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This is the opening track from And If Our God Is For Us…, the seventh studio album by Chris Tomlin. The CCM and worship singer-songwriter recorded the disc at his home base outside Atlanta, having renovated a cabin into a studio next to his house. The record was produced by Ed Cash (Matthew West, Bebo Norman, David Crowder Band) and Dan Muckala (Amy Grant, MercyMe, The Afters).

 

Chris explained the song’s meaning: “The chorus of this song makes some pretty bold claims: Who you love, I’ll love. How you serve, I’ll serve. Where you go I’ll go. Even if I lose my life I’ll follow you. While those words might be a true expression of the heart, when we hear them coming out of our own mouths it should still be a little sobering. Are we really considering the implications of what we’re saying? Or are we just speaking with bravado the way the Apostle Peter did in his early days of following Jesus? After all, he was the brash one, the impulsive one who was always making those sorts of big, bold statements. He told Jesus things like “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” But when Jesus was arrested, those claims fell apart. Peter ran and hid and even renounced Jesus. Thankfully, that failure wasn’t the end of Peter’s story. In time, God’s grace and power would transform him into a man whose boldness was based on God’s strength rather than his own. But it cost him something to get to that point of understanding what following Jesus was really all about.Mark chapter 8 contains what must have been one of the most difficult and pivotal points in Peter’s journey as a disciple, and it illuminates something about our own hearts as well. In this passage Jesus is explaining plainly to the twelve how he was soon going to have to suffer and die. Peter takes him aside and rebukes him for saying such things. Jesus responds with his shocking “Get behind me, Satan,” and then explains: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Then Jesus gathers the crowd around him and elaborates: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

Jesus knew beforehand the road of suffering he would walk in faithful obedience. He was explaining God’s plan of redemption to his followers. But Peter—and probably the other disciples too—already had set in their own minds a different version of how God’s salvation for Israel was going to unfold. Most likely they were still dreaming of the day when Jesus—with the twelve of them on his right and his left commanding the thousands that would rally to their cause—would take up the sword to drive the Romans out of Jerusalem and restore all things to their rightful place. At the very least, the idea of a suffering and dying messiah wasn’t part of Peter’s plans. When he had signed up to follow the Christ, it certainly wasn’t for that.

That’s probably why Peter pulled his master aside and rebuked him for his talk of being humiliated and put to death. You have to wonder if Peter’s rebuke of Jesus was born out of fear. Because what Jesus was revealing was threatening the dream that Peter had invested his hope in. And yet, what Peter had in mind was not what God had in mind. How often do we find ourselves in similar positions—feeling disappointed, or angry or scared because God’s plans turned out to be something very different from our own expectations?

In time Peter did respond in the only way a disciple can, by laying down his own ambitions and embracing what it meant to truly follow. At the end he even willingly gave his life for Christ. But I think the hard work of divestment from the things and hopes and dreams of this world was already complete by the time Peter allowed himself to be nailed to a physical cross. I think the hardest step for Peter must have come the moment right after this conversation in Mark 8, because that was the moment he realized this business of being a disciple, of following Jesus, was not about seeing his own agenda accomplished and his own dreams fulfilled. It was about seeing them crucified, and surrendering them to God’s greater purposes instead.

Isn’t that still what it means for anyone to follow Jesus? It means that we lay down our own agendas and hopes and dreams, and faithfully obey day by day. It’s a daily dying to self—the crucifying of our own petty and self-centered desires so that we might more clearly reflect Christ to the people around us. In the end, it’s not about bravado and bold statements. It’s about simple, ongoing obedience to the words of our Lord. To say ‘I will follow’ is really not so different from saying ‘Help me every hour to die to my own desires, Jesus, so that you can live more fully through me.'”

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Change Me

May. 6, 2011

“I don’t pray so that I can change God. I pray so that God can change me.”

C.S. Lewis said these words years ago, but I have been thinking about them more recently. In this season of the year when many have participated in the National Day of Prayer in the United States, the question that comes to my mind is:  “Why do I pray?” Yes, prayer changes things. Yes, Jesus teaches us how to pray in what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” Yes, I understand the admonishment that some things only happen through prayer and fasting.

