Category Archives: Church

Cultivating Beauty

Creative-beauty is lost in much of modern culture. The world we live in seems not to appreciate creative-beauty. To be fair, many people appreciate that which is creative and new. New fashion trends, shiny gadgets, and varieties of new styles of décor flood our senses. The old world beauty is recycled to give us a new world trend. These trends speak to a desire that is latent in the soul of humanity. There is a deep need to create, to invent, to engage the senses with something more than what merely be spoken. The soul needs to create. The soul NEEDS to create… something… something beautiful.

God created mankind in His image.

Consider that for a moment.

The infinitely creative God created man in His own likeness. You and me…. We were made to be creative. Creative: You were created to create. You were made to make. Humanity was designed to design. You were made in the image of an infinitely creative God so that you could display His infinite creative power.

Further, God is beautiful. No… not just beautiful. He is beauty and He creates beauty. Consider the canvas of the sky, painted anew each dawn and dusk. Think about the beauty of the mountains or a beach… The majesty of the spaces on this earth that remain untouched by humanity. The creative-beauty of God’s hand shouts forth His glory in every corner of creation! We were created to love beauty. To engage the world with what is beautiful and to create beauty in all areas of life.

The trouble we face in our world is that beauty has been marred by a rejection of the one who created beauty. Humanity has rejected God and, in doing so, has rejected beauty. Enter the mission of Christianity: to bring grace to a world dead in sin. Part of extending grace into a world of sin is the restoration of creative-beauty.

From the beginning, God has commissioned His people to tend the garden of this world. Adam was commissioned to work the garden of Eden, Abraham was to bless the world around Him, The Hebrews were charged with keeping the law as a testimony to God’s character, the prophets were to stand as navigators in a world of chaos, and Christians are to work to engage in a dark world, making the surrounding culture beautiful by infusing it with the radical love and grace of Jesus Christ.IMG_3200

Christians ought to strive to make the world a better place by delighting in the character of God and cultivating beauty, thereby improving our surroundings with His love and grace. The life of a believer is markedly different from that of a non-believer. The life of a believer should lead us to live in such a way that the world around us is improved by our involvement. One simple way to do this is to strive to make your spaces more beautiful.

When these truths first began to lay hold of my own life, I was at a loss of where to start. It seemed logical to me to produce artwork. In my utilitarian and pragmatic manner, I designed logos for work (see above), drew sketches of family, displayed great artworks in my office. Then, through the influence of some incredible works by Edith Shaffer, Devi Titus, Makoto Fujimura, and a few others, my wife and I began to strive to cultivate beauty in our everyday spaces. It was difficult to tune our hearts to be creators of beautiful spaces. Difficult, but so much fun! We repainted walls, added plants in weird places, created artworks to display, put phrases on walls and Scriptures on pictures, and embraced a conscious effort to surround ourselves with beauty.IMG_3201

Now, my wife and I strive to cultivate beauty in our lives. On a surface level, that means literally making areas of our home more beautiful. Beauty refreshes the soul and engages the mind. It is our desire that, when someone comes into our home or sits on our porch, they would encounter beauty. We long for our home to be a place where people can be refreshed by grace and love in the context of a creative and beautiful environment. We’ve tried to infuse life into our surroundings and create beautiful spaces.

IMG_3215The results of our efforts are myriad. Our lives are truly peaceful and our home is a place of respite and grace where we strive to engage in life-giving grace to each other and the world around us. Our kids are learning to create beautiful spaces too. Our oldest loves to create centerpieces for small group. Here’s her latest:

IMG_3212Even our children have fun trying to create spaces for respite, like this one:IMG_3217

Cultivating beauty is awesome. Being creative is fun. Having beauty around you is fantastic.

So, I’d like to encourage you. Find ways to make your world more beautiful.IMG_3213 Enjoy and display God’s creative-beauty. In this post are just a few pictures of what my family has done in an attempt to cultivate beautiful spaces. Creating spaces for beauty to thrive does not completely fulfill the commission to cultivate beauty and grace in this world… but it is a start. Get to work.

