clinton, often results in abusive behavior.
  By now we’ve all seen the ubiquitous pink hats. Hollywood is behind much of their popularity. What I find repugnant is the blatant hypocrisy by the Hollywood elite. Recently, author Sady Doyle, wrote in Elle (02-27-17) that men in entertainment can seemingly get away with anything. Mel Gibson threatened to kill and rape his ex-girlfriend, yet he sat in the front row racking up awards at the recent Academy Awards for Hacksaw Ridge. Casey Affleck took home the prize for Best Actor, yet he’s been accused of sexually terrorizing female colleagues on the set of his 2010 mockumentary, I’m Still Here, referring to women as “cows,” insisting that one female employee share his hotel room, then deluged her with abusive text messages after she refused. Another says she woke up in a hotel room to find Affleck in her bed with her. (The rest is too repulsive to share.) After she managed to get him out of her room, he rallied crew members to bully her until she quit. All that didn’t keep him from winning an Oscar this year. Though Roman Polanski raped a 13-year-old girl (a 13-year-old!) which he’s admitted, still no one in the Academy felt it should pose an obstacle to his filmmaking career. When he won the Oscar for Best Director in 2003 for The Pianist, he received a standing ovation, including Meryl Streep. A beaming Harrison Ford accepted the award for him. Polanski couldn’t attend because if he comes back, he’ll be arrested. Woody Allen is still a Hollywood darling despite the fact that his adult daughter, Dylan Farrow, published an open letter in The New York Times, repeating her 1992 allegation that Allen raped her when she was as young as 7. She specifically cited the fact that “actors praised [Allen] at awards shows” as a source of extreme trauma. Eminem’s musical career includes emotionally abusing and threatening his wife won an Oscar for 8 Mile. Allegations of domestic violence trail other nominees like Michael Fassbender and Johnny Depp and two-time Best Actor winner, Sean Penn.
  Ever since it became mainstream, as far back as the 1980s, hip-hop artists and rappers have continually objectified, demeaned and promoted violence and sexual abuse against women in their music. Where’s the outrage! What about professional athletes? According to a recent article, over 40 NFL players currently playing, have been accused of sexual or physical assault. Players like Jameis Winston, Ben Roethlisberger, Brandon Marshall…to name just a few. Add other professional athletes from other sports to the list of rich, famous and powerful who abuse women and it’s a pandemic.  
  Men who abuse women should be pariah, much like Bill Cosby has become. With abusers like Mel Gibson, Casey Affleck and Woody Allen being honored, instead of designer dresses, the most prominent feature on the red carpet should be pink hats. Each time he runs out of the tunnel, Ben Roethlisberger, should face a sea of them.
  But don’t hold your breath. These same Hollywood elitists and others who rightfully bewail the perversity of President Trump rationalize away the debauchery of Bill Clinton and were willing to once again give him unlimited access to our nation’s daughters. The condoning of physical and sexual abuse reveal these evil behaviors, at least for Hollywood elites, aren’t the issue. Apparently, if you’re ideology leans left, you get a pass, even awards and adulation. Crimes against women whether by someone in the White House, a star of the stage or athletic field cannot be tolerated! It’s evil! It’s criminal and should be punished to the full extent of the law.  
  The Church of Jesus Christ must be the safest place for women and children. We’re accountable to King Jesus, not fickle social mores. We must hold people, even pastors, accountable. Success does not give one a free pass. We must speak out against abuse, be willing to intervene and protect the innocent. We need a new generation of John the Baptists to rise up, willing to pay the price as he did when he called out King Herod for perversity. We don’t need pink hats. We need godly men and women with courage and character, protecting those who cannot protect themselves! 

Can we help you spiritually? Can we help you know Jesus better? Please check out more resources on our church's web page, Gracechurchwi.org. Or, call us at 262.763.3021. If you'd like to know more about how Jesus can change your life, I'd love to mail you a copy of how Jesus changed my life in "My Story." E-mail me at Carson@gracechurchwi.org to request a free copy. Please include your mailing address.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

You're never to old to learn more...about the Bible

“Nobody ever outgrows Scripture; the Book widens and deepens with our years.” Charles Spurgeon