But the question remains: Why do you pray? Is prayer something we do out of duty or because someone told us to?  Do we pray because we think it will get us something?  Do we only talk to our friends or family when we need something from them?  Or have you ever had a moment in life when all you could do is pray, pouring out the innermost cries of your heart before the Lord?

Jesus is always right. Even Lewis is right with his sentiment on prayer. Prayer changes things. I for one, want my prayers directed to God so they will change me. After all, prayer is a conversation with the Master, isn’t it?  Prayer is listening as well as speaking. So, how does prayer change us?  Let me suggest a few ways:

  • Prayer changes hearts.
  • Prayer changes minds.
  • Prayer changes actions.
  • Prayer changes lifestyles.
  • Prayer changes attitudes
  • Prayer changes perspectives.
  • Prayer changes demeanors.
  • Prayer changes points of view.
  • Prayer changes futures.
  • Prayer changes directions.

All that to say, prayer changes everything!  And instead of praying for everyone and everything else to change through our petitions to God, it is high time we pray that God changes us. Nations need God’s change. Circumstances need God’s change. Schools and universities need God’s change. Churches need God’s change. Everything and everyone needs God’s change.

That includes me. It includes you. Join me in prayer today and everyday – “Lord Jesus, change me. Amen.”

–Dr. Jim Dunn is the General Director of Spiritual Formation.

Earlier I had put up a post about the upcoming Kairos Torch weekend at KJCC and  I wanted to share a little how the weekend went.

Dustin and myself participated in the weekend. Dustin helped with what is called Agape. It’s really cool because people all over the world are praying for the young men that are there, and they send in posters they make, cards, etc. Also, there is a paper prayer chain that gets made where each link represents 20 minutes of prayer for the weekend that various people had committed to. The Agape team made a prayer chain with 584 links in it. Throughout the weekend these kind of visual reminders get brought out to where the young men are, and by the end the walls are filled. It really amazes them to see how much people on the “outs” are taking the time to pray for them. Also, the Agape team puts together a special bag for them that includes a really nice Bible, and letters that volunteers from the weekend have written them.

I had the privilege of leading the music for the weekend and it went really well. I had 10 songs that I took in with me, and they were able to learn those songs and really connect with them. They really liked “He Reigns” by the Newsboys, Hold Us Together by Matt Maher, and of course the theme song for the weekend which was “He Knows My Name” by Tommy Walker.

Another song that ended up being really cool was “You Never Let Go” by Matt Redman. On the first night, one of the other volunteers, Abe, had done a rap he wrote, and just led it without music up front, and it was the coolest. The chorus of the rap talked about walking through the valley of the shadow of death, and totally went with the “You Never Let Go” song. So the next morning, I went up to Abe and said, “Hey, I’ll have you come up on the mic, and after the pre-chorus, you go right into the chorus of your rap” We had no idea how it might fit, but amazingly it fit together perfectly. I even just played through the same chords and played rhythmically along with what he was rapping, and when I hit the last chord of the pre-chorus it flowed right into the chorus of “You Never Let Go”. I guess you had to be there, but it was really cool.

There were some things I learned about how worship and worship of God through music draws us together. I’ve seen this before at the weekends, but it was really evident this time to see the young men  and the volunteers really unite through the worship of God in singing together. You see the participants singing on Friday night and then by Sunday afternoon everyone is singing with arms around each other, swaying back and forth, just really relishing it. Without preaching a sermon about it, I think the young men really saw what being united in Christ meant. I think most of them didn’t want it to end, and I know a few that wanted Christ in their lives right there, and they met Him there.

The participants are into their first week of mentoring with the volunteers, so every Thursday night they get to meet with the people that they were with over the weekend, and it is going great so far. Please keep these young men in your prayers along with the volunteers that are so passionate about this ministry.

Billy Graham, Charles Stanley… I’m sure there are more that I can’t think of right now. Both awesome preachers that a lot of people have grown up listening to.

Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler… Maybe some preachers that you haven’t heard of, but for my generation, these are our heavy hitters, our Stanley’s, the guys we are downloading onto our ipods.

