Lighting the Way

Does modern stage lighting in churches go too far? Are worship groups just “putting on a show” nowadays with concert-like effects?

Going Dark?

I recently came across an article that began with this quote:

“I honestly don’t understand why churches are choosing to have dark sanctuaries.”

GodVine article on Crosswalk.com
“Why Is the Church Going Dark?”

What they are referring to is how many modern churches sometimes use darker lighting in the main sanctuary and alternate lighting to illuminate the stage. And in the comment section of that post, there were a LOT of strong opinions about the topic. Genuinely, there are plenty of people who just don’t get it.

Among the varying points of view, several folks seemed to feel that it was “just a lot of theatrics.” Others added, “It’s like they’re putting on a show.” Similar comments seemed to exhibit a harsh judgmental attitude. Some even went as far as to suggest that it was “evil,” taking the term darkness much too literally.

Naturally, there were those who had a much more practical opinion of the topic. But the gist of the article itself seemed more negative than positive. Upon reading this, I felt the need to shine some much needed light on the subject – pun intended.

Unnecessary Theatrics?

I have spent all my life in church, and more than 35 years in audio-visual. Over the years, I have seen a lot of changes take place in church services – the way things are done, and how the gospel is presented. What I have learned during this time is that there is a single ever-present prevailing truth: While the message of Christ does not change, the methods for presenting that message are constantly changing.

Some people simply don’t like change. Personal preferences are going to vary, and that’s okay. But we need to be careful that we aren’t so stuck in our ways that we close ourselves off the possibility that there are indeed different ways to do things that are every bit as worthy. Is it really “unnecessary theatrics,” or simply a new way of enhancing the presentation of the gospel?

If you truly want to follow the logic that suggests all that lighting stuff is just not necessary, fine. Let’s go down that road for a moment. Do we NEED a sound system? Do we really NEED instruments? Do we even NEED to have a building? No. We don’t have to have any of those things in order to meet together, worship God, and listen to the preaching of the Word. So, why don’t we just get rid of ALL that unnecessary stuff?

Using Gifts and Tools

Perhaps the better question is, why do we USE those things? Well, having a building is helpful because it gets people out of the elements and weather, and we can control the temperature in a building. Okay, that’s obviously a comfort thing. Nothing wrong with being comfortable while we worship, right?

Instruments add to the worship. The Bible says to play skillfully on the harp and the lyre, and to make a joyful noise to the Lord. Playing all kinds of instruments is also how some people who might not be able to sing can offer up beautiful worship to God. Musical talent, as well as vocal talent, is a gift from our Creator. No reason why we ought not USE these talents in our praise to Him, right?

Now that we have a building and instruments, another tool we might naturally come to use would be a sound system. The acoustics vary in different kinds of rooms, and a sanctuary pretty much begs to have a good sound system in order to evenly distribute a discernible mix of the voices and the instruments. No problems with that, right?

Most people would agree that these are legitimate reasons for using all these things. They enhance the experience in many ways. The building offers a controllable atmosphere and comfort. The instruments provide music which is used to make the worship better. And the audio system helps everyone hear clearly the lyrics and message being delivered. So, what about that lighting?

What Lighting Adds

As my church’s AV Director, I have trained many people. One of the first things I make clear to them is a very simple concept: Our job is to enhance the service by striving to excel at eliminating distractions and help keep people’s focus where it should be. We never want to BE a distraction, and I explain to trainees how to avoid that.

I tell them that what we do in that AV booth is very important. We have a unique ability to make everyone’s church experience either better or worse. From sound, to lighting, to visual presentations on screen, everything has a purpose. If we do our jobs well, no one should really notice. But if we mess up, everyone will notice.

So, how do we enhance the church service with strategic lighting? I’m glad you asked. Among other things, one reason to darken the main sanctuary lights and illuminate a certain part of the stage is to help eliminate distractions and focus people’s attention on the person speaking. This is similar to why a theater will darken the lights over the audience to keep people from being distracted by those around them and focus their attention on the movie screen.

Now I hear some in the peanut gallery yelling, “Aha! See? Theatrics! We don’t need that in church!” If that’s you, I think you missed the point. I DID say it’s similar to what’s done in a theater, so let’s go ahead and call it theatrics for the moment. My point was the WHY. And WHY it works for a theater is the same reason it works for church. I just went through a laundry list of reasons why things that might not be necessary certainly do enhance a church service. No, we might not NEED the lighting aspect, but that doesn’t make it unusable. It’s a valuable tool, and I’m of the opinion that we ought to be using every available tool at our disposal for God’s purposes.

Opinions or Judgments?

I understand that there are going to be plenty of people who disagree with me about this. Some just hold the opinion that using lighting in this way is man’s attempt at manipulating the Spirit, and the Holy Spirit doesn’t need man’s help. But I maintain that every gift, talent, or ability we have is from God. That includes the knowledge we possess and the technology we’ve developed. These things are not inherently evil. When utilized for God’s purposes, we can accomplish great things for the Kingdom. It’s not about the Spirit needing our help, but about offering all we have to be used for Him. And while God doesn’t NEED man, He chooses to USE man for His glory.

