This is the fifth and (probably) final “God Leads” devotional I’m posting, based on my experiences as a young Christian serving in the military.
GOD LEADS US THROUGH LIFE’S DETOURS
The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps. (Proverbs 16:9, NASB)
A wallet in the middle of the street caught my eye.
I came to Bellevue, Nebraska for a two-week training course. Bored on my off-time, I looked for a nearby mall. I didn’t find any good stores, but I found the wallet two blocks from my hotel.
“Maybe there’s money in it,” I thought. “No, that’s wrong. I can return it to the person and witness to them.”
I opened the wallet to search for identification. The top card said, “Pastor, Assemblies of God,” the denomination of my church back home.
“So much for witnessing,” I chuckled.
I reached Pastor Petey. He took me out to dinner to thank me. He also picked me up for church on Sunday since I didn’t have a car. The service was great.
Nine years later, I came back to Nebraska for another course I did not want to attend. Unsure if I’d be there six weeks or six months, I remembered the church from when I found the pastor’s wallet, and visited again. I got connected with the young adult ministry and played keys for their services. From my first visit, I saw their genuine interest and love for me. I returned home six weeks later.
Two years passed. During yet another undesired training course, I returned to the church. The senior pastor remembered most of my life story and family details, which blew my mind. The young adult service plugged me right back in, a home away from home.
When my family finally moved to Nebraska two years ago, we talked about churches.
“Don’t worry, honey,” I said. “I know a place we can go.”
Application: God uses unexpected, unwanted turns of life to take us to the best destinations.
Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ-the Message-have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives-words, actions, whatever-be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. (Colossians 3:15-17 MSG)
Fellowship is one of the key components of worship – both the things we do to express God’s worth, and the times of singing praise as a congregation.
Individual times of worship and devotion are important, of course. We spend time with God in a relationship. Like any relationship, there should be some intimacy, some “you and me” time. We see Jesus as our example in this: if He took time away from other people to get alone with God, then certainly we might benefit from doing the same.
But Paul points out that our worship of God is something we do together with others. Paul did not write just to individuals, like Timothy or Titus. He wrote to churches. He wrote to congregations. He wrote to groups of people and said “This is how we all do this together.”
This is part of why I love a good Bible study group. When I say “a good group” I mean a place where a bunch of different people can discuss the Scriptures and how they apply to our lives. Good groups have a strong facilitator who can allow discussion and multiple viewpoints without getting off track or derailed by a vocal opinion.
Some groups are hand-fed and led by a teacher who lectures. I’ve been in groups where the only time anyone other than the leader is allowed to speak is to read a particular verse and not one word more. I suppose that ensures that only the accepted teaching gets brought to light, but I didn’t come for a sermon. To each their own; that’s not my cup of tea.
I scream, you scream, we all scream for theology! Wait, what?
But when a Bible study is facilitated well, you get to experience a Baskin-Robbins of theology. It’s all good ice cream, but you get a variety of flavors, some you like and some that aren’t your favorite. You test it, hold to what’s good, ignore the bad (or maybe discuss it if someone is saying something opposed to Scripture). Everyone has something to offer, and you hear perspectives you’d never expect – some of which might speak profoundly to your heart as you look at a Scripture in a new way.
And you get to build relationships with others.
The relationship we have with God is great, and we affirm that every time we sing a song about how “You are all I need.” But that’s not entirely true, nor is it biblical. We read in 2nd Peter the following statement about “all we need.”
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:3 NIV)
The relationship we have with others in light of our common faith is essential. God did not make us loner Christians. He relates to us individually, but He also relates to us and calls us to relate to each other in a church Body. We all have something to offer, some part to play in the story God is telling in our local church. (See 1 Cor 12 about parts of the Body fitted together.)
Worship alone, yes. Worship together, definitely. See God and others from a different set of eyes. Discover a new perspective. Hear something new from God, through the voice of your brother or sister in Christ. Sing a song that ministers to your heart, and let it touch the need of another. Share the comfort God has given you in past times of distress with someone who is hurting right now. We were made for God, and we were made for one another.
So get a little pink-spoon taste of what all the Body has to offer. They’re free. You’ll find way more than 31 flavors of awesome God.
Spotlight on, set list prepped, intro video fades, and drummer clicks us into the opening riffs of the popular song to get the crowd clapping.
No, really. Trust us. (Maybe it’s the warm-up to worship? Will you buy that?)
It’s a Wednesday Worshippost, at least.
Okay, I hear cool worship blogs have all the videos and teh YouTubes. I guess I should try that.
Right, so… what’s the problem there? (Kidding.)
That’s how we often come across. There’s a nugget of truth in any joke. The video addresses a lot of elements of “contemporvant” church services, but I’m of course thinking of the portrayal of worship.
What about contemporary church worship makes us come across as fake? What makes it seem like we’re just revving up emotions and holding a concert instead of seeking a genuine encounter with God?
For one, I believe it’s the thought that there’s a Worship Leader, and then there’s Everyone Else.
