Worship Should Mean Something (Part Three)

This is part three of a three-part series. To catch up, click here to read last week’s post.

Worship should mean something. The songs should mean something, the order should mean something, and our execution should mean something. Worship is sacred: we are entering the presence of God, and as worship leaders, we should respect it as such.

The best way  to respect it? Well, we know the Philippians 4:8 drill by now:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”


We discussed picking true, biblical songs last week, but it’s also important to keep biblical truth in mind when we pray or ad-lib. When we’re in front of a microphone,  not everything that comes across our mind is useful for worship. Sometimes those additional lyrics or the prayer at the end of a worship set can be a great time to speak biblical truth, but it does have to be biblically true. Prayer is a more honest, emotional experience, so sometimes it is better just to speak what’s on your mind, as vulnerability and honesty can really grow a connection with God. But singing whatever pops into your head may not be the most useful thing. Musical worship isn’t just about response: it’s also an opportunity for many who don’t understand the Word of God to hear the truth. Therefore, if we’re not sure we’re speaking truth, it can be detrimental to the atmosphere of worship.


Let us not respond to the worship in a dishonest way in the hopes that our congregation would respond more, and let us not ask the congregation to respond in a dishonest way. It’s really obvious when you’re faking it. Now, as the worship leaders, we should always try to respond to worship as an example. But if you aren’t feeling lifting your hands, or dancing, or clapping, then don’t.

Another thing I’ve seen everywhere is worship leaders asking their congregation to respond in a certain way. “Let’s clap our hands.” “Let’s sing this with our hands lifted up.” “Lift up a shout of praise.” These are all legitimate forms of worship, sure, but they shouldn’t be forced. Rather, if we worship in these ways as the Holy Spirit leads us to, the congregation will follow as the Holy Spirit leads them. Dishonest worship is not worship.


Let’s be fair to the other members of our worship team and to our congregation. We can make sure of this in several ways that I’ll bullet out here:

  • Don’t suddenly change plans. If you plan on going into a different part of the song, find a way to communicate that with the team. It may even be helpful to say where you’re going into the microphone, as that would benefit both your team and the congregation. Saying “Sing it’s your breath” before going into the chorus of “Great Are You Lord is a lot more helpful than just going into it and leaving your team lost and your congregation behind. If the Holy Spirit is leading you to a different song not in the set list, it’s okay to go up to your team and inform them during a quiet moment of a set list. If it’s one your team may not do often, it may be helpful just to have them back off while you lead the new song.
  • Be aware of who is assigned to lead. If you’ve assigned someone to lead a song, or if you’re a worship leader and someone else has been assigned to lead a song, that person should be fully trusted with it. Do harmony, by all means, but don’t take the song from them.
  • Watch the congregation before you decide whether you will continue a song further. If people seem to really be responding, especially to a part of the song, it’s beneficial to play that out and repeat it. If you go into a lull and you can tell it’s time to move on, move on. Don’t force a continuation because you feel like there’s more to get out of a song, and don’t move on just because the song is over in the recording. Remember, the most important thing is your congregation’s worship experience.


Simple enough: as my tagline says, question your intentions. Why are you doing what you’re doing in worship? Like I said above, it’s obvious when someone is faking it. Some people fake it with good intentions, and others fake it to be seen as a really good worship leader. Any thought in your head during musical worship that is not focused on God should be set aside. In the same way, you shouldn’t do anything that distracts your congregation. I understand that everyone has their style of worship, but the Holy Spirit doesn’t lead us as worship leaders to do anything detrimental. If you’re constantly moving around the stage, throwing ad-libs into songs other people are leading or finding ways to show off your vocal range during worship, maybe you need to check yourself. You may not be acting on the purest of intentions.