Cultivating beauty by delighting in God’s character is one of the core values at Sovereign Grace Fellowship. We strive together to cultivate beauty in the world around us and improve our surroundings. If this resonates with you, come check our church out. We meet in Brazoria, Tx at the Brazoria Heritage Foundation, 10:30 am Sunday mornings. A map and more information can be found here: www.sgfbrazoria.org

Who’s in Charge?

If someone were to ask you, “who is in charge at your church?” What would be your answer? Is it the senior pastor? The Deacons? The elder board? Maybe the congregation? What would you say?

I remember the first time I was asked that question. I was a young seminary student and my professor asked the class, “Who is in charge at your church?” To be fair the question is a loaded one to begin with. First, take note that the question is not, “who makes decisions” or “who has the most influence.” It is who is “in charge.” “In charge” is kind of an ambiguous descriptor.  Second, take note that you have some ownership in this church. It’s not called “the church.” It is “your church.” So, who is in charge at your church? The burden is not to identify who should be in charge but who is in charge. This question is designed to make you answer quickly without much thought.

I remember thinking about staff structure, doodling something in my notebook, and anxiously looking around. I thought, “Well, we have a pastoral staff and a deacon body that kind of work together in submission to and under the direction of a congregation that has regular meetings?” Others fired off similar answers. The Bible-church guys spoke about elders. The SBC guys about their staffs. Others spoke about the power-broking members. And still others about deacons and senior pastors. Then the answer was given by a guy in the back.

I got the question wrong. I remember starting to tear up as I considered my answer. I was WAY off. I thought we could be in charge. In my simple answer, I recognized men as those in charge. The question threw me. The question referred to the church as mine, it asked who is in charge. The truth is: if the answer to the question is anything other than Jesus, then you don’t have a church… But, coming to some realizations can help you become one.

In order to answer the question of who is in charge well, we must recognize some things about God:

God is in Charge… of everything!

In Psalms 24 it says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it belongs to Him.” In Daniel 3:34-35 it says, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, His kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the hosts of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, “what have You done?” Further in John 15:5 Jesus says, “I am the vine you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” Not only is God in charge, but humanity is incapable without Him. Indeed, His church is incapable without the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. God is in charge, whether we like it or not. Practically, spiritually, and actually. God is in charge.

God Does What He Wants

He is not passive. He does what He pleases and He is constantly involved in what we do (c.f. Isa 45:5-7). Consider the testimony of the Old Testament. He radically saves His chosen from Egypt through signs and wonders. He leads them across the red sea. He heals them at the waters of Marah. He directs their every step into the promised-land. He confronts kings and destroys wicked people over sin. He directly intervenes on numerous occasions. And He identifies and calls a people to Himself. He is not passive. He has called His church, even now, to walk in holiness with Him and under His direction (1 Peter 1:15).

God Speaks Through His Word

He is not silent. God speaks clearly through the Bible. His words are recorded in the Scripture. The Lord values this truth so much that He insisted that His people cling to His Word (c.f. Deut. 8). They were to admonish each other with it and teach it to their children. When the people of God return from the exile, Ezra spends 13 years teaching the people the Scriptures. When Jesus begins His ministry, it is by opening the Word of God in Luke 4 and proclaiming the truth of Scripture. God is always speaking and He has given His people instructions. 2 Timothy 3:16 calls the Scripture, “God’s breath.” Think about that for a moment. God’s breath is what gave life to Adam and it is what animates our souls now! (The New Testament is included in the reference to Scripture. It self-identifies as such in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 and in 2 Peter 3:15).

God is Present

He is not distant. All through Scripture God is intimately involved with His people. He feels their pains, rejoices in their successes and interacts with their failings. He is not emotionally separated from us. One of the most profound illustrations of God’s intimate connection with those He loves is John 10:37. Jesus weeps with Mary because He knows the pain she feels and He feels it as well. Jesus is an infinitely personal God, who loves His people and is purposefully connected to them. In John 1 we are told that The Word (Jesus) came down and “dwelt” among us (John 1:14). Jesus purposefully made Himself nothing, became and man, took on our infirmities, lived a perfect life, and died in our stead (Philippians 2:5-11). Further, He promises He will never leave and that He will give a “Helper” to us who will dwell within those who believe (John 14:16; c.f. John 14). He is present within those who trust in Him.