It’s fine for people to have opinions that differ. But let’s make sure our opinions aren’t being treated as a standard of right and wrong. If you have scoffed at a church for using “concert lighting” or for seemingly “putting on a show,” I would challenge you to back up and take a 30,000 foot view. See if it’s being used as a positive to enhance the service, much like a sound system. What’s the motivation behind it, really? And don’t just assume you know. That’s not just an opinion anymore – that’s a judgment.

While there may indeed be some out there who are just trying to “be like the world” to attract people to the church, I seriously doubt that’s the intention of most. As an AV Director and one who has served as such in church for decades, I can honestly tell you that putting on a show is furthest from my mind. I want everything I do at church to direct people’s attention AWAY from ME and onto Jesus! The last thing I want is people looking at me as the example to follow. I’m not at all worthy of that, but Jesus definitely is.

Let’s stop being so critical of each other in the church that it chases people away. We’re supposed to be witnesses, not judges. So use all your gifts and tools for Christ, and let’s keep lighting the way for others.

Man Up

Yeah, this one is directed mainly at the guys. We have a serious problem with laying our issues off on others in regard to the carnal nature. Are we so weak that we are blaming women for being attractive and stimulating our hormones? Have we given up on the concept of self-control?

SERIOUS QUESTION: When you see this in church (or anywhere for that matter), where’s your mind, fellas?

Inappropriate Attire

I’ve heard this issue come up in the church on several occasions. As I recall, it arose in my church’s congregation a few years back. A person or group of people told someone in private after the service that they thought someone on stage was wearing inappropriate attire. Not ratty clothes, not irreverent t-shirts, but some female singer had on a dress that was a little “too short.” Some men commented that it was distracting for them. “We’re still men, after all,” they said.

Hold up, guys. Are we maybe projecting our short-comings as men onto people who aren’t at fault? Are we seriously going to blame an attractive woman for how we respond to seeing a little bit of leg? Is it truly inappropriate attire, or is it our inappropriate response? Should we start requiring them to wear hijabs and covering everything like Muslim women because we can’t control our own flesh?

Recognizing a Problem

Now, I don’t want to seem completely unsympathetic to a very real issue among many men today. There is indeed a problem in modern society with men being addicted to pornography. No one wants to talk about it, let alone acknowledge that it exists. It’s an embarrassing topic that most people avoid. There’s an inherent shame that’s involved among guys who struggle with it. It’s the dark secret they hide from their wives and families.

This plague of porn is more prevalent today because of modern technology. A man doesn’t have to go looking for it any longer. It’s constantly fed into our computers and smart phones and tablets. The advent of click-bait and the like is such that one inadvertent tap on a touch screen can instantly open up a sexually explicit site. The enemy has gotten really sneaky about thrusting garbage in our faces, and lots of men have fallen prey to it.

As leaders in the church, we do need to be wise about the issue. Anyone who holds a position of leadership – whether it’s a teacher or a worship leader or whatever – must guard against saying or doing things that might (even accidentally) lead someone astray. Modest attire on stage is definitely a wise choice, and there’s no argument about that. But as men of God, WE also must own up to our own faults.

What’s Really to Blame?

The young woman in the photo is wearing a dress that hits just below the thigh and right above the knee. Ask yourself why this is so distracting to you. I understand the struggles we have with our carnal nature. I’m well aware of the problem many men have with pornography. But calling this particular dress inappropriate just because of how we respond to the visual stimulus is a bit of a weak argument.

If we are content to blame a woman for being attractive rather than holding ourselves accountable for our own fleshly response to her, then we are being unfair and morally lazy. Worse yet, this allows an oppressive spirit to gain a foothold in our church. And that’s a door we don’t need to open.

While acknowledging church leadership’s responsibility to help guard against these problems by implementing certain standards for those in leadership roles, we must also acknowledge that this is a sinful nature issue. It’s not a crutch we men should allow ourselves to keep. What if you’re not in church? What if you see an attractive woman in revealing clothes at the grocery store? Are you guilty of indulging your carnal imagination in public, only seeing it as a problem when you’re in God’s house? At some point, guys, we gotta man up.

Being Men of God

There is something deeper going on, dudes. If you are easily distracted by an attractive woman to the point that it causes you to have these kinds of fleshly feelings, the problem is in YOU. Own it, and pray about it. As men of God, we have to assume responsibility for our own sinful tendencies. And projecting our skewed sense of “appropriateness” on others is condescending and completely un-Christian. Further, it plays right into the hands of the enemy. Don’t fall for this trick, guys, which satan will use to divide and destroy the church.

Should we have standards? Yes, of course. And we certainly do. But what we must guard against is allowing our personal issues to dictate terms for other people. This is exactly why the world doesn’t want to hear our witness. They see us as coming from a position of being self-righteous and trying to force them to fall in line with our sense of morality.

What Should Be Our Attitude?

14 For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died;

15 and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.

