The Prodigal

This morning I ran across a video written by the brother/sister team of Ryan and Meghan Baird on Bob Kauflin’s blog Worship Matters. As I watched I was reminded of something God showed me last year.

Before you watch the video let me share some thoughts:

We’ve all read the story of the prodigal son and heard it preached many times. When I was first walking with the Father it was easy to identify with the story. Even though I hadn’t said to my father “I wish you were dead, now give me my inheritance” it was easy to see how God had been reaching out to me and how I had, many times, walked away.

Having walked with the Father for over 25 years it became harder to identify with the story and I tended to listen passively and move on. But a truth remains in the story for we who have been walking with the Father a long time.

We all have seasons of spending our inheritance outside of relationship with the Father.

If you have applied, by faith, Jesus sacrifice for your sin you are, by grace through faith, made righteous and a child of God. Ephesians tells us it was the Fathers idea from the very beginning to adopt us as sons (inheritors) and give us an inheritance. To the extent we spend that inheritance outside of relationship with the Father we are prodigals. With that in mind watch the video:

Here are the lyrics:

You held out Your arms, I walked away
Insolent I spurned Your face
Squandering the gifts You gave to me
Holding close forbidden things
Destitute a rebel still, a fool in all my pride
The world I once enjoyed is death to me
No joy, no hope, no life

Where now are the friends, that I had bought
Gone with every penny lost
What hope could there be for such as I
Sold out to a world of lies
Oh, to see Your face again, it seems so distant now
Could it be that You would take me back
A servant in Your house

You held out Your arms, I see them still
You never left, You never will
Running to embrace me, now I know
Your cords of love will always hold
Mercy’s robe, a ring of grace
Such favor undeserved
You sing over me and celebrate
The rebel now Your child
© 2009 Sovereign Grace Worship (ASCAP).

Deuteronomy 30:2-3 promises us if we will:

return to the LORD your God and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul, that the LORD your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you. Deut 30:2-3

The Robe speaks of welcoming into the family and removing sin. We are clothed with His righteousness, made righteous. The ring is a sign of sonship (inheritors) being sealed by the Holy Spirit with second inheritance of wealth, dominion, and rulership. Sandals differentiate us from a servant. The feast declares to the world the Joy of the Father. Freedom and honor are restored in perfect reconciliation and all the son did was return.

He has not dealt with us according to our sins,Nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, So the LORD pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:10-14

Don’t wait. Relationship with the Father is to be valued more than our inheritance from Him. He wants to spend it with us. Wherever you are right now be purposeful. Don’t rehearse a speech. Just return, I’m going to do that right now.

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20 Years Ago Today…

It’s been over 90 days since my last post. It’s been a season of busyness and reflection, in that order. My focus has been to try to evaluate fruit and determine where I need to focus going forward. I have much to say on the subject but today I have a bigger purpose.

20 years ago today, 6:00 Central time to be exact, Kimberly Burger and I started a new life together.

As I sit here it seems amazing to me that it’s been 20 years. So much has happened not all of it good but all of it profitable because in the midst of it all we have followed the one who designed marriage. We haven’t always done it well but we have always done it.

Many men say “I am married to the most amazing woman on earth” I’m sure they are sincere but I really am, let me explain.

Our first date never happened.

It was my Sr. year and just prior to the Sadie Hawkins dance my long term girlfriend and I had “broken up”. I decided I would not go to the dance and had already declined a couple invitations. Then along comes Kim. She was, and is, always so full of life and joy and is impossible to ignore, why would I try anyway :-). After a school function the two of us were cruising main and talking and when I dropped her off at her house the conversation continued sitting on the trunk of my 1970 Pontiac LeMans leaning on the back glass which curved in like a lounge chair.

It was, and is, comfortable to be with her she made me laugh but was never “silly” or “a dumb girl”. There was, and is, substance to her something that draws you in. She still possesses that today and is one of the reasons she is so successful at everything she does. During the conversation she asked me to go with her to the dance and I accepted.

