Garth Brooks, Notre Dame, and Your Christmas Service at Church

Last night while the big game for the NFL was broadcast on NBC and Hallmark was showing yet another Christmas movie, a country music superstar came out of self-imposed semi-retirement. The Garth Brooks Stadium Tour has begun and the concert recorded in the rain at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana in October aired on CBS last night. The production quality of Brooks' concert was incredible. He has been known for his live shows since breaking onto the scene over two decades ago. While other country singers would stand behind a microphone in their starched Wranglers while playing guitar and belting out hits (George Strait, Alan Jackson, et. al.) Brooks would wear the wrap-around microphone that he must have either borrowed from Madonna or the Drive-Thru worker at Chick-fil-A, run around the stage or at times, pull a Bon Jovi and fly above the crowd. Brooks is an entertainer for certain.

Whether you like his music or not, there's no denying he has appeal for many. The stadium was packed. It was raining. It was cold. And while I know that post-production can do some pretty amazing things, based on tweets and reports online from those who were in attendance, plus what was seen on television, the crowd LOVED the show.

Photo credit: tncountryfan on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC

So, what does this have to do with anything related to church, Christianity, worship, or anything else spiritual?

While watching last night, I said to my wife "Brooks has the crowd in his hand. He's no evangelist, but he's evangelizing and the crowd is 'amening" their approval." I followed up with "If he asked people to come down front to make a decision, they'd come in droves." This was not a condemnation on crusades or the traditional "come down the aisle" moment in many churches. I was just noting that what we were observing in this very well produced event was something that we have seen in religious settings as well (albeit with fewer people in the crowd.)

My friend and pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Dean Inserra tweeted as the concert was completing:

 

Dean hit the nail on the head in this comparison.

Some of you reading will be upset that I, a Baptist preacher, may seem to be condoning the message or lifestyle promoted in Brooks' songs. Well, I'm not. However, I do know the words of many of the hits he played. I like some more than others. Yet, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who actually has a radio in their vehicle, an iTunes or Amazon Music account or who has been alive for the past twenty years or so who does not know at least some of the words to "Friends in Low Places." 

Christmas at Church

No I do not recommend singing "Callin' Baton Rouge" at your Christmas Eve service. Yet, I do find some insight from this event that was on television last night. Spurred on by Dean Inserra's tweet, I recommend the following to pastors who are trying to find ways to connect with their communities during this Christmas season.

  1. Plan Well. Every community is different, so know yours. If you don't...you have more issues than Chris Gaines. Presuming you know the people in your community, plan a service that will connect with them and allow them to not only feel welcomed, but encouraged that there is a God who loves them deeply. If your service is planned for church people, you will only connect with church people (yours and those who are members of other churches.) It's easy to plan a church service for church people. Don't.
  2. Preach Clearly. Christmas sermons are sometimes the most difficult for pastors, because we (pastors) all too often try to be really creative and end up missing the point. Jesus is the point. He always is. He always must be. The "birth of Jesus" story is known by many, but don't presume it is rightly known by the crowd in your building. Some view the story of the nativity as little more than than a holiday fairy tale or myth on par with the Rudolph, Frosty, and Grinch stories. (BTW - I like all those stories and even the Charlie Brown one.) BTW - just because it's Christmas, don't leave Jesus as a baby in a manger. Get to the cross. Preach the resurrection. A little Easter at Christmas is needed by all.
  3. Provide the Familiar. Sing songs that people have heard. Is it a sin to sing "Jingle Bells"? I say no. However, sing the carols that glorify the Christ. Don't skip or ignore those. People have heard them. Many know the words. They may just sing along. The words point to Christ. Christ is the point, remember? Sing about him. Worship him with these classics. It's possible. And, as we saw with Brooks' incredible show, you don't even have to have the very best singer in town on the stage leading. You do need to be able to lead people to sing, however. In the age of performance worship and having to present the latest pop-song worship chorus, many in the room are left watching and missing the opportunity to worship with song. Vicarious worship is not the goal. The best worship leaders are the leaders who worship.
  4. Present the Decision. Don't forget to draw the net (that's an evangelism term that refers to giving people the opportunity to respond) and express to all who have attended your special Christmas Eve or seasonal service that God loves them. He sent his son. He wants to know them personally and they can receive something more than a temporal gift wrapped in paper. Life is available. Whether you allow people to respond by calling them down front, offering them a moment to meet with you following the service, giving them a link on your app to click, or a number to text does not matter. There are numerous ways to give people the opportunity to respond. Just don't leave it left undone. Otherwise, you will once again evaluate your service with your staff and say "We had a good crowd, but we're not sure if anyone made a decision and therefore, have no way to follow up." Yep - we've done this way too often.

What you don't need to have an effective Christmas service is the production budget of Garth. Don't be who you're not and don't fret that you don't have unlimited resources for smoke machines, lighting, or other effects. If you have those things, that's fine, but those are not the point when the true focus is clear.

So this Baptist preacher learned something from a country singer with hits about drinking, cheating, dancing, and a false narrative about prayer while performing on stage with a man dressed as a leprechaun at a Catholic university. 