This is Jesus… Your church belongs to Him… He is in charge.

An Open Letter to Worship Leaders: 3 Thoughts to consider.

I love worship music. I mean it. I love the emotion, the unique chord shapes, the sometimes nonsensical symbolism, the poetic nuance, and even the melodic dynamics. I love worship music… but… In the last decade, most mainstream worship music has deteriorated to symbolic emotional twaddle. Often our songs are loaded with vague, unexplained images of water or fire. Vague imagery and ambiguous pledges to follow without a context of direction or command make the songs feel as though the writer knows little to nothing about the Spirit of which they are writing. The music follows a pattern that climbs to an emotional climax and the melody is designed to illicit a climactic buzz at the chorus. While there are some great examples of powerful, meaningful worship music writers, the majority of what is being espoused as great worship is really nothing more than trite and unbiblical efforts to conjure up emotional responses.

So I have a simple request for worship music writers: Stop it. I mean it… You’re hurting my people. Your shallow attempts at poetry, masked by unique chord structures and strings are luring the people of Christ into a state of theological impotency. You make confusing allusions to biblical stories that don’t make sense, create difficult environments for pastors who want to disciple their people well, and fail to actually challenge believers to live what they believe. You put on a great show that brings glory to your talent and satisfies the need of a few people to cry and feel some emotional catharsis.

I know it is difficult to write music that is received by the church. It is difficult to write in such a way to connect AND teach. Your job is hard, and I get that. I have three things that I would like you to consider when writing worship music for the church.

Music is Portable Theology

First: music teaches, it is portable theology. Take it seriously when you write. Music is one of the most powerful means of teaching that the church can use. It engages people at a level that mere discourse cannot begin to equal. The melodies and rhythms drive deep into the minds of people and help to crystallize truth into the heart of the one who is singing along. The repetition helps to solidify the memory. The corporate singing aspect helps to validate and normalize the truths proclaimed in the songs. The Bible says teachers will be judged by a stricter standard in James 3:1. Further, Mathew 18:6/ Mark 9:42 warns teachers not to cause others to stumble, saying it would be better to drown. So, be careful and take your job seriously. Your job is not to engage the emotions of people, it is to teach the truth through music!

Poetry is best when it is understood.

Second: Poetry is best when it is understood. I love poetry. Seriously. I’m not a good poet, but I write it myself. In fact, I’ve got a book of poems I’m going to publish soon (editing it now). I love the works of Kahlil Gibran, William Cowper, and William Blake. Poetry moves the soul and challenges the mind. The best poetry makes deep and difficult truths understandable. The best poetry is revelatory, not hidden. Please note: I did not say that poetry is easy. Your poetry can be difficult to grasp and that is fine. But it must lead people to understanding, not confusion. So it is with worship music. Make your poetry beautifully complex, but also wonderfully expository. When poetry is vague and easily misinterpreted, it hides truth and confuses people. Reveal truth through your poetic efforts by being exact. Vague references to water or fire are confusing without any context. Utilize your poetic talents to wrap the truths in context and exposition. Strive to Explain and teach about God and His character through your music. The Scripture is full of poetry that is designed to do this. Copy God’s example of praise and worship.

Songs should call us to love Jesus.

Third: Write songs that challenge people to love Jesus more deeply. The most powerful songs in the church are songs that challenge people to love and obey Jesus. They are songs that engage people on a deep level while simultaneously praising Jesus’ character in a way that challenges. These songs need to be formed within an established context of truth that will fortify the congregation’s love for Jesus. It is no good to call upon the name of the Lord and pledge that you are going to follow Him without actually making any declarative statements about where He wants us to go or what He wants us to do. It is no good to say, “I love you” without establishing anything about Him worthy of love. You may understand where God wants you to go or what it is about Jesus that is worthy of love, but the average person singing music in the congregation may not. So make the statement! State truths about God that will challenge our hearts to love Him more. Be as specific as possible and dig deep into the character of God. I want to be clear, it is not necessary that you constantly display incredibly difficult and deep truth that boggles the mind. It is necessary that you constantly display truth. You can write simple songs. But those songs must espouse clear truth and they must lead to a deeper love of Christ.

