My Top 5 Corporate Worship Experiences

This is a hard post to write, because I typically don’t do “favorites”, but I’ve thought a lot recently about worship. That always floods my mind with memories of corporate worship highlights in my life…or favorite worship moments. I have had many. To me, worship is when God fills me with Himself. It’s when God has all of me and all I want is all of Him. That doesn’t have to happen in a church service…and often doesn’t for me…which is why I titled this “top 5 corporate worship moments“. I do believe, however, that there is something special about worshiping with other like-minded believers. (In fact, I would contend we are commanded to do so regularly.)

Of course, any time of worship is an incredible time. The fact that a holy God would choose to allow me into His presence should bring me to my knees constantly in worship. Honestly, however, there are times I’m just going through the motions of “worship”.

Here are my top 5 corporate worship experiences:

Los Angeles – It had been a long week at a business conference, and truthfully a very non-spiritual week. I was so busy that all week I read one chapter…Psalm 150. As is our custom, we went looking for a church on Sunday morning. I thought I had found a California mega-church online, but, after getting lost several times and nearly missing the service, we arrived to find out it was a very small church. There were less than 100 people and we were very obvious visitors. We decided to visit in spite of my introversion and on the marquis, permanently inscribed was a single verse: Let everything that have breath praise the Lord. Psalm 150:6. It turned out to be one of the most meaningful times of worship in my life.

Brooklyn Tabernacle Church – Cheryl and I were there for a Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir experience. I had heard people talk about this, and usually if I’m anticipating something it isn’t as likely to happen for me, but it did. I felt God’s presence like never before. I can still capture the memories of that moment today.

Brazil – I was about to speak via a translator for the very first time. Prior to stepping on stage, we were led in almost an hour-long time of worship, although it seemed like only a few minutes. Hearing Portuguese and English together proclaiming the goodness of the same God humbled me to tears.

Promise Keepers – I went to many Promise Keepers events, and they were all good, but on this particular occasion my boys went with me. They were probably both pre-teens at the time and at this conference, not only did I worship, but I got to witness, for the first time, my two boys worship. It was indescribable!

Passion Conference – I had gone with our college team, but for this session I slipped away by myself. I was alone in a crowded room…if you’ve ever been there. I knew no one around me and for 30 minutes, I gave God everything in my heart. I’ll never forget the jubilation. (I don’t get to use that word very much…but it seems appropriate here!)

Some may wonder, why didn’t you name your own church? Well, that’s a great question. I’m a very strategic-minded person, so on Sundays, to be candid, it’s more work that it is worship. Still, I’ve had some amazing times of worship at our church…especially backstage, which is why it didn’t make the list here.

I’d love to hear from you.

Tell me one (or 5) of your top worship moments.

7 Ways to Distinguish God’s Voice from the Circumstances of Life

How do you actually know God is talking to you?

Every believer wants to hear from God. Why would you follow God closely if you didn’t want to know His voice or hear what He has to say? We want to know…Is this God?…Is this what He is telling me to do?…or…Am I being swayed by the circumstances of my life?

One thing I’ve observed is that we often listen for the grandiose voice of God. Sometimes God speaks that way, but many times God is more subtle than that. Often God speaks through those quiet moments, through other people, and through life’s circumstances. In a crowded world of noise and life distractions sometimes it’s hard to understand what God is saying. How do we take the circumstance of life, as mixed up and confusing as they can be, and figure out what God could be saying to us?

Here are some guidelines to hearing God speak through the circumstances of life:

Mirror your circumstances with the truth of God’s Word – God will never contradict Himself. He will never speak to us through our circumstances in a way that will contradict His written word. I hear people at times claim God is telling them to do something that is in violation with what God has already said. That’s never God.

God uses people to confirm His voice – God often sends people into our path to confirm His will for our life. People who attempt to follow God with their life can help us to hear from God. Every time God has called me to something, there have been others to confirm they are hearing the same calling. I’ve often had to cycle through the naysayers to hear them, but they are there.

Recognize that God operates from a plan – Proverbs 16:9 says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” Rick Warren has sold millions of books telling us that we should live our life with a purpose…God’s purpose. Looking back over my life, I could never have scripted it, but I see how God has used me according to an overall plan. He’s used my life experiences to shape me for where I am today.