Know your limits. Music is powerful, and when used to foster an atmosphere of worship, a pleasant sound can make all the difference. So don’t treat your sound technicians like afterthoughts. They are just as much a part of the worship team as you are, if not more. And while they’re really in control of how everything sounds put together, each individual should do their part to make his/her job easier. Keep the volume of your vocals in mind, pick guitar effects that blend well with the song, use pads and synths that are pleasant to the ears, and know your limits as a vocalist. If you can’t reach a note without a crack in your voice, or if you can’t perform certain actions without jumping off pitch, then make note of that. We need to sound our best.

Commendable, Excellent, Worthy of Praise

God calls us to excellent. Therefore, we should be excellent when leading others into His presence. If you’re just skating by from week to week, you’re doing it wrong. Practice your parts, rehearse with your team, find new ways to execute your songs better. If your first experience with a song is walking into weekly rehearsal, you need to find a way to improve. That’s mediocrity. Practice produces excellence, which leads to a lack of mistakes. A lack of mistakes leads to a lack of distractions. A lack of distractions leads to a genuine type of  worship in which we can just commune with God, sing of his greatness, reflect on his goodness, and bask in the presence of His Holy Spirit.

Worship should mean something. And as worship leaders, it is our responsibility, not just to make the words we sing mean something, but to help the congregation respond in a way that means something. The less thought we put into our worship, the more glory that God deserves we keep from him. Just something to think about.



Worship Should Mean Something (Part Two)

This is part two of a three-part series. If you missed last week’s, click here.

How do you plan your set lists? Maybe you throw songs together that seem like they fit the message. Maybe you just look through your library and see what you haven’t played in a while. Maybe you don’t plan at all and just let the Holy Spirit lead you in. I’m not here to tell you how to plan your sets.

But I will tell you that you need to make sure your set list sets the best atmosphere possible for worship. I’ve seen a transition that wasn’t thought through or a song that seemed out of place take people completely out of their element in worship. We need to make sure that our set lists have a purpose, and we can use the criteria from Philippians 4:8 to do just that. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”


Every song you pick must line up with scripture. Any praise for God or response to God that is unbiblical won’t come from the Holy Spirit. And especially since the words to a song are an opportunity to preach the Word of God into someone’s life, a biblical base is crucial.

This doesn’t mean you can only lead songs that come directly from the Bible, but it’s helpful not to, for example, play a song like Gungor’s “Brother Moon,” which has pretty lyrics but makes no biblical sense.

In the end, you need to make sure every song you lead has a point, and that said point is based on scripture.


It is unethical to lead a song you don’t believe in, or that you doubt the congregation will respond to. The goal of leading worship is to get your congregation to worship. If they won’t honestly respond to a song you’ve picked, then don’t play it.

This also means knowing when to only play a song once. So many worship leaders will introduce a song to the congregation with a full plan on when and how often they will lead it. I’ve personally seen a worship leader continue to lead a song he liked that got no response. That’s not okay. Know your congregation, and don’t plan a song they never respond to.


Like I said last week, it is moral to make sure the worship is focused on God. The lyrics of a song you pick should therefore be focused on God. Too much first person is a killer of worship, as I said last week.

Another consideration is whether your set allows your worship team to serve to the fullest of their ability. One of my main problems with heavily synthy songs is that it either removes the need for one instrument, or worse, people continue using the unneeded instrument anyway and add unnecessary layers. Make sure your songs have something for all of your different parts to do, so your team can serve the Lord along with you, as they want to do. If another person leads with you, make sure they have ample opportunity to do so as well.


One of my biggest pet peeves is when people play secular songs in church, hoping that will draw a crowd in. That’s disgusting. Worship is all about honoring God, and Justin Bieber doesn’t do that. Worship keeps people focused on the Word of God, and Lady Gaga doesn’t exactly have the same effect. We need to treat our worship services like what they are: a sacrifice to the Lord. Therefore, anything that doesn’t honor God needs to be removed.

This also should lead you to question why you’re picking the songs you’re picking. Are you picking them because you think they would foster an atmosphere of worship, or are you just picking them because you like them, or they have impressive parts for you to play?