Weird.

________________

Photo credit: tncountryfan on Visualhunt /CC BY-NC


A Moment That Changed Everything - My Message at @GameDayChurch on 9/11

We launched our second year of GameDay Church on September 11. This church service/event in the parking lot of EverBank Field prior to the Jaguars - Packers game drew a crowd and allowed us to engage in gospel-centric conversations with those walking by and hanging out at our tailgate event. Being that it was September 11, I felt that addressing the fifteenth anniversary of the tragic day of terror that hit our nation was appropriate. 

Here is a transcript of my message on 9/11 with reference to Matthew 9. Thanks to Jon Wood, our campus minister at IslandChurch for the story regarding the Eagles - Redskins football game.

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A few years ago there was an NFL game scheduled on a Sunday, but rather than a 1pm start, this one started at 2pm. That’s strange, but not the strangest thing about this game.

The game was being played between the Redskins and the Eagles. Philadelphia was out of the playoff hunt, but they were looking to play the role of spoiler. The Redskins were sitting at .500 and were in a position to squeak into the playoffs, but needed the win.

The game began with the Eagles taking an early lead.

The Redskins took advantage of a Philly turnover and scored in the second quarter, to tie it up at 7 apiece. Not really an offensive game so far.

 The game continued on and the fans who remained in the stands to watch what became a very sloppy game did so because, they’re well…fans.

The Eagles ended up turning the ball over more and the Redskins won. The game ended as most everyone thought.

And once the game was over, no one cared.

That game was over about 5pm and because of the way news spread at the time, the things happening globally that day became known by the fans and players by the end of the game. The announcer at the game, it’s is said, began asking some of the fans in the stands to report to certain areas immediately.

You see, on that day, December 7, 1941, everything changed. 

America was divided at the time. Can you imagine a divided America? It was severe. Many thought the war was dumb and we shouldn’t bother or get involved. Others thought we must. Then, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor happened and there was no longer a valid option of sitting on the sidelines. America was thrust into World War II.

Those men who were called out of the stadium were active-duty military personnel. They were now at war. More would join. The entire nation would engage, even on the home front.

Fifteen years ago, another day began, just like every other day. People got up, had their coffee, went to work and then planes hit towers, a plane hit the Pentagon and one even crashed in Pennsylvania. The news reports were horrendous and clear.

Things had changed.

We now live in a post 9/11 world now and are reminded of that even as we enter EverBank today for the game. The metal detectors and bag searches are now normal.

Going to the airport and flying is different than it used to be.

We have a "new normal" because of these horrendous acts.

Sometimes, a regular day, or at least our plans for a regular day, can end up life-changing.

In these cases, the changes were brought on by attacks and terrorism. But, there are moments in life that are also unexpected, that lead to more positive and encouraging life-change.

In the Bible, there was a man named Matthew. He was a Jewish man, but not liked by his people. He was considered a sell-out. He was working for the occupying nation in his homeland by collecting taxes from his peers.

And, in those days, tax collectors were known to, and even expected to, fleece the people to pad their own pockets. The Roman government (the occupying one) didn’t care how much the native collectors gathered in taxes, as long as they had the amount Rome wanted. So, any extra they could get was for themselves.

So, Matthew goes to work on that day – just another day – nothing special expected, but something special did happen. Something he never saw coming.

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”Matthew 9:9-13 (ESV)  [1]

Look at what happened. Jesus, the Son of God, intentionally went to a guy that the religious people, the neighbors, and others in the community did not like and would avoid if possible. Jesus went to him. He met him at his place of business, in his own comfort zone and offered him a chance at new life.

He said, “Follow me” which seems like the shortest invitation ever, and it was, but coming from Jesus, it was clearly strategic.

Matthew didn’t expect this, but was overwhelmed with the invite. “Me? Follow you? Seriously?” and he did.

Matthew became one of Jesus’ twelve apostles, one of his closest friends. He, like the others in Jesus group of close friends, would later be described as one of the men who was turning the world upside down, for good.

Just another day, right?

Nope.

Everything changed and on this day, it changed for the better.

We can all relate to the 9/11 change, especially if you’re old enough to remember it. Some of us may remember Pearl Harbor, but at a minimum, we’ve read about it or watched the videos about it. We understand how those moments can change everything. And some of us here have a Matthew story – we understand how Jesus surprises us and changes everything. When we least expected it.

And maybe some here today will experience this. It’s just another Sunday. It’s another football game. It’s the start of the season. There was a day much like this last season and the season before, etc. But, today, you’re here and maybe, just maybe, Jesus is still doing what he did 2000 years ago. He’s meeting you when you least expected it and saying “Follow me.” Now, you get to decide to follow him or not.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Mt 9:9–13). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.


Talk Is Cheap - Part 10 - Tongue Tied

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Some points from James 3 to ponder:

  • Not everyone should be a teacher.
  • Those who do teach are held to higher scrutiny.
  • What we say reveals what is in our heart.
  • You cannot have negative speech and a positive heart.
  • A Christian has not just surrendered his/her heart to God, but his/her entire life (mind, soul, spirit, mouth, etc.)
  • James is really not talking about using profanity here (though that's not encouraged either) but about Christians who can praise God with their mouths in one moment and then curse their brothers and sisters in Christ in the next. "This ought not be so."

