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Friday, July 15, 2011

Don't Faint

Lately everywhere I turn, I see two verses. The first is Is. 40:31, "But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint." The second is Galatians 6:9, "And let us not be weary in well-doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not."

As a church planter, I am clinging tightly to both of these promises. When we launched, I had heard from other planters and read in books that the second and third years of church planting were especially challenging. The church grows to a point that everyone may not be closely connected with every other person, many people may realize that their vision of what the church might become does not match what the church actually is, and still others become impatient on waiting for the church to fully bloom and leave for greener pastures. I knew these things in the back of my mind, but seeing them come to fruition has been painful.

This summer we have lost many families. Some have felt God leading them to be a part of other ministries, some have left for greener pastures, some have been blessed with jobs in other states, and some have simply become relaxed about attending. As a church planter, your congregation is like family. Losing members feels a little like getting divorced. Over and over and over again. Don't get me wrong, I am excited for those who are pursuing God's call in their lives and who are experiencing God in other places of worship and who have been blessed with fresh starts. It is only in the darkest moments of the night that I indulge the pain and sorrow of lost relationships for just a little while.

When I am tempted to be discouraged, I review these 2 verses again. There are many times in church planting that it feels like running. We are moving forward quickly, nothing is standing in our way, and it is exciting. In these moments I remember that God promises that I can run and not grow weary. He will provide the energy that is necessary for the ministry. Then there are times when it feels that moving forward is like walking in molasses. Everywhere that I turn I encounter strife and difficulty. In those moments I remember that God has promised that I will have the ability to keep walking, even when I feel like fainting. Then I remember that God has promised that if I will not faint, and will continue in doing the good to which he has called me, that I will see blessings.

In these months of transition, I am reviewing the awesome things that have occurred at The Crossroads in the last 3 years. I can't count how many lives and marriages have been made new as a result of the hope found through Christ at The Crossroads. We have seen over 30 people accept Christ as their savior and follow up with baptism. We have been a part of starting other church plants. We are watching an incredible youth group bloom. We are blessed to enjoy incredible worship. We have an awesome pastor that speaks truth every week. We are meeting in an air-conditioned, large, clean facility. One that was unavailable for religious organizations just 2 years ago!

When I remember back to the first time a small group of people met in my living room to begin praying for Anna, and for the friends we were going to make in Anna, I am awed by what God has done. I know from visiting with many in the congregation in the last week, that many are struggling with hopelessness and discouragement. It seems that many are overwhelmed with finances, marriage problems, job issues, addiction, parenting struggles, and general apathy. I don't know exactly what is going on, and why so many are experiencing what seems to be extraordinary discouragement, but I will say that we can not lose faith. Look back and see God's hand. He has been at work for the last 3 years at The Crossroads. He will continue to be at work in our future. Let's keep walking and not grow faint. Let's run and not grow weary. Let's keeping doing what is right in our relationships with each other, even when it's not easy. Let's believe in our future and live in obedience to God's call.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

All Yours - A Confession

Disclaimer: I was awake in the middle of the night, exhausted from a long week at camp, but unable to sleep. I have been earnestly praying for The Crossroads, specifically our season of transition with our worship pastor leaving and several families being transferred out of state or moving to other cities. While I was mid prayer, God smacked me in the face with some sin. I prayed through the sin, accepted forgiveness and thought we were done. As I stared at the ceiling watching the shadows dance in the moonlight, God gently nudged me with a reminder that sometimes sin needs to be confessed publicly. So this is my garbled, late night rambling confession.

I don't remember a time that I was not in love with music. One of my earliest memories is as a tiny child standing on my toy box with my cowboy boots and a cowboy hat singing original compositions at the top of my voice. I daydreamed of growing up to be Dolly Parton or Loretta Lynn. My parents took me to every gospel music show in town, and my mom and I were steady customers at the local Saturday night country music show. When I was about 7, my parents recognized within me some musical talent and allowed me to take piano lessons. I fell completely and totally in love. I worked hard to be excellent, practicing several hours a day as a teen.

I loved to perform on stage. I was in countless recitals and competitions. Somewhere I probably still have an old box of trophies. Every trophy was a symbol of acceptance, feeding my teen appetite for approval. I often had the opportunity to play in church, even as a kid. I thrived on the attention I received after playing well. My soul thrilled when I played an impossibly complicated offertory piece and got applauded when I finished. I was completely and totally consumed with using music for my own glory.

When I accepted Christ at 18, I came empty handed. I realized I had done many good deeds to receive the praise of others. I had nothing at all that had not been done out of selfish motivation. When I looked at my life, I picked out my favorite thing and offered it as a sacrifice. I distinctly remember praying soon after I became a believer, "God, my fingers are yours. I commit to play anytime and anywhere that you will give me an opportunity to be used for your glory." Compared to the great music talents in the world, I gave God loaves and fishes. However, over the years I have done my best to be faithful to my word and God has blessed me in ways I never imagined. On that day that I prayed, I never would have predicted how much God would use my tiny gift to teach me about Himself. I did not know the intimate connection that would happen as I worshiped alone at the piano, or the amazingly beautiful privilege that it would be to have a small part in leading others into God's presence.

Tonight as I was praying, God smacked me in the face with the sin of idolatry. There I was, laying in bed innocently praying for our church that is in a time of transition. As I prayed for the needs of our church, my prayer shifted inward. I asked God to show me anything in my heart that might be keeping me from releasing completely in worship or that might be hindering others around me from worshiping. This is not an easy prayer for me, because I like approval - not necessarily truth.

God showed me that in recent months I have allowed the fact that I am a part of a cool band playing cool songs in a cool church plant to supersede the notion of how privileged I am to worship the God of the universe! I have unknowingly been consumed with how awesome our band is rather than being humbly surrendered to God's plan. This morning we played "Here I am to Worship." This song was a mile marker event in my musical history. Years and years ago, God used this song to miraculously teach me how to play contemporary worship music. Tonight as I was sharing the story with some good friends, I said something along the lines of, "Every time I play that song it is a reminder that everything that I am able to do musically is a straight up gift from God." As I was praying that sentence replayed over and over in my head. I was confronted with the harsh reality that I have been trying to play in my own strength.

So I simply asked for God's forgiveness that I had somehow unknowingly shifted the spotlight off of Him and onto me. I spent some time recommitting that what small talent I have is totally and completely God's. It is for his glory, and his alone. I want to find pleasure in using it to point to God, not to make people think that I am cool, or that my band is cool, or that The Crossroad is cool. Instead I want my music to simply make people notice how cool God is.