Keeping up with last week, the songs you pick should sound good. Too much synth, too many moving parts or a melody line that’s difficult to follow can hurt the way people worship. I would especially be hesitant to use synth instruments, as some people in your congregation may suffer from hyperacusis, which can literally give someone in your congregation a headache just from the sound of a 1970’s synthesizer. You want your worship music to be pleasing to your congregation’s ears so they can focus on worshiping God themselves.

Commendable, Excellent, Worthy of Praise

You should pick songs that take some skill to play, and that your worship team can play well. And there’s a lot more to this than meets the eye.

The number one mistake I see worship leaders make in this regard is that they fail to listen to the drum part of a song before introducing it. Drums are unbelievably difficult, and I tip my hat to all of you who play them. If you’re not sure if a song is too difficult for your drummer, I would literally ask him to listen to it and tell me if he’d be able to play before I even brought it up to the rest of the team.

People also don’t tend to think about harmony in songs. Some people need the harmony clearly defined in a song in order to execute it well. Your guitar player may need several weeks in advance to master a particular lead pattern. There are tons of things to think about in this respect, but it makes the worship so much better when everyone is playing well. Any mistake can lead to a distraction. Always make sure to rehearse. Don’t even leave the smallest chance that a song won’t executed well. I’ve replaced a new song in a set list with an older one everyone knew like backs of their hands because we weren’t executing well in rehearsal before. It’s that important.

Planning the set list should be the hardest part of leading worship. It is the moment in which you decide how your congregation will collectively respond to what God does. It can make or break the worship service, and so it requires massive amounts of thought, prayer and work to make it happen. Just something to think about.

Worship Should Mean Something (Part One)

Musical worship is a beautiful thing. When done properly, it’s one of the most direct connections we can have with the Holy Spirit. Our emotions and the truth of God combine as we celebrate who He is and reflect on the grace He has shown us.

Musical worship can leave people feeling dull and dry, however. You can execute perfectly and lift hands all over the place, but if the worship doesn’t mean anything, then the worship leader has failed at his/her job.

It’s hard to criticize the way others lead worship sometimes. People will say “Well that’s how they worship!” So I want to be very clear. My goal is help you keep the congregation focused on God during worship. Some forms of worship, even maybe a couple of genuine ones, don’t do that.

I wanted to begin by focusing on the process of writing a worship song. Writing offers a chance to show people a new way of looking at some aspect of God’s character, or a new way to respond to His Word. New songs should be encouraged more throughout the church: it can create a more authentic atmosphere of worship.

But the song has to mean something. If you’re just introducing a bunch of meaningless shallow words to your congregation, it may get stuck in their head, but it won’t get them closer to God.

If you’re wondering how to tell if you’re writing a worship song that actually has meaning, follow Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”


The most important aspect of a worship song is its truth. If your song doesn’t line up with Scripture, it’s just words. One good example of this is Michael W Smith’s “Surrounded (Fight My Battles)”. This is every set of lyrics in the song:

It may look like I’m surrounded, but I’m surrounded by you.


This is how I fight my battles.

It’s hard to tell what “this” is in the song, because it’s the first lyric you hear. But based on the other lyric in the song, it’s that we sort of hide ourselves in God and he takes care of everything for us. This doesn’t line up with scripture whatsoever. Ephesians 6 speaks exactly of how we fight our battles, and while God certainly gives us the tools, he doesn’t fight them for us. The other implication you could take from the song is that we fight our battles in worship, but that line of logic has the same issue.

This song was played at a night of worship I recently attended, and I felt nothing. Some people did, and that’s fine. But there was definitely more to be done.

Look at why “Oceans” has endured for so long. Or “Revelation Song.” Or “How Great is Our God.” They all have a clear Biblical basis to work from, and the words are factually true and have greater meaning because of it.


This is the emotional mirror of truth. We need to be honest in our worship songs. If we’re writing just to string words together that sound good to get a song done, then the song doesn’t mean anything. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 tells us that doing anything without love is just noise. If we can’t be vulnerable and honest with the congregations we’re leading, how can we expect the worship to be honest?