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Talk Is Cheap - Part 9 - Faith Works!

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I fully understand that this is now considered and old movie – a classic, you know, but when the third Indiana Jones movie came out, it did incredibly well at the box office. There was Harrison Ford and Sean Connery and the battle against the Nazis and the search for the elusive holy grail.

I loved that movie.

Then, the fourth one came out with the alien skulls and the nuked refrigerator. . .but I try not to remember that one.

Still, in that third one, “The Last Crusade” there was this scene where Indy was stepping out over an abyss and. . .well, watch this to remember the scene.

Indiana Jones from Anchorsaway Ministries on Vimeo.

 

There’s much about faith throughout the scriptures. It is a hallmark of who we are as Christians, but to just say “You need to have faith” seems to miss the mark as life moves forward.

June-17-mainIn fact, there are even seemingly contradictory teachings on faith in the Bible. Yet, because we know that God does not contradict Himself and his Word, therefore does not, we need to look into this to discern what God is saying.

God is gracious enough to give us a definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 (ESV)

These two words “assurance” and “conviction” seem clear at first, but in truth, there’s much more here than the initial reading gives us. These two words are unusual and difficult to translate into English.

Some of you may remember the old English version of this passage that states “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

That doesn’t help much either.

So, before we get into this, ask yourself “Do you have faith?”

How do you know?

How can prove you have faith?

The evidence of faith is that there is a God in control. He reveals is existence in numerous ways and through his revelation and His Spirit, come assurance for those who believe.

James writes of faith clearly to the church and we are wise to listen. . .

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe--and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness" --and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. James 2:14-26 (ESV)

James cuts to the quick here and comes hard at the “faith question.”

At first, it seems to contradict Paul’s writings in Ephesians 2

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV)

Since we want to live by faith, obedient to God, with the mind of Christ and in the Word and every other Christian phrase and title we can think of, we must reconcile this.

Paul, one of the greatest leaders of the early church, an Apostle, teacher and preacher, wrote these words to a church steeped in Jewish legalism and Old Testament laws like circumcision. Many in the church were adding to the Gospel things that weren’t required for salvation and redemption. Paul was fight legalism and reminded the church then and us today that to add anything to the grace of God in the form of works neuters the grace and pulls the focus on us, not God.

James was battling the flip-side of this coin in the church. One group, Paul’s target, were legalists and working to get saved. The other group, James’ target, were living under the belief that “I prayed a prayer and received Jesus and therefore do not have to do anything now.”

Paul is talking about how to become a Christian.

James is talking about how to live as a Christian.

Our faith leads to action. It’s not bragging. It’s just the natural step of men and women of faith.

Now, what works follow faith?

That’s the journey that is exciting, isn’t it? To give you one answer would be doing harm to the body, because each of us are gifted and wired differently. Yet, even in our uniqueness, our foundation is on the Gospel and therefore, our works are those that esteem, elevate and bring honor to God.

This much we know, faith does not lead to sitting. Faith does not lead to just thinking. Faith does not lead to doing nothing.

Maybe our first action step is saying “Yes” to God and let Him lead. Then, as His church, we live equipped and together impact this world for Him.


Talk Is Cheap - Part 7 - Orphan Sunday

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As we continue our series through James' letter to the first century church, we land on the verse that gives practical examples of how to not only hear the Word, but to do what it says.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27 (ESV)

How appropriate that this past Sunday was "Orphan Sunday." 

I have shared in previous posts this week of the story our church has entered regarding the plight of the orphan. That journey continues to gather steam and last Sunday, we focused on why we advocate and then shared some practical steps for believers to enter the story as individuals.

One of the most amazing moments from last Sunday was the time of prayer over families who are either fostering children or are/have adopted children. To see the dozens of families stand before their church declaring that they have not only heard the Word in this area, but are doing the Word was amazing.

The fact that not every family is called to foster or adopt is clear, but so too is the reality that no Christ-follower can opt out of praying for or advocating for the orphan. This is a family story. . .a firstFAMILY story.

Prayer Cards for Clay County Children

We provided hundreds of prayer cards to members of our family last week. There were two varieties. The first had a name, gender and age of a child in our county. There were over 100 of these. These children are in our foster care system now and our prayer is for them, their families and the potential of a forever family stepping forward for them. Ages ranged from 4 months to 17 years.

The second group of cards featured six individuals. These are teenagers in our county who are just waiting. They are ready for adoption. Our prayer is that six Christian families inner county will say "yes" to adopt and provide these children homes.

Since we have been given permission to share these images and names, please take the time to pray specifically for these children. Their details are listed below.

 

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Brittany - Age 15

 

 

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Cordova - Age 13

 

 

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Dakota - Age 17

 

 

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Emilie - Age 16

 

 

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Joshua - Age 15

 

 

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Westley - Age 15