Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Ginormous Christmas- Part 3

This week at Wednesday Night Worship was the last message in "A Ginormous Christmas" series and the last WNW of the year.  We opened the night by packing sack packs then playing a game of "Who Wants To Win Egg Nog."  We did a brief worship set that included "Angels We Have Heard On High" and "O Come O Come Emmanuel."  At the end of the night we sang "Offering" (Paul Baloche).

I began the message giving a brief review of the series and talking about how Jesus tends to become the background music of Christmas.  Often we discover a new song and love it so much that we listen to it until it become mundane to us.  Over time loses its popularity and ends up being a song that is played as background music in a store.  The same is true with Jesus for must of us.  We know that Jesus is the reason we celebrate Christmas, but over time He takes a backseat in our lives to all the other Christmas traditions.

So wrapping up this series we looked at the third and final part of the "Code of Elves" from the movie "Elf" that says "The Best Way To Spread Christmas Cheer is Singing Loud For All to Hear."  For Buddy the elf this means singing Christmas songs all the time as loudly as possible with the expectations that it will bring a smile to their face.  We know the truth that it will eventually become annoying and will make you want to punch them in the face.  Ok not really, but you may consider it.  We cannot ignore the fact that people are in need of being ministered to at all times, but especially this time of year and we need to be available to make a difference in their lives.  

We read Luke 2:8-20 about the shepherds.  We read verses 8-12 the previous week.  We began focusing this week on verse 14 at what is probably one of the greatest worship concerts ever witnessed.  The angels were singing praises to God and making much of Him as He is of the greatest worth.  There are definitely some things we can learn from how the shepherds react to this huge thing they have just witnessed.  

First of all, we see that the shepherds were not so in awe of the angels that their focused remained on them.  They didn't stand there staring at the sky waiting for an encore.  They were excited about the news that had been shared with them.  The question we have to ask ourselves is "are we more infatuated with the presentation than the present itself?"  We have all witnessed a young child who opens a gift but is more interested in the torn wrapping paper than the gift itself.  As we get older we get distracted by popping the bubble wrap that was used inside the package we open.  We have to be careful to not be infatuated with Jesus only when He is wrapped attractively to us.  We look to worship Jesus + something else, whether it be great worship, great teaching, etc. when Jesus alone is all we should desire and want.

Secondly, we see in verse 20 that the shepherds left "praising God."  They praised God just as the angels did in verse 14.  The shepherds heard the message of Jesus' birth, they went and experienced Him, and then they left praising and glorifying God.  In other words they left spreading Christmas cheer.  We have to realize though, that we cannot spread something that is not real in us.  If we are looking to minister to others and evangelize the lost, we cannot do so unless it is real within us.  We cannot share the love of Jesus if we are not already experiencing Him daily.

I shared a quote that I read recently regarding this thought of Jesus being the background music of Christmas:  "My experience of constant exposure to all things Jesus isn't increasing my admiration or devotion for Him, it's diminishing it."  I understand the point that is being made here.  Just as I have said throughout this series, we become numb to the truth that Jesus is the real reason for this Christmas season.  However, can we be exposed to too much Jesus?  I do not believe so.  I do believe however, that we can, and often are exposed to too much Jesus that has an added presentation along with it.  I think, like I said earlier, we become more infatuated with the presentation than Jesus Himself, and then become numb to Him.  That is why the truth is still the same:  Jesus alone fulfills and satisfies.  We cannot add to Him or try to present Him in a more attractive way and expect to be fulfilled as He intends for us to be.

We closed the night with the similar challenge from previous messages in this series.  I challenged them to do a heart evaluation to see if they are attempting to spread something that is not real in them.  A great song will not do it for you.  A great sermon or increase in Bible knowledge will not do it for you either.  It is Jesus alone that must fulfill us so that we can then go out praising and glorifying God to spread true joy and cheer to others.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Ginormous Christmas- Part 2

This week we continued our Christmas series "A Ginormous Christmas" at Wednesday Night Worship.  We opened with a worship set that included "The King Is Coming" (Newsboys), "Silent Night", and "Away In A Manger".  I did a brief recap of the previous week's message and introduced the topic for this week looking at #2 in the "Code of Elves:  There's Room For Everyone On the Nice List".

Thinking about this through the eyes of the world, it is a list that is determined by whether your good outweighs your bad.  If you are deemed worthy of being on the nice list, then you get the presents.  With this way of thinking then we start to believe that the better we are, the more we earn.  This of course goes completely against salvation and the Bible.  We know of course that salvation is not works-based, but is only through the grace and mercy of Jesus and His sacrifice for us on the cross.  When thinking about the nice list as far as from a biblical perspective, we know that the Bible tells us about the "Book of Life" as referred to in Revelation 20:15 and other verses.  Again, this is not a list of those whose good outweighs their bad, but the book that lists the names of those who have come to salvation through Jesus Christ.

We read about the shepherds in Luke 2:8-12 and how the angel appeared to them with this message of good news.  This message of good news is that Jesus, the Messiah, had been born.  I think it is important to note that in verse 10 it says that this good news will be "for all the people."  This means that Jesus came for everyone!  This is incredible news!  This is why Christmas is a big deal.  It wouldn't be a ginormous deal if He only came for some.

So thinking about this, here was the challenge for the students.  First of all, if they have not received this gift of salvation then that is first priority.  However, if they have been saved then the challenge is the same as the previous week's:  to rejoice over this news and go deeper in their relationship with Jesus.  When we start to do this, then it becomes our desire to share this gift of salvation with others.  I told the story that my wife's favorite gift that I have ever got her at Christmas is a heated blanket.  Such a simple gift from me turned out to be one she really likes.  She does not just keep this gift for herself.  She is gracious enough to share this with me when I'm cold (our house is old and tends to always been cold in the winter).  The question we need to ask ourselves as Christians is whether or not we are bothered by the fact that people around us are lost without Jesus. I shared a clip from "Elf" where Buddy is about to go to New York to find his dad.  Santa is telling him some tips for the city and then tells him that his dad is actually on the "naughty list".  Buddy's reaction is a horrific "NOOOO" to this news.  While it's funny for us to watch this scene in a movie, do we react with such emotion to the fact that there are people next to us daily who are lost without Jesus?  While it is admirable that we do things this time of year for those in need such as provide presents, fruit baskets, etc., we have to ask ourselves if we are more concerned with people having a gift to open on Christmas than we are concerned with their salvation?  We closed with a time of prayer and reflection for the students to search their hearts and see if this is their desire.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Youth Band- Christmas Eve Sarajevo

This pas week at Wednesday Night Worship, the youth band played "Christmas Eve Sarajevo" by Trans-Siberian Orchestra during the countdown timer to begin the night.  I'm extremely proud of the hard work each student put in during their own personal time.


