Growing up in a small town church in the middle of Minnesota, my understanding of worship was pulling out the tattered faded red congregational hymnal every Sunday morning as roughly 100 people stood up to the sound of pages turning. Gradually everyone settled in at the correct page and then...
As a child, I never worried about living without my family. My parents were always around, I had my sister, and we would visit our extended family every year. I have so many fond memories as a child, playing with my cousins at my grandma’s house, going fishing with my dad, or...
We live in a broken world. We all know it and see it every day. We all want something to be done about it but we often fail to see that WE, the community of Christ, are the only group with the strength and support to make an eternal difference. Though we've all been called to serve (Romans...
Why is it so difficult to have real conversation about our personal relationship with Jesus, especially with non-believers? When given the opportunity, we are quick to say that God has incredible power to transform lives, but we belittle the example of transformed life that we know the most...
If you are a young adult, you are probably finishing up some kind of school or beginning a new career. You may have grown up in church like my wife, who felt like going to church was “what you did” and rarely thought about what she would do when given the option of how to spend her...
As Americans we generally like to be first. (Those of us with competitive tendencies like to be first more than others!) We are taught to be first and win the race of life starting at a very young age: First to walk and talk Climb to the top of the class Be the first to graduate...
Faith is believing in what we cannot directly observe. Faith is trusting in God instead of our own nature. In Hebrews 11:1, Paul encourages the Hebrews by describing faith and later goes on to provide multiple examples of people who showed tremendous faith throughout the bible. A common theme in...
We're all masters at missing the point. Almost all of the ugliness and damage that has been done in Christian and church history is because we miss the point. One of the crucial turning points of faith is rejecting the legalism that the human heart longs for. Legalism (religious rules)...
As we talk about becoming a worshiping community of 5,000, it's not for ego -it's because there are 100,000 who don't know Jesus! We're not just gong to sit on the sidelines and watch them go to hell in disbelief...get out of the boat! (Matthew 14:22-33) Nothing glorifies God more than...
When bad things happen to me, I feel sorry for myself. I interpret it as evidence of God's absence. His lack of favor, my inadequacy, and being cursed really. But when I read what God says to do, it reframes the bad with the good. James 1:2-6 says, "2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and...
Growing up in a small town church in the middle of Minnesota, my understanding of worship was pulling out the tattered faded red congregational hymnal every Sunday morning as roughly 100 people stood up to the sound of pages turning. Gradually everyone settled in at the correct page and then joined in as the high school music teacher began to sing. Clearly and confidently his rich bass voice flawlessly lead the familiar hymns.
It would be years later before I understood what God ultimately desires of his children and how God defines true worship.
In his book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren argues that there are five God-ordained purposes for us: worship, community, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism. He supports each area with Biblical references as all being key to effective living.
Rick Warren is not the only advocate for worship. The writer of Psalm 100:2 (NLT) tells us to, “Worship the Lord with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy.”
If we are instructed to worship in God’s word, it must be very important to God. Anything important to God would not be intended to be saved for only Sunday morning singing, but instead intended to become part of our daily priorities.
Easier said than done, I know. However, God didn’t make worship important just for his benefit but also for ours.
- Renews our strength.
- Is critical to our faith.
- Celebrates God.
- Brings us joy.
- Is key to being in God’s presence.
How do we go through or plan out our day to develop habits that intertwine worship in our activities? Is it possible? Despite the engrained definition I grew up with, finding other ways of worship has been immensely rewarding.
According to Delesslyn A. Kennebrew in a 2012 Christianity Today article, “We worship God because he is God. Period.” No specifics here, no required place, no demanded method. Just worship.
Worship is an expression of love or reverence towards God. How then can we worship—showing our love and reverence for God—outside of Sunday morning corporate-designed worship?
Acknowledge God’s many amazing qualities.
- Pray a prayer.
- Consider the needs of others.
- Listen, sing and meditate on songs of praise.
- Write a “God’s attributes” poem.
- Notice the glories of nature.
- Read and reflect on his word.
- Journal your “God thoughts”.
- Donate money (tithe).