We sometimes put these men and women up in front of the crowd, and the attention of the entire room goes onto their words, expressions, and gestures. “A thousand people are watching you intently. No pressure. Be godly.”
At our current church in Bellevue, we’re instructed and reminded that all of the singers, musicians, and technicians who get up on stage are actually worship leaders. And when we use that term, I get the impression we’re talking about “lead worshipers” instead.
It seems like semantics, but Matt Redman makes a really good point in his book, “The Unquenchable Worshipper.” The concept is, when you talk about a worship leader or leaders, you are emphasizing the person in the front, the individual who is guiding and directing all of us in our singing and praising God. When you change the order of the words to talk about lead worshipers, you emphasize that we have some folks up front on the stage who are worshiping God, and we all want to go along with them where they’re headed.
Redman points out that the Holy Spirit is the real Worship Leader, if anyone is. It’s our job to tune in and figure out where God is going, and then point the way as we pursue Him. We’re not leading anything. We’re following. We’re just up front for everyone else to see, so that they can follow too.
Our Worship Pastor emphasizes this well. He reminds us, “You are all worship leaders. When the congregation looks at you on stage, they’re watching to see how you’re worshiping. But they keep watching when you step off the stage, when you pray before the service, when you mingle with people after the service. You’re showing them how to worship God at all times, not just when you stand up on stage.”
Like I said in last week’s Wednesday Worship post, “worship” is whatever we do to express God’s worth.
It doesn’t end when you set down the mic or put up your guitar. It doesn’t stop when your worship team steps off the stage or the lyrics fade off the screen. It’s not over when the person in front finishes praying and invites the congregation to be seated.
If you’re on a “worship team,” understand that you are a lead worshiper. You are a visible reminder of God’s presence. Some of your fellow church members are probably paying close attention to what you do and how you live.
And if you’re not on a worship team, if you’re “only” a church member, please understand that your worship is just as vital and necessary. All of us are on the worship team in God’s eyes. All of us are created and called to express His worth in the world.
I had an interesting discussion on Facebook yesterday.
A page about “defending marriage” posted a link to a story saying the UN was working to legalize prostitution. The comment on the link being shared was:
“We need to take back control in the world…”
I assumed the “we” is Christians, given the audience of the page. This made me wonder.
When did we have control?
Were we supposed to have control?
How did religion having control go for the world?
What did Jesus suggest (err… command) that we do in the world?
Did He not know that one day we might have a chance at establishing a Christian nation? Did the possibility slip His mind?
Does He come across as someone who is not very careful with words?
So maybe He said what He meant and vice versa.
Religions holding political power have a history of working out poorly. That’s part of why the first colonists came to America.
There was every opportunity for the Founding Fathers to make America out to be an absolute Christian nation, but they chose not to.
There was every opportunity for Jesus to command His followers to establish a kingdom, but He said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” He could very well have explained theocracy and suggested it as a plan, but we don’t have any indication of that. Governance clearly wasn’t on his personal agenda.
The Bible – particularly the New Testament – portrays the world as fallen, corrupt, and under the spiritual authority of the Devil. For example, Jesus was tempted by the Devil, who offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if He would simply bow down and worship the Devil. Jesus didn’t dispute whether Satan had such power to make such an offer. Likewise, Paul wrote about the spiritual darkness in the world, saying it did not belong to God but to our adversary.
We’re living in occupied territory. We’re living behind enemy lines.
Jesus never told us to set up a nation here. We’re not establishing a base or negotiating a treaty. To be clear, our “enemy” is not those people who disagree. We’re not fighting against flesh and blood… or at least that’s what the Bible tells us. Fighting flesh and blood means collateral damage.
Maybe some of us forgot that.
I expressed my concerns about what the post implied. I was told something like, “Our representative government isn’t representing all of us, its people. We have to fight in the political arena to ensure that the representative government actually represents us.”
That sword cuts both ways. That argument can be made by either side.
It basically boils down to “majority rules,” since there are two groups with opposed goals that both seek representation. Majority rules is a system that hasn’t always done well for us either. In the Sixties, the local, vocal majority would have voted to keep segregation going in some parts. That doesn’t make it acceptable or right.
Likewise, from the biblical perspective, we were never told to follow the majority. In fact, Jesus said that’s the road that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:14).
We were meant to be the minority. We were meant to be different.
But we look just like everyone else.
The divorce rate in the church matches that of the world. Western Christianity looks just as self-centered and greedy as the culture it is supposedly working to save. Instead of going and making disciples, we’re going and making new recruits for our political parties. And our young people are leaving the church in droves.
In March of 1998 I found a wallet on a street in Bellevue, Nebraska.
That moment led by twists and turns to this Sunday morning’s service, where I have the opportunity to play for the Bellevue Christian Center worship team. I am nervous, but my fears are overwhelmed by excitement at the prospect of being a part of this.
I was at Offutt AFB for a short training TDY from my home station, and we were staying in a beat up little hotel room on Fort Crook Road. I had never been here before, and this is long before the days of Google maps. So I tried my navigational skills by using the map in the telephone book to figure out where the nearest shopping center might be. And I started walking up the road to see if I could find it.
