With God, trust is a 2-way street.


“Therefore,, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’  For the Gentiles are anxiously seeking these things; for your Heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things.  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be granted to you.” Matthew 6:31-33 (JHLT)

Tomorrow I will be doing a funeral for a member of First Baptist Church.  In considering what I will say at that gathering, my mind was drawn to a conversation she and I had after worship one Sunday early last year.  She was experiencing some angst over an important decision that she needed to make.  She was concerned about making the right decision.  She wanted to make the decision that was God’s will.  I truly appreciated her desire to make a decision that God desired, but since she couldn’t determine what that was, she was stuck.  This is sometimes called, “paralysis by analysis.”  She is not the first, nor will she be the last, to experience this.

Here is what she was forgetting – her heart’s desire.  I reminded her that I knew for a fact that her heart’s desire was to follow, serve, honor, and glorify God.  She was definitely fulfilling the part of the passage I quoted above of “But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.”  The decision that needed to be made fell into the category of life “stuff” which Jesus mentioned by speaking of those things people chase after in life.

So this is what I told her.  Because of your heart’s true desire, you cannot make a wrong decision here.  If you decide it one way, God will like that decision.  If you decide it in the opposite way, God will like that decision.  This is true because God is letting you decide.  While what I just wrote may seem counter-intuitive, what we must remember is that with God, trust is a two-way street.  We trust God, but God also trusts us, just like we trust our own children to make decisions based upon what we have poured into them.

God had poured His nature, through Jesus, into her and He knew what her heart’s true desire was.  Because of those two realities, I told her that God trusted her enough to give her the option of choosing how to make the decision.  Therefore, I told her that no matter how she made the decision, she couldn’t go wrong.  There was no need to feel any angst, paralysis, or consternation over the decision.  God trusted her.  And she made the decision, and it turned out to be just like I said it would be.

I have met so many Christians throughout my years as a pastor who have experienced similar situations in which life-decisions were needing to be made, but were paralyzed by it.

If you find yourself currently in that type of situation, I would ask you this: what is truly your heart’s desire?  Is it for God’s kingdom?  Is it for His righteousness?  Is it that God would be glorified?  Is it that God’s reputation would be enhanced?  Is it that His kingdom would be built?  These are the most important questions to be answered, because it is the basis from which you will decide the decision to the life-question you are facing.

If you answered, “Yes,” to the previous questions, God will proceed in one of two ways.  One way is that He will do things to show you which way He desires.  The other way, and the one not often mentioned, is the way of trust – God’s trust.  When He chooses that way, you will not see anything that will tell you God’s desire because He is saying, “I know you and I know your heart.  Therefore, I trust you.  Here are your options.  What would you like to do?  Oh, that’s what you would like to do?  Great, let’s do that then.”

Remember, with God, trust is a two-way street.  So it was with my friend.  So God wants it to be with each one of us.


I love it when God opens my eyes

In last month’s church newsletter, I wrote about encouraging people to share where and how they have seen God at work – His presence and activity – in order that our faith community would be strengthened and we would be drawn into deeper praise and worship of Him.  I wrote, “I am asking you if you would be willing to share how you have seen God at work recently.  This could be something He has shown you, taught you, or reminded you.  This could be something you have seen Him do in a situation or circumstance.  Maybe it was an answer to prayer.”

To say that the response to this call has been underwhelming would be inaccurate.  The response has been non-existent.  This reality has caused me to consider the reasons why this has been the case.  I know that it isn’t because God isn’t active, present, and working.  Was it because people were disinterested or just didn’t care?  I don’t believe this to be the reason either because I know better.  So what, then, could it be?  I believe the reason was revealed to me during worship this past Sunday (May 24th).

During that worship gathering, I gave opportunities for those present to share how they had seen God recently.  Now, I realize that I sprung this on people, so maybe it should not have been surprising that the first opportunity had no one willing to share, so I did.  It was during the second opportunity that I realized what was occurring.  I got the sense that people were unsure of sharing because, for some reason, they were concerned that what was shared might be deemed as not being “spiritual enough.”

LaVonne Keyser broke the ice.

During the offering, which was when I gave the second opportunity, I ask if someone would like to share  how s/he had recently experienced the generosity of our God.  And just like that first opportunity, for the first minute or so, no one spoke until LaVonne (our resident Tupperware dealer) said, “Well, I had a good day in sales yesterday.”  Exactly!  God has been providing for LaVonne through her Tupperware business for many years now.  Why wouldn’t He show His generosity through giving her a good sales day?  That’s God’s activity.  Let’s recognize it for what it is, share it, and praise God for it!

Immediately, Mary Jo Laupp shared how God was generous to her in a different way through a friend, who happens to be a pastor of a different church in our region, generously sharing kind and encouraging words to her via a Facebook message.  That was God demonstrating His generosity in a different way.  Let’s recognize it for what it is, share it, and praise God for it!