Examine your circumstances in light of God’s overall plan – When trying to hear from God through the circumstances of life, we should not try to make a decision on one event or set of circumstances. Circumstances may or may not be God speaking to us. We should look at our life over a span of months or years. Jeremiah 29:11 indicates that God has a definite plan to proper us and give us hope, but it would take the people 70 years to get there. :) When we look at our life over time we will be able to see what God has been doing. When the circumstances of life consistently line up over time with God’s overall plan it is possible that God is trying to speak through those circumstances. Before God called me into ministry the voices speaking into my life were many. I was available, there were tons of confirmations and signs, and I had to view my life in the context of God’s master plan.

Don’t allow circumstances to keep you from hearing or obeying God – Paul says in 1 Corinthians 16:8-9 (NIV) “But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.” The common sense thing to do when everyone opposes you would be to leave, but Paul knew the circumstances were not indicative of God’s will for his life. Sometimes our circumstances may look gloomy, but we haven’t heard the truth of our circumstances until we have heard from God. God has typically spoken to me clearest during my darkest days. (Read THIS POST)

Ask God to show you His perspective on the circumstances – You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13 NIV) As followers of God we will spend our whole life trying to discern the will of God for our life; listening for His voice. If we desire to hear from God through our circumstances we must intently listen for the voice of God. Hearing from God is not always easy. When life is coming at us we cannot seem to understand what is going on, we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for clarification. We should feel free to ask, “God what did you mean by that?” Many times I think I know what God is saying, but it’s in the seasons of questioning that I am more intentional to go back to Him for clarification. I’ve even taken days away to intentionally listen during the confusing times.

Remember: God’s primary desire in speaking is for eternal purposes – We limit God to this finite world when we fail to remember He is an infinite God. When we are trying to discern God’s voice through the circumstances of life we should consider how what is happening around us fits into God’s eternal plan to save a lost world from destruction and to mold His children into the image of His Son. God’s primary activity will be in these areas of our life. I’ve always been able to see how God’s specific plan for me lined up with His desire to invite a world to know Him.

Hearing from God is critical for the children of God to know God’s will for our life.

Our mission is to learn how to hear His voice. We must listen intently and carefully for His voice through the crowd of noises in the world in which we live. Thankfully God has not given up on us, but is still speaking to His people today.

Are you in a season of trying to hear from God?

Share your story to help (This is a revised post from previous posts.

Hearing the Voice of God

Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:20-21

These verses aren’t my life verses…maybe they should be…

You see…

Most of my life I’ve been desperate for a word from God…

I’ve wanted to know His thoughts…

I want His input into my life…

I want to know His will…

Just being honest, I’ve probably spent more time wondering His will than I have obeying His will.

(I hope that doesn’t disappoint you…)

Sure, I know lots of His will I can obey everyday…right from the pages of His Word…

But, to know the will of the things not clearly outlined in Scripture…well…sometimes I’m left wondering…

I have learned this, however…

Many times God has to get my attention to get me to listen…

And then there’s…

Bread

Bread is pretty essential for survival. I’ve traveled lots of places…people love their bread. In San Francisco, they claim to have the best sour dough bread anywhere. Germany seemed to love their bread too. In Malta there was this bread of which I couldn’t get enough. Everywhere I’ve been, bread seems to be a staple. It’s a basic commodity.

Yet, God gives us the bread of adversity.

And then there’s…

Water

Everyone knows we can’t live long without water. There are whole ministries trying to provide water to people around the world, because people are dying without it. They say our city’s water has algae in it…or something like that…because of the heat. It’s supposedly safe to drink, but people are complaining. During my long training periods for running, when I start aching all over, I know I haven’t had enough water. Water is a critical commodity.

Yet, God gives us the water of affliction.

I don’t understand.

But, then the verse says, “your teachers will be hidden no more” …

“whether you turn to the right or to the left” …

“you ears will hear a voice behind you” …

“this is the way”…

That’s what I’m looking for, right?

Perhaps I’ve been looking at trials all the wrong way…

Perhaps trials bring me closer to the heart of God…

Perhaps a trial makes me desperate for my Creator…

Perhaps nothing like a trial produces in me a longing for God…

Perhaps God uses trials to show me His love…His provision…to teach and mold me…and to point me in the way I am to go…

Which is what I wanted in the first place…

I don’t know…just thinking…

What do you think?