Later that week my old girlfriend came to me and said she had decided not to go to the dance with someone else and asked me to go with her. Being the loyal golden retriever that I am I went to Kim as she was on the stairs on her way to class and told her the situation. I went to the dance and Kim stayed home. I know what your thinking, what a jerk, and you would be right.

We remained friends and I still always loved being around her. After graduation I was home for the weekend we drove to the Pepper Mill steak house in a neighboring town about an hour away. We had a great time but I never called her again.

Fast forward a couple of Christmases. I ran into her again in our hometown and invited her to my parents house to catch up. When she arrived she knocked my socks off. It was the late 80’s and she was wearing a sweater dress looking like a million bucks. I had never looked at her that way before but suddenly I had a completely different view and it was good. So why didn’t I call her later? I don’t know.

The next summer was my parents 25 year anniversary I was playing in the band at the reception and Kim came and sat there the whole night so she could talk to me at the breaks between sets. I was still oblivious. On the way home my cousin said “You better call that girl”. I said “you think so”. I know I’m a slow learner. I did call and she came to the state fair where we saw Clint Black, Reba McEntire, Vince Gill, Joe Diffy and again had a great time. We continued to talk, a lot, on the phone and I would make the trip home as often as possible. One night sitting on her back porch she said to me “you know I really like you” I think in the back of my mind I knew and hoped that was the case but in my zeal to not come on too strong I didn’t come on at all. I still do that a bit today.

Sorry to ramble so much but this is my blog 🙂 Back to the title of the post:

20 years ago today at about this time my dad and I were standing in my back yard in the rain wondering what to do. It was an outside wedding and we needed to make a decision. The rehearsal had been rained out and our family’s ended up in different places not doing what normally happens at a wedding rehearsal.

We woke to more rain, cloudy skies, and dim weather forecasts. My dad who I love dearly would not be described as a church person said to me. “If God gave you the girl, the date, and the place, what makes you think he will rain you out. So off we went to the city hall to pick up folding chairs and set them up in the rain having faith God would work it out.

That night was absolutely beautiful. Thunderstorms, tornado warnings, and rain all around us but in Ainsworth Nebraska on the corner of North Osborne and 3rd street was absolutely perfect.

Kim has always been my greatest cheerleader, always believed in me, even when I haven’t believed in myself, and has always been my closest and best friend. I would not be the man I am today without her and I don’t want to do the next 50 or more without her.

Kimberly as long as I live I will always remember you this way. I love you.

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I love my life

When I was in college a friend of mine would always pray, “God You are so big”, I remember thinking “That is the understatement of all understatements” however; I often find myself at a loss for words explaining what He is doing.

I find myself in that situation today.

Last weekend I had the privilege of being with some great people in Limon Colorado leading a worship retreat for Life in Christ Church. This is the first time a church has invited the community to join them. As a result we were blessed to have three churches represented. What a blessing to have different levels of musicians, different places in their walk with the Lord, and different traditions of worship. It created a different but very good environment.

We started on Friday night with Repentance and Dieing to self. It set the tone for the whole weekend. God was faithful and set a tone of reverence and expectation.

Saturday morning we began with Real worship, went into the rewards of loyalty by teaching through the book of Ruth, after which we were prepared to go to the centerpiece of the whole weekend, “walking in intimacy with God”. What does it mean practically to walk in intimacy with God? I know I’m supposed to read my bible and pray but there has to be more, and there is. We finished the morning answering the question “why music?”. If worship isn’t about music then why music?

After lunch we began by explaining what it means to be a “worship leader” and what is potentially wrong with the titles of “lead worshiper” or “lead follower”. We finished the heart portion of the day talking about excellence. What is it and can we offer it?

The practical “how to” portion began at about 2:00 with the purpose and elements of a worship team. What is the purpose of the choir and each individual element of the team. Where does each instrument fit into the sonic space. My friend Andrew did an excellent job with practical music theory. He starts with where we are rather than taking us back to theory 101 it was great.