Later in the gathering, Denny Hunter shared how God was using him to impact his neighbors by doing something as simple as mowing their grass when, due to circumstances, they had no resources to do so.  That was God sharing His goodness, love, and concern for people through Denny.  Let’s recognize it for what it is, share it, and praise God for it!

We celebrate what God did in the past through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, as we should.  But imagine how actually personally experiencing Jesus’ resurrection (God’s work, presence, and activity) impacted the worship and praise and spirit of His followers.  It intensified it because they had witnessed God’s activity, presence, and working.

We must remember that God isn’t just the God of yesteryear or of the future; He is also the God of today.  He is still at work, present, and active.  And just like the intensity of Jesus’ followers worship and praise increased because of actually witnessing God’s work, presence, and activity, when we witness God’s work, presence, and activity, it should increase our worship/praise intensity.  And then when we share that with the rest of the church, the rest of the church can also experience that increased intensity.

In our worship gatherings throughout this summer, there will be opportunities for people to share what they have seen and experienced of God’s work, presence, and activity.  So, be looking and be ready to share.

Because we have an AWESOME God,

God’s question to me today

“Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.  Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.  For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods.  In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.  Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.”

During my meditation and conversation time with God this morning, He asked me a question.  Now, this isn’t the first time He has asked me a question for my consideration, and sometimes I like the question, and other times, not so much.  This morning was one of those questions in the latter group.

“Jim, if a person worshiped you in the same way you worship me, how would that make you feel?”

As I considered that question, I not only thought of it on a personal level, but also on a corporate level, as I seek to lead my people into pure worship.  And that’s why I was drawn to the 95th Psalm, which I quoted above.

“Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord.”  What does it mean to “sing for joy?”  Joy is defined as “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.”  How often does my singing truly demonstrate great pleasure and happiness, pleasure and happiness that exist because of who God is for me and what He has done for me?

“Let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.”  When was the last time I shouted during worship to let my Rock know how excited I am about who He is for me and what He has done for me, both in years past and yesterday?

“Let us come before him with thanksgiving.”  There’s something “extra” in a person’s heart when what is done is centered in and caused by thanksgiving, something “extra” that cannot be contained or squelched.  It must come out or I will explode.  There is an exuberance that is very evident.  When was the last time I thought I might explode if I was not given an outlet for praise and worship that was just dripping with thanksgiving?

“[Let us] extol him with music and song.”  Extol means to “praise enthusiastically.”  Enthusiasm means “with intense and eager enjoyment.”  This intensity can and will cause a variety of emotional responses.  It could evoke tears or laughter and everything in-between.  That’s the intensity of the experience.  When was the last time I experienced that intensity?  When was the last time it was my attitude that I was truly having a hard time waiting for the next worship gathering because I craved joining my voice, characterized by intense and eager praise, with others?

“Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.”  This action shows that we understand the dynamics of this relationship between God and us.  We place ourselves in the proper place of the created, of those doing the worshiping, a place that must be physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.  When was the last time that the awesomeness and goodness of my God caused me to physically fall to my knees because the strength left my legs because of God’s incredible-ness?

“For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods.  In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.”  Here is the awesomeness of our God.  When was the last time that this truth truly moved me to pure, passionate, and unbridled worship and praise of my God?

Here was my answer to God’s question to me: “God, I’d be sick and tired of mundane, unenthusiastic, bland,  rote, and emotionless praise and worship.  I’d want to scream at the top of my lungs, ‘Are you aware of who I am?  Are you aware of who I am for you?  Are you aware of what I’ve done for you, both in the past and as recently as yesterday, or maybe even today already?’  I’d scream those things because the praise and worship I was receiving would tell me that they don’t get it.”

God had a one-word response: “Exactly.”

“Father, please forgive me for my mundane, unenthusiastic, bland, rote, and emotionless praise and worship that I have offered you.  You are the great God.  Who You are for me and what You have done for me are both beyond comparison; they are that awesome and incredible.  May my praise and worship of You scream to You that I truly realize Your awesomeness and incredible-ness.  May my praise and worship of You reveal the intense joy and pleasure I find in who You are and what You have done.  And may You experience incredible joy in the praise and worship I offer You.  And may the people You have given me to lead and shepherd also reflect that in their praise and worship, both privately and corporately.  In the name of Your awesome and incredible Son, Jesus, Amen.”

On the right path

I believe God still communicates to people today, and not just only through Scripture.  I believe that God still speaks to people through ways like placing something in a person’s spirit or heart, by speaking directly to him/her, or by allowing him/her to see something, among other things.  And I also believe God uses dreams to communicate.