Just basically means morally fair. In worship, it is just for us to not spend a lot of time focusing on ourselves, because God deserves our attention. Worship songs in the first person aren’t a great attitude for worship, unless you’re talking about yourself in reference to what God has done for you. Worship is a time for us to honor God, and our lyrics should reflect that by making Him the primary focus. Too much first person means you’re focusing on yourself, and not on God.


If something is pure, that means it’s not mixed with or tainted by another material. We can make our music impure by writing melody lines that show off our vocals, or lyrics that we hope make us sound clever, or instrumentals that make us seem musically gifted. We are using our gifts to bring the focus to God. Writing part of a song that’s designed to bring attention to yourself is selfish and prideful. Every part of your song should move people to focus on what God has done.

Other worship leaders can impurify their songs by following a template that tends to make people raise their hands or respond in certain ways. You can manipulate people with just a build and a bass line. That shouldn’t be the intended goal.


This goes without saying, but your song should sound pleasant. People have different opinions of what they enjoy, but most people don’t enjoy obnoxious synth or over-distorted guitars. If the goal is to use the song in worship, make sure the song itself isn’t distracting to worshipers.

Commendable, Excellent, Worthy of Praise

You may think this conflict with the Pure point. It doesn’t.

Excellence should always be our goal. And in writing our instrumental and vocal lines, they should be written in such a way that a worship team could perform them with excellence. This usually means your lines shouldn’t be so difficult that most people couldn’t replicate them, but they also shouldn’t be so simple that I can give a guitar to a five-year-old and have him play it. There is a delicate balance. Somewhere in the middle, there is a skillfully played song that doesn’t require showing off to execute.

You may think that’s an awful lot to think about when writing a worship song. Maybe you want to just listen to the Holy Spirit and see what song He gives you. I actually agree with that method. Here’s the thing: the Holy Spirit will not give you a song that doesn’t meet these six criteria. Thinking of these will simply allow you to discern whether the song you’re writing is from the Holy Spirit, or just from your flesh. Just something to think about.

What Wrestling Can Teach Us (Part Five)

DISCLAIMER: I’d usually put a Bible quote in here, but this one isn’t actually about Jesus. It’s more of an emerging problem in our culture at large than just Christian culture, but I thought it was worth talking about. Cheerio.



Sometimes being a wrestling fan gets boring. We feel like we’ve seen every story the wrestlers are playing out over and over again. Sometimes it seems feuds were built via copying and pasting something else and putting different names in.

And then the company surprises us with something like NXT Takeover: Philadelphia, one of the rare events in which the stories aren’t told on the microphone or through ridiculous backstage segments, but in the process of the match itself. This event wasn’t just full of creative stories, but creative wrestling.

Everyone thinks the best match of the night was the NXT Championship match between Andrade Almas and Johnny Gargano. Just about everyone who gives out ratings for matches gave this match a perfect five stars, and it’s full of athletic feats, but it wasn’t even my favorite match of the night.

My favorite match was the Women’s Championship match between Sailor Moon fanatic Ember Moon and former UFC fighter Shayna Baszler. This match was just so different from any other I’d seen that I thought it’d get some recognition.

For those who aren’t wrestling fans, let me explain how a match like this would usually work: the tougher, “evil” wrestler (Shayna Baszler in this case) would wear down the more acrobatic “good” one (Ember Moon) for most of the match. Just when it looks like the bad guy is about to win, the good guy makes a Superman-like comeback, hits their big finishing move, and wins the match.

That didn’t happen here. Baszler used her MMA experience to basically try to rip Moon’s already-injured arm off for about ten minutes. Then instead of making a big heroic comeback, Moon used her intelligence. She used Baszler’s lack of WWE experience against her, and while her arm was still locked in the submission, she rolled Baszler over on her back, and before Baszler realized what happened, the referee had counted to three.

I really enjoyed this change of pace. Usually it’s the bad guys who are outsmarting the good guys, but this match not only worked in reverse, but told a really interesting and different story in doing so.

So, what’s my point?