I’ve written other thoughts on hearing the voice of God HERE.

Then They Will Know…That He Is The Lord

This is what the LORD says: By this you will know that I am the LORD Exodus 7:17

and then you will know that I am the LORD. 1 Kings 20:13

And they will know that I am the LORD… Ezekiel 6:13

Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the LORD… Joel 2:27

I did some reading this week…

It seems God likes to make Himself known…

Throughout the Old Testament, God did thing that caused people know to know He is the Lord…

I don’t find that same phrase in the New Testament…

I do read this:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8

It makes me wonder..

What am I doing…what are you doing?

In our life…
In our city…
In our church…
In our community…
In our world…

That’s showing people He is the Lord…

Two Messages from the Book of Mark

For whatever reason, apparently some of my readers like to listen to my Sunday messages. My hope is that listening online to anyone’s message is not an excuse for failing to connect with a local church. I believe that’s where the best discipleship occurs. If you are having trouble connecting somewhere, read THIS POST. If you want to supplement your church experience, you have to miss for other reasons, or you just want to hear my teaching, welcome!

We have a teaching team, so I don’t preach every week, but share the messages here when I do. Currently our podcast host is experiencing some problems with the embed feature, but if you are interested, we are walking through the book of Mark this summer. Here are a couple messages I’ve not yet posted. I’ll post the messages as a video here when that feature is repaired.

Week 1 - Mark 8:1-13

To hear this message, click HERE. To view this message click HERE.

Here are the questions for reflection on this message:

  • Do you believe God is able to do whatever you need Him to do?
  • Do you believe God will do what you need Him to do?
  • Do you have people in your life who you rust more now than you did when you first met them?
  • Do you have people you trust less now that you know them?
  • How do you think you could develop more trust in God?

Week 2 - Mark 10:17-31

A key to developing a sincere, growing faith in Jesus is to discover what holds our heart more than Christ. Join Ron Edmondson as he looks at a familiar passage illustrating that point.

To hear this message, click HERE. To view this message click HERE.

Here are the questions for reflection on this message:

  • Did you grow up in church?
  • Would you consider yourself a good person?
  • Do you think you are better than average?
  • What would be the hardest thing for you to give up if God asked you to?
  • Do you sometimes think you have already given so much…and wonder when you’ll get your reward?
  • Does the concept of grace, God’s forgiveness and mercy, freely given, ever blow your mind if you think about it, especially considering how well you know yourself?

I love hearing from you if you are listening to these messages.

Intentionally Loving People

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12

As believers, loving others is not to be an option, it’s to be a lifestyle. No one does that better than my wife Cheryl.

Recently we were on a 3 1/2 hour flight to San Francisco. I was in the window seat, Cheryl was in the middle, and a woman we didn’t know was in the aisle seat. I do some of my best work on a plane, so time seemed to pass quickly. I knew Cheryl was talking to the other woman, but didn’t pay much attention. I was in a zone and very focussed. (Cheryl’s always complimented me on being able to ignore everything around me :) )

At one point I looked up and Cheryl was crying…and so was this woman. Of course my first thought, as every man thinks when a woman cries, was “what did I do?” :) Once I realized it wasn’t about me this time, I said a little prayer for my wife…and went back to work. After we exited the plane Cheryl explained that this woman had just returned from her father’s funeral. Cheryl, who lost her father over a year ago, was able to minister to this woman on the flight to San Francisco. They traded contact information and Cheryl made herself available; all because of this brief encounter.

This week, Cheryl received this email:

Cheryl,
I feel so blessed that in my time of need you not only sensed I was sad, but took the risk and reached out to me. I do believe fate put me in the seat next to you that day as you are still experiencing the same pain that was so new and raw for me. I will remember you and your act of kindness for the rest of my life. I will honor you, by following your example the next time I see someone in pain.

Thank you,
Donna

I love that. Seriously, I know I’m a pastor, but my church knows my wife is a better example of loving people than I am most days. She doesn’t love as a part of her ministry; she loves as a part of her heart.

Dear God, help me to love intentionally, like my wife does.

Do you know someone who is a model of intentional love? Pay tribute to them here.

He Who Loves You, Watches Over You

One of the greatest feelings as a parent has to be watching your children sleep….