Monday, December 9, 2013

A Ginormous Christmas- Part 1


This past week at Wednesday Night Worship we began a new series called "A Ginormous Christmas".  Each week we are looking at the Christmas movie "Elf" and the Christmas story in the Scriptures.  We opened the night with the youth band playing "Christmas Eve Sarajevo", "O Come All Ye Faithful", "How Many Kings" (Downhere), "O Holy Night/Hallelujah" (David Crowder Band).

I opened the message by talking about the word "ginormous" that Buddy the Elf uses to describe the toilets that he sees when he arrives in New York City.  Like Buddy, we all have seen or experienced something that at the time seemed really large to us.  Maybe it was a large building.  However, over time it tends to not seems to large and just becomes plain or regular to us.  This also happens to us when we think about Christmas.  If you have been exposed to church then you know that at Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  Even though we know that, it loses its meaning over time.  We do not see it as the ginormous deal that it really is.  Matthew 1:21 tells us that the birth of Jesus is a huge deal as Jesus came to "save His people from their sins."  This is a huge deal.  I challenged the students that though they know this, to let this sink in their hearts this year in a fresh way.

Each week we will look at what a ginormous deal this is as we look at each of the 3 parts of the "Code of Elves" that they study in the movie "Elf".  This first week we looked at the first part "Treat Everyday Like Christmas."  For Buddy the Elf this might mean that everyday you can sing Christmas songs, pick snowberries, make toys, and even eat a roll of cookie dough as fast as possible.  The world views this thought of treating everyday like Christmas as the opportunity to spend more money on unnecessary gifts.  But looking at this thought as a Christian brings different ideas.  We first might think that this would mean setting out everyday to accomplish more for God.  While that is admirable, I don't believe this is what God is calling us to do.  I believe He is calling us to a deeper relationship with Him.  We can see this by looking at the life of Mary and Joseph.

While we do not know much about their lives before this, I believe we are safe in making the assumption that this couple never set down trying to figure out what great thing they could do for God.  I doubt they ever set down and said "let's birth and raise the Messiah."  I believe instead they were wholeheartedly pursuing God and then He used them in this miraculous birth.  When we look at Joseph in Matthew 1:18-19 we see that it says he was a righteous man.  This means he had a right relationship with God.  He could have had Mary stoned by Jewish law, or divorced her publicly which would have been humiliating.  Instead, even though he was going to divorce her, he set out to do it with Mary's best interest because not only did he love her, but he was a righteous man seeking to do the right thing.  We also see that Mary lived a godly life in Luke 1:28-30 as the angel said she was "highly favored".  This does not mean she was superhuman or on another level above humans, but that she was righteous just like Joseph.  This is also obvious in her reaction in Luke 1:38 as she tells the angel she is a "bondslave of the Lord".  She was willing to do whatever God called her to do, even if it was scary and did not make sense at the time.

Our response should not to be wowed by the fact that they had the awesome opportunity of being the parents of Jesus.  Instead we should follow their example of character.  Too often we want to do great and marvelous things for God, but we want to do them at our own discretion and our own details.  We decide we want this great platform in order to make a difference for God.  But God is not calling us to do more for Him.  Instead, He is calling us to seek more of Him.  He is calling us to do deeper in our relationship with Him.  We are to treat everyday like Christmas, a celebration of the miraculous birth of the Christ who came to save us from our sins.  We are to seek more of Him daily.  Then when that happens, He will use us in a great way.  However, it will not look like anything we planned it out to.  This is not the life that Mary and Joseph would have ever planned out for themselves.  Then we realize that great platform we were seeking to make a huge difference for God is actually the platform we are standing on.

I closed by challenging the students to search their hearts and see if this is how they are treating Christmas.  Are they treating Christmas as this huge opportunity to worship the Savior and go deeper in their relationship with Him.  We began this year by looking at Jeremiah 29:13.  I challenged the students to really see if they are seeking Him with their whole heart.  After a few minutes of prayer time we closed by singing "Oceans" by Hillsong United.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Open Skies- Part 4

After a week off for Fall Break, we resumed WNW by wrapping up the "Open Skies" series. We began the night with a worship set that included "Your Love Never Fails" (Jesus Culture/Newsboys), "City On Our Knees" (tobyMac), and "One Thing Remains" (Kristian Stanfill).  I then gave a brief review of the series leading up to this point and said that we would be wrapping it up by talking about listening to God.  I shared a short clip from the tv show "Smallville" where young Clark Kent is learning how to use his super hearing and listens for his father's voice among a bunch of noise.  I shared that just like that video, our heavenly Father is always speaking to us, the question is whether or not we are listening for Him.  If prayer is a conversation with God, then we must listen to His voice in addition to the words we speak to Him.  We read John 10:27 where Jesus says that His sheep hear His voice.

I shared that there are a couple of things that must be in order to listen to God:
1)  You must be saved
In John 8:47 Jesus says that those who are of God are able to hear His voice.  Our separation from God keeps us from being able to hear His voice.  If we are seeking God for answers but have not stepped out to follow Him and receive salvation then that is what must first take place.
2)  You must be clean
1 Peter 3:12 lets us know that we need to have a clean heart in order to hear the voice of God.  Sin hinders us from hearing His voice.  It does not mean that we have lost our salvation, but means that we have allowed a barrier between us God that keeps us from being able to hear His voice.