I recently sat in on an inspirational speech given at one of the schools I work for. This speaker was a black female engineer, and she told everyone that “You can’t be what you don’t see,” referring to the idea that women don’t want to be engineers because they don’t see many of them, therefore extrapolating that people are only able to do what they have seen other people (and specifically other people who look like them) do.

I couldn’t help but think, Let’s ask Neil Armstrong if he ever saw someone walk on the moon. Let’s ask Jackie Robinson if he played baseball because he saw other men of color in professional baseball. Let’s ask Marie Curie if she looked up to any female physicists growing up.


When people criticize WWE’s storytelling and come up with their own solutions, they often look at things through one lens. They want the company to look like New Japan, or some other independent promotion. It’s the only solution they can come up with, so anything else the company does will be rejected. I honestly think this is why a match that wasn’t Ember Moon vs. Shayna Baszler was given five stars that night.

In the same way, people who say a certain group of people isn’t joining a certain job field because they don’t see people like them in that field must be seeing things through only one lens: namely the lens of race, gender or other pointless identifiers.

But if the speaker were to take that lens off, she might see other reasons for her issue. Pop culture is pretty adverse to STEM-related media, for example. Sci-Fi is nowhere near the phenomenon it used to be. The Big Bang Theory is the closest thing to a STEM show we get on television, and it makes the scientists look like a joke. TV shows geared toward little girls sure don’t show an interest in science (and that doesn’t necessarily need to change, as little girls just typically aren’t into that stuff). That alone could be a significant factor over just an apparent refusal to pioneer something.

The message of our culture has changed. It used to be “You can be anything you want.” Now it’s become “You can be anything that you’ve seen someone else be.” I don’t like that change. American society has removed all barriers to success. The only thing slowing anyone down is themselves. Instead of encouraging young people to follow other people’s paths, let’s encourage young people to be pioneers, to be listed in history as a “First.” Just something to think about.

Realism, Idealism, Which is Worse?


 For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property.  To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.  He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more.  So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’  He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed,  so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’  But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed?  Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.  So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents.  For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.  And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Matthew 25:14-30


We’ve all seen the movies. Every time the good guys come up with a highly improbably plan to save the day, there’s always a realist in the room to kill the mood. “They majorly outnumber us, we can’t win.” “There’s no way we’ll get there in time.” “This is probably a trap.” Yet even though said realist is technically correct, a miracle comes along and saves the day. Yipee.

We live in an entire culture in which the realist is someone who is looked down on, everyone desperate to prove him/her wrong. Our culture is dominated by idealists.

I define idealist, in this case, as someone who always jumps to the ideal circumstances in a problem solving scenario. Like a starry-eyed bride who plans the perfect wedding without putting the budget she has available into consideration, or a young man who falls in lust with a girl and won’t listen to his family when they say she’s no good for him. Idealists will come up with an idea that solves the problem, get into their minds that their solution is the ONLY solution, ignore or lash out against people who bring an alternative, and not really determine whether it’s actually possible until it’s too late.

Idealistic thought dominates our culture at large, as well as our Christian “subculture.” It’s actually thought of as a good thing in the Christian landscape. After all, we’re supposed to have faith that God can provide what we need and He can multiply what we have, right?

I can recall numerous times in ministry in which I’ve told someone we can’t pursue an idea because we don’t have enough inputs on the sound board, or because we don’t have the right equipment, or the room is too small, or we just don’t have the resources. I always get a look in response that looks like I’ve just stabbed their puppy right in front of them.

But if I don’t stab the puppy, circumstance will, and circumstance doesn’t make it quick and painless (The strangest sentence I’ve ever typed, but the point stands).

In reality, we need both idealists and realists to execute ideas. Realists tend to limit themselves too much, idealists don’t limit themselves enough, it’s a perfect balance.

Idealism and realism by themselves both lead to disappointment. But if the realist in us notes what we have, and the idealist in us can creatively explore what to do with it, then our lack of resources doesn’t seem to matter as much. Both sides just have to be open to criticism without it draining all the hope and happiness out of them.