16 Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

2 Corinthians 5 [NKJV]

Men – We are no longer to regard people according to the flesh. We are supposed to be a new creation in Christ. If we’re still succumbing to the flesh, WE are the ones who need to seek God’s help in this. Yes, that means we have to stop using the excuse that “we’re still men” like a crutch. Yes, we’re human. Yes, we have flaws. We aren’t perfect yet. But we are allowing God to perfect us, aren’t we? Self-control is still within the realm of possibility, right? If we are letting Christ guide us, anything is possible!

This is about our own spiritual maturity, not so-and-so’s dress. It’s about us still drinking milk when we should already be eating solid food. We gotta stop blaming others for OUR faults, gentlemen. It’s time to grow up, man up, and kick this bad habit to the curb. No more excuses!

One Final Thought

Did this rebuke seem a bit harsh to you? If so, just imagine how harsh it might seem to the young woman on stage who’s only intent was to sacrifice her time and talent to give praise to God. Suppose she’s rebuked for her attire. How well do you really think that will go? The Bible tells us that we need to be wise as serpents but gentle as doves. (Matthew 10:16) Recognize this situation as a trap of the enemy, and treat it accordingly.

God Knows

“Every situation that comes our way has no choice but to bend itself to His will.”

Sometimes it’s difficult to see beyond our immediate circumstances. In the midst of a trial, or in the face of some unforseen situation, we often have a hard time grasping the big picture. In times like these, we can even forget that God is still in control. When something tests your faith, how do you respond?

The Father’s Blessings

I have been so blessed by God. He has taken care of me and brought me through some truly trying times. Personal stuggles, relational struggles, divorce, finances, health issues, you name it… God has never once let me down or failed to come through for me in my hour of need.

When you spend so much time on the mountain tops, however, you can sometimes forget what the valleys were like. Then something happens, and BOOM – you find yourself in a valley again. Questions come to mind: Why is this happening? Is there something else I need to learn through this trial? Am I being punished? Lord, what happened!?!

Do I Have Your Attention?

Now, I do NOT believe that God sends bad things our way. No, the scriptures tell us that He loves us and always wants the best for us. But that doesn’t mean that life will constantly be all puppies and rainbows. Jesus assured His disciples that “in this world, you WILL HAVE TROUBLES.” That’s not exactly the kind of promise we like to hear, is it? But then, He followed that statement with this one: “But take heart, for I have overcome the world.” And through Him, we are overcomers, as well.

Admittedly, though, it does seem to be in those times of trouble that we spend the most time talking with God. It’s almost like our attention is elsewhere when everything is going hunky dory, but as soon as things go off the rails, we start crying out to Him. Shouldn’t He have our undivided attention at ALL times? Ought we not be praising God in every circumstance?

Remembering God’s Plans

So when hard times befall us, what is our first reaction? I’ll be honest. More times than not, my immediate response tends to be “Oh CRAP!” Remembering all the times that God came through for me in the past isn’t usually the first place my mind goes. Yeah, I know in my heart that God is still there and He still loves me. But in the moment the proverbial crap hits the fan, that reality is where my vision is focussed.

What we have to remind ourselves is that God has a plan. Every situation that comes our way has no choice but to bend itself to His will. If we love the Lord and are called according to His purpose, the Bible says that “everything works together” for our good. That’s a guarantee straight from God, and we know that His promises are “YES” and “AMEN!”

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Jeremiah 29:11 [NIV]

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is:

I’ve been in rough situations on numerous occasions, and God has never failed me. Most recently, the trial that came my way was made easier by earlier provision. Let me explain…

This past week, I learned rather suddenly that the company I worked for was going to have to lay off about a dozen employees – including myself. As of the end of the week, I became unemployed. Any other time in my life, this would have been cause for immediate concern. My stress level would have shot up quickly, and my anxiety would have been through the roof! But, no. Not this time. Why?

Was it because I hated my job anyway? Nope, I actually LOVED that job and my employers. I will miss them dearly. Okay, so was it because I immediately remembered that God was in control and that He wasn’t about to start letting me down now? Not really. As stated previously, regardless of how strong I may think my faith is, remembering His goodness and His promises isn’t always my brain’s first reaction. So then, how come I wasn’t freaking out and worried about where my next paycheck was going to come from?

Before any of this happened, God had used yet another negative circumstance for my good. About a year ago, I was rear-ended in traffic and had to miss a month of work. I had to see a physical therapist for a few months, and I endured a great amount of pain. Because of this, in the months that followed, I ended up receiving a monetary settlement that was a bit more than I expected. God helped me make some good decisions with that money so that it more than covered my expenses.

As a result, I still had a modest financial cushion saved up. So when this unexpected job loss arose, God had already made sure I was covered. He knew ahead of time what my need was going to be. Through His mercy, He saw fit to spare me the stress and anxiety that normally comes with losing a great job like this one. Though I was certainly disappointed when this happened, I knew He had already taken care of me.

Nothing Catches God By Surprise

Of course, not every trial that comes along is as easy to handle as this one. But that’s kind of the point. Even when we don’t see the tough times coming, God knows all about it. Sometimes, He’ll prepare you beforehand so that you’re ready. Other times, He’ll equip you in that moment. Regardless, we must remember that HE IS ALWAYS IN CONTROL. He loves us, and He will never let us down!