So now that is in order, how can we listen for God's voice?  Here are a few ways
1)  Get Alone & Quiet
We see instructions on this from Jesus and Him living it out in Matthew 6:6 and Matthew 14:23.  We have to make ourselves available to listen to the Holy Spirit.  This means we need to get out of distractions in order to better be able to hear His voice.
2)  Read, Study, & Meditate on Scripture
Hebrews 4:12 tells us that God's Word gives us instruction.  The Bible is the main way that God speaks to us today.  If we are not reading and studying the Bible then we are not listening for the voice of God.
3)  Through Godly Mentors
Proverbs 12:15 tells us it is wise to seek godly counsel.  Every Christian needs a godly mentor to speak truth into their life.  We should not simply seek counsel from people we like who will give us the answers we will like.

I closed the message at this moment with the challenge to make yourself available to hear the voice of God.  We set in silence for a few minutes and I asked the students to spend time asking God to speak to them and listen to His voice.  We packed sack-packs for the week and dismissed.  Then whoever was able to stay and wanted to discuss some more, we sit in a circle and discussed how to discern God's voice.  We discussed the following questions to ask yourself when you think you're hearing God's voice:
1)  Does it go against God's Word or lead you to sin?
If so, then it is not the voice of God.  Galatians 5:16 tells us that when we follow the Spirit, He will not lead us to sin.  God will never give you permission to sin.  He will never tell you to do something that goes against His Word.  The question was raised "what if our parent asks us to do something that goes against God?"  We had a good discussion on this as we were able to point out that in that case, we can still honor our parents without doing what they have asked us to do that is sinful.
2)  Is it vague or confusing?
If so, then it is not the voice of God.  1 Corinthians 14:33 tells us that God does not confuse us but instead provides peace.  He may only give the first step of instructions so that you will then step out on faith before He reveals the big picture.
3)  Is God really telling you to do something, or is it simply something you want to do?  You must ask yourself this question because if it is just something you want to do, it may not be of God.  There may be times He asks you to do something that is completely against what you want to do.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Open Skies- Part 3

We continued the "Open Skies" series this week at WNW.  We began with a worship set that included "Our God is Love" (Hillsong United), "Good To Be Alive" (Jason Gray), "Always" (Kristian Stanfill), and "City On Our Knees" (tobyMac).  We spent some time in prayer lifting up the drama Lucifer's Lies that we are a part of the next two weekends.  We focused our prayers on the lost that will hear the saving truth of Jesus Christ.

After a brief review of the previous week and what the series is about, I explained how we were going to do something a little different.  I had 3 questions to cover surrounding the topic of why we pray.  I explained that I would cover 2 of them, we would have a prayer time of reflection, would pack our weekly sack-packs, and then be dismissed.  For those who were able and willing we would sit around and discuss a third question.

I began by covering the "why" in relation to prayer.  We covered this in week 1 of the series but I wanted to review it before going further.  We again looked at Matthew 6:10 and the model prayer Jesus showed His disciples how to pray.  We read that in this model prayer we are to pray for God's will be done.  This shows us that the purpose of prayer is to change who we are.  When we understand and accept that what God desires and puts into motion is right, then our hearts change and we desire what God desires.  As we pray and have conversation with God then we are changed.  We become more like Him.  We love the things that He loves and hate the things that He hates.  We have talked about this before and so we should understand this by now.  But this leads us to other questions surrounding prayer that we need to answer.  While there are some things about our relationship with God that we cannot find answers and must rely on faith, there are some things we need to dig deeper on and seek God on.

Question #1:  If God knows everything, then why should I pray?
This is a very valid question and one that we can find an answer to.  We first looked at the truth in Scripture that God does know everything, that He is omniscient.  Psalm 147:5 and Psalm 139:4 shows us this.  The latter verse even telling us that He knows what we will pray before we speak it.  Then why should we pray?  We read in Matthew 11:28-30 that Jesus tells us to come to Him when we are weary.  God desires us to come to Him.  He already knows our burdens, those matters that weigh us down, those who we desire to pray for, yet He wants us to come to Him in prayer.  We do this because we realize our dependence is on Him.  We not only need Him, but we also want Him.  Even though God knows what we want to pray, we should still pray because we are submitting to Him and worshipping Him.

Question #2:  Why doesn't God answer my prayers?
This is a question that people often ask, but the truth is that God always answers our prayers.  He answers them as He sees fit, not as we do.  The old saying goes that "God answers prayers as either 'yes', 'no', or 'not right now.'"  We must understand that He answers all prayers, but as He sees fit.  He also answers them in His own perfect timing.  He does not have to answer them in a time frame that we think He should.  Another reason we might think that God does not answer our prayers as He answers them differently than we desire because we ask for the wrong things or with wrong motives as James 4:3 says.  
Another thing that is often misspoken is that our prayers are not answered because we did not pray with enough faith and people use Mark 11:24.  This sets us up for disappointment when we pray for something earnestly and it does not happen as we think it should.  We end up feeling that we did not pray enough or with enough faith.  We do need to approach prayer with faith and belief that God is able to do what we ask Him to do.  However, we also must approach prayer with the belief that God will answer our prayers as He sees perfect.  

We ended this portion of the night with the challenge to praise God because He knows all things.  He knows everything about us and loves us the same and desires us to approach Him in prayer.  We can also pray with confidence in God that He will answer all of our prayers as He sees best and however will bring Him glory.

After packing sack-packs for the week, we dismissed and whoever was able and willing to stay we sat around and discussed this further.  I asked if they had any other questions relating to prayer and things we had already discussed.  One student spoke up and raised the third question that I was going to cover in this smaller group:  Can we change God's mind with our prayers?  I asked them first what they thought in order for them to begin thinking deeper.  It was asked about the moment in Exodus 32:14, where Moses intercedes on behalf of the Israelites.  So we looked at this and proceeded to look at some of the attributes of God.  First we looked at Hebrews 13:8 that lets us know that God is immutable or unchanging.  Any change would imply that God is not perfect.  Next we looked at Numbers 23:19 that says that God does not lie, and does not change His mind.  So if God does not lie, and all Scripture is from the mouth of God (2 Timothy 3:16), then that means there are no contradictions in Scripture.  Then we have to break down the fact that Scripture teaches that He is unchanging, does not change His mind, but at a quick glance can appear that Moses changed God's mind with his prayer.  This is why we must study the Bible and not only read it.  When we look at the Hebrew word naham used in Exodus 32:14 we see that it means to repent.  When this is applied to humans in Scripture, it means that we change our minds and turn away from sin.  However when the word is applied to God, it means that He relents, grieves, feels deep emotion, or sighs.  God is deeply grieved by the sinful action of the Israelites.  It would be His nature to kill the Israelites for their actions.  However, He is deeply grieved and when Moses intercedes on their behalf He decides not to kill them.  He had not previously decided He would do this, it was simply His nature to do so.  Therefore He did not change His mind as we change our minds.  To say that God changed His mind in this situation would mean that Moses knew best instead of God.  To say that we can change God's mind with our prayers is to say that we know what is best and not God.  God was not the one who changed here, the people repented of their sins and turned back to Him.  Because the purpose of prayer is not to change God, but so that we are changed to depend on Him, and follow His will.  It was a great night to go deeper with our students and I am so glad we have such a great group of students who are willing to do so.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Open Skies- Part 2