The thing that made Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand wasn’t just the fact that he took a little and made it much. That was triggered by the disciples being faithful with what they had. Like the passage above says, “You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.” 

So, an optimistic realism is probably best for most situations. Put your thoughts in this order:

  1. This is all we have.
  2. And daggumit, we’re going to do the best we can with it.

Just something to think about.

Can a Fear of Hell Save?

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”

‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭1:6-12‬ (ESV)

Very, very rarely are salvation and hell mentioned in the same sentence in the Bible. Any call to Jesus, you will find, often avoids the subject of hell entirely. Hell is obviously a thing, and it’s obviously what people are being saved from, but it doesn’t seem so important when the apostles are trying to convince people to follow Jesus.

Now think of every evangelist you’ve seen with a sign during a sporting event, or the televangelists who present the gospel, or the hellfire and brimstone preachers of old, or the people that come and preach on your college campus even though everyone is more interested in yelling at them than taking what they say to heart. What do they have in common?

Well, in most cases, their main selling points are either getting to heaven or not going to hell. They appeal to your fear. And, of course, it’s not just them. Plenty of pastors, evangelists and everyday Christians trying to reach out will bring up the idea that if you don’t accept this idea of Jesus, you are going to hell.

But we never see that approach taken from the apostles in the Bible. Jesus will mention hell, but mainly to people who are already following him, or at least people who claim to be religious leaders. Never is that line of logic used to convert someone in the Bible. Why?

Well, because it doesn’t work.

There are some major problems with using the fear of hell to evangelize:

1) The people who actually need the evangelizing don’t believe in hell.

Here lies a major practical problem. We evangelize to people who don’t believe Christianity. That means they don’t believe in God, the Bible or the concept of heaven and hell, or at least not the Christian versions of those things. Tell them your Bible says they’ll go to hell and they laugh. They don’t think hell exists, so they have nothing to be afraid of. This is why it also doesn’t work to tell people who don’t believe in Jesus that they need to stop sleeping around, for instance. They don’t believe in the concept of sin and don’t hold themselves to Christian standards, so why should they? You have to lead them to Jesus BEFORE they’ll accept the rest of the Bible.

2) It’s viewed by non-Christians as intentionally judgmental and offensive.

Yes, Christians are supposed to be extremely difficult to offend, but we can’t apply those standards to non-Christians while we’re evangelizing. Have you ever been in a discussion about, say, Star Wars with someone who has a different opinion on it than you? What if you were talking about how good the prequel movies are and the person you’re discussing with suddenly says “Well, if you like the prequels, you must hate children.” This guy is now attacking your character for seemingly no reason, and you likely won’t respond well.

To a non-Christian, hellfire and brimstone evangelism feels like that. This random person is attacking your lifestyle when he doesn’t even know you. Everything the person is saying may be factually true, but they hear it as an attack only designed to incite anger and start an argument. And when you see someone like that, you don’t want to listen, but you may listen to someone who’s telling you there’s a God who loves you for who you are, which is also true.

3) Fear doesn’t save people.

By far more important than any other reasoning I could give, fear of hell doesn’t work as a path to salvation. As the passage at the top says “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. ”

Salvation comes from a knowledge of who Jesus is, what He did and His love for us, along with us giving our love in return. No one has ever been scared into honestly loving someone. “Love me or die” does not usually get actual love in response. People may act better, go to church, read their Bibles, preach, anything out of fear of going to hell, but without love there is still no salvation.

Now, I’m not in favor of changing the Bible to appeal to people. Hell is still there, and we can’t pretend otherwise. If someone we’re speaking to asks about it, we should absolutely tell them the biblical truth. We as Christians should acknowledge it, and we can even use it as motivation to lead the ones we love to Jesus.

But that’s not the pitch. If our goal is for people to understand the gospel so they may accept the salvation of Christ, especially if we only have a short window to do it, then we need to tell them the information that actually matters: God loves you, Jesus died for you, and if you love Him, He will forgive you. If we can convince people of that, they can come to understand the rest in time. Just something to think about.