I lead worship at Sovereign Grace Fellowship in Brazoria. I am also the teaching pastor. At our church, we strive to think deeply when we sing. We encourage our people to engage their entire being (heart and mind) when in corporate worship. If you want to be a part of a group of people trying to do this, albeit imperfectly at times, come check us out. http://www.sgfbrazoria.org.

7 Things The Worship Guy Should Say

worship-leading-copyRecently I’ve read some articles circulating about what not to say when you’re leading music at a church… They were extremely insightful and often bring back memories of worship services I’ve attended. It’s easy for me to think of what not to do when leading people in worship. A little more difficult was finding 7 things I think leaders should do. Here is my contribution: 7 things I’d like to see more often. Leave some comments about what you would like to see… It will help me be a better leader.

  1. Read the Bible out loud. The public reading of Scripture is actually commanded for corporate worship in the Bible. (1 Timothy 4:13) Funny how little we read it aloud together in services. Read Scripture over your people. Let the Word of God do the work. Even better if you read Scripture that is relevant to the song we are about to sing or the one we just sang.
  2. Tell me what the song is about. Lyrics often move quickly and make references to things that are easy to pass over. Sometimes writers are incredibly poetic and it is difficult to understand everything we are singing. Slow me down… don’t let me race past song lyrics… tell me about the references that stand out to you or the poetic inferences I may have missed. Let me know why you think this song has value and what it is trying to communicate.
  3. Tell me something God has taught you. The most powerful worship moments I have been involved in at worship services are when the leader is transparent about something God has taught them. When the leader explains an insight that the Lord has taught, I am encouraged that they are growing and inspired to seek the same growth. Even if the insight seems small and obvious to me, genuine insight cannot be faked and growth is inspiring. Let me see you growing through a relationship with God that transcends your time on a stage.
  4. Talk about your gratitude for something God has done. Gratitude will lead your congregation to deeper worship. As you express thanks to God for the things He has done or the character traits He has revealed, my gratitude is increased and so is my joy. After you share what you’re grateful for, pray and give thanks publicly for it.
  5. Don’t ask me casual questions, ask questions designed to make me think. “How is everyone?” and “You guys ready to worship?” Are lazy ways to begin a worship service. In fact, questions to a crowd are lazy. They’re not bad or sinful. They’re not ridiculous or inappropriate. They’re just lazy. If the only thing you can think to do is ask a question, then make it a profound question. Prepare ahead of time and lay out a good question. Perhaps a theological one that is going to be dealt with in the lyrics of the song, sermon, or Scripture reading. Or maybe a question that calls the audience to consider Christ’s character. Thought provoking questions can inspire the soul and prepare the heart for worship.
  6. Pray… for real though. Be sure you actually pray. There is nothing worse than a contrived, forced prayer. Everyone in the room recognizes it, no one appreciates it. It’s silly. Don’t do it. Pray for real, even if it is just short.
  7. Nothing… don’t say anything. Let the silence sit for a moment on purpose. Model breathing for me. We are a culture that cannot stand silence. We surround ourselves with noise all the time and we drown out any difficult thoughts that may be troubling or exhausting. We need some silence. Silence to process what we are feeling. Silence to engage the words we are singing. Silence… we need silence to breath and consider the majesty of God. Give me some silence once and a while. Do it on purpose, not just because you have nothing to say, but so that what you don’t say carries tremendous weight.

So I am genuinely interested: what do you think? Is there anything I missed? Anything you particularly don’t like that I thought was valuable? Let me know…. I’m genuinely curious, since I’m an all in one’er and need to know what I’m doing well and what I’m doing poorly. Thanks in advance.

“We need to talk”- 7 things to remember when you hear this.

weneedtotalk“Hey, you got a minute? We need to talk.” Those are some of the most anxiety inducing words on the planet. Often they could be translated to mean, “Something you said/did bothers me and now I’m going to metaphorically kick you in the face.” The incident described below is all too common and has happened to me in various degrees throughout my life.  It happens in churches, businesses, casual friendships, and families. Perhaps you will relate.

