We Don’t Need More (Judges 7)

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In today’s chapter, Gideon defeats the Midianite army. Gideon amasses a large army of 32,000 men, from the areas of Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Nephtali. God calls Gideon to send away several of the men so that God’s glory and power can come through the victory over the Midianites. By the time it was over, Gideon was left with 300 members for his army. Then, in the middle of the night, Gideon surrounded the Midianite camp and they all blew their horns. The Midianites were thrown into a frenzy and began attacking each other so they could escape. Gideon and his men became victorious and chased down the rest of their enemy’s army.

The thing that astonished me about this chapter was God’s call to make Gideon’s army smaller. He had originally brought together 32,000 men to join in his fight against the Midianites. God told him to send some home, and Gideon lost 2/3 of his entire military (he was left with 10,000). Yet, God still wanted him to sacrifice more. So God sent away all but 300 of Gideon’s army. God left Gideon with less than 1% of his original army! Still, Gideon was able to overcome the Midianite army. Why? It’s because he trusted God to go before them in battle and over come the enemy.

What does this mean for us today? The world often tells us that we need more, more, more! I know I feel this in music ministry. Sometimes I feel, “If only I can get more musicians” or “If only we had a better sound system” or “If only we had more money to increase production value” and so on. But God doesn’t want us to increase. He often causes us to decrease, so that His glory can be shown even better. Jesus told his disciples, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:2, NASB). God likes to make us smaller, so that when we overcome great obstacles, the only possible reason we succeed is Him. If you are in a time of “pruning”, I ask you to remain in Him. He isn’t trying to punish you. He is trying to help you be able to glorify Him even better.

 

Also in this series

 

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 56

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We Need God to Succeed (Judges 3)

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In today’s chapter we meet 3 of Israel’s judges. The first was Othniel who brought Israel out from the oppression by King Cushan-rishathaim of Aram-naharaim (talk about a hard name!). Othniel brought up an army and fought off the king, and brough Israel peace for 40 years. The next judge was Ehud, who fought against King Eglon of Moab. Eglon also had help from the Amalekites and Ammonites. Ehud fashioned a dagger and hid it on his body to assassinate Eglon. After he succeeded, he raised an army of his fellow Benjamites and fought off their enemies while they were still confused from losing their king. Ehud brought peace to Israel for 80 years. The third judge mentioned is Shamgar. Not much is said about him, other than he killed lots of Philistines (600!).

God chose to test His people for two things; He wanted them to know how to fight (3:1) and to see if they would keep His commands (3:4). The first one is the one that surprised me. Why does God want His people to know how to fight? To find this answer I turned to one of my commentaries. The author made the point that God wanted His people to know how to wage war successfully like Joshua. This means that the point was for them to recognize that they needed God in order to succeed. The reason why the conquest of the Promised Land was successful was because Joshua trusted in God to go ahead of them and win the battle. This new generation of people in the Book of Judges has never known this. I’m sure there were many of them that thought the army under Joshua was simply very skilled. The truth is they weren’t. The conquest was the first time this group of people saw battle. But they knew to trust in God for success.

This is still something that we struggle with today. We hear and learn that success is made by how much work we put into something. While this is still true, ultimately it is God that gives us our success. I have seen this play out in the worship ministry that I lead. I can practice as much as I want. I can put together a great set of songs. I can do all the work, but if I am not relying on God all of it can easily fall apart. God is the one we should be counting on. We should be going to Him before we make a decision, not pray to Him afterwards for blessing. He is our guide through life, not simply the giver of blessings. He knows what is right for us, and is there for us as our support. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” (Romans 8:31b, NLT). God will succeed. We have to trust that He will make the things within His Will successful.

Give your plans to God. Any difficulty you have making a decision for your life or house, should ultimately be God’s to make. Only He knows what He wants for us. We have to be willing to submit to Him. Without Him we will fail. We need God to succeed.

Also in this series

 

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 42-43

For Whose Glory Are We? (1 Thessalonians 2)

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In today’s reading, Paul is speaking about the work that he, Timothy, and Silas had done in Thessalonica when they were there. But there were a couple verses that grabbed me to bring to focus today. “Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money! As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else.” (2:5-6, NLT).

These verses speak a simple enough message for us to just read and understand. But it goes a bit deeper than that. Paul is saying that at no point in their ministry in Thessalonica, did he tell the people what they wanted to hear. He didn’t try to gloss over the ugly parts and highlight the nice bits. They didn’t just come to them and ask for money. Pretend to be their friends as long as they listened to they listened to Paul’s teachings.