For those that like to listen to those sermons, (and I am one of them) you should check out http://www.wesleyansermons.com, there is some good stuff on there from some of the best and brightest we have. I’ll put a Steve DeNeff or Jim Dunn sermon up there anyday with those guys. Take  a listen!

Great article by Tim Hughes. Tim is a worship leader in the UK that wrote the song, Here I am to Worship. I have had the opportunity to see him at a worshiptogether.com conference and hear him speak and really liked him. He makes some good points in the following article, which I know challenges me a bit.  Doing things that stretches us and takes us out of our comfort zone can be a good thing. Worth the read:

Something has been stirring in my heart. There’s an unsettling; a cry for more in our worship.

Over the last decade there have been many amazing songs written that have inspired the Church and drawn millions of people into a response of worship. The quality and choice of excellent worship songs has perhaps never been better. But are we missing something?

Reading Martin Smith’s book “Delirious” I was struck by his comments:

“We’ve become too song focused, and in truth I believe that we need to be more worship focused. We’ve lost the ability to push aside the songs and replace them with 25 minutes of crying out, opening our hearts and heads with the raw worship of God who’s within us. With Kevin (Prosch – a pioneer of spontaneity and prophetic worship in the 1990’s) you never knew what was going to happen at any point in a worship session, but in church today, often 6 songs in 29 minutes, you make sure you get your 2 most popular ones in there so they get a decent boost up the CCLI charts.”

I fear that for many of us in our corporate expression of worship we’ve allowed the song to become king! Are we more focused on getting the songs right and the arrangements sounding huge, than we are on preparing our hearts? Are we expectant in leading a time of worship because of a great new song that connects or because God is at work?

I’m desperate to see more freedom in our worship. To move beyond the songs. The songs in themselves have never been the final destination in our worship. Simply a vehicle to facilitate our worship. How amazing would it be to spend 30 minutes standing in silence in our times of worship simply because people are blown away by the majesty of God? Wouldn’t it be exciting to see congregations take over the worship spending 20 minutes singing their own songs and words in response to God’s mercy?

Worship is a spiritual activity. If we want to recapture more of God in our worship, more freedom and more of God’s power, it will come through following the lead of the Holy Spirit. I’ve been thinking about how we can step out more in the spontaneous. Not for the sake of it, but simply because we’re hungry for a more authentic, raw and profound encounter in worship. Here’s some thoughts:

1. PRIVATE CRY: Someone once said, “worship leading is taking your private cry and making it public.” How much are we spending time alone crying out to God? Singing our own songs? Offering up our messy and heartfelt cry? If we want to step out and lead in this – we’ve got to engage with it ourselves.

2. LEAD WITH THE END IN MIND: In the ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ Steven Covey writes about the importance in leadership to begin with the end in mind. When leading worship what are we trying to accomplish? Is it to teach great new songs? Is it to encourage people to ‘feel great?’ Surely it’s about people being freed and released to meet and encounter Christ. To spend time in his presence. To respond with gratitude and thanksgiving. Ultimately it’s about relationship – intimacy. Worship is about glorifying God and enjoying him forever.

I’ve observed in the way I lead worship that often I try and make each session of worship the most amazing time. Nothing wrong in that – but in doing so I came to realise that I wasn’t taking risks. I was in danger of focusing so much on the present that I wasn’t leading with the end in mind. I wasn’t thinking about where I wanted to see the worshipping life of the church in 6 months. I was taking all the leadership and responsibility of leading of worship on myself rather than placing the responsibility on the congregation. As worship leaders we need to be training, encouraging and inspiring people in their worship. We need to release their song and cry of praise and adoration. We’re not about performing, we’re about encouraging participation. We don’t want consumers, we want a people consumed with God! In releasing this, let’s not be afraid of mess and a few mistakes. It’s part of the journey. It’s part of relationship.

3. RADICAL FRINGE: This isn’t about a haircut – but it’s great to find places to step out in spontaneous, free flowing worship. Whether it’s a group of mates, a prayer meeting or creative worship night. We’re currently trying to put a few dates in the diary where the agenda is simply to meet with God and to step out. There’s no pressure of leading a congregation. It’s relaxed and a safe place to experiment and grow in this stuff.