- Share encouraging words.
- Serve unselfishly.
- Obey God.
- Dance like David.
- Express thankfulness all day long.
- Create artwork reflecting God’s glory.
- Give your day to God.
- Share your Jesus story.
The list goes on and on…and you will find what clicks for you. Anything you do that expresses your faith in and love for God is an act of worship.
Be deliberate, make it personal, plan it out and do so even when, no especially when, you don’t feel like it!
God is good. He will reward you. As Isaiah 40:31 (KJV) says, “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
As a child, I never worried about living without my family. My parents were always around, I had my sister, and we would visit our extended family every year. I have so many fond memories as a child, playing with my cousins at my grandma’s house, going fishing with my dad, or baking cookies with my mom. I realize that not everyone may have these exact same memories, but I do believe that they are fairly similar to memories that many others share.
As I grew older, these kinds of experiences occurred less and less often. I became more and more independent, and family became something that I simply took for granted. They were still there, but I wasn’t. That is to say, I was absent in the sense that I wasn’t as interested in doing all the things that I had done as a kid. When I joined the military when I was 20, this was confounded even more because I literally wasn’t around anymore. I shipped off to Texas for several months for training, and then I moved to Germany right after. I took my wife Rachel with me to Germany, so luckily I had someone, but besides her, there was no one else. We spent three years there and then we moved to Guam for another three years.
Suffice it to say, being halfway around the world from your family takes its toll on you. The things that I took for granted in my late teens became the things that I missed most in my mid-twenties and now into my thirties. I miss just hanging out with my dad watching football games, or going to the movies. I miss grabbing a coffee and talking about life with my mom. I miss spending time with my grandparents, who also live where my parents do. My wife and I have missed so many life events because we’ve been geographically separated from our families for so long – the deaths of close relatives, family vacations, and holiday gatherings just to name a few. Family has also been absent for the births of all of our three children.
I’ve found myself missing all of that, especially the small things, a whole lot more in the past few years. It’s been so much so that I applied to get out of the military early so that we could move back home and be closer to family. I was very hopeful that things would work out, trusting God and praying that whatever happened was where he wanted me to be. Though I was expecting a ‘yes’ to my application, that was not what I received. I was sorely disappointed, but luckily for me I’ve grown a lot over the past 5-6 years, and was able to accept the fact that this was where God wanted us for the time being.
This was around the beginning of October, and about a month and a half later God showed me something that I hadn’t seen before…
My little family was prepared to spend another holiday together, just the five of us. Sometimes for Thanksgiving we hang out with friends, and on several occasions, we’ve had friends over at our house. I think for most military families this is common, though we do know quite a few people around here who have family close by, which has made it a bit more difficult for us.
This year we were invited over to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving, and there were several other church families who we knew well who were also going. When we got there, there were about twenty or so people, with a mix of our friends, and a mix of the host’s family as well. By the time everyone had shown up, there must have been around fifty people including kids. To be frank it was chaos – a beautiful, turkey and stuffing-smelling, love without limits kind of chaos. After we prayed and everyone started getting their food, I just had to stand back and soak it in for a minute.
This was when it hit me…
Even though we didn’t have ‘blood’ family around to celebrate the holidays with, we still had family. I took a picture and shared the post on Facebook because I wanted to capture the moment, and I wanted others to see that the family of God can make a big difference when you’re feeling lonely and separated from your own kin.
As a military family, being separated from relatives is something that we’re quite used to, though the feeling of missing them never really goes away. As we’ve allowed God in our lives more, he’s given us good friends to help fill the void of missing our families. Of course, it’s not an exact replacement – no one can ever do that. But, it’s about as close as you can get to the real thing. And for many people out there who may not share a strong bond with their families, perhaps it could even feel like a suitable replacement altogether. When you have God in your heart, and when you allow others into your life, then God will bring people to you to build you up and be there for you when you need them. And the great part is, no matter where you go, there will always be someone there as long as you’re open and paying attention.