This sounds a lot like the human condition to me. I am of the mind that a consequence of our sinful nature is that we want people to like us, and we will only like others so long as there is something to be gained from that relationship. This is not a godly way to be. He calls us for more than that. Paul says “Never once did we try to win you with flattery”. As Christians, it is hard for us to understand this message. We know that our call to follow Christ means that we must love others, but what does it mean to show that love. The world tells us that if we love someone, we can never be against them or disagree with what they believe. A great quote from Rick Warren that speaks on this issue is this: “Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.” Paul is writing in this verse that he did not care what the people thought about his message, so long as he was giving the Word of God.

I feel that these issues cause leadership of the church problems. I know I have said myself, “But what if we lose people?” But I’ve realized where this question comes from. It is founded when we view the church as an organization, not the bride of Jesus! Who cares if we lose people? Yes, the money is necessary to keep our buildings running, staff salaries, ministries funded, and anything else that your church needs it for. But the Church is not an organization. It is people spreading the love of and teaching about Christ. Just as Paul came to Thessalonica not worried about money, I think we, as Christians, need to not worry about what we can get out of relationships. Instead, let’s worry about what we put into them. Trust me, no matter the relationship, there is someone wanting to “get something out of it”. But what are you contributing? Are you giving your all to help the Gospel, or are you just interested in your own salvation?

The last verse I feel is the real meat of this section, “As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else.” I think of some famous worship leaders and pastors that get some great praise from their fellow humans (myself included), but do you know what they have in common? They aren’t doing for themselves. They are out there doing their ministry in order to further the name of Jesus! They didn’t set out saying, “I want the world to know my name”. Rather it was, “I want the world to know Your name.” If we want further proof that this is the way it is supposed to be, just look at the Great Commission. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19, NASB). It’s not baptizing them in the name of whomever brought them to Christ, it is in His name. All of this, everything we do, has nothing to do with us once we surrender our lives to God. We are meaningless. I am reminded of a book I read a few months ago that’s title sounds confusing, but means exactly what I am getting at here: I Am Not But I Know I AM. The pastor is telling us that if God is I AM, then we must be I am not. It’s about God, not me. We are here to further His Kingdom, not our own.

Please reread 1 Thessalonians 2 with me today. Let Paul’s words sink in and show us that it is not about giving people a message they will like, or us trying to get something from them. Instead it is about glorifying God’s name above all other names! We aren’t here for man’s glory, we are here for His!

The Letter to Thyatira

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Today’s letter was written to the Church at Thyatira. It seems that this church had similar issues to Pergamum. They were doing great things for Christ, but they tolerated pagan/evil beliefs to enter the church. The difference between the two is that Thyatira seems to allow a leader within the church to teach people these evil beliefs while in Pergamum it was the “regular attender”. Jesus calls this person Jezebel (which is a reference an Israelite queen that influenced Israel to worship other gods, and persecuted the prophets of God) and says of her, “she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray…” (Revelation 2:20, NASB).

This is certainly a message to those of us in leadership in the Church, to be careful what we teach. Whatever we say or do must come from the Bible and be Christ-centered. The instant that this isn’t true is when we become like Jezebel and lead people astray. God isn’t happy about that. He wants His people to follow Him and not some made up god or some made up truth. Church leadership has stress over this because they have to make sure they have a message that speaks to everyone, and cannot be misunderstood.

But what if I’m not a leader? This message still applies to you. Where ever I am, and I have a Bible sitting next to me (or I’m reading it), people always seem to ask questions about it. I’m sure many of you have had a similar experience. We even hear people that talk about Christians, but their understanding of who we are is completely wrong; so you stand up for us and answer their questions. Or maybe you don’t respond, but wish someone would correct them. In these moments, we all have the opportunity to be a leader and bring people to Christ. No we may not see a conversion right there, but at least someone may start to understand. That’s why we have to study and understand the Bible. That way we can use it everyday to help others along.

My prayer for you today is that God opens your eyes to something new in Scripture. I also hope that you pray for your church leadership: pastors, worship leaders, lay leaders, other elders, deacons, committee groups, etc. They all need that prayer for encouragement. We must all be vigilant to be sure that we don’t lead people astray, and be unlike the church in Thyatira.

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From the Archive (7/9/13): Qualifies the Called

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So after this weeks study on Jonah, I thought I would give a posting that reflected the very first post I ever wrote here on the Heart Man. Then as I got thinking I decided to just repost that post. So here you go friends, the very first post written on this blog!

“Well friends! I’m not starting this journey on becoming “The Heart Man”.

I figured in order to prepare for this blog I would start reading the story of the man I take this blog’s name from, King David. So I started reading 1 Samuel, and wouldn’t you know it, I came across something to discuss before I even got to David.