Knowing they are safe….resting…under your care…

I never got tired of knowing my boys were safe in their beds at night. It was a great time of day.

I wonder if God feels that way…

I wonder if God gets a charge out of watching over His children as they sleep…

I wonder if He smiles when He sees a child drift into dream land…

I’m reminded of these verses:

“He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (Psalm 121:3-4)

When you are sound asleep, God is on watch…like a proud dad!

As you go to bed tonight, capture the moment, imagine the emotion God has as He watches His child fall asleep.

Your Story Isn’t Too Big for Me To…

About once a month, someone shares a story with me that’s big. I get stories all the time, but I’m talking about the kind of story that makes your jaw flop open when you hear it…that kind of big story.

I’ve quit being surprised when it happens, but I’m usually surprised that it’s happening to the person telling me the story. Usually this type of story starts with a phrase such as “I hope you’ll still be my friend after I tell you this...” or “Please don’t give up on me when I tell you this…”

Someone made a huge error…they messed up…they sinned…

What surprises me most, however, is that no matter how much I preach with grace, in spite of the fact that “grace” is in our church’s name, even though I’m not bashful about saying I’ve had tremendous failures in my own life…

People still worry how I will respond to them.

Guilt does that too a person…and struggling with the emotions after a moral failure is often one of the hardest consequences…

Let me make one thing perfectly clear, however…

Your story isn’t too big for me to…

  • Extend you grace…
  • Call you my friend…
  • Still love you…
  • Want the best for you…
  • Introduce you to my Savior…

You see, it’s not because I’m especially graceful, but because I serve a BIG GOD…

And He’s extended me much grace…So I know…

My Jesus isn’t scared away by the size or the messiness of your story…

The seemingly impossible situation you’ve found yourself in hasn’t startled Him either…

Go ahead…share your story with me…watch and see…

By the way, the longer you try to protect your story or the longer you pretend it isn’t your story…

The longer you may be delaying receiving forgiveness and grace…

Have you ever felt your story was “too big” to share?

Do you have one person in your life with whom you can share anything and know he or she will still love you?

Do you need to confess your darkest pain to someone today?

7 Ways to Get the Most out of a Church Experience

This is a note to the church shopper, especially those who can’t seem to find a place to call home. You want to have a church family, but nothing seems to connect with you. You’ve tried every flavor of church, but none match your taste.

My desire would be that you learn to love your church experience. No church is perfect, but if you will follow a few tips, you may find exactly the right fit for your family. This is my best advice and the advice I would give you if we were meeting in person. Don’t give up looking for the right church until you’ve tried all of this process, because each step is necessary to achieve the best results:

If you are looking to connect with a church:

Attend - You have to make a decision that this church is part of your weekly routine. It needs to become a habit. I personally believe you should support the services the church offers in order to get the most benefit from the church. If the church meets on Sunday or Wednesday night you should support those services too as much as you can. Many of the inner workings of the church will most likely happen then. Our church limits the number of services per week, but attending regularly is the first step in connecting with a body of believers.

Commit - Decide this is your choice for a season. Stick with it long enough to form a habit of attending. You can break the habit easy if necessary…people do it everyday…but for now, unless you know the first week the church is not a fit for your family, if you’ve been a couple times and are still interested, try to stay committed for a long enough period to give the church a fair chance. Many churches experiences get “better” as you begin to see the church as your church.

Serve – Find a place to serve within the church. You’ll get to know the people involved and feel that you are a genuine part of the church. You’ll love a church more when you serve within that church.

Give - Become a financial investor in the church. If you believe in the mission, then be a part of funding it. You’ll grow to love the places where you invest your money.

Listen - Pay attention to the message then follow up with personal study or reflection. I suggest this regardless of whether you enjoy the style of the preacher or not. You chose the church and he or she worked to prepare a message. If you can’t be present in person listen online or by tape if that’s an option. Keep up with the teaching and know where the pastor is leading the church at the time.

Pray - Decide to pray regularly for the staff and church. God may surprise you with a deep love and appreciation for this church as you learn to pray for it.

Invite – Bring some friends along with you next time you attend. Invite your neighbors and family to join you. You’ll feel proud when someone you care about joins you at church and your love for the church will grow.

Have you ever had to look for a new church? How did you handle the process?

Bonus question: What is the first few things you look for in a church? What brings you back?