What ever your situation is right now, no matter what it is that you’re going through, you have a Heavenly Father that wants to intervene on your behalf. He desires to take you into His arms and comfort you in the midst of loss, and to provide for you that which you need. Trust in the God who loves, the God who is able, and He will take care of you…always.

Privileged?

Has anyone recently told you to “check your privilege”? Our society is inundated today with all sorts of so-called progressive ideas, and the notion that certain groups of people are inherently privileged is fairly new. But is it true, or is it just another made-up form of class-warfare?

Haves and Have-Nots

There have always been those who have more of something than others. Some people have more money, or more talent, or seemingly more intelligence. Others might have more charisma, or more exciting jobs, or even the type of lifestyle that can make people jealous of them. But none of these things necessarily qualify as an actual privilege.

It’s possible that the one who seems to have more options in life worked really hard to achieve that goal. Not to say that everyone else was just lazy, but there are many factors that can account for the presumed failure of some and the apparent success of others. People are different. They have different circumstances, and the deck often seems to be stacked against some of them.

Types of Privilege

According to modern society, there are several kinds of “privileged” people. If you are a man, many believe that you inherently benefit from male privilege. They say that, simply because you are male, you enjoy certain benefits that women never have and never can because of an established anti-female bias. But is this true?

We’ll come back to that, but let’s look at another example… If you are white, caucasian, Anglo-Saxon, or however you want to describe your pale-skinned ethnicity, then there are those who claim that you benefit from white privilege. Yes, just because you’re white, you enjoy certain benefits that other people don’t and can’t due to an established bias against them. Is this one true?

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!

While it’s true that, at one time in our nation’s history, women did not have equality in many ways with men, we have made some enormous improvements since then. The women’s suffrage movement helped garner support of enough men to win ladies the right to vote. And let’s not dismiss the MEN who argued on the side of those women. Today, women can serve in the military, or as Supreme Court Justices, or could even be elected president.

But wait! There’s still the matter of the pay-gap between men and women, right? Well, there IS an argument about a supposed “pay-gap” by some. However, that argument falls apart when you factor in the types of jobs that most men choose to work and the types of jobs that most women choose to work. Do that, and there IS NO PAY-GAP. “Equal pay for equal work” has been around for a very long time now.

Civil Rights Achievements

The same thing can be said for people of color. During the formative years of America’s history, huge strides had to be made to correct the mistakes of our past. And what many people don’t know is that a large portion of the (white) men who framed the Constitution actually had a distaste for slavery because of their Christian faith.

Even while they were pressured (both by time and by other delegates) to structure the founding document in a way that didn’t restrict or do away with slavery outright, they still succeeded in providing a path to citizenship for slaves in the future. By using certain wording to describe the God-given equality of man and rights to freedom, they believed – once their war for independence was won – they’d be in a better position to address the issue of slavery.

It wasn’t a perfect solution to the problem by any means, but it seemed to be the necessary step to take at the time. And the path to freedom for those slaves took longer than anyone hoped. It took a bold stand by a future president to end slavery in America, and a not so civil war, as well. Since then, more hard fought victories were won for black Americans.

Today, a man or woman of color can achieve anything. Some may still argue, but despite the backward notions of a few bigots, you can’t deny that many of our elected leaders are black, Hispanic, and Asian. We’ve even had a black president.

Is there still racism? Yes, although not nearly as much as some folks would have you believe. America isn’t perfect. But she is beautiful, diverse, and YES – great! So let’s talk about real privilege…

American Privilege

I woke up this morning and realized something that shocked me. I…am privileged. Yes, ME. No, not because I’m male. And not because I’m white. I’m privileged because… I. Am. An American.

There are so many people who cannot claim this. They may live in less fortunate conditions, they may live in socialist or communist countries, or they might even been born into servitude somewhere in the world where slavery still thrives. They may be persecuted for their religious beliefs, or their government might try to run every aspect of their lives. They may truly live in the worst of poverty because their dictatorship greedily confiscates all the wealth. They may go to sleep on the ground rather than a bed, hungry rather than with a full stomach, and have little to nothing to look forward to tomorrow.

There isn’t a female American of voting age that isn’t allowed to vote. There’s not a single black American alive today who was born into slavery. Even where poverty exists in this country, there is opportunity for those who are more fortunate to lend a helping hand to someone in need – provided the more fortunate also has been instilled with a sense of morality and courtesy.

America is still “the land of opportunity,” and that opportunity is afforded to us all. While some argue that opportunities to better oneself are only enjoyed by a lucky few, I strongly disagree. I’ve seen people from the poorest of backgrounds work hard and achieve the loftiest of goals. I know it’s possible. And those who really BELIEVE they can accomplish anything are usually the ones who DO.

The Bottem Line

So if this is true, then what’s up with all the allegations of “privilege?” Often times, when someone is losing an argument, that person must childishly invent a disqualifyer to use against the opposition. Like, “your opinion doesn’t count because you’re a man.” How is that not sexist? Or, “you just don’t understand because you’re white.” There is nothing at all constructive about such statements.