(As an aside, what I just said in the above paragraph is a departure from what was impressed upon me as a child, for I was taught that once the New Testament was finished, that God would now only communicate through it.  I departed from that because of coming to two realizations.  First, if God was done talking with the close of the New Testament, then, in reality, He really didn’t have much to say.  Second, nowhere in the New Testament does God truly state that He is done talking.  Of the two main passages used to support that He now only speaks through the written word of the Bible, one [1 Corinthians 13:10] is interpreted incorrectly and the other [Revelation 22:19] is misapplied.  Therefore, I believe God is still speaking in order to reveal Himself to people and enhance His reputation among people.)

The reason I bring this all up is that God came to me last night through a dream.  I had a few dreams last night, but what remained most vivid from them was a reference to a passage of Scripture – John 1:31.  I couldn’t get it out of my head.  So I made a point to read it this morning.  After reading it, I took it as God sharing with me that I am on the path He is forging.  It says, “And I did not know him, but so that he should be made known to Israel, on account of this, I came baptizing in water.”

It is the last half of John the Baptist’s statement that provides the affirmation: “…but so that he should be made known to Israel, on account of this, I came baptizing in water.”  John’s whole purpose in what he did (the baptizing) was to make the Annointed One, the Christ, Jesus, known to Israel.  Much of what has dominated my thoughts over the last few months and weeks, and I hope to be a explicit point of emphasis this summer, is that what we do has the expressed purpose of making Jesus known to Fort Dodge.

I guess God wanted to make sure that I didn’t have any doubts as to the path He was forging.  He’s good like that.

So, what is the command?  “Engines all ahead full.”

Something different for summer

Two things will converge starting in June.  First, many years ago, it was decided that the worship gatherings of the First Baptist Church of Fort Dodge, IA would start at 9AM during the summer months instead of the 10:30AM start time during the school year.  So, one of the things that will converge is that start time.  An expected shift in worship.

The second thing that will converge is a conviction I received back in January as I taught on worship.  This conviction centered around the reality that worship is to be 100% fully and totally focused on God – rendering to Him our praise and adoration, glorifying Him, and focusing on what He is, and has been, doing.  I came to the conclusion, which I take as totally from the Holy Spirit, that there is a part of the “typical” worship gathering that is not 100% fully and totally focused on God.  It might be 50% or so.  What part is that?  The sermon.

Now, I’m not saying the teaching time isn’t important, and I’m not saying it isn’t connected to God, since it is from Scripture, but the recipient of the teaching has to be able to lay claim to some of that focus in order for it to truly be teaching.  So, since I’m not teaching God but those gathered, who are listening to the sermon and hopefully being impacted by what is said, some of the focus must be on them and what they are learning.  That means the focus is no longer 100% on God.  Therefore, it could be said that those moments taken up by the sermon cease to be fully worship as those moments are not 100% focused on God.

So, since the people known as First Baptist Fort Dodge already expect a change for worship gatherings during the summer, I am going to really change some things up.  And here’s how: the hour dedicated for worship (9AM – 10AM) will be fully focused on God – His character, His nature, what He has done during the previous week, and what He is doing.  To do this, we will combine praise through singing with praise through hearing people share what they have seen God do.  (Though they may not be aware of it, I have already been working to prepare the people for this through encouraging them to share with me what I, among others, have called “God sightings.”)  The goal of knowing that they will have opportunity to share is that they will be really looking for His activity in, through, and around them.

Now, the teaching time is still very important.  So, after about a 10-15 minute “intermission” at the conclusion of worship (so that anyone who wants to depart can do so inconspicuously), there will be one of two types of teaching.  One will be a discussion oriented time, not a lecture-based sermon.  There will be a topic with selected Scripture passages and questions to facilitate the discussion.  This time would end by 11AM.  The second type of “teaching” would be action-based, meaning outreach and ministry and service.  For instance, we would have it announced beforehand that after worship, we would be heading over to a local nursing home to spend time with the residents.  Another possibility would be putting on a picnic in a local park and inviting those in the neighborhood to join us.  It could be a lot of things.  The goal is to be learning through doing and serving, being a “go-to” church instead of a “come-to-us” church, because our God is a “go-to” God, not a “come-to-me” God and, since those who have believed in Christ have been crucified with Him and what is now lived in the flesh is Christ (Galatians 2:19b-20), we, in a way, continue to carry out Christ’s Incarnation in this world.

All of this is wrapped up in this: asking the best question (which was the topic of my sermon on April 26th, click here to listen) which is not “How can we be the best church IN our community,” but, rather, “How can we be the best church FOR our community.”

This will take advanced coordination, planning, and communication.  If it will be an “outreach” project out in the community that involves some level of labor (like raking), people will need to know to bring a rake, if they have one, and a change of clothes.  Additionally, there is a possibility of having a communal meal after returning to the building.

I’m excited by the possibilities.