Advent (Part Four)

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

‭‭Romans‬ ‭5:6-11‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Christmas overshadows Easter in a lot of homes, workplaces and even churches. Preparing for our Christmas Eve service this morning has taken weeks of preparation, and the service looked completely different from normal. Other churches will do Christmas plays or cantatas celebrating the birth of Christ. But I’ve seen very few actually point out what matters about Christmas.

The final Sunday of advent represents love. If Christmas were about the birth of Christ alone, this week could represent anything else. Perhaps humility: as Christ was born from humble beginnings, without kingly fanfare or comfortable lying places. Perhaps it could represent worship, as people came to worship Him and bring gifts. It could even represent our own adoration for Him.

Instead, when the church created advent, they chose the week leading up to Christmas Day to represent God’s love for us. They brought the focus back to where it truly belongs.

The hope brought in by God’s breaking 400 years of silence, the faith of Mary and Joseph and the wise men and the joy the birth of Christ brought mean nothing without what happened 33 years later at Calvary.

The story of Christmas is the story of a God who came like us, lived like us, felt emotions like us and was tempted to evil like us. Then he died a far more gruesome death than likely anyone reading this will experience. All of that because He had a desire to be with us.

Reflect on the love of God this Christmas. Don’t forget what the purpose of all of this is. Just something to think about. And Merry Christmas.


Advent (Part Three)

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”

‭‭Luke‬ ‭2:8-15‬ ‭(ESV‬‬)

I talked in Part One about silence being the killer of hope. In the same way, when that silence ends, it naturally creates joy. It’s a naturally joyful experience to see something fulfilled that you may not have fully understood before.

These shepherds clearly believed in the scriptures, having already understood what was meant by Christ the Lord. So in all likelihood, they have also endured this 400 years of silence. They were living in a time in which religious people thought their responsibility was to add law to law to law rather than achieve any sort of closeness with God. The shepherds had likely never seen a response directly from God to their prayers.

So, of course, their initial response to the angel was fear. The law in their time was linked to fear. It was impossible to remember all of the commands and if they somehow disobeyed one in front of an angel, they were sure to die, according to the laws written by the Pharisees. In their eyes, God was a distant god, one who didn’t know them personally or have any reservations to punish.

When the angel announced that the Christ had come, of course it was good news of great joy. The shepherds had at least some understanding of scripture. It stands to reason that they remembered Isaiah:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. The Lord will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria!”

‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭7:14-17‬ ‭(ESV‬‬)

Immanuel. Most of us know by now that translates to “God with us.” The shepherds heard this and needed to go see it. It brought them great joy.

And now, 2000 years later, God hasn’t been silent with us again. God is still with us. We don’t really have to understand how the 400 years of silence felt to feel joy in this. We don’t deserve to have God with us. We can take joy in the fact that God willingly chooses to have a relationship with the people who disobey him. We can take joy in the fact that God knows us personally, and won’t seek to harm us the second we step out of line. I’ve never been a fan of the “it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship” line (as you can see here), but that line is at least based in the truth that we don’t have to be perfect for God to accept us. That started here with the birth of Jesus. And that is good news of great joy. Just something to think about.

Advent (Part Two)

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

‭‭Luke‬ ‭1:26-38‬ (‭ESV‬‬)

Week 2 of advent represents faith. And I don’t mean the faith that gets us through the day or gets us through trials. I mean real faith that God is real, all of His Word is true, and that He is still working and moving today.

There’s a myth in the church that faith means having zero evidence for something and believing it anyway. It implies that if you have the slightest bit of evidence for believing in God or what He says, it’s not really faith. This simply isn’t true.

When Mary became pregnant with Jesus, she didn’t simply believe it was the son of God. Joseph didn’t simply believe Mary hadn’t been unfaithful. That, in the absence of other factors, would have been foolish.

But an actual angel came to Mary and she STILL questioned whether what the angel was saying was true. I’m sure she also had plenty of questions that she didn’t ask, not the least of which being “Why me?” and “Why now?”