This week at WNW was the second week of our series on prayer called "Open Skies".  We began the night with a worship set that included "Happy Day" (Tim Hughes), "Shadows" (David Crowder Band), and after a time of prayer for our upcoming Lucifer's Lies drama we sang "City On Our Knees" (tobyMac).  The song "City On Our Knees" went right along with our series on prayer, and is used in a pre-show video in our upcoming Lucifer's Lies drama.

After a brief review of the previous week and overview of the series in general, I shared that the focus of the night we more a more in-depth look at the "What" in prayer, specifically in the subject of "hands extended".  At this point I introduced the first of two important questions that I wanted the students to consider.  Question #1 was this:  "Do I spend more time praying for myself rather than praying for others?"  We read 1 Timothy 2:1-4; 8 where Paul addresses Timothy on this subject of prayer.  Here he urges Timothy, and us to pray for others.  In fact, he urges us to pray for everyone.  This is not a suggestion, but rather God's true intent for us.  Sometimes we find it simple to pray for our friends and those around us that we are close to.  But there is more to it.

In verse 8 he says "lifting up holy hands".  This does not mean we must pray in this physical stature, unless moved so.  This means when we pray for others, we are to pray with a clean spirit as we have already been forgiven of our own sins.  At this moment we referred back to Matthew 6:12 that we had looked at the previous week.  We must forgive those who have hurt us.  Again, this is not a suggestion, but a command from Jesus Himself.  Holding a grudge against others is a sin, and a dangerous one.  When we hold a grudge not only do we hinder our own prayers, but we tear ourselves apart on the inside with the harsh feelings we harbor.  Jesus reiterates this fact in Matthew 6:14-15.

Ok, so we need to forgive them. Surely that is all?  Sometimes we wish that were all, but if we go back a bit, Jesus teaches us in Matthew 5:43-55 to pray for them.  So this in all honestly is one of the hardest things to live as a Christian.  I am speaking honestly here.  It is extremely hard for me to do this, but if Jesus said we must do this, then it is that simple, we must do it.  Not only did Jesus teach it, but He also modeled it in Luke 22:49-51 as He was arrested in the garden.  Jesus heals the ear of the one who is there to arrest Him.  So you might be quick to say that you cannot heal like that.  When you forgive and pray for those who have hurt and persecute you provide healing not only for them, but also for yourself.  Question #2 I wanted the students to consider is this:  "Do you spend more time talking about others rather than praying for them?  If you truly forgive then, then you will stop talking about them and begin praying for them.  

The well-known atheist author and journalist Christopher Hitchens was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2010.  At one point on a television interview he was asked how he would respond if Christians asked to pray for him.  He responded "I would welcome the prayers.  But if you're praying for me to not get better then I'd ask for you to keep your prayers.  Since being diagnosed, I have received letter after letter after letter from 'Christians' telling me that they hope I don't get better."  This breaks my heart and grieves me.  That is not what "Christian" is supposed to live like.  We are to spread the love of Jesus, not spread hatred.  When I look at my life, most of my scars come from "Christians", and many of whom's actions in their opinion were in following Christ yet exemplified quite the opposite.  We must stop this cycle of hatred that takes place.  If we are Christ-followers, then we must share love instead of hatred.  We sometimes wonder why people are not interested in Jesus and the church, but it is because of stories like this.  Because sometimes people look at Christians and see a group of people who are no different, or maybe even worse off than the rest of the world.  We must stop this cycle now.  I closed by challenging the students to stop this cycle now.  They can be the ones who give the church a new name.  We can make this change now and effect future generations in a positive way like never before.  I challenged them in a closing prayer to consider who they need to forgive and begin praying for.  I also told them that if they need to make amends with others then to get that right so they can grow in their relationship with Christ.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Walking Recklessly

I recently pulled out some old CD's that I had not listened to in years and put in my iTunes.  One album was the first and self-titled album by Jars of Clay.  I had forgotten how good this album is.  As I listened to one of the first Christian albums I owned, I was taken back to my freshmen year of highschool as memories flooded my mind.  One of my favorite songs on the album was always "Like A Child".  The song is based on Luke 18:17 "Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all."  As this song played on my computer during this morning's sermon preparation, one line jumped out at me:  "I wonder if I've grown to lose the recklessness I've walked in light of you."  So many thoughts are running through my mind surrounding this lyric.  Mainly it brought to mind a moment for both my wife and I that took place at MFUGE this past summer.  It seemed that God spoke the same words to us both one night during worship and my wife said it best when she shared with our group "I don't want to live my life safely anymore in order to try to be protected from hurt."  Essentially she was saying, which I was proclaiming as well, that I do not want to sit back and not do what God is calling me to do in hopes that I will experience less hurt in life.  The pains in life jade us to a point where we go into a precautionary mode for self protection.  As this grows we lose the recklessness of following Christ no matter the cost because we know that the value of Christ is far greater than the safety we can try to surround ourselves with.