God is up to something. I believe there’s a real need for worship leaders to seek more of God’s Sprit and lead in our worship. Never at the expense of content and sound theology, but surely there is a place where we move beyond the songs and find ourselves overwhelmed and undone.

We were able to go to this concert in KC a couple of months ago at the Sprint Center. Although we barely got in to see a packed out show, and I think they will unfortunately have to rethink the no advance ticket sales policy, it was really cool to see the following in my inbox this morning:

Dear Joe,

There is only one thing you can say when you open up the music industries premier magazine for live touring (Pollstar) and read this…

World Rankings – 1st Quarter 2011

#5 LADY GAGA
#4 X-FACTOR LIVE
#3 U2
#2 BON JOVI
#1 WINTER JAM

“It’s a GOD thing!!!”

Over 500,000 of you from the Winter Jam Nation, showed up to smash our previous attendance records and most importantly raise the roof in worship to our One True God!

So THANK YOU for being a part of history and trust us when we say you don’t want to miss the Winter Jam 2012 Tour Spectacular. Watch your emails and visitJamTour.com regularly for all the latest!

See you next year,

Next weekend, Dustin Crotinger and myself will be taking part in a Kairos Torch prison ministry event at the Topeka Juvenile Correctional Facility. It is a really amazing weekend where the JO’s learn about themselves, about forgiveness, and about Jesus.  I will be leading the music next weekend, with just me and my guitar. I’ve done it before, but never by myself, so it will be interesting to see how they respond to the songs. I think I’ve got some good ones picked out, hopefully some that they will really be able to connect to and learn quickly. Usually, you have them for 10-15 minutes and you can do around 3 songs each time. There is maybe 3 or 4 times for these short sets on Sat. and Sunday, so it’s important to have them get comfortable with the music quickly and hopefully it doesn’t take long for some keeper songs to rise to the top.

This is a little different crowd so song selection has to be thought out well. You don’t want to start out with the really personal intimate songs right away, because that’s just not where all of them are at. But at the same time you don’t want a song that doesn’t really say anything either, because this is a great chance to put some truth in their hearts. I like songs that teach them some truth about God, is accessible, and is quickly learned. We will have a theme song for the weekend called “He Knows My Name” which goes along great with one of the messages of the weekend. It is a slower type song but has a great message. Here are the lyrics:

I have a Maker
He formed my heart
Before even time began
My life was in his hands
I have a Father
He calls me His own
He’ll never leave me
No matter where I go

He knows my name
He knows my every thought
He sees each tear that falls
And He hears me when I call

Since When Did Bunnies Have Eggs?

Resurgence » Worldviews

How in the world did the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, the most sacred and central event in Christianity, come to be represented by a fluffy bunny who mysteriously has colored eggs and gives out cheap candy to kids?

The Easter Bunny is a commercialized cultural commonplace around the world (though it may be losing ground to the Easter Bilby in Australia), yet for all its familiarity, the Easter Bunny’s true origins are a mystery.

Eggs and Bunnies

Eggs and rabbits have been used as traditional symbols of springtime fertility and rebirth by various cultures throughout history. Eggs symbolize new life about to emerge, while hares and rabbits are conspicuous in the spring because they breed… like rabbits. The hare’s association with Easter may be a holdover from the ancient pagan spring festivals of Europe. According to Bede, an 8th-century Anglo-Saxon church historian, the British pagans used to celebrate a spring feast in honor of the goddess Eostre, who was represented by the hare.

Eostre and the Hare

When Pope Gregory the Great (540-604) sent missionaries to the British Isles, he instructed them to adapt the existing religious places and festivals for Christian use. He wrote, “Since the people are accustomed, when they assemble for sacrifice, to kill many oxen in sacrifice to the devils, it seems reasonable to appoint a festival for the people by way of exchange. The people must learn to slay their cattle not in honor of the devil, but in honor of God and for their own food…” Because the celebration of the Resurrection replaced the old spring feast of Eostre, the Christian holiday came to be called Easter, and Eostre’s pet animal the hare apparently came along for the ride.

