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Taming The Tongue (James Part 3)

As we’ve seen previously, James is obviously a letter filled with conviction, and chapter three is no different. Here, James uses the first twelve verses to explain that although the tongue is a small part of the body, it “makes great boasts” and is “a world of evil among the parts of the body” (3:5-6).

James compares the tongue to a small rudder steering a large ship and a small spark which can set a large forest on fire. He says that while all types of creatures have been tamed by man, “no man can tame the tongue” (3:8).

His discourse comes to a pinnacle when he says, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be” (3:9-10).

It’s a double standard. We praise God and then turn around and curse someone who has been “made in God’s likeness,” or made in the image of God. James says that “this should not be.”

This is a very convicting passage to me. It’s all too easy to make myself feel better about myself by putting another down, or joining in another’s conversation of putting someone else down.

I’m praying for the Holy Spirit to convict me about “taming my tongue” – for Him to prompt me when I’m about to enter into this double standard of praising and cursing.

Let’s pray for mouths that have a single standard – praising God and praising men made in His image.

This truly will change our communities and beyond if lived out.

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Foolish Favoritism (James Part 2)

James speaks out against favoritism in chapter two. First, he describes a situation in which the church is gathering and a rich man with fancy clothing is given a special seat compared to a poor man in shabby clothing who is told to sit on the floor.

James proceeds in telling his hearers that to “love your neighbor as yourself” is to do right, but to “show favoritism” is to “sin” (2:8-9).

How often do we do this in subtle ways? I had to stop and ask for forgiveness of certain motives today as I was reading this.

It’s possible to find ourselves putting more emphasis on a relationship based on what it can do for our social status, or return texts and voicemails (or not) in order of priority based on social standing, or to make simple judgments about someone by appearance. Let this not be the case!

Don Burdick says that, “The social snobbery of the world is short-sighted and superficial.” Since this life is not forever, we shouldn’t put so much emphasis on temporal things.

Rather, we need to love. To love ones neighbor as oneself is to treat them in such a way that overlooks how one is dressed or how much money one has.

Both the rich and the poor are in need of mercy and we may miss opportunities to share the good news with others if our eyes are blinded by favoritism.

It’s somewhat foolish when you think about it – showing favor to those who “have more” or “look better” in a temporal life?

Let’s pray for the love of Jesus to give us eyes to see and love all impartially.

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The Purpose of Trials (James Part 1)

My wife and I are teaching a class on the book of James for the next six weeks and I will be doing a series of posts on what I’m learning from this amazing New Testament letter.

James cuts right to the chase in chapter one after his greeting: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

We know that the church he’s writing to has been scattered due to persecution. Obviously, with persecution comes trials – note that James says “whenever” you face trials, not “if” you face trials.

The temptation in a time of trial is to run away from it, but James says the opposite. He says to run towards it, considering it “joy.” He proceeds to explain to them the purpose of trials and the outcome they can have on their faith. Consider the illustration below:

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A trial can bring about good things for the Christian. If we consider it joy and let it happen, a trial will lead to the testing of our faith, which will lead to perseverance, which in turn will make us mature and complete, lacking nothing.

This passage convicted me this week as I was reading and praying through it. I felt as though I’ve been “cursing” some of the trials I’ve been in recently – wishing they’d leave me alone.

Yet, God, in His grace revealed to me that these trials are actually His blessings and grace in disguise.

They are testing my faith which are causing me to persevere which is maturing me in Christ. Hallelujah! I’m so grateful for His revealing of this to me this week. I’ve truly experienced joy in Him as I’ve surrendered to the trials I’m facing knowing that He is up to a greater good in me through them.

What trials are you currently facing? How are you responding to them?

God has a purpose for every trial you face. He wants to use them to make us more like Him – to become mature and complete –  through trials, Jesus surely is “achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17).

Top-Down Imitation

My two-year-old son imitates me like crazy. Any silly little sound I make, he will repeat (as you see in this video). But he also imitates when we say “Amen” after praying for our food, or if I raise my voice, he raises his.