So my challenge to myself today and to you is this:  let's not walk through life safely if it means that we are not following Christ.  When we follow Him there are going to be moments in life where it costs us some pain.  The prize that is Jesus Christ brings us peace and joy that far outweighs any pain.  Are you walking recklessly for Jesus or are you sitting back safely?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Open Skies- Part 1


This week at WNW we began a new series for the month of October called "Open Skies".  We have been challenging the students to spend time in prayer at school and with others over the past weeks as we had See You At The Pole and Global Week of Prayer.  We have talked about the importance of prayer, but still sometimes there remains confusion surrounding the subject.  Sometimes our relationship with God may seem cloudy and it seems there is a barrier between us which is usually because of a lack of prayer in our own lives.  So during this series we hope to clear out the confusion about prayer and help students develop a daily time of prayer so they can clear the barriers between them and God.  

We opened the night with a worship set that included "Song of Hope" (Robbie Seay Band), "I Believe" (Jason Castro), and "Here For You" (Passion).  I began the message asking for some of the excuses that we use for not praying.  Some answers included:  too busy, forget, prayed up, etc.  We often make excuses to why we do not pray, but then we are frustrated that we are not growing in our relationship with God.  Then sometimes we use prayer as a last resort when we seem desperate.

We read Matthew 6:9-13 which is known as the Lord's Prayer.  I then shared a little background about the passage.  This is a moment where Jesus is teaching on several subjects.  If you cross-reference this passage and look at Luke 11:1 you will see that one of His disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray.  It is important to note that Jesus begins in verse 9 "Pray, then, in this way."  He does not say "When you pray, repeat this." This is intended as a model prayer and not intended to be repeated liturgical as it has become.  We discussed how this is often repeated as a team before games, but with no realization as to what is being repeated.

We then looked at the Who, What, Why, and Where of prayer
WHO
-Verse 9 tells us that we are praying to God the Father.  That seems simple, but sometimes we really forget that and approach prayer too casually.  We forget that we are approaching the God of the universe, who holds the universe in His hands.  He is the one who speaks stars into existence.  He in any moment can create and can destroy.  We forget that we need to approach Him with reverence and respect.  However, we can also approach Him freely as He loves us more than we can imagine.

WHAT
-What to pray for often comes across as the easy part as we all have our mile-long spiritual wish list.  We know all the things we want to ask God for, but it must be more than that.
-First of all we need spend our prayer time in praising God for who He is and what He has done for us.  Nearly 75% of all prayers in the Bible are prayers of praise.  We read in verse 9 that Jesus says "Hallowed be Your name."  This means that there is no other like God.  He is holy and sacred unlike anyone or anything else.  The question we must ask is how much of our prayers are spent in worship?
-Second, we must ask for God to provide "our daily bread."  This is more than just food itself.  We are asking that God provides just enough for us each day, and nothing more.  Yet if more is provided, then we should pass it along to those in need.  We pray that God will provide enough food, finances, peace, wisdom, etc. to make it through the day.
-Third, we must ask for forgiveness.  Verse 12 points us to this, but we ask forgiveness of our sins with the understanding that we have forgiven anyone who has hurt us.
-Fourth, we must pray for strength against temptation as in verse 13.  We pray that God will keep us safe from temptation, but whenever temptation is presented that we will be wise enough to turn away.

WHY
-I think this is one of the most misunderstood areas when it comes to pray.  Many people think that the purpose of prayer is to change the mind of God, which is not possible.  Instead, the purpose of prayer is to change us.  Verse 10 says "Your will be done."  This means that we become completely dependent on God.  As we pray, His desires become our desires, and His will for our lives become our own.  Not the other way around.  We must become dependent on Him through prayer.

WHERE
-We read in Matthew 6:6 and Matthew 14:23 that Jesus teaches with words and by example that we need to get alone often to pray.  If Jesus needed to do this then so it is necessary for us also.  It is a great thing to gather with others to pray, but if that is the only time we spend in prayer then we are missing out.  We must spend some time alone in prayer to fully connect to the power source that is God.

We closed in a time of prayer and reflection.  I challenged the students to search their hearts to what their excuses are for not praying.  The reality is that any excuse we make for not praying is invalid.  I challenged them to realize the excuses they make, to throw them away, and commit to spending daily time in prayer with God.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

WNW 9/25/13- Prayer & Communion Service

Since this week is Global Week of Student Prayer and yesterday See You At the Pole, we decided to make our Wednesday Night Worship a prayer service that would be different than any way we had ever done it before.  Before the night began we packed our Sack-Packs outside on the porch.  I then instructed the students that the night was going to be different and that they did not need to talk unless instructed to do so.  I gave them each a piece of paper and said that they would be using it later, and that in a few moments they would enter the youth house quietly and take a seat.  We kept the youth house darker than normal by not using our LED stage lights and only using floor lamps.  As they were coming in, the band was softly playing some music to set the tone.  We then went into "Sovereign Over Us" by Aaron Keyes, but did the live living room version.  The theme verse for this year's See You At the Pole, 2 Chronicles 7:14 was read.  Then we went straight into the song "Breathe".  

At the end of the song we kept playing softly while I gave directions for what was next.  I told the students that the piece of paper they were given had an order on the back.  There were three rooms with prayer stations and they were given a random order to go to these rooms in.  In each room as a group they prayed over a specific theme.  Students were instructed to read Scripture and volunteers pray out loud in their groups.
Room #1- Pray for the Lost

-Ask a volunteer to read Acts 4:12 out loud
-Call on 3 Volunteers to take turns praying out loud for lost classmates, friends, and those who attend church to be saved.  If you are not one of those praying out loud, then silently pray to yourself.