These claims are an extention of the victimhood mentality. If I can just point my finger at someone and call them privileged, it’s the same as claiming victim status for myself. And as we all know, here in America, so-called victims are the ones who end up with the real perks… Which then makes them the privileged ones. Irony?

I’m a victim of something, so I should get special – uhmm – consideration. HA, you mean special PRIVILEGES?! And the fact is, people in this country have it better than anyone else on the planet, and yet too many think they are entitled to so much more.

Again, I don’t mean to downplay people who have real needs. Those of us who can help the genuinely needy SHOULD help them. This is about the victimhood mentality and its pervasiveness in our society. Saying I’m somehow privileged just because I’m a white male is ridiculous, and it’s insulting to you who say it. In so doing, you are downplaying your own potential and essentially saying that you are somehow incapable by comparison. You’re basically saying that I’m better than you, and there’s nothing you can do to change it because you were just dealt a bad hand. Please.

Biblical Perspective

“But I have an unfair disadvantage!” Try telling that to Job. Things were going great for a while. He had a family, livestock, riches, and good health. Then one after another, it was all taken from him. He lost everything. Even his health was failing. He had painful, oozing sores due to disease, and the few friends that he had left gave him the worst advice of all time.

“Dude, you really should just go ahead and curse your God – who is OBVIOUSLY not concerned with you at all anymore – and die.

Did Job say, “Y’all are right. I’m a victim of enormously unfair circumstances here! I’ve been faithful to God. I’ve been a good man, a good husband, a good father… All for what? Just to see everything taken from me? I really need to give God an ear full about this! I deserve better!”?

No, he didn’t say any of that. In spite of his situation, he knew what manner of man he truly was, and he knew that his God had not forgotten about him. Job rebuked them and said, “No! I will NOT be a victim. No matter what my circumstances now, I know my God is faithful, and in His time, He will deliver me! I will stand firmly in my faith, and I will accept what God says is best for me in my life – or if He so chooses, in my death.”

[That’s the Gospel according to Stace right there – my own paraphrase, so don’t go trying to figure out what translation of the Bible that was. Y’all go read it for yourself.]

And what happened as a direct result of Job’s faith and his refusal to be a victim? God restored him in every way. His health, his wealth, everything. He had it better than ever before. That was his story, and it can be yours.

As Americans, we are ALL privileged to a large extent. Never downplay THAT by assuming some victim status for yourself. And as Christians, all-the-more, we are not victims or failures or anything less than OVERCOMERS! We are more than conquerors through Christ Jesus! Because of what He did on the cross, we share the greatest privilege of all… A holy inheritance… The gift of salvation and eternal life. So think on that for a while.

Think you’re a victim? Check your privilege!

TRUTH IS…

Great summation of “truth.” Check out this offering from my brother’s blog site…

The STANdard

Truth is.
It never needs any embellishment. It needs nothing added, subtracted or a modification of any kind. It is impossible to strengthen its position. Truth stands on its own; it stands always. It is that which is the same yesterday, today and forever. It is the author of all that is pure and good. To modify it in any way no matter the motivation effectively turns it… into a lie. *

It is Truth. It doesn’t change; it changes us. The presentation of that Truth can take on many forms. Jesus was a master educator, and he used parables about things and ideas the people of his day could easily relate to in order to present Truth. Most importantly, he demonstrated it with his behavior, his life and works. He walked consistently with his talk and demonstrated the mercy, grace and forgiveness that the Father readily wanted to shower…

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Sheep and Goats (a Bible study)

As we dive into this passage of scripture, I want to draw the distinction between “those on the King’s right” and “those on the King’s left.” The symbolism used here is an obvious contrast of people who will be welcomed into heaven and others who will be forever cursed to an eternity in hell.

Matthew 25:31-46 [NIV]

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.

32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

RIGHT vs. LEFT

The position on the right hand of a king is a place of honor, a place often reserved for the righteous and mighty. Why are the “sheep” in good standing with the king while the “goats” are not? We’ll get to that shortly…

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.

35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,

36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?

38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?

39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

UNDERSTANDING THE SYMBOLISM

Sheep are generally utilized in scripture to represent followers of Christ. We are called His sheep and He our Shepherd. And Jesus Himself is known as the Lamb of God, and the Lamb that was slain for the forgiveness of our sins.

In contrast, the image of the goat is often used to represent the dark or evil one – satan, the devil. Or, as in this passage, the goats represent those who followed after the sinful nature – and so, followed the devil and his ways.

And what does the king say to these “goats?”

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,

43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

BEING SHEEP, NOT GOATS

The difference is clear. When that day comes and He separates the sheep from the goats, we want to find ourselves on His right and not His left. We want to hear Him say “Well done” rather than “Depart from me!”

But to an untrained eye, sheep and goats look quite similar. And too often, people may look at us (Christians) and see little or no difference in us and your average everyday worldly non-believers. How can we make that distinction clear to everyone?

In John 10, Jesus says:

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—
15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

One sure way to stand apart from the world is to live like a people known to Jesus. This means following His commands and doing what we ought. Further down in this chapter, He adds:

27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.