Another great thing about the family of God is that it’s always growing, and we can always add more brothers and sisters! This family crosses boundaries that blood typically does not – race, skin color, culture, as well as many other things! You will meet people you probably wouldn’t have normally, and it will make you a better for it. You will grow as a person, and you will grow in your faith.
With God as our Father, and countless brothers and sisters surround us everywhere we go, there’s no need to ever feel alone. If you do feel lonely, perhaps you only need to look around and realize, as I did, that you are surrounded by more family than you think you are.
If you don’t know about the joys of a family shared through Christ, then we invite you to attend Severn Run (if you live in the Baltimore-D.C. area), or otherwise look for a local church to get connected to. Wherever you go, if they make you feel like family, then you know you’re probably home.
And if that’s the case, then…
…welcome to the family!
We live in a broken world. We all know it and see it every day. We all want something to be done about it but we often fail to see that WE, the community of Christ, are the only group with the strength and support to make an eternal difference. Though we've all been called to serve (Romans 12:1), here I am, in particular, challenging and encouraging men to take the lead in serving.
Men are called to be the spiritual leaders of their families (Ephesians 5:23) and that includes leading through serving (Matthew 20:26-28). In order to explore this idea further let us consider Nehemiah and his example of leadership after he saw his home of Jerusalem broken and in ruin.
They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. - Nehemiah 1:3-4
Nehemiah listened when he was told about the fall of the wall of Jerusalem. He did not wonder about how wicked the world is and how this could be allowed to happen to his people. He did not wish that someone else would do something about it. He turned to God and confessed his sins and the sins of his people. Nehemiah prayed to God for direction and for favor as he began to plan how to rebuild the wall and the hearts of the people of Jerusalem.
I pray that men would listen to the broken and respond as Nehemiah did to the seemingly overwhelming problems they faced. We need to recognize the hard truth that the fall of our communities is entirely due to our absence, because we failed to lead and love as Jesus sent us to do (John 20:21-23). We have to step up and respond to the darkness and despair that we see in the world today by serving in our community with the Spirit that lives in us.
Nehemiah went on to use the resources available (and probably some that he didn't think were available) as cupbearer to the king to do God's work in rebuilding his community. Likewise, we all have been gifted by God with talents, resources, and opportunities to build up our community. We must be willing to use them.
When Nehemiah took on a leadership role, the people of Jerusalem followed. Scores of people (listed in various chapters of Nehemiah) volunteered to rebuild their community because one man stepped up to lead. Not everyone got on board though, the Samaritans and Ammonites ridiculed the Jews. The Jews themselves began to question themselves and their mission. Likewise, evil will try to tell us that we are wasting our time and that the world is too far gone to be saved, but we know better.
After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don't be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” - Nehemiah 4:14
Pray that God would reveal to us all the resources that he has given us so that we may use them to serve and rebuild our communities. Humble ourselves in recognizing the part men have played in allowing brokenness to exist unimpeded due to an absence of leadership. Understand the part we have to play in living out the gospel of Christ. Pray that we would be courageous to stand up and take the lead in bringing the love of God to his people. Let's step up!
Why is it so difficult to have real conversation about our personal relationship with Jesus, especially with non-believers?
When given the opportunity, we are quick to say that God has incredible power to transform lives, but we belittle the example of transformed life that we know the most about…our own! What wonderful changes we could make if we were better able to allow others, including non-believers, to see our daily walk with Jesus. We would be able to change lives by introducing them to a faith that is real and alive. One Severn Runner, Hillary, was willing to share her story about how she did just that.
“I was working as a therapist in a prison. I was ready to make a career move and had applied and accepted a conditional offer for a new position, but was waiting in a holding pattern for almost two years. It was easy to write it off as the pace of the federal governments hiring system, but in hindsight, I think God was keeping me there for a reason. Over that time other coworkers left only me and my coworker, Emily, on our team. Working in prison you find any reason to get out during the day and we regularly began getting afternoon coffee at Dunkin' Donuts. I was under the assumption that Emily was a Christian, not the “I believe in God” type, but the active Christ following type. I am not really sure why I thought this, but I did. Our conversations over coffee were about relationships, family, and daily life. Our conversations got deeper and turned to issues of faith. I thought I was having deep conversations with a person who shared my beliefs and was coming from the same place of faith. I openly shared my thoughts, questions, and experiences. We talked about our churches and I was surprised how little she seemed to know about hers, but didn't think much of it. After several months, Emily shared with me that she had gotten baptized. I was so happy for her, but it was also the first time I recognized that she hadn't been in the same place of faith as me during our conversations. She told me how our conversations had been a part of her journey. Shortly after, I got a start date for my new job and left Patuxent [Institution]. It is hard to think that God didn't keep me there to have that experience with her – to share my faith freely and without inhibition because I didn't know I was sharing with someone might reject it.”