Seeing this imitation in him has really made me look into my actions and attitudes as I know I have a deep influence on him.

In 1 Corinthians 11:1, the apostle Paul says, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.”

Imitation flows from the top down. If I’m not imitating Christ, then who am I encouraging those in my sphere of influence to imitate?

I need to look more like Jesus than the world if I desire for my son and others in my sphere of influence to look like Jesus.

And this then begs the question, who am I imitating?

Lately, I’ve been imitating our new senior pastor because I see Him imitating Jesus. Recently, we were praying before a service we were leading. He had hardly slept the night before because he was caring for his sick kids. Yet, he was filled with joy in the Lord because he knew Jesus could give him the strength and whatever else he didn’t have that day. Where he was weak, Jesus was strong.

That is a man worth imitating because He is imitating Christ.

Who are we imitating and are they imitating Jesus?

Who is imitating us and do we look more like Jesus or the world?

Imitation flows from the top down – let’s make sure Jesus is at the top.

Behind the Album (Part 3: A Culmination of Life Thus Far)

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I sat in a living room with our entire worship team earlier this month for our “listening party.” We had gathered to listen to the album through for the first time as a group. I realized that night that this project is sort of a culmination of my life thus far – a product of growing up and walking daily with Christ. Below are five reflections on this realization:

1. This album began years ago in a small United Methodist Church.

I was blessed to grow up in a Christian home with amazing parents who took me to church every Sunday and encouraged church involvement. It was in this place that I developed a hunger for Jesus, fell in love with music (particularly the hymns we sang often), saw many examples of what walking with Christ for years looked like, and learned how to be apart of a church community. For me, this album began way back in those years as I experienced Christ and His body and the role church music plays in that.

2. This project came out of a relationship with Jesus based on faith and obedience.

I’m a sinner (shocking, I know – just ask my wife and mother!). I was attracted to Jesus at a young age, and throughout my life have had crisis moments where I was left to choose – Jesus, or this other thing? Countless times, I’ve felt Jesus drawing me to choose Him, and as I’ve done that, He has made me more and more like Him. This album is a result of a relationship with Him; I felt Him nudging me to do this project with this group of people at this specific time. During the recording process, my family’s home was broken into and I was faced with a choice of shrinking back and running, or being obedient to stay. Specific lines from this album, such as Jesus being “firm through the fiercest drought and storm” from In Christ Alone, and “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet” from This is My Father’s World, were words I was clinging to in obedience and trust as we were recording this record.

3. It took years of playing music to create this album. 

I’ve been playing music for over twenty years now, and could not have led a team of over twenty musicians through a project like this without that experience. I am proud of how the record sounds – not in an arrogant way, but because I’m grateful to God for the gift of music and ability to express myself in worship through it. I’m also grateful that God has put me around such talented musicians that collaborated on this project for His glory.

4. The leadership skills I had ten years ago would not have been sufficient for this project.

I went straight into vocational ministry right out of college at age 22. I made some stupid, idiotic mistakes. Yet, God (and our leadership!) was patient with me, and I began maturing in how to lead staff and volunteer teams. This project required a team of around 40 staff and volunteers. So many besides me contributed to it. God in His grace has allowed me to grow up in the way I lead; this project is evidence of God maturing me as a leader in His church (although my team will be the first to tell you that it was not without its ups and downs : )

5. A lifetime pursuit of truth was key to the heart of this project.

Walking with Christ, being in the church, and going through college and graduate school for theology has put in me a desire to sing truth. Our songs need to express God’s truth and not just our own ideas. This lifelong journey led me to selecting the hymns on this project. I’m convicted that what we sing ought to edify and teach our church so that we’ll be “mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).

In conclusion, as we approached the album release during the third phase of the project, I realized that there were thousands of building blocks leading up to it getting into the hands of others. We need to think about what we can accomplish in ten years, not three months. Our culture wants everything so fast, but sometimes it takes a lifetime of doing something (in my case walking with Christ, writing and playing music, and leading in the church) to produce fruit that will last.