If we know His voice and listen only to Him, our actions will proclaim loudly to everyone that we belong to Jesus. In fact, sheep can only be led by the voice they recognize as that of their shepherd. Other voices are ignored. We can take a lesson from this.

THE VOICE OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD

When we are tuned in to the voice of Christ, no other frequencies overlap. If satan tries to lead us astray while our receivers are tuned into Jesus, the enemy will only register as static. A little fine tuning (through prayer and praise), and that static is gone.

How do we stay tuned in to the right station? Through study and meditation on the Word of God. The more we spend time with Jesus, studying His teachings and learning His ways, the easier it will be to recognize His voice and distinguish it from the background noise generated by the devil.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Put all of this together now – knowing the Lord’s voice, following His commands – and where will it lead us? Every opportunity He brings us to show His love and be a blessing to others will offer us a chance to demonstrate that we are His.

The Bible gives us the blueprint for being like Jesus to the world around us. Follow His example, and you will be a Kingdom Hero. Go back to our original scripture in Matthew 25:

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Meeting the needs of people He puts in your path – whether it’s feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, or whatever – this is the mark of a Kingdom Hero. And that’s just the kind of person a king would have at his right hand in a place of honor. Where will YOU be? On His right, or on His left?

In a world full of goats, I’d much rather be a sheep.

Owning Our Faith

There are a lot of misconceptions about Christianity. We have allowed our faith to be hijacked by those who seek to misrepresent it. We have to be clear witnesses, in no uncertain terms, and set the record straight.

What Happened to Christianity?

The process started long ago. When the serpent tempted Eve (and Adam) with the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he countered God’s own warning with words and reasoning to the contrary. God said they would die, but the serpent (or satan) said that just wasn’t true. They listened to the wrong voice and disobeyed God’s words.

Today, the enemy is still doing all he can to turn people away from the Word of God. This process has utilized worldly arguments that are successful at influencing people who aren’t fully versed in what scripture says or in what Jesus taught. Each argument seems convincing enough to pull these unrooted Christians away from the truth, and from their very faith.

A Falling Away…

There have been a number of Christians who have fallen away from the faith, but the most lethal targets the enemy chooses are those in positions of leadership and influence.

Recently, two well-known Christian leaders announced that they had left the faith. Joshua Harris, a former pastor and author, said he no longer calls himself a Christian and that he now vocally supports the LGBTQ community. A similar announcement was made even more recently by Marty Sampson, a Hillsong United worship leader.

Worldly arguments have proven highly effective with these influential people, and their influences can cause even more to fall away.

Recognizing the False Arguments

While it’s a sad fact that this is happening, we should neither be surprised nor disheartened. Satan has been at this for millennia, and he’s gotten quite crafty at it. The Bible speaks of a “falling away,” so we have to guard our hearts and stay rooted in the Word of God in order to recognize all the clever tricks of the enemy.

Each of these worldly arguments tries to either make sin okay somehow or make it seem unloving and judgmental for us to call it sin. Embedded within this notion is the false belief that Christianity stands in judgment of sinners. If we are truly like Christ, then we are to be friends of sinners – but that doesn’t mean that we condone sin.

The enemy has succeeded in making people think that believing what the Bible says about sin is the same thing as judging. Perhaps some so-called Christians (yes, even some of us) have been guilty of judging others, but the Bible clearly tells us NOT to do that. I can believe homosexuality is wrong (because the Bible says so) without judging gays. There IS a big difference. Indeed, I can be their friend!

In fact, what I tell people when witnessing, I can’t judge anyone for their sins without judging myself. I have my own struggles with sin, and I’m not better than anyone else. The Bible says that, by the same manner that I judge someone else, I will be judged. Because of my belief in the Word of God, I can neither condone sin nor condemn anyone for it. That’s just not my place. God alone will stand in judgment of us all.

Many Refuse to Hear

We must also understand that there are those who simply won’t listen, either due to preconceived ideas of our faith or because of an unwillingness to submit to Godly principles. For such people, we can only do so much. In many cases, prayer might be our sole resort for them.

[Warning against falling away] We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!

Hebrews 5:11-12 [NIV]

Some of the hardest people to reach for the Kingdom can be those who previously called themselves Christians. These people often think they already know all there is to know about Christianity. They once believed, but only in a shallow sense. That belief was not rooted deeply in the truth, or it would not have been so easily uprooted.

Standing Firm in the Faith

Once we learn to recognize the tricks and false arguments of the enemy, and keeping ourselves deeply rooted in God’s Word, with humble hearts full of love and grace, we must stand firmly in what we believe. But we have to KNOW what believe first. Correcting the false notions about our faith is dependent upon us knowing the truth.

You can’t witness effectively to someone who thinks you either have already judged them or hate them. Often, that’s the first misconception we have to tackle. They need to know that we love them and don’t consider ourselves to be better than them. Make it clear that you don’t want to be their judge, but their friend. This should be obvious in both your words and your actions or behavior toward them.

Too often, our Christian faith gets hijacked and misrepresented to the world. Satan wants everyone to think we are against them rather than for them. We have a responsibility as Christians to correct these false ideas and set the record straight. We have to own our faith, knowing exactly what we believe and standing firmly in it. Otherwise, we may be uprooted ourselves and fall away or be deceived by worldly views.