Wow! What a great misunderstanding that turned out to be. But there were a lot of ways that God was moving in Hillary's life to orchestrate the seemingly coincidental relationship she developed with Emily.
“I think God was working through me to share faith with her and draw her into the accepting community of faith. She got into a dating relationship that quickly became an engagement during that time and my marriage, Wes' and my involvement in YMP (Connect Group at Severn Run), and the other Christ centered couples we knew were able to be examples to her of what a Christ centered relationship can look like. Because she was my friend, I shared with her some messy and vulnerable times Wes and I walked through – and I think that realness was impactful for her. God was working through her and the situation to teach me to be bold in sharing my faith – I never would have spoken so openly if I had known there was a risk that she wouldn't be receptive.
Another thing I think is important is that in sharing with her, I talked about struggles, questions I had, barriers between sharing faith with my family, etc. A lot of times I feel like when sharing my faith I need to have the perfect thing to say or have it all wrapped up in a pretty package with a bow, but real faith is evolving and is sometimes difficult which is just as important to share.”
It’s easy to relate to Hillary's feelings on why we hold back when sharing our faith. We are worried about how we will be received, but the person on the other end really just needs to hear Jesus speak through our life's story. When we think we are “improving” our story by focusing on getting everything just right, we are probably just getting in the way.
“My main takeaway from the experience is how differently would I talk about my faith if I was never worried about rejection. I hope that others would hear that too – how differently, how much more frequently, how much more vulnerable would we be talking about our faith if we acted like everyone we talked to was a believer?” - Hillary Battle
Let us know: How does this encourage you to be more bold about sharing your faith in everyday situations?
If you are a young adult, you are probably finishing up some kind of school or beginning a new career. You may have grown up in church like my wife, who felt like going to church was “what you did” and rarely thought about what she would do when given the option of how to spend her Sunday mornings.
Once she was in college she knew she wanted to have a strong faith, but she didn't know exactly how to live that out for herself. She and I struggled for a while to find our place in the community of Christ, really until we came to understand how important it was to build real and honest relationships with other Christians and to serve alongside them.
To find your place in the community of Christ, you have to get to know what that community looks like. Start by joining or starting a connect group for young adults (like SMASH, Real World, or YMP). Connect groups are where you can build close relationships with people who will understand what's going on in your life and will encourage you in your walk. You will need those relationships when dealing with the ups and downs that come along with college or starting a career.
You may feel a little lost as you transition from being part of your parent’s church activities to having your own church activities and relationships, but trust me when I say that you are not alone. There are many people just like you who are looking for others to connect and share life with. So look around and find some people who are prayerfully going to Jesus and asking him to lead them into developing a community like that described in Ephesians 4. Invite people to join you if you have to!
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
- Ephesians 4:11-16
At this stage in life you have a lot of new time and freedom. This is the best chance you will ever have to serve in different areas of the church and find where you fit best.
If you are thinking that you want to have a Christ-centered family that does great things in Jesus name, you don't have to wait. That was a big “aha!” that encouraged me to get more active serving. I realized that I did not have to wait to be the head of the family that God wanted me to be--that I could be a part of something whether my family was just me, or me and my wife.
Here at Severn Run we are lucky because there are many teams and ministries where you can serve throughout the year. This is also a great way of getting to know people outside your small group who will also support you and who you can bond with through serving. This is the mature faith that Paul describes in Ephesians 4, that we would each grow together and support one another as the body of Christ.