Room #2- Pray for Leaders
- Ask a volunteer to read Proverbs 11:14 out loud
- Ask a volunteer to read 1 Timothy 2:1-3 out loud
-Call on 3 Volunteers to pray out loud for leaders in one of the following areas:
            -Government
            -Teachers & School Administrators
            -Pastors

Room #3- Pray for our Youth Ministry
- Ask a volunteer to read Luke 22:40 out loud
-Call on 3 Volunteers to pray out loud for this youth ministry in one of the following areas:
            -Strength against temptation
            -Spiritual growth in Jesus Christ
            -To be a witness to others

After spending several minutes in each room, they were instructed to quietly go back to their seats.  We softly played and sang the song "Beautiful Picture" by The Rose Factor.  We sang the bridge again at the end that says "Everything that is not of You, take it away."  I then explained that we were about to take part in Communion and I read 1 Corinthians 11:23-32.  I explained that they needed to take some time examining their heart to make sure they are clean before taking Communion.  I encouraged them to spend some time in prayer allowing God to examine their hearts and when they were ready they could come up to the table that had bread and juice and take Communion.  We kept playing softly as one at a time they came to the table.  Then after everyone was done we closed with "The Lord Our God" (Kristian Stanfill).  I dismissed any that needed to leave but for everyone else we spent a few moments hearing See You At The Pole reports about their school gatherings.  It was really a great night.  Several of the students shared how it had been a special night for them to pray in groups and to take Communion.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

#IFTHEN

This past Sunday I had the privilege of filling in and preaching at our Sunday morning worship services.  Since it was the first day of Global Week of Student Prayer and the week of See You At The Pole, I decided to use this year's theme for my sermon.  I caught the church up to speed on what the week was about and how we have been focusing on Wednesday nights on the thought that in a moment everything could change.  I shared how we believe this can be a week where we see revival break across our school campuses like never before.  It isn't that prayer has been taken out of schools, but rather that we have voluntarily stopped praying.  Often if a child has stopped praying then it is because they have seen it modeled this way by their parents.  

This year's theme for See You At The Pole is #IFTHEN.  I think that it is brilliant that the theme is an actual hashtag which will encourage students to Tweet and Instagram about their prayer gatherings.  The theme verse is 2 Chronicles 7:14.  We love this verse because of the promise it offers.  We know that when we pray that God hears our prayers and brings healing.  We love the promise, but if we are not careful we will miss the real point here.

When I was in college I began as a Computer Programming major before God lead me to change to Business Administration/Finance.  However when I was in programming we would have to first write out what was called pseudo-code which is the program in word form.  We would have to write out every single possibility of what we needed the program to do.  We would write this out in If-Then statements.  For instance, in one class we wrote a program to mimic a coke machine.  We would have to write out every possible scenario in If-Then statements such as the amount of money entered, the beverage selected, etc.  If we forgot just one single scenario, then the entire thing could be thrown off.  The same happens if we are not careful to understand fully what is taking place in 2 Chronicles 7:14.

Here is a little background on what is happening leading up to this verse.  King Solomon has commissioned the temple to be built.  He has collected materials and lays out all the details.  The construction begins and at one point the Ark of the Covenant is brought in and the glory of God fills the temple.  In chapter 6 Solomon dedicates the temple.  Then in the first part of chapter 7 they have a huge celebration of worship.  They offer sacrifices and the glory of God once again fills the temple.  We then read 2 Chronicles 7:11-18.
Verse 11- Solomon has finished building this immaculate temple.  His father David had desired to build this but God did not permit it.
Verse 12- God promises Solomon that He will dwell in this house and it will be a house of sacrifice and prayer for all people
Verse 13-14- God promises to hear the prayers of His people.
Verse 15-16- God's eyes and ears will be on this place.  To have the attention of God is a pretty incredible thing that we often take for granted.
Verse 17-18- God promises Solomon that if he follows God that his reign as king will be successful as it was for his father David.

However, if we stop here then we can get in trouble.  We then read 2 Chronicles 7:19-22.  God knew that the Israelites were prone to backslide into sin and worship other gods.  This applies to us because God knows that we too are prone to backslide and worship other gods and idols.  Sometimes we may be quick to say "that's not me, I don't worship other gods."  But we have to be careful with that.  We must remember that an idol or god is whatever we sacrifice for and what we pursue.  Most often the idols in our life are not even bad things themselves such as work, family, children, church, etc.  When God said "no other gods/idols before me" He did not mean for us to make Him the top of our priority list in life.  God is the list and He does not want any other gods in our lives at all.  His intent and desire for us is that He alone is all that we worship, and He deserves that.  Sometimes it isn't the stuff that is the idol but we are the idol ourselves.  We spend our time doing whatever because it is what we want in life and because it is how we want things so that we feel better.

To visually show what happens when we try to spend time in prayer to God while serving other gods/idols, I had a couple of students join me in stage.  Each took a rope that I was holding and pulled me in opposite directions.  One represented my relationship with God, and the other represented my idols in life.  What happens when we try to maintain both areas of our life, we are pulled in opposite directions and will eventually break.  But what happens is that, as my arms stretched out, I said we end up trying to be our own savior in life.  We try to save ourselves and we call it "sacrifice"- sacrifice for our family, career, our own future.  We try to be our own savior, when there was only One intended to be a Savior, and that is Jesus Christ.

It all comes down to a decision.  As I have been on a journey this year for my health, I get asked often what I am doing to lose weight.  I respond that simply I am eating healthy and exercising/running.  It is always funny to see their disappointed reaction.  People have the hopes that they can maintain their current unhealthy lifestyle and still have healthy results.  You can't have "both-and", it has to be "either-or" when it comes to physical health, but spiritual health as well.  2 Chronicles 7:14 says to "humble" yourself. It does not say that if you pray before bedtime, meals, at church, etc. that God will give you the life that you want.  Instead it calls us to humble ourselves which means that we submit to God.  it means that we give up our own desires to take hold of God's desire for our life.  The purpose of prayer is not to change God's mind.  If you think it is then you're view of prayer is completely wrong and if you think you can support it scripturally then you haven't studied the context of the verse enough.  The purpose of prayer is to change us.  The purpose of prayer is not to get God on our page, but that we get on board with what He is doing.

We closed with a time of examination.  If you're frustrated because you are not experiencing victory in life, not experiencing spiritual breakthroughs, then it is probably because you are trying to live life holding onto both areas.  You are trying to spend some time in prayer with God while continuing to purse the idols and gods in your life.  If you continue to live life this way, it will eventually tear you apart.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Global Week of Student Prayer '13- Prayer Guide

Sunday September 22 kicked of Global Week of Student Prayer.  This Wednesday will be See You At the Pole.  Instead of having a one day prayer effort, this year an entire week is dedicated to calling our students to join together and prayer.  We made the following prayer guide available for everyone this week.