You see at the start of the book Israel is without a king. It’s not because their previous king had died or anything, they just simply didn’t have one. Instead they were lead by God through His prophets. Eventually the people of Israel decided they needed a king, “… just like all the other nations have.” (1 Samuel 8:5 NLT) So after consulting God, Samuel anoints for them a king, a man named Saul from the tribe of Benjamin. At first Saul is astonished that God would choose him, “But I’m only from the tribe of Benjamin, the smallest tribe in Israel, and my family is the least important of all the families of that tribe! Why are you talking like this to me?” (9:21 NLT)

God calls His leaders despite what we think our qualifications are. I once heard it put this way, “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.” When leaders are called, we often first say “No, not me!” Moses certainly did at the burning bush. So looking at my own call to be the leader that I am, I realize that I reacted similarly. But through the grace of God I have become more “qualified” in my leadership roles.

My encouragement to any readers out there is that if you feel called, pray and practice! When I became a worship leader, I definitely had no business singing, playing guitar or piano. But I have gotten better with work, and am now more confident in fulfilling my call. So I encourage you to keep going, it all gets betters (and the butterflies in your stomach go away a little more each time).”

Helping Our Leaders (3 John)

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In today’s reading, again John speaks about good and evil men, and talks about something new. The last couple days we’ve seen John speak about love; whether that’s God’s love for us, our love for God, or our love for each other. Today John speaks about caring for those doing ministry work.

October is Clergy Appreciation Month, so if you haven’t taken some time to thank your clergy members for all they do, I would suggest you do that. They’d would certainly enjoy hearing that. However, there would be some people out there that would ask, “What does the pastor do aside from giving sermons on Sunday?” There is a ton of stuff they do! The have to make visits to the people in their congregations that in the hospital or bound to their homes. They have to handle the administration of the church (oversee committees, deal with the building, supervise staff, etc.). They have to maintain their personal relationship with God. The probably have to attend larger church meetings (especially if your church has a hierarchy in it). They have to help out with your church ministries. And on top of that, and many other things, they must put together a sermon (and possibly a worship service) every week! They life of the clergy seems rather exhausting to me, and I definitely appreciate all the work my pastor does.

But imagine if they had to do all the things they do, and still worry about where they will live? John calls the church to a place where we should support our clergy. “So we ourselves should support them so that we can be their partners as they teach the truth.” (3 John 8 NLT). Paul makes several claims in his writings that it is the church’s duty to support the clergy (1 Corinthians 9, 1 Timothy 5).  So we should make sure that our clergy members all well taken care of, so their focus can be on doing God’s work, not their livelihood.

But this also can be taken to other leaders within our churches. We do have other leaders that we should support, because they are doing God’s work. I’m not trying to say that they must be paid. What I’m trying to say is that we should be helping their ministries as well. As a worship leader, I am a leader in my church. Yes, I am paid a small amount for my work, but the support I am most interested in is people being a part of the music ministry I lead. That support helps me to be more effective to reaching different types of people.

In my church, when you become a member, we ask if you are willing to support the church and it’s ministries. Everyone involved needs that support in order to stay functioning. It doesn’t have to be money, it can be your presence and involvement. So get involved, and help these men and women that need partners and support in order to do God’s work.

When It Gets Hard

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Well friends, the reason there was no post yesterday is simply that yesterday got away from me. Have you ever had a day where you woke up, got moving, and the next thing you know you are going to bed after a very busy day? That was my day yesterday.

Anyway, have you ever been hurt by someone or something, and that wasn’t the intention? You’re just hurt, and you know you shouldn’t be, but you are. There isn’t a thing that can be done, it’s the way it is at the moment and you’re not sure where this is going. Well, unfortunately, that’s how I’m feeling today.

But a thought occurred to me today. Sometimes, doing the work of God leads us through hard places. It could be hard because God is taking us out of our comfort zones, or it could be difficult because everyone you are supposed to work with wants to go in another direction.

So today, I turned to one of my favorite books in the Bible, Ephesians. In Chapter 3, Paul gives a prayer for spiritual growth for the Ephesian church. One verse struck me today, “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more that we might ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20 NLT).

Do we understand this, my friends? We may have our wishes and opinions on what to do, but it is through God that it will be successful. If He doesn’t want it to succeed, He will stop it. But, if He chooses to support us, we will do more and with more success than we ever would have dreamed.

This isn’t a plea to trust in God because He makes you more successful than ever. What this is is a revelation to the Will of God. We cannot comprehend it. It is perfect. It is right. Everything works to accomplish it (the good and the bad). And it can hurt. But God is still there through the hurt. David writes, “Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but he who trusts in the Lord, lovingkindness shall surround him.” (Psalm 32:10).

So if you come to a point where doing God’s work hurts, just know that He is still there with you. Hold on to Him, remain in prayer, and continue to praise Him. That’s the best thing we can do when life gets us down. I pray that this is helpful to someone else. But honestly I’m writing this more for me today.