And let’s remember that we can only produce fruit that will last if we remain in Him – apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5).

Remaining is not always easy, but it’s always the right choice.

Behind the Album (Part 2: Weakness and Warfare)

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While we were recording the hymns album throughout March and April, there was a little bit of tension in my heart; I really wanted to just lead worship, but I couldn’t turn off the part of my brain that was telling me it was all being captured and I needed to sound really good.

Due to some chronic sinus issues I’ve developed over the past couple years, I became extremely self conscious of how my voice was sounding during recording. Yet God kept reminding me that even if I didn’t sound perfect, He could still use what we were doing. In 2 Corinthians 12:9 (which became my heart’s cry in this season), Jesus responds to Paul’s request for a “thorn” in his flesh to be removed: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul continues, saying, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

It became my prayer in this season that Jesus would actually breathe His Spirit, His sufficient grace, onto this recording through my weakness – that Christ’s power would rest on me in my weakness. I truly believe Jesus allowed this struggle to occur, in part so that I would not become conceited and rely on my talent throughout this project. Rather, these health issues forced me to come back to Jesus and say, “I am weak. Without you I have nothing. May your power rest on me in this weakness and may You be glorified through it.”

The second thing I was learning about during the recording phase was that spiritual warfare is real. While Ephesians 6:12 makes it clear that there is a spiritual battle taking place, sometimes I still only attribute difficulties to simply living in a fallen world. However, during the six weeks we were recording, it became clear to me that many of our worship leaders and musicians were facing spiritual attack. Why would the enemy want a CD filled with hymns of Biblical truth to be released into this world?

We began meditating on 1 Peter 5:8-11. It acknowledges that: “the enemy is on the prowl,” that we should “resist him, standing firm in the faith,” and that “the God of all grace…will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (emphasis added).

What a beautiful promise for our team during this time! God Himself will restore us and make us strong, firm, and steadfast.

We continued to persevere through the process, standing firm in Him rather than our own strength, and He has restored us.

In what ways is God calling you to let your weakness be where His power rests?

In what ways do you need to acknowledge that the enemy is on the prowl and Jesus is calling you to stand firm and resist him?

Behind the Album (Part 1: Planning and People-Pleasing)

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On September 14th, our church is releasing a live hymns album called This is Our Story: Hymns of Our Faith. It’s been in the works for over a year, and between now and the release I’d like to share a series of posts on what God has been teaching me throughout the process of this project.

There were three basic phases to the project:

1) Planning and Preparation (July 2013 – January 2014)

2) Recording (March – April 2014)

3) Post-Production (April – September 2014)

This post will cover the first phase and two subsequent posts will cover the others.

Last summer I felt that God made it very clear to me to do this project with our entire team – about twenty people. Even though I heard this word from Him in July, I didn’t meet with my team to cast the vision for the project until November. Mostly, this was because I was worried about what they would think. Would they buy into the vision? Could we really pull this off? Will people be upset if they are on it less than others?

There was no way for me to please everyone. Yet, I had to move forward because I knew this would be good for our team, our congregation, and the Refuge of Hope (where all the profits from the album are going – click here for more info).

The primary thing I learned in the planning phase was that I’m a people-pleaser, and that I wasn’t going to be able to stay in that mode if this project was ever going to be finished. Someone was going to have to make some decisions along the way. Galatians 1:10 says, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

While I tried my best to be conscious of others throughout the entire project, God made it clear from the get-go that I needed to do this project for Him first, and others second.

In hindsight, I’m so grateful for Him teaching me through this project; I really feel like I moved closer to being a servant of Christ above a servant of people.

In the end, my team and congregation were completely behind the project from the beginning. They were cooperative and selfless and immediately after casting the vision for it, I felt less alone and a sense that we could do this as a body. It’s as if God was saying, “See? Trust me and walk in faith.”

In what areas of your life is God asking you to trust Him, regardless of what others may think?