The Kingdom of Heaven

From the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He preached these words:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

~ Matthew 3:2 & 4:17

Throughout His teaching, He continued to speak about the kingdom of heaven at great lengths. Let’s take a closer look…

Jesus made it very clear that He is “the way” to heaven. Unlike some today who think there are “many paths to God,” Jesus taught that there is indeed only ONE WAY.

So what kind of person will get to be with God in heaven? Let’s explore a few passages of the Bible for insight.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

~ Matthew 5:3

Here, Jesus was beginning a message known as “The Beatitudes.” In it, He pronounced blessings upon the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, etc. In this verse, He was addressing a certain attitude of the heart. The poor in spirit refers to those devoid of spiritual arrogance, or ones who don’t hold themselves in higher regard than others.

A bit further, He adds…

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

~ Matthew 5:10

Here we note the indication early on in His ministry that doing the right thing won’t make us popular with the masses. Indeed, Jesus later told his Disciples that they would be persecuted, hated, and despised because of Him. Our faith is the butt of many jokes, and Christians are still persecuted to the point of death in parts of the world today. The more like Christ we become, the more this world will hate us.

One group of people who probably hated Jesus the most were the Pharisees. They were the pompous and self-righteous know-it-alls of their day. Yet these men were, for the most part, only good at looking down their noses at others. They knew the law, but they didn’t understand it, and Jesus shined a light on their arrogance and ignorance several times. No wonder they sought to seize Him and kill Him.

Speaking specifically of them later in this sermon, Jesus stated the following:

For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

~ Matthew 5:20

Yet too many of those who profess to be Christians act more like the Pharisees. This is one reason why the church is often seen as a holier-than-thou club, full of hypocrites who look down on other sinners and think themselves somehow better than the world around them.

The truth is that, Christians are NOT better than anyone. We are not superior to others in any way. Still imperfect ourselves, we struggle with sin and selfish desires like anyone. Now, we DO have one thing going for us that unbelievers do not – by grace, we are forgiven. But we ought not think more highly of ourselves because it wasn’t something we earned – rather, it was granted to us through Christ’s sacrifice.

Our purpose as Disciples of Jesus is to help spread the Good News of this free gift of salvation. We’re here to bring more people to the saving knowledge of Christ. Rather than acting like the Pharisees, we should be acting as much like Jesus as possible, showing others how they can inherit the kingdom of heaven.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

~ Matthew 7:21-23

Clearly, Jesus drew a distinction between merely putting on an air of righteousness and actually living righteously in the light of His amazing grace. That grace is afforded to us by the blood, and it covers us when we stumble. But it’s not an excuse to live a life of sin. If we do that, we make a mockery of the concept of grace. It also shows that sin rules our lives rather than God’s word.

Getting into the kingdom of heaven requires us to walk a narrow path. Yet within that path, there is freedom in Christ. We know that if we make a mistake and genuinely repent, grace covers us. It’s all good. Jesus already took care of that. And our message to the world around us should be the same as His:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

The Truth About Worship

Making war in the heavenlies

Tearing down principalities

Standing firm in Jesus’ victory

Making war in the heavenlies

Casting down every high thing

That exalts itself against the knowledge of God

We used to sing these words at a church I attended back in the 90s. It speaks of warring in the spirit as we worship, and it touches on a passage of scripture from 2 Corinthians 10:5. But what’s the connection between “worship” and “making war” in the spirit? I’m glad you asked that question. Keep reading…

Praise and Worship

While praise and worship go hand in hand, they aren’t quite the same thing. You can praise someone for their good deeds without actually knowing them or even liking them. But worship is much deeper. It involves adoration and a desire to have an increasingly close relationship. Both are very important in the lives of Christians, but worshipping God goes further and demonstrates our love for Him.

To worship means to show reverence and adoration for someone (usually, a deity). But even this definition doesn’t do justice to how we are to worship God. Jesus said:

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

~ John 4:23-24 [NIV]

What does it mean to “worship in Spirit and truth?”

First, true worship begins with praise. We must acknowledge the truth of who God is – that He is our Creator, our provider, and master of our lives. This encompasses the whole truth of the Christian faith. We believe and recognize that God is the Holy Trinity – Father, Spirit, and Son – that He redeemed us through Christ’s sacrifice for our sins, and that His Spirit lives within our hearts and guides our steps daily. Now this is merely the beginning of worship.

As we enter into worshipping Him in the Spirit, we must make our flesh subject to our own spirit. Our spirit, the very breath of God which gives us life, longs to be one with His Spirit again. Why again?

Understand that the word spirit comes from the same root as the word inspire. The term inspired literally means “God-breathed.” When He breathed life into Adam, God was planting a part of Himself – His Spirit – into mankind. Our breath of life, or spirit, came from God. And so, it longs to be one with Him AGAIN.

When we worship God in the Spirit, this rejoining of our spirit with His takes place. This is why we feel His presence so strongly during this kind of true worship. And there is nothing more satisfying to our spirit than being one with the Holy Spirit.

What Is Worship Warfare?