Sunday September 22, 2013
This verse tells us that if we pray, seek Him, and turn away from our sin that God hears us, forgives us, and brings healing and restoration in our lives.  Today, seek God in prayer, asking Him to reveal anything in your life that is offensive to Him.  Pray for forgiveness and turn away from the sin.  Pray that you will make yourself available to grow in Christ during this week of prayer.

Monday September 23, 2013
Today’s prayer focus is on your school, and the schools in this community.  Lift up in prayer our school administrators and teachers.  As you pray for your own wisdom, also pray for their wisdom in leadership.  Ask God to surround them with godly influences that can influence them with the gospel.  Pray that they will lead those in need of salvation to Jesus.

Tuesday September 24, 2013
Today, make your prayer focus on our government:  local, state, and national.  Pray that Christian leaders will rise up, taking a stand for Jesus in the decisions that they make and influence others to follow Him.  Pray for our leaders that need salvation in Jesus Christ.  Pray that they will have opportunities to hear the gospel and that their hearts will be receptive.

Wednesday September 25, 2013
Today at schools across America, students will be taking part in See You At The Pole.  This is a global movement of prayer led by students.  Today, pray for the safety of our students as they are involved in this effort.  Pray for Christian students to rise up and lead their schools to revival.  Pray that this is a moment where only Jesus is glorified, and not individuals.

Thursday September 26, 2013
As you pray today, ask yourself if you are seeking God with all your heart.  If not, confess, receive forgiveness, and pursue God as you should.  Pray that He will use you as His mouthpiece today.  Pray that He will give you opportunities to share your faith with others.

Friday September 27, 2013
Today pray for lost students in our schools.  Pray that they will see their need for a Savior, and pursue a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Pray for our Christian organizations such as FCA, Teens for Christ, etc.  Pray that God will use the students and teachers involved to reach out to those who need Jesus in their life.  Pray that lost students will see that the only way to be saved is through Jesus Christ alone.

Saturday September 28, 2013
As we wrap up this Global Week of Student Prayer, spend some time again praying for our government:  local, state, and national.  Spend time praying for their salvation.  Praise God for our religious freedoms that we can worship with no fear.  Pray that this will continue and that our religious freedoms will not be taken away.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Friday Nights Part 2- Underdog

This week at WNW we had our second week in our 2-week series called "Friday Night" and thinking about the idea that in a moment everything can change.  We began the night with a worship set that included "Your Love Never Fails" (Newsboys), "Dry and Brittle" (They Came Running), and "The Lord Our God" (Kristian Stanfill).  We also showed a video promoting next week's See You At The Pole.

I began with a quick review of the previous week with a reminder that we are believing that next week's See You At the Pole and Global Student Week of Prayer can be a moment where everything changes in a big way and we begin to see students following Jesus like never before.  I talked about another aspect of sports that we all love, which is when the underdog out of nowhere wins when nobody expected them to.  

We looked at an example of an underdog, the woman of Samaria, in John 4:5-30; 42.  We broke it down the following way:
Verse 5-6- It is either 6pm (Roman time) or 12 noon (Jewish time).  Either way it is important that is day time as we see in a moment.
Verse 7- We get our first clue that something is up with this woman.  You did not draw water during the day, as the water itself would be hot.  Also the women would go in a group to draw water.  We see that this woman is possibly an outcast.
Verse 9- She is surprised that Jesus spoke to her because Jews and Samaritans did not interact.  The Jews viewed Samaritans as an unclean race.  Also Jewish rabbi's did not interact with women in public.
Verse 10- Jesus gives her the first clue to who He actually is.
Verse 11-  She is thinking only about physical water.  
Verse 12- She uses the term "our" when referring to herself and Jesus.  This lets us know that she has no idea who He is and considers them equal.  This also would have normally been extremely offensive to a Jew.
Verse 13-14.  Jesus let's her know that this living water that He is referring to is unlike anything she is seeking to fulfill herself.  This living water, the Holy Spirit, supplies us with all that we need in life.
Verse 15- She still thinks He is referring to physical water
Verse 16-18- Jesus shows that He is God and is omniscient as He knows the truth about her lifestyle.
Verse 19- She shows that she is starting to see that Jesus is not any ordinary person.
Verse 20- People argued over the appropriate place of worship, so she is confused about this.
Verse 21-24- Jesus inaugurates a new era of worship.  He is saying that you do not have to travel long distances to pray in specific places, but you can worship anywhere.  This is the heart of what next week is all about, students gathering daily in different places for prayer and worship.  Worship isn't about the place, but about the heart.  Since the Holy Spirit dwells in those who are believers, and the fact that God is omnipresent, then worship takes place everywhere.  We often hear the statement that this nation began to go downhill when prayer was taken out of schools. The problem isn't that prayer was taken out of schools, because honestly it cannot be completely taken out of schools as students are free to pray whenever and wherever they want.  They can pray silently and can gather with friends to pray.  So the problem isn't that pray has been taken out of schools.  The problem is that we have voluntarily stopped praying.
Verse 25- She still isn't completely sure who Jesus is, but is beginning to suspect the truth.
Verse 26- Jesus reveals that He is the Messiah.  He did not often do this as people were expecting Him to deliver them from political oppression.  Instead He came to see people free from the bonds of sin.
Verse 28-30-  Grace has been extended to this woman by Jesus.  She then leaves her water pot and heads back to her village to share this incredible news.
Verse 39- Many people come to know Jesus as a result of her testimony.

We look at this woman, and her culture did as well, as someone who was worthless and who was capable of nothing good.  However, when grace was extended to her by Jesus it transformed her, and she made sure everyone knew the truth.  This underdog came out of nowhere and made a difference.  

I challenged the students to extend grace to the underdogs in their school.  Share the love of Jesus with the person who they view as similar to the woman in these verses.  I also challenged them to take a look at themselves and see where they can step up.  Too often as Christians we take a backseat and expect others to be the ones who step up to make a difference, while God is calling us all to step up and lead the way.  We closed with a time of reflection and prayer as we listened to the song "Oceans" by Hillsong United.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Friday Nights Part 1- Momentum Shift

This week kicked off our Fall Wednesday Night Worship season.  I was so excited for us to begin our weekly worship service with the students.  We began the night with a worship set that included "Afterlife" (Switchfoot), "Burning in My Soul" (Brett Younker), "Our God" (Chris Tomlin).  We also showed a promotional video for the upcoming Global Student Week of Prayer and See You At the Pole.