After supper we went into planning and delivering a worship set and an actual rehearsal for Sunday morning.

I came home exhausted but energized. Seeing the fruit of God’s word and some practical application is always amazing.

If you were going to have a retreat what things would you add or subtract? What did I miss?

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Confession Time

Not confession in the literal sense of the term. I may need that as well but not in this space.

I have always spoken my mind here without holding much back and sometimes felt like I’ve been a little too honest. Today I need to process and get some things out of my head. As always I welcome your thoughts. I don’t know where this post is going I’m just mind dumping. So consider that fair warning.

In late 2008 I got very discouraged with some of the things being said in relation to the elections. The way I chose to deal with it was to fast all things political for as long as needed and focus on the one thing that can bring real change. Building the Church.

I was so pleased to hear my pastor tell the congregation yesterday. God’s plan is for us to operate in our gifts and there is no plan b. After the elections last year Dutch Sheets, in a letter to his partners, made the comment, God had a plan 50 years and 50 million baby’s ago it was us. These two statements go the heart of what I’m passionate about. Equipping the Saints.

I understand theologically God does not “need” us as much as He has chosen to work in and through us. Jesus modeled this plan as He walked purposefully to the cross while entrusting the message of salvation to 12 men. That is our task. raising up those who have been entrusted to us, calling out their gifts, making sure they are equipped, and then giving them permission to serve with a covering.

This is my foundational message. 2 Timothy 2:2, teach the teachers to teach.

Recently I separated my political thoughts into a different blog so I could keep this one solely for the purpose of ministry. Last week I posted 3 times concerning Conservatism and Christianity on this blog and began to feel bad about it. It is nearly impossible to separate politics from other aspects of our lives. They are completely intertwined.

I am very busy meeting with young men, serving on a couple of boards, helping different people with social media, as well as preparing for worship team retreats, writing a book, and trying to write songs. All good things but it begs the question:

What things, of eternal significance, should I focus on? In what areas should I focus on building the church? It all runs together and gets a bit confusing at times.

As I read other blogs they are mostly focused on one thing. Should I drop the political discussions and focus on building the church? Should I stop doing all but one thing and do it with all of my passion and effort? Religion and Politics are the two things we are told to avoid however Religion and Politics are two of the most important things we should be talking about. (don’t be too literal with that last sentence)

I realize Most of my problems are between my ears and because I’m in a safe place to deal with my pathologies God is bringing them to the surface. It’s good but hard. I’m developing a lifestyle of prayer and fasting that I’ve never understood before.

I am so thankful for my family especially my amazing wife who believes in me beyond my ability to understand. And thankful for friends who love me enough to tell me the truth.

Pastor Brady finished yesterday with this comment. “God has more gifts to give than people willing to use them” I don’t want to be that guy. I don’t want to spend time on things good but not eternally significant. If your still here after 600 words thank you. I’ll keep you posted.

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Real Heroes

It’s one thing to see stories like this on TV but when it’s someone you know it really brings it home.

Aaron and Tanya have been in this process for a long time and when they found out they could bring their boys home they could have just focused on themselves and that would have been fine but that’s not what they did.

With the help of Messenger International where Aaron is the CFO they chartered a 737 and brought home 80 children. They are considering other flights as well.

Watch this clip from the NBC nightly news and then go to the Messenger International website to see how you can help.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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Hope International Schools

Just got home from a board meeting with Hope International Schools.

I met Joel Vanderkooi when he was an attorney for Mountain States Employers Council while I was the HR manager for Messenger International.

Joel had a vision to reach the world for Christ by planting schools. When he felt like the time was right he approached me to sit on the board. it has been an honor. Amazing to watch the hand of God on this family as they follow God’s call on their lives.

They have met with very significant difficulty and have stood firm in the face of it knowing they are called and God is the source and the substance of everything they need. They hope to open this spring and are well on their way.