Osterhase

The first known mention of the actual Easter Bunny comes from Germany in the 1600s, where the cute little guy was known as the Osterhase, or “Oschter Haws.” German immigrants came to America with a tradition in which the kids would build nests around the house out of hats and bonnets, and if they had been good children, Osterhase would leave brightly-colored eggs in the nests. The tradition grew and spread over time, and eventually Osterhase turned into the Easter Bunny and began giving out chocolate and candy as well as eggs.

The Resurrection

Easter is still celebrated as a major holiday all around the globe, but the truth of Jesus’ gory crucifixion and glorious resurrection is often obscured by the garish cartoon bunny in the stores and the gaudy displays of springtime fashion among the religious. Traditions of cute bunnies, marshmallowy creatures, colored eggs, and little girls in pink dresses are harmless enough, but at the same time we must not let anything obstruct our view of the earth-shattering reality represented by Easter. There’s nothing cute or cuddly about the fact that we killed God. When we were his enemies, he came to us, suffered in our place through the horror that was Good Friday, and rose from his grave on Easter Sunday so that we will one day rise from ours. The curse is broken, and we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus because we know we will one day experience it (1 Cor. 15:20-23). Let’s be joyful, let’s never shrink from speaking about Jesus’ death and resurrection, and let’s never trivialize it.

Logging Prayer Miles for the Kingdom

Apr. 12, 2011

Christ-followers as far away as India are answering the call to join the Million Mile Prayer Walk challenge. As a rally cry for earnest discipleship, The Wesleyan Church invites you to join thousands of us in a Million Mile Prayer Walk (MMPW), with each “mile” representing someone spending 20 minutes in intercessory prayer for spiritual awakening and transformation. Launched before the Lenten season, churches and individuals have been posting prayer miles on the Prayer Wall where participants can check their progress and find prayer resources.

Pastor Akashdeep of Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan, India, comes from a family of Hindu priests. He came  to know Jesus in 2005 and now pastors a home church. Searching the web for information on prayer groups, he found the MMPW site. Akashdeep says in an email, “I do not know anything about you. But I know one thing is that you also have burden for prayer. And that tells me that your and my blood type is same—that’s ‘J’ meaning Jesus.” His small group meets every Monday and has logged 640 prayer miles.

Marcia Stafford, prayer director for Greenville Community Church (a Wesleyan church in Greenville, Michigan), reports 4,681 miles for her congregation. Exuding a passionate spirit, she says the MMPW was an answer to prayer. Her prayer group had been praying for more people to pray. Marcia adds, “When you do something for 40 days, it becomes a habit, so people will pray more just by doing the Prayer Walk.”

Many established church prayer groups decided to partner with the MMPW because, as Joan Crooks of Oakway Wesleyan Church in Westminster, South Carolina, says, “It is such a great opportunity to join other Wesleyans to cry out to God for the lost to come to know and love Him.” Calene Pence of Fall Creek Wesleyan Church in Fishers, Indiana, belongs to a church prayer group that “sits” rather than walks. They firmly believe that this weekly prayer time is the most powerful activity they can do for their church. Pastor Doug Dennis of Neighbors Grove Wesleyan Church in Asheboro, North Carolina, says the MMPW “has been effective as an expression of our renewed emphasis on prayer and renewal.”

How can you participate? Just pray. Then, report the “prayer miles” on the MMPW pedometer. Don’t forget to update your miles regularly. Visit the Million Mile Prayer Walk Prayer Wall for answers to all your questions. As one prayer walker put it, “We can participate with what God is doing through prayer. It is a participation sport!”

A few weeks ago, Pastor Larry gave a sermon about how Peter went up on the roof and had a vision about eating what God had declared clean. Next thing he knows a believer, that also happens to be a Gentile shows up, and Peter realizes that Jesus is for everybody and not just for Jews.

The circumstances leading up to all of that is a good example of a divine appointment. Two different parties had to be faithful to what God was telling them, for the whole thing to work out.

You have probably heard the phrase Divine Appointment before, but that sermon really hit home that I don’t go around looking for those opportunities enough. How many opportunities has God put right in my path that I was just to dull, or too busy to notice? Probably way more than I would like to admit I”m sure.

I really want to be more in tune with God as I go about my everyday life so that I can act when he is calling me to do something.  Has God been giving you some Divine Appointments lately?

 

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