The pit of my stomach sank. An odd description considering that stomachs don’t actually float. My mouth was dry and my eyes began to fill with tears. A record of wrongs was being laid out before me by someone I was never aware I had offended. The litany was tremendous, and the questions that fired through my head were jumbled and confused. I had no idea I had wronged anyone and was definitely unaware of the list of apparently insensitive, almost criminal acts I was guilty of in the eyes of my accuser. I could say nothing; I only stood in stunned silence. Adding to my confusion was the realization that this person had never spoken to me until now, while I had believed us to have a transparent relationship.

In the moment, my first thoughts were about how sorry I was to have wronged someone. My second thoughts offered a little less clarity, as I was not afforded the time to process the accusations in an appropriate manner and was therefore left more confused. My final reaction in the conversation was silent acquiescence. I was a beaten man at a loss for words. (A strange feeling for me.)

In the weeks that followed, I interrogated myself, attempting to find my guilt, sometimes rooting out my own errors, and on other points finding no fault. I questioned myself over and over, sought wise counsel, and tried to move past the awkward work of making peace. I moved from my beaten acquiescence, to furious anger, to indifference, then to a vague and somewhat incomplete understanding, and finally to a sort of resting in the peace of Christ. In this introspective time period, I realized that this person had held onto my offenses, rather than addressing them at or around the time they were committed. They sat on my errors, keeping a running tab. While claiming “love,” they had kept a “record of wrongs.” (1 Cor. 13:5) While they now claimed to be dealing with grievances, they had given too much time to their anger and frustrations… letting “the sun go down.” (Eph. 4:26) These actions are wrong and unfitting for a Christian. And yet, this is often the way people handle their grievances with each other. This has been the way I have handled things in the past. (A brief word of encouragement: Overlook their failure to handle these things well!  People are people… forgive. Teach people to handle things the right way by your own example.)

This ambush caused great grief and mourning. The friendship was irreparably damaged. I would never again feel the same joy and comfort around this person. Though forgiveness was granted, the damage done to my soul has me in a nervous fit every time I am aware of offense, whether purposeful or accidental. (Yes, I did just admit to offending some people on purpose.) Due to various encounters like the one described above, I struggle with anxiety whenever someone says, “hey, you got a minute? We need to talk.” But there are ways to move past that and to do the work of love.

There are some things I try to remember when I find myself in this type of confrontation.

  1. God is working. That famous verse in Romans 8:28 that Christians use to remind themselves that God is always good, also serves to remind us that God is always working. This verse, taken in the context of a persecuted minority (Christians in Rome), serves less as a “God will make this better” and more of a reminder that God is faithfully working, even in our suffering. With this in mind, we can be reminded of that other truth that Christians often miss-apply: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13) In context, meaning: “I can endure/ find peace in all circumstances….” No matter how great the anxiety or suffering, the Lord is working. In this uncomfortable conversation… He is working.
  2. Striving is hard. Hebrews 12:14- “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” I often find it interesting that God seems fascinated with the word “strive” or “wrestle.” So great is His affection for the one who wrestles, that He names His peculiar people “Israel,” or a direct translation: “Wrestles/Strives with God.” He loves it when we strive to know Him, and even more when we strive to be more like Him.   So, we find that life in a healthy community is hard and is full of striving. When you are confronted, your goal must be to strive for peace and holiness.
  3. Political maneuvering is always a bad idea.  Honesty and transparency are always lauded in Scripture, while political maneuvering gets people killed. (c.f. Acts 5, 1 Sam. 15, 2 Sam. 9-12, Num. 16) God honors honesty and protects transparent vulnerability. When the prophets stand bare before enemies, God defends them. When the apostles speak truth, God protects them. When martyrs of the faith stand transparent before their executioners, God redeems their lives. So it must be for all Christians. “To live is Christ, to die is gain…” (Phil 1:21) We must die to self and trust that the Lord is working, even through the hands of wicked men. God honors those who are faithful to walk in His ways… He will uphold those who are honest and transparent. (see Joseph’s story in Genesis 37-50)
  4. “Peace must be risked.” –Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Similar to point number 2, this is a reminder that if we want peace, we must be willing to risk ourselves to find it. Peace that costs you nothing, is not peace. True lasting peace costs everything and can only be found in complete surrender to the Sovereign Lord over all things. Surrender your anxiety to Him and “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:7)
  5. Love will win…. This one is simple. Love wins. Accusations, legal defense, intellectual arguments, manipulation, business tactics, and politics all fail in the face of Love. Love will and has overcome all things. Everything else will all pass away, but love will cover a multitude of sins, it will never fail, and it will always claim victory over the darkness. (c.f. the whole Bible.)
  6. Grant grace when you are accused. Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Read carefully… “so far as it depends on you.” It is not up to the other person in the discussion to strive to this end. It is for you to do, regardless of their actions.
  7. Hold on to humility. Ask “how can I grown from this?” Avoid defending yourself. Avoid accusing the other person. “Turn the other cheek.” Remember your standard is not good people, it is Christ. Philippians 2:1-11 clarifies for us how we are to conduct ourselves. Christ was obedient, humble, and murdered for it. So… there’s your example and standard. Get after it.