Now that we know true worship involves allowing our spirit to commune with God’s, we need to realize that the enemy does not want to let this happen. Satan will unleash his hellish forces to try and prevent it because he knows how empowered we become by it. If the devil can distract you in any way, he will. So we must be ready to do battle with him.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

~ Ephesians 6:12 [NIV]

This is where spiritual warfare comes in. During this, we remind satan who he is, and that he is subject to the authority of God in us. We pray in the Spirit, we draw on the strength and power of God, and we invoke the name of Jesus against the devil and his minions. Defiantly, we worship our Lord in the face of the enemy, putting him in his place as we exalt God.

This is one of the reasons why worship is of crucial importance to the life of every believer. It aligns our spirit with God’s. It puts the will of our flesh under subjection to the will of the Spirit. It forces the enemy to expose himself and beats back those forces of hell that attack us and wish to negatively influence our lives. And it refocuses us, recenters us, on God.

Worship is more than just a time we need to experience on Sunday morning. It needs to be part of our daily plan of action.

WORSHIP…

EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

Edification Focus

This is a follow-up to my previous blog.

With each passing day, I have felt more and more that I need to de-clutter my life. In my last blog entry, I began by saying:

The more I do for God, the happier I am.

During the last few days, I feel that God has been challenging me to narrow the focus of my online presence. I have my personal Facebook page, my GCM ministry page, another page solely for political postings, two Twitter accounts, etc. Each page or account has a specific purpose, and they rarely crossover with one another.

Two days ago, as plainly as possible, God asked me a question that wrecked my fragile balancing act. He didn’t mince words, and He didn’t let me slide by with a flimsy excuse. I put it all into a personal journal that I keep, and I want to share a part of that with you…

… I heard in my own spirit, “Why are you still keeping your personal Facebook page separate from the ministry I have given you?” 

In my mind, I quickly formulated the argument that I had the two accounts connected and did occasionally share stuff from the ministry page onto my personal page. However, I knew that argument would not fly with God. He knows my deepest thoughts, and He wouldn’t have asked the question if it weren’t necessary…

… In answer to God’s question, I simply said, “I didn’t want to seem like I was pushing my faith on people.” Then He asked, “What is the purpose of Facebook for you?” I replied, “To connect with people and share my thoughts.” God said, “So, to show people who you are and what you think?” I answered, “Yes, exactly.” Then He pinned it down for me. “And who exactly ARE you?” He asked. 

The inescapable truth rang loudly like a gong in my head. Who am I? Apart from Jesus, I am no one. But because of His grace, I am a child of God. I am His servant, and my purpose is to do His will. My reason for existence to be about my Heavenly Father’s business. And with that truth ringing in my head, I answered Him with a simple, “Ah, I get it now.”

… And I needn’t worry about people getting offended by my faith. Sharing who I am isn’t “pushing” it on anyone. That’s a trick of satan to keep us from witnessing. Fact is, the truth of the Gospel message is going to offend some people, and that’s not a bad thing. We have to get uncomfortable sometimes in order to decide to change. If my friends are heading in the wrong direction, my witness SHOULD make them uncomfortable. That’s often how the Holy Spirit initiates changes in a person’s heart.

Today, I felt another urging of the Holy Spirit. More clutter to get rid of? Yep. This time, it was a polite but firm conviction regarding an alternate identity I have used for years on Facebook for political posts. Now, while on the surface there may be nothing wrong with Christians having and sharing political beliefs, the point is that it had become a distraction for me.

What I felt God was saying to me was that, all too often, the sometimes heated debates I found myself getting into were running counter to the attitude I should have as a follower of Christ. Debating things is fine, but passionately proclaiming my political views tends to put me in an adversarial state of mind. It can get my blood pressure up. It even makes me turn into a self-righteous sounding pundit. But mainly, it just doesn’t do ANYTHING to edify the Kingdom.

While I won’t fault anyone for speaking out on important issues, politically or otherwise, the extent to which I was involved in this was ultimately self-defeating. And having all these different versions of “me” is exhausting. The Stace that my family sees, the one my friends see, the one my political followers see, the one my ministry followers see, etc. It can get confusing. And it’s not at all healthy for me.

There is ONE God, and there is ONE me. The me that EVERYONE should see has many layers, but he is just one guy. And that guy is a servant of Jesus Christ. Imperfect, yes. Still struggling with sins, yes. But forgiven, and eternally grateful to my Creator who loved me enough to send His Son to die for my sins.

There is only ONE Stace Massengill, and God has asked me to make that clear so that I can be a transparent witness for His Kingdom.

Has He made a similar request of you? Do you have a bunch of unnecessary clutter in your life? You might be surprised at how much we tend to weigh ourselves down with a lot of baggage that we simply don’t need. I urge you to talk with God and ask Him to point out the distractions in your life. Let Him show you the stuff you can do without and how liberating it can be to dump the excess weight.

We are supposed to be FREE from any bondage, yet we willingly take on the yoke of it. Get rid of the distractions today, my friends. Put aside anything that hinders you from the work of God.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…

Hebrews 12:1 [NKJV]

Be free again. Be free in Christ.