Even given some proof as blatantly obvious as an angel appearing before her, it still takes a lot of faith to believe what the angel says. “You’re a virgin, but you are about be pregnant. And it’ll be the Son of God, the Christ who has prophesied that Israel has been waiting for for 400 years. Oh, and you know your relative Elizabeth who was barren? She’s pregnant too.” Even in that moment, it took a ton of faith for her to respond the way she did.

It took even more faith for her to continue to believe it days or weeks later. It’s easy when an experience is over to question the authenticity of it. Was it a dream? Did the angel really say those words?

It’s certainly difficult for us to believe now, not having seen the angel, or Jesus’ resurrection in the flesh. Debates are held among Christians about which parts of the Bible are just a metaphor and whether anything in the Bible other than the words that Jesus said are worth paying attention to.

Many of us have experience God in an undeniable way, in some form or fashion, but feel able to easily to explain it away later in life, as an “emotional high” or a coincidence.

The truth is. even for those of us who are the most devout, it’s incredibly difficult to have faith that the divine can have an impact on the natural world.

But the good news is our faith doesn’t have to be blind. We can experience God, we can study his Word, we can master debate through apologetics or develop an understanding of how a study of science leads to a conclusion that some divine being created the universe. These things aren’t bad and don’t detract from our faith, provided we find a way to still believe the words of the Bible in the process. It’s good to have an experience or an argument or a bit of evidence to support our faith. It’s hard enough to keep faith even WITH those things, much less in the absence of them. Just something to think about.

Advent (Part One)

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

‭‭Romans‬ ‭5:1-5‬ ‭(ESV‬‬)

Between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the gospels, scholars believe that God was silent for 400 years, with His last prophetic word testifying of the coming of John the Baptist followed by Jesus. In the time between, God spoke prophecy into no man, no divine words were heard except those that had already been uttered by the prophets.


As the first candle in advent represents hope that Jesus was coming, I’ve been reflecting on the way that silence is a killer of hope. Silence after submitting a job application or asking your spouse if he/she is okay is enough to drain any hope you might have of a positive outcome.

And for 400 years, questions about what was next, what was the “great and terrible day of the Lord” and how to attain salvation were met with silence from God, leaving many to rely on their own interpretation of scripture in the moment.

With this, it becomes a little easier to see why people would see Jesus in the flesh and not believe He was the son of God. It’s difficult to persevere and maintain hope in the midst of both worldly trial and silence from God.

In our Christian lives, we often experience trials in which we feel like God is silent. In the midst of sickness or financial struggle or periods in which you have no idea where God will lead you next, it’s hard to maintain hope that God will make things work together for our good. Sometimes we do everything we can to draw near to God, but in the midst of our questions it seems He’s remaining silent.

After 400 years of silence, a few astrologists looked up and saw a star that wasn’t normally out in the sky. It may not have been any brighter than the others, there may not have immediately seemed to be anything special about it, but they were drawn to the star. When logic may have dictated that this wasn’t something worth pursuing beyond simply admiring it from afar, hope led these men to follow it. And it eventually led them to see Jesus, God in the flesh. His ministry wouldn’t begin for another thirty years, but their hope led them to something that would increase their faith.

Another man, named Simeon, (again, after 400 years of silence) was told by the Lord that he would not die until he saw the Christ with his own eyes. And in Luke Chapter 2, God came through with that promise. And when Simeon saw Jesus, again, before his ministry began, the hope of His salvation was enough for him to die in peace.

Sometimes the answers to our prayers aren’t full solutions to our problems. Sometimes we wait, and we wait, and we wait, and in the process of waiting we find little glimmers of hope. There are little moments that appear to be moving us in the right direction. And if we don’t let the lack of answers, the feeling of silence, drain us of our hope, we can find these glimmers and keep going, if only one more day. Whatever it seems, God isn’t a God who would abandon us. We may just need to hold on until His plan is revealed. Just something to think about.



Scripture matters more than your feelings.