They didn’t sing my favorite song.

As a part of the youth conference that I’m at this week, I got to hear Tenth Avenue North. Not only did they put on a great concert, they led us in worship in such a way that made me cry. It was beautiful. But I was disappointed in one aspect of their concert.

They didn’t sing my favorite song.

I’ve heard Tenth Avenue North in concert at least twice before, and both times they sang their song, “You Don’t Owe Me.” It’s a great song about how God doesn’t owe us anything.

But they didn’t sing it this time.

In fact, they didn’t sing a single song that I knew. At least not any that I knew well. I think I knew one line of one of the choruses they sang.

And yet I still was able to worship and enjoyed the time of worship. Why? Because worship isn’t about me. It’s not about my favorite songs, my favorite genre, or even whether they sing any songs I even know at all.

You see, God doesn’t owe us anything. When we get entitled about our worship preferences, we make worship more about us than about God.

But this only scratches the surface of the conversation that springs from this topic. Because this applies not only to what we sing, but to every aspect of our churches and every aspect of our lives. God doesn’t owe us anything.

And yet, God gives us everything good we could ever need and desire in Jesus. It’s true. Hebrews 13:21. James 1:17. Matthew 7:11. 2 Peter 1:3. Look ’em up. Believe it, and worship.

Teens are not the future of the church.

I’m spending a few days this week at a youth conference. I brought three teenagers with me who are eager to worship and grow in their faith. As I write this post, they are standing and listening to Lacrae, a well-known Christian rapper. And they’re with a couple thousand more teenagers who are shouting and praising Jesus. It’s awesome.

I just came back to my seat a little bit ago. I was in a room full of teens who were giving their lives to Christ. I got to pray with a couple teens who were rededicating their lives to Jesus. It was awesome.

It reminded me once again that we have and lot of hope for the future of the church. God is still in the business of calling out a people for Himself, including the next generation. And that’s awesome.

It sure seems like a lot of teens are taking their faith seriously. They’re taking worship seriously. And I bet if we give them the opportunity, they’ll take service seriously.

The preacher tonight said something I’ve heard before, known for awhile, and firmly believe. He said that youth are not the church of tomorrow. They’re the church of today.

My Christmas Sermon Will be Average

I read an article last night encouraging pastors to make sure their Christmas service is done with excellence because there will likely be several people in attendance who don’t regularly gather with the church. Among other things, the article encouraged me to preach an extra special good sermon on Christmas day. The rationale was basically that we want to leave a great impression on our guests so that they’ll want to come back again.

I don’t necessarily disagree with the motive, but I think the article generally gave bad advice.

I often need to fight (in my own heart) the tendency toward professionalism in the church. Yes, we want to do all things with excellence, but if that means telling someone they can’t sing a special because they don’t have a good voice, we’re defining excellence wrong. Excellence in the church is not about doing things in such a way that we can all nod in approval and say, “Yes, good song” or “Yes, good sermon.” Excellence is worshiping with the mindset that we have an audience of One: God Himself.

If that’s our goal in worship, then the day of the year and/or the presence of guests makes little difference. We should always seek to do everything with excellence. That should be the norm in church. That should be our “average.”

Whenever I prepare a sermon, I study the Scripture text, wrestle with it, and once I feel like I’m beginning to adequately understand it, I prepare the message that I feel God wants me to preach from that particular text at that particular time. And I don’t stop preparing until I feel like it’s perfect (or at least as perfect as I can possibly comprehend and state it. I often have to go to bed Saturday night and pray, “God, I’ve done all I can possibly do; please speak through this broken vessel.”)

My sermon preparation leaves no room for attempting to preach a more excellent sermon. I’m not saying I can’t improve in my preaching. I definitely can. I’m not saying I shouldn’t give it all I’ve got on Christmas morning. Of course I should. But I give it all I’ve got every Sunday. That’s my normal. That’s my average. Because that’s what my Audience deserves.

So if you come to Grace Baptist Church to worship with us this Christmas morning, know that everything said and done is how we normally worship God week after week. It’s not flashy. It’s not professional. We’re a real family worshiping a real God, who always deserves our very best.

Review: Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing in Light of God’s Everything

Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing in Light of God’s Everything
Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing in Light of God’s Everything by Anonymous
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I loved the concept of this book. I think it’s a great message, not only for our society today, but for myself. Even those who don’t want recognition often seem to want to be rewarded in some way in this life. This book encourages us to make much of Christ, because He is worthy of all praise.

I feel like the book could have been less than half as long, though. And it’s not even close to being a long book! While it started off great, somewhere in the middle of the book, I lost interest because of its repetitive nature and sometimes unnecessary stories. I still finished it, because it was good enough that I was curious if the author would add any other support from Scripture, but I felt like this is one of those books where the title and subtitle pretty much says it all.

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I don’t know what I’m doing.

I don’t really know how to be a good pastor. Or how to be a leader. Or a servant.

I wish I did, but I don’t. When I talk to or see the ministries of other pastors, they seem to know what they’re doing. They’re clear about the vision that God gave them for their church, and even though they often say the journey has been hard, they always make it look so easy. Because even throughout the difficult periods of ministry, they had clarity about their purpose, which drove them toward being steadfast in faith and practice.

But when I even begin to think I have even the slightest clue about what I’m doing, something happens that reminds me that I really have no idea what I’m doing. Ministry is a mystery to me.

Actually, all of life is kind of a mystery to me.

Wishing that I knew what I was doing, sometimes I foolishly spurt out some ideas and goals that I wish I were able to implement with some kind of wisdom and passion, but I know inside that I’m not able to do it. I fail, over and over and over again.

But maybe it’s supposed to be this way. Maybe constantly realizing that I’m not able to do this keeps me crying out to the only One who is able to fulfill His purpose in me. And maybe it reminds me over and over again that the church isn’t about me, but about Jesus, and Jesus is the One who builds His church.

And maybe that’s true not just in ministry, but in all of life. Our sin and failure highlights God’s goodness that much more, because God shows His goodness even toward us who have failed over and over and over again.

For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:32-36)

Therefore, our joy and hope should not be in ourselves, our abilities, or our futures, but in God, who is the hero of the story.

So even though it’s often hard to fight discouragement in life and ministry, I know that God does have a purpose for me, and it doesn’t depend at all on my competence or wisdom. It depends on God. Because it’s His work, His will, His wisdom, and we simply get to be a part of it.