From the Archive (8/14/13): The Secret Place

 

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There is an idea out there that I have heard called “The Secret Place”. Essentially this idea comes down to, “how do you spend time with God?” It means to intentionally take time out of your day, and spend it intimately with God, alone.

The New Testament is full of times where Jesus goes off, by himself, and spends the time in prayer. It’s almost always used as a way for him to regain or acquire strength for the coming events. There are two times that really stick out to me. The first is just after he feeds the multitude. After performing the miracle with bread and fish, and preaching to the multitude of people, Jesus finally sent them all away. Then he sent the disciples across the Sea of Galilee ahead of him. Jesus the went up a mountain, by himself, in order to spend time in prayer (Matthew 14:23). The second time is in the Garden of Gethsemane. The night before Jesus was arrested he took three of the disciples with him, told them to stay put, then moved away from them to be alone (Luke 22:41).

I hadn’t really ever given much thought to my alone time with God until quite recently. I always thought that I was doing pretty well if I made sure to read my Bible everyday. But I wasn’t getting the refreshment that Jesus received. I wasn’t sure what I was doing wrong. Then God stirred in my heart the answer, I have intentionally make time for God. Our relationship with God must be on purpose, otherwise it isn’t a real relationship. It’s the same thing we do with our relationships on earth; our friends and family must have time made for them otherwise they get neglected. The same is true for God. Back in March, my wife and I went to the Burning Lights tour with Chris Tomlin and Kari Jobe. I felt refreshed after that, so I felt that was what I needed to do. Find some time that I can go to worship that isn’t me leading it. But quickly I learned that wasn’t the answer.

This past Saturday night I decided that I had to start being intentional. So I set my alarm for 5 am, I had to lead two services in the morning, so I had to wake up early anyway. So I woke up, made some coffee and sat down with my Bible. My entire day went differently! Worship was great! I felt good, because I connected with God first thing. I am now on the fourth day of this “experiment” and it’s quickly becoming something I yearn for. This morning, I went on my back porch with my coffee and Bible, the brought out my guitar and started worshiping. That completed it for me.

So I encourage you to find that Secret Place, and intentionally spend time with God. This is where we can learn about the heart of God, and His will for our lives. It refreshes us and fills us with living water. My experience has been great, and I hope you will at least try it for a few days like I have. And have fun with it, God is your friend, so be His in return!

I’m putting a song by Kutless up here. It’s called Take Me In. I think it really fits with this post so listen and enjoy!

 

Don’t Be Afraid

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Today I was thinking about what holds churches, and especially leadership, from achieving their true potential. As I think about the ministries I’ve seen start and fail, and the one’s that I’ve seen limp along, there is one thing that seems to stand out to me. The leadership seems to be afraid to try something new. I’m not sure if it’s actually a fear of failure, or we are unwilling to try new things because of success in the past. We get so tangled up in doing things the way they’ve always been done, that we don’t realize that stagnant spirit may be what’s killing the ministry after all.

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul writes, “… fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:6-7 NLT). Do you understand that friends? God has not given us the ability of fear or the need to be timid. He wants us to over come those fears and be people of courage. “Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong.” (1 Corinthians 16:13 NLT).

I feel that there is a lot of fear in the Christian world. Fear of being ridiculed, fear of negative reactions, fear of being condemned by society for not doing the “right” thing. I’m not saying that these fears are invalid. I have these same struggles myself. However, God wants us to overcome that fear. He doesn’t want the Church to become crippled by fear or offense. So I pray that we are all able to overcome our fears; that we are able to stand on our soap-boxes and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ for all to hear. If we are able to do this, maybe our ministries won’t fall apart because of a fear of change. Instead God will help us change in order to reach more people for His cause.

Let It All Fall Apart

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As a young worship leader, one of the hardest things for me to see is my music ministry fall apart. We have been going through a time where things weren’t working out for the best, and I actually had to let someone go today. It’s frustrating because you have a vision, but God seems to take it in another direction. Something you either didn’t intend or it seems worse. The important thing is that we submit to the work God is doing, especially if that work is ministry.

Jesus tells us in John’s gospel, “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.” (John 15:1-2 NLT). God works within our lives and ministries in order to make them better. He is never satisfied with what we can produce and wants it to be better.

It may seem like everything is falling apart. There are many times I’ve said to my wife “My praise team is falling apart!” But the truth is that things aren’t falling apart. God is simply removing the things that don’t work, so that the things that do can be improved. Our lives are meant to bear fruit for Him. That could be simply living a life for Him, or as difficult as seeking out people to bring to Him. Either way, God has given us our lives and work. We should strive to do them better in His name. So when things look like they are going wrong, I say that God is working to make things right again. So let it all fall apart. When it comes back together, it will be better than ever.