Love is hard to do well. Read 1 Cor. 13 and try to be that description. I hope these seven points and my own story will help to encourage you next time you are accused or confronted. Are there truths you try to remember and remind yourself about in these circumstances? Share them in the comments.

I am a pastor at a church that is striving to live out love in honest and transparent ways. If you’d like more information, please take the time to visit our website: www.sgfbrazoria.org

The First Sermon I Remember

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What makes a sermon memorable? Is it the oration? Is it clever hooks? Is it constant repetition? I’ve listened to thousands of sermons and delivered hundreds and I remember very few. So here is a short reflection on the first sermon I can remember.

I was young… somewhere between the age of 7 and 9. My pastor, Paul Calmes [CAL-mEEs], was preaching about Samson. He always smelled like candy. There was a great boxing match on TV that everyone was excited about and I thought Samson would make a pretty good boxer. I drew a picture of a boxer. Then I drew a picture of Samson.  They were not very good pictures. I remember my dad taking furious notes on his yellow pad. Then nudging me and motioning for me to pay attention. I showed him my picture. He smiled and nudged me again motioning for me to pay attention.

Pastor Paul was explaining that Samson was a pitiful man who was fiercely strong but horribly sinful. He explained that God uses sinful people and redeems the sinful and broken of this world for His work in the Kingdom. Samson’s sinfulness did not outweigh God’s goodness. That’s what I remember. Samson’s sinfulness did not outweigh God’s goodness. Pastor Paul was not a great orator. He did not have particularly stirring sermons. I can’t remember a power point, drama, or gimmick ever used, though I’m sure he occasionally employed some sort of preacher’s aid. I don’t remember every sermon, but I remember the one about Samson. I remember because of that particular truth: Samson’s sinfulness did not outweigh God’s goodness. Our sinfulness does not outweigh God’s goodness.

This truth was lived out in Pastor Paul. That’s why I remember the sermon. He showed us that wickedness could always be forgiven. Christ’s love changes everything. Pastor Paul and my dad used to talk about this often. We were constantly engaged with conversation on the reality that the sinfulness of man cannot outweigh the love of Christ. I remember that sermon because it was Jesus. It was Jesus played out in the words of a man who loved him. If you long for sermons to make an impact, they must be lived… not simply spoken.

When we preach, it must be with the power of Jesus lived out in our life. Your sermons have no power if they are not lived out and expressed outside the pulpit. Sermons about evangelism and outreach by a man who fails to do both mean nothing and will have no effect. However, a sermon that is supported by a life of obedience is powerful, transformative, and life changing. A sermon that is illustrated by the life and passion of the preacher can leave a lasting impact on the hearers.

My father-in-law says, “I don’t remember a single sermon I’ve heard, but I remember the passion and life of the men who taught me.” This is what will change your congregation. They must see your life and passions living out in the sermon. So here are three things I am trying to do better as a pastor.

  1. Tell my people when I fail at something. Throughout my limited time as a teacher of the Bible (roughly once a week for 19 years), I have learned that people will thrive and engage more when they see my faults. Don’t wear a cape and stop trying to be super-pastor. No one likes super-pastor. Don’t be that guy. Instead be authentic and honest.
  2. Live what I preach! If I preach on transparancy in comunity, I must be ready to be transparent. If I preach about reaching out to our neighbors, I need to reach out to my neighbors. My people will see this and begin to live it out themselves.
  3. Live with more passion than I speak. What good is it if I speak with passion but live a lifestyle void of passion? My life must be surrendered to the Gospel I preach.