Tonight we had our meeting on a Skype video call and were able to meet the teachers. I was so blessed as they introduced themselves, almost half of them through an interpretor, and spoke of how the school was an answer to prayer and how blessed they were to be able to serve God in this way.

They have an immediate need for a principle so they can finish the licensing process. As well as financial help until the school is fully enrolled and able to sustain itself. Then it’s off to plant the next one.

We have set up Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and WordPress sites if you would like more information.

Please pray for them and if you know of a great principle with a huge vision let us know.

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“Leading” Worship

One of the themes I am seeing around the blogosphere and on posting boards is the idea a worship leaders job is to simply worship. People will either follow or not but it’s not the responsibility of the worship leader.

I couldn’t disagree more.

Though there is some truth to the notion that we can’t make people follow and we definitely can’t make people worship however; the idea that the leaders job is simply to stand and worship in front of people couldn’t be more wrong.

Our job as leaders begins well before we stand on the platform in front of the congregation. Every situation is different and we need to make sure we are seeking God for what He wants to say to His people. When were in leadership we must consider every revelation or communication from the Lord as to whether it is for us or for the people we are leading.

We must live in the secret place. Seeking Him and His desire for His people. Leading worship is not about choosing 5 songs in the same key or chord family. It’s not about doing what were, necessarily, comfortable with. It’s about going to the mountain and hearing God’s heart for His people.

After spiritual preparation it’s about preparing your craft. Whether it’s an instrument, your vocal, a video, a congregational reading, or whatever we must prepare ourselves. Remember we must be about excellence not perfection. Excellence is about offering our best not being perfect or even the best.

When we show up to the service we should invite the Holy Spirit to ruin our preparation. We should have been listening to Him through our preparation but it is so critical to invite Him to disrupt the service. Make it clear to Him and the worship team that we are going to go with Him wherever He goes.

Finally when we stand on the platform in front of those who Jesus bought with His own blood, those who He loves so much He would rather die than be without, we must engage them. We must draw them into the secret place with us. Not by manipulating emotions but by being genuine, leading them to the throne and then getting out of the way. Having been with Jesus we should know where they are and what He has given us to say to them should connect with them right away.

I understand sometimes it’s hard work. There is an enemy who knows the power of God’s people in unity worshiping the living God and is actively at work to disrupt that activity. I am not saying if we follow the right formula everything will work. Sometimes it doesn’t. But if it doesn’t it’s not because we weren’t prepared and haven’t done everything within our control to make sure it does work.

Eddie Espinosa says “worshiping in front of a congregation is like eating a 5 course meal in front of starving people”.

Leading worship is about going somewhere and taking as many as will come with us. This is not a passive activity but a very engaging, purposeful, passionate activity. We cannot take responsibility for how “good” the worship was but we must take responsibility for being prepared and engaging God’s people.

Please don’t embrace false humility in any form but especially when it comes to the responsibility of leading God’s people in worship.

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A Touchy Subject

Today I want to tackle something that has been on my heart and mind for a long time but haven’t really known how to approach it because I know what the response will be from some.

Before I begin please understand I believe evangelism to be the responsibility of every believer. Having said that I don’t believe we are all evangelists. We should all be ready to answer anyone who asks about the hope we possess. The primary way we cause people to ask is to “Set Christ apart as Lord in our hearts” and when we are asked we must answer “with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience” 1 Peter 3:15-16.

With that preface here is my premise:

We have emphasized evangelism at the cost of making disciples.

We have all heard the “great commission” so many times we can recite it verbatim. Or can we? We know the part about “go”. but do we know the whole passage, Matthew 28:18-20, and the context?

Jesus did say go but the last thing He said was not go but wait. That’s right wait. Jesus last words are not recorded in Matthew 28, they are recorded in Acts 1.

“While he (Jesus) was with them (the apostles), he declared, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait there for what my Father promised, which you heard about from me.” Acts 1:4

Why wait? times a wastin! people are going to hell! the devil isn’t waiting!!!

Jesus gives the reason in both Mathew 28 and Acts 1.

Matthew 28:18, