Monday, January 30, 2017

5 Reasons To Include Students In Your Worship Ministry

It saddens me greatly to see so few students leading worship in churches. As churches have turned to hiring professional musicians or designed systems with rigorous auditions to make their worship ministry more and more exclusive, many willing and capable volunteers and especially students are being left out and left behind. While a handful of "superstars," hog platforms across the country, others are marginalized and ignored. As choirs have dissolved in churches, so has the place of service and ministry for many good people. And even before that happened, few students were given the opportunity to lead together with more mature believers.

As a music teacher, my goal is to help each student reach their fullest potential and to provide them with a safe place develop, express and display their talent while growing as people. There is great joy to be found in walking alongside the next generation to train them up and in worshipping together. I've been a learning jazz performer for nearly 30 years and a jazz teacher for 18 years and the most foundational aspect of what we do is that we pass down what we know. How much more should we do this in the church?Here are 5 reasons to include students in your worship ministry:

1. Passion. If there is one thing that defines this generation of students, from middle school through millennials, it is passion. They are passionate about what they believe in. Guide them. Give them something to be passionate about. Let their passion revitalize, re-invigorate and re-ignite your times of corporate worship.

2 & 3. Connection and Retention. The fastest way to make a student feel unwanted is to separate them and leave them out. The silo the church has built called "youth ministry," is really just a stronghold, a wall separating students from the rest of the church. And no matter how much a kid may act like they don't want adults around, the truth is, when you separate and ignore them, it makes them feel bad and when you pay attention to them and show them you care, it makes them feel special, needed and loved. One of the biggest issues facing the church today is that students leave the church after high school. Students need meaningful friendships and mentors in the church who care about them, miss them when they are gone, and value their gifts and input. And here's a secret from this veteran teacher, they WANT those types of quality, respect-filled relationships. For all of the Oscar-the-Grouch-ing that "grown-ups," do about the problem with millennials, stop and think about it. They are telling you that they want to be valued, appreciated and make a difference. Instead of whining about them when they reach their 20's and 30's, why not include them in their teens. And here's one more tip. If there is one thing that church members, and especially older folks, love, it is being around young people. It brings back good memories and makes them feel young. Just watch them light up when they see young people serving the Lord.

4. Legacy: Preparing For The Future. Including students in worship helps them to be a valuable part of the church that makes a contribution, NOW. If I hear one more celebrity "Christian" personality lecture the young generation on waiting to use their gifts, or waiting to serve the Lord, or waiting to receive permission, recognition or affirmation from some spiritual "leader" I'm going to puke. That attitude is so selfish, so self-serving and so Un-Biblical. Recognize the important gifts and contribution students have to offer and set them on a path of lifelong vibrant church membership by including them now. Do it for the well-being of the individual. Do it for the future of the church.

5. The Gospel. Ok, I'm going to be a little bit raw here about something lots of churches are doing nowadays. Which is more touching to the heart of a parent; Hired pros playing along with Nashville recorded enhancement tracks, or watching young people serve God? I would a thousand times rather here mistakes than listen to something fake. The learning process is beautiful. Flawless fake performances are boring and meaningless. Children learning how to worship the Lord and be part of the community of believers is precious, beautiful and my favorite thing in the world to watch. No one cares how perfect your church production is, or at least they shouldn't. The whole point of what we do musically in church is about learning how to become the family of God, growing and learning together and praising Him. I believe in musical excellence. But True Excellence is when everyone gives the very best that they have as an offering to our King. I don't think anyone is really impressed with pretentiousness, but that unbelieving parent who comes to see their child sing or play in church, just might find their hardened heart melted enough to let the good news of Jesus sink in. And you know that being included, fitting in and being a part of something special, will have a lasting impact on the life of that student.

Our musical gifts are meant to share the good news of Jesus, celebrate what He has done in our lives, lead us to repentance, help us to enter into God's presence through worship, offer thanks to Him and express corporate praise as a family. If students use their gifts to seek glory and honor for themselves, that gift can harm them. We need to teach them the right way to use those gifts, talents and abilities and we need to respect the Image of God in them enough to WANT to see them develop those gifts to the highest possible level and to use them for maximum impact in the Kingdom of God.

Read the other posts in my series on Worship Ministry:

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The REAL Promise of Isaiah 43:19

Each New Year I hear people quote Isaiah 43:18-19 as if it was a prophetic pronouncement about the upcoming year: Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old, Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

So, does this verse mean that God is doing something new and different next year that we should be on prophecy-watch for? Does it mean we can all forget about the disappointments of the past year and look forward to God filling our New Year's wish list? Well, there is a promise in this verse, but it is so much bigger and so much better than a New Year's dream. Understanding the context is the key to understanding the promise. The next part of the passage reads:

I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.

Isaiah wrote this after the upper Kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians in 722 B.C. Because of their idolatry and Baal worship and unspeakably evil actions, The people were killed and hauled off into captivity east of the Jordan and the land was left abandoned and desolate. The lower kingdom of Judah would survive as a nation until about 100 years after Isaiah's death when Nebuchaddnezzar and the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in 586 B.C. The land of Judah would also be left abandoned, desolate, a wilderness for 70 years. This alone is remarkable, that Israel, located on the levant, the land bridge and major trade route that connects Africa, Asia and Europe would lie virtually uninhabited for so long. Even today, the world fights over Israel. For the God who had delivered Israel from Egypt, parted the Red Sea, defeated Israel's enemies in battle, prospered David and Solomon and made the nation great to now fight against and destroy his own people for their evil, shows how seriously God takes sin...and now the whole world knew it. Also, Native to the region were dangerous lions, jackals, wolves, bears and even wild ostriches which can reach 9 feet tall and 350 pounds and kill a human with one kick. In Isaiah 43 and 44, God promises to gather Israel from the east and the west and to bring them back into the promised land. The comment about wild beasts, jackals and wild ostriches honoring God, likely means that He would either supernaturally prevent the promised land from being overrun by these animals during the people's absence, or that he would protect them from the wild animals when they returned, or perhaps it is even a metaphor comparing the sons of Israel to predatory dangerous animals, which is how they were behaving. Yet, as interesting as those facts are, and as important to understanding the context of this passage, the most powerful picture being presented here is about God bringing rivers in the desert.....

To any faithful Hebrew, or even the unfaithful ones, the language about rivers in the wilderness should immediately bring to mind the actual historical event where Moses struck the rock at Horeb with his staff in the wilderness and brought forth flowing water for the children of Israel to drink. (Exodus 17:6) This is a type and a picture, representing the way that God would use the LAW, symbolized by the ROD, to bring blessing to his people if they would follow it. You might recall that Moses later struck a rock with his rod, and struck it a 2nd time, and God mercifully allowed water to flow out of it, but Moses had been instructed to speak to the rock, not hit it. (Numbers 20:11) This was meant to be a type and a picture of the New Covenant, how God will come to us with grace through His Holy Spirit to call us to salvation and bring Living Water into our lives that way. Moses failed to follow God's instructions, messed up the picture, and because of this he was not allowed to enter the promised land. Though in mercifully allowing water to flow from the rock, God does give a beautiful picture of grace. Here in this passage is a crystal clear reference to those events. Isaiah 43 and 44 are written in covenant language. God reminds the people of what he has done for them in the past. He calls them as witnesses. He reminds them that they have broken his first covenant. When he tells them not to recall the former things, He isn't commanding them not to teach history. In the preceding chapters we learned that the diviners and prognosticators were trying to predict what God would do based on past events. He mocks them. He is telling the people in exile that He is going to do something NEW, something dramatic, something that cannot be foreseen, something that no one could possibly predict.

In the SHORT VIEW, He will answer the prayers of the remaining faithful in Judah by allowing the evil nation to be conquered by Babylon, but keeping the faithful remnant alive. It seems incredulous that He would rescue them in such a way--almost unbelievable. He will orchestrate the overthrow of evil Babylon, elevating Daniel to watch over and care for the people as the highest official next to the king and He will orchestrate their return to the promised land.

But in the LONG VIEW, He will do the NEW THING he has promised. Isaiah 44 promises that God will help Israel and speaks beyond the present into the future. Isaiah looks to the future, as Verse 3 returns to the rivers in the wilderness motif, drawing a parallel for us:

For I will pour water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground.

I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring and my blessing on your descendants.

Because of the sacrifice that Jesus will make, God will pour out His Spirit on those who profess faith in Christ, these will be the true children of Abraham. 1 Corinthians 10:4 informs us about the Israelites that All were Baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. All ate the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink. They drank from the spiritual rock that followed them and that Rock was Christ. They were Baptized, taken from their old life in Egypt and into their new life by passing through the Red Sea. They were nourished by the word of God and by following the Law of Moses. We have an even better situation because we have direct access to God in a way they did not. We are Baptized into a New Covenant and become God's chosen people. A few chapters later in 1 Corinthians 12:13 we are told For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. In the same way that rain and streams bring life to dry ground, God will refresh, restore and renew us through His Spirit. But unlike the Israelites, many of whom perished when God was displeased with them, He does not remove His Spirit from us once we place our faith in Him. He also helps us to grow. Isaiah 44:4 reads:

They will spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams.

God's Spirit will nurture us and help us to grow and be fruitful, producing good works and bringing others into His family tree. So, NO, Isaiah 43 isn't all about ME. It's all about Jesus AND what He was going to do for us. He is the new thing God was promising through the prophet. But this, Literally, the BEST NEWS EVER, we get to be part of it. While the passage was originally written to God's chosen people, Israel, because of Jesus' finished work on the cross, the promise of God's Holy Spirit, of Jesus living in our hearts through faith, is a promise for all people who will believe. And that is something we can hope in every year. The words from verse 43:4 You are precious in my eyes and honored and I love you, are spoken to the nation of Israel like a son and they are true words for all believers, the true children of Abraham, the followers of Christ. If you have never experienced God working through your life like living water, restoring and healing your soul, then you can experience it.  2017 really can be a new start and you really can move forward. There IS a passage about moving on from the past and looking forward to what lies ahead and it is all about the NEW THING God promised , the NEW LIFE made available to us through Jesus Christ. Be filled with Hope in this new year as you think on the promises God has made us.

I count all things as loss compared to the surpassing excellence of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to Him in His death, in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:9-14)