  Next Sunday our women’s ministry is launching something that’s been a burden on my heart for some time – a Sunday morning Women’s Bible study. We’re just trying this. We don’t know if it will work. Our goal is to have something more convenient for women, particularly those in the workplace or who homeschool. We do know that if we never try it, it’s certain that it will never work. This new study on the Sermon on the Mount will meet each Sunday at 9:30 am, beginning March 12th in the big classroom downstairs.
  Currently, we have one morning women’s Bible study and two evening ones. But if a woman is employed outside the home or homeschools, those can be very difficult times. Some 70% of women work outside the home. While many husbands today have stepped up and do more of the housework, the bulk of the work around the house still falls on the wife. For many reasons then a week day or night Bible study is tough to fit in.
  At Grace we are committed to group Bible study. Why? Why do we believe that studying the Bible as a group is so important?
  Jesus never intended for Christianity to be a spectator sport. Group Bible study is invaluable. Small group study is so effective that Jesus used it to train His own disciples. They, in turn, modeled it with having their own Bible studies. Churches first met in homes.
  Christianity was never meant to be individualistic. All of us know that Jesus died for me…somehow we miss He died for us, He died for the Church. God’s plan is for Christianity to be relational—first, in a relationship between ourselves and God. Then, horizontally, in relationships between ourselves and those around us. Group Bible studies move us from being spectators in a weekly church service to more active participants in a like-minded community committed to spiritual growth.
  As we dig into God’s Word together, the Holy Spirit can open our eyes as a group to God’s Truth that He has written there for us. It provides an opportunity for us to share different perspectives and insights. It’s an opportunity to stretch and broaden us because of the interaction. Studying God’s Word with others causes friction – and that’s a good thing. As iron sharpens iron, the Spirit begins to grind off our sinful rough edges. The Book of Proverbs says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). More information is also retained when there’s active engagement and involvement. Biblical literacy is enhanced.
  Application and accountability bring understanding that moves God’s Word from the mind to the heart. Transformation is encouraged (Romans 12:2) and our lives are changed by the work of the Spirit. It’s cumulative. When we grow in grace and our lives are changed, the lives of those around us are changed as well.
  But relationships don’t just happen. They must be intentional. They must be planned and scheduled. Be honest. How many times have you said to a friend, “We have to get together some time?” It’s a good thing that neither of you waits by the phone because it probably never happened. Intention is not the same thing as investment. The only thing that God said was NOT GOOD, prior to sin, was “it is not good for man to be alone.”
  We all need a cadre of friends to help weather the storms of life. But friends require an investment of time and a level of vulnerability and trust. As Hebrews 10:24-25 says we should, consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” Where better to accomplish this than in a group Bible study setting?
  It’s in a group Bible study where we can celebrate life’s victories, find  prayer support (we all need that), be encouraged in tough times, and keep ourselves accountable in our personal growth. Group Bible studies offer a structured time to focus on topics that address our needs as well as our interests. They offer an enlivening arena to help carry us from Sunday to Sunday and a safe place to work out the challenges we all face. The bottom line is God created us for each other and we need each other.
  We are the Body of Christ. We’re Jesus’ hands and feet on earth, the ones who are to continue His work. Group Bible study is not so we know more and fill our heads with information. It’s to be life-changing. It’s so we can serve each other and serve together. One of the best ways that we can get to know each other and become deeper friends is by serving together.
  Recently, my friend, Amy Zott, succumbed to pancreatic cancer. Jane and I became lifelong friends with Amy and Jeff Zott but it started as the four of us worked on a project together. Rotary assigned us to help a shut-in with some yardwork. Working together on this elderly man’s yard birthed a great friendship. So please never do a project at church alone. I’d encourage you to ask someone from church to help you with a personal project. Then, you could help them with one of their projects…and we will all grow together in His grace and love.
  And if this new Bible study doesn’t fit you, we have several other choices. Bill King and Rich Benson are teaching a great study on the Book of Colossians, The Born Supremacy. Ron Strelow and I are beginning a new study, “Where is God? He’s closer than you think.” If you’re not yet a member of Grace Church, attend the New Member’s class. It’s a way to find out what makes us tick at Grace, to understand our DNA. 
  So please, join a SML (Sunday Morning Live) class! God designed us to need Him and each other. What better place for that to happen than in a small Bible study group? Sign-up today! 

Can we help you spiritually? Can we help you know Jesus better? Please check out more resources on our church's web page, Gracechurchwi.org. Or, call us at 262.763.3021. If you'd like to know more about how Jesus can change your life, I'd love to mail you a copy of how Jesus changed my life in "My Story." E-mail me at Carson@gracechurchwi.org to request a free copy. Please include your mailing address.