This 2-week series is themed around Friday night football games and focusing on the phrase "What if a moment could change everything?"  As we are leading up to this Global Student Week of Prayer and See You At The Pole, I have the full belief that this can be a moment where everything changes on our school campuses.  I believe this can be a moment where we see Christ-following students take a stand like never before, and see them lead others to Jesus Christ.  This series we will be thinking about this as a game-changing moment in our society.

Most everyone gets really excited about Fall as football season begins (not me as I'm a baseball fan).  However there is something about Friday nights that brings this energy and excitement in the life of a teenagers.  On Fridays, everyone wears their school colors, there are pep rallies, and at the game there is this excitement that encompasses everyone.  You go to the game rooting for your favorite team, and in all honestly you usually know what the outcome of the game will be.  However, I love the fact that sports can be so unpredictable.  Maybe the game is going one way, but then all of the sudden there is a momentum shift.  All of the sudden, the team that was behind has this new energy and in this moment everything changes.  There have been plenty of momentum shifts in lives personally throughout time, which can encourage us to believe a momentum shift can happen on our school campuses as well.

We read the story of the adulterous woman in John 8:1-11 and broke it down.
Verse 1- It is important to see what has taken place before this moment.  In the previous chapter, Jesus has been teaching in the temple, and the people around Him were divided on their opinions.  Some believed Jesus to be the Christ, other thought He was a prophet, while others hated Him completely.  As this occurred, Jesus leaves to go to the Mount of Olives.  Jesus did this often to pray as we read in Luke 5:16.
Verse 2- Jesus goes back to business as usual, teaching in the temple.  He did not allow the fact that people opposed Him to stop Him from accomplishing what was necessary.
Verses 3-6- The Pharisees and the Scribes who opposed Jesus, brought a woman caught in adultery into the temple courts.  In this moment they brought her in her shame with the desire to not only ridicule her, but to try to trick Jesus.  By Mosaic Law, the punishment for adultery was death by stoning.  They wanted to see how Jesus would respond to this situation. If He said to not stone her, then He would lose His credibility as a teacher and rabbi.  If He said to stone her, then His reputation as one who forgave and extended grace would be questioned.  They thought they had Jesus in the corner and would be able to convince others to think like they did about Him.  In this moment, the woman knew her life was over.  She knew what the outcome of the situation would be.  Her life was over in her mind.
Verse 6b- We see a response from Jesus that is honestly unlike anything we would ever do.  He stoops down and writes in the sand.  Theologians debate what He was writing.  But it doesn't matter necessarily what He was writing.  If it mattered then it would be in the Scriptures.
Verse 7- After they persist on a response from Jesus, He says something that speaks to us all.  He told them that whoever had no sin in them was free to cast the first stone at her.  Verse 8- He then began to write in the sand again to give them a moment to think about what He just said.
Verse 9- Here we see a "momentum shift".  It looked this woman's life was over.  However, those who were about to stone her realized they were without blame, and walked away.  What looked to be a definite thing, completely changed in this moment with a momentum shift.
Verses 10-11- We see Jesus extend grace to the woman through forgiveness of her sins.  If anyone had the right to condemn her, it was Jesus who lived a sinless and perfect life.  However He extended grace that she did not deserve.  He did not say to her to go live a better life, try harder, and attempt perfection and then He would forgive her.  Instead, He told her to turn away from her life of sin as He had already forgiven her.  

I am amazed as I read these verses.  I see this amazing amount of grace extended to the woman by Jesus and know that He has extended this same grace to me as well.  I challenged the students that this moment shift is an example of what needs to take place here:
1)  If you have never experienced salvation through Jesus Christ, then that is the momentum shift that must first occur
2)  If you have been saved by Jesus Christ, then you need to extend that grace to others by pointing them to salvation through Jesus Christ
3)  We need to bring a momentum shift in our school campuses as I believe the time is now for revival to break out in our schools.

We closed with a time of reflection.  I challenged the students to let God speak to them about what their step of action needs to be.  We sang "Forever Reign", thinking about the love and greatness of Jesus, and saying that we will run to Him completely.  Afterward we watched another video challenging them to organize prayer and See You At The Pole in their schools.  Then we packed our Sack Packs that we send to a local school to feed 31 students who do not necessarily have enough food on the weekends when they are not at school.  It was a great night and I am so glad to be back to our regular Wednesday Night Worship services.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Joyful Worship

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; 
Break forth and sing for joy and sing praises.
Psalm 98:4

One of the frustrations as a worship leader and worship band member is looking out and seeing people look miserable.  "Certainly I never look that way" I think to myself.  I am sure there are times that I look less than happy, but hopefully I am never perceived as miserable.  So why doesn't everyone worship joyfully?  I believe there are a number of reasons, but most are simply excuses.  

First of all, some would say they are that way simply because of song choice.  They do not like, or quite possibly, even agree with the nature of the song.  I think that excuse is, I guess for lack of better terms, sorry.  I, myself, do not like all musical styles or even think all lyrics are that great, but I can still worship.  I can still worship the One who has set me free.

Secondly, some might argue that they do not feel like it because of their circumstances. I can relate to that, as there have been times in my life when I did not feel like it because of a dark season of life we were enduring.  If we read the Psalms of David, we see that often he praised God while going through extreme dark seasons of life such as when he was running for his life.  That is definitely something I have never and hope to never experience.

I think though, it all comes down to this:  we do not worship joyfully corporately, because we are not experiencing joyful worship with Him ourselves on a daily basis.  If we do not spend time worshiping Him alone, how can we expect to worship Him with others.  Sometimes I look out and am discouraged by the looks on some peoples' faces, but then I am reminded of a couple of things.  First, they are the ones missing out on experiencing joyful worship.  Secondly, they are hurting God mostly.  It is not that we should have terrible goofy looks on our faces or worship in a way that is a complete distraction to others.  However, I think if we are worshiping on our own time daily, then when we come together with others we cannot help but worship joyfully.  Just a thought I had during my quiet time this morning that I wanted to share.