In this way I will follow the example set by Paul Calmes.

 

Honesty in the Pulpit

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This post is a part of an on-going series.  You can read the rest here: Pulpit Series

I can remember the moment like it was yesterday. The young man looked at me with an odd tilt of the head and asked a simple question that burned me to my soul… “Was that story true?” I had just spoken for an hour on a passage in James and had used a fabricated anecdote to illustrate the passage. I don’t even remember what it was now, as that was over 11 years ago, but I remember it was an emotional story that I sold well. I answered, “No, I was trying to illustrate the point.” I still remember his face. It wasn’t condemning or disappointed… it was apathetic. In that moment I had lost any hope of zeal for the Scripture in that young man. An hour of investigating Scripture was now lost. My well preformed fabrication had dislodged everything I had so carefully tried to teach. I learned my lesson that day and I’ve never forgotten it: you cannot disciple people if you lie to them. I say disciple because you can still teach them… you can still preach a good sermon… you can still be an engaging speaker… you may even be able to draw a crowd. But, you cannot walk with them in the Lord. When you lie to them, you forfeit the greatest privilege of pastoral ministry: discipleship.

To be clear, it is not problematic to tell a story to illustrate a point. It is, however, wrong and even sinful to pretend that a story is true when it is not. Ephesians 4:25 states: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” As a Christian your nature has been changed. You have been redeemed by Christ and the Holy Spirit has taken your lying self-exalting nature and replaced it with a new nature that is being conformed to the image of its Creator. (Col. 3:9-10) So when you persist in lies you prove one of two things: either you are in serious disobedience to the Lord, or you don’t know Him.

Some may say I’m being dramatic… you can certainly overcome a falsehood and sometimes those minor infractions can even be ignored. Maybe… unless you believe what the Word of God says about lying. Take these examples from Proverbs:

  1. Proverbs 10:18: The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool.
  2. Proverbs 12:19 Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.
  3. Proverbs 12:22 Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.
  4. Proverbs 21:6 The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death.
  5. Proverbs 26:28 A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin.

The Bible is clear, lying is deadly.

When we lie from the pulpit, we disrespect God’s word and show that we do not trust Him to speak through it. Do you really think God needs you to make Him look better!? Do you think that lying enhances His revelation in any way? If God wanted you to share whatever falsehood you felt so valuable, He would have made it true. I have heard many preachers tell stories, espouse so called facts, and breach confidences from the pulpit. Some of them are held in high esteem, but none of them disciple people well. In their attempt to enumerate a point or to shepherd a congregant, they have inadvertently created a snare of death in their ministry. They have failed to trust that God put them in the place where they are for a reason and have decided that they must know better. Let’s be honest… this is reason enough not to lie at all. It should terrify us all the more when we lie in God’s name from His pulpit. God is terrifyingly holy… it is foolish to test His holiness.

When we lie from the pulpit, we disrespect our hearers and loose the opportunity to connect with them. I remember a man’s daughter who heard a pastor tell a lie about her own father. The lie was convincing, it was emotive, and it was well delivered. It made the pastor and the church look great… but it killed any chance that church had of reaching and discipling that man or his family. The instant that preacher made the decision to exaggerate a story in his own favor, he made the decision to cease discipleship with that family.

When we lie from the pulpit, we disrespect ourselves and we damage our ability to hear from the Living God. It is obvious from Scripture that God does not like lies. You’ve watched in the Old Testament as Saul lost God’s favor when he lied about the Amalekite king. You can see how David causes the downfall of Israel because he attempts to cover over sin and deceive the people. Ananias and Sapphira are struck dead because of a lie that would be rather harmless in many of our eyes. In the same way, you will lose the power of God and invite His wrath upon yourself… or at the least, you will lose His presence. Good luck trying to disciple His people without Him.

God is The God of Truth. Lying in His name or when instructing His sheep is therefore an affront to His perfect nature. Tell the truth, no matter how simple and un-impressive it may be. Don’t lie. Don’t do it. No matter how tempting it may be to embellish a story or illustrate a point. Don’t do it.