Not far into my stroll, I was crossing a street and found a wallet laying in the middle of the road.
Full disclosure, my first thought was maybe there’s money in it!
Thankfully, that thought was quickly replaced with maybe I can return it–with any money still inside–to be a witness of the love of Christ to whoever lost their wallet.
So I gingerly opened the wallet to see whose it might be.
The first form of identification I found was a card certifying ordination as a pastor in the Assemblies of God.
So much for witnessing. I think this guy’s good to go.
This was special for me. I grew up in an AoG church, and I had been across the States or overseas, far away from home, for a few years now.
I took the wallet and continued on my way. When I got back to the hotel, I sought out a pay phone (remember those? We all didn’t have cell phones back then) and called Pastor Petey Tellez to let him know I’d found his wallet.
Pastor Tellez was of course very grateful. He came out to meet me and treated me to a breakfast. We chatted for a bit, and I told him my thought process when I found the wallet. We had a good laugh.
He told me, “Hey, do you have a car or anything? Do you need a ride to church? Or anywhere else?”
And so that Sunday, during the short one-and-a-half weeks we were at Offutt, I got to attend the church where Pastor Tellez served as an associate pastor of some position or other that I honestly can’t remember.
I walked into Bellevue Christian Center and was surprised by the size right off the bat. I’d never been in a church that could fit more than about 200 people.
The service was great. The speaker was dynamic, but he didn’t just present a pretty sermon that barely touched on Scripture. He also performed an object lesson that sticks out in my mind to this day… climbing a tall ladder probably 15 feet into the air.
(The point, if I recall correctly, was that no one just goes to the peaks and the best of circumstances in life or in personal holiness without taking one step after another to climb there. You have to keep working at it, and suddenly you find yourself looking from a much different perspective.)
What I loved most was the worship team. I was just starting to play piano for my local church, and I was just starting to write songs for worship. I paid close attention to how they were ministering, and I was impressed. It wasn’t a show about them or a performance to command attention.
They were pointing a huge sanctuary full of people to God, and they were getting out of the way.
I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to be up there… not because I’m so important or special, but because what they were doing resonates with my heart.
But we were leaving in a few days.
I came back on another TDY to Offutt in 2005, and attended one service. And then I was gone again.
In 2008, I was sent here for yet another training course, and I knew I’d be here for anywhere from six weeks to six months. I showed up at BCC and hung out after the service to ask if they had a need for a pianist, since I had not much else to do while I was there.
The leaders pointed me in the direction of Pastor Herbie Thompson, who was running the young adult ministry Pergo Deus. I showed up to the Friday night Pergo meeting and was surprised at the genuine welcome and sincere care I felt from the young adults there.
You know the way greetings sometimes go in church. There’s the head-nodding conversation that says “I really don’t care what you’re saying, but I want to welcome you for your first time here… so I’ll keep listening and muttering an ‘mm-hmm’ now and then.”
That’s not what I experienced.
Pergo was the real deal.
I know this, because the same people were happy to see me the next week. And they remembered my name. And they remembered the concerns I’d mentioned.
Pastor Gary Hoyt, the lead pastor at BCC, is the same way.
I chatted with him briefly one Sunday after the service in 2008. Then I left, because (Surprise!) I only had to stay for the six week TDY, not six months.
I came back for training in 2009 about a year and a half later. Pastor Gary remembered my face, my home station, my family, our previous conversation, and several aspects of my job in the military. (He did need confirmation of my name, because he didn’t want to call me “Brother” or “Hey you” or something random. All in all, I was impressed.)
Once again, I started playing for Pergo as often as they’d have me, and I attended Sunday mornings. Just like Pastor Gary’s Sunday messages, Pastor Herbie’s sermons on Friday night were clear, powerful, and heartfelt.
But the worship team on Sundays didn’t seem to need a piano player, so I never thought to ask.
Turns out, when you have a large church, you usually have a lot of musicians… enough to allow people to rotate on the schedule and not play every single week. That’s something I’ve always wanted to see happen where I’ve led worship in the past, but it was never an option.
I realized later I probably should have asked about playing long ago.
So when we finally moved to Offutt AFB as a family early in 2012, I did not want to miss the opportunity. Once we knew that BCC was the right place not just for me but for my whole family–and thankfully that did not take long!–Jami and I approached the Worship Pastor and asked about joining in the ministry.
It’s not some great achievement to be a part of a worship team, I know. People do that all the time. But it matters a lot to me that I get to be a part of this one, finally, after all this time of being blessed by their ministry.
The ladder lesson is right. Our spirituality and our ministry takes time. It requires taking one step after another. You don’t just walk up and jump up to the top to see what’s up there.
But once you reach the goal at the top of the ladder — in this case, looking out as a room full of people are abandoning themselves to give praise and honor to the God that you’re abandoning yourself in music to praise and honor —
The view is worth it.
The home of David M. Williamson, writer of fantasy, sci-fi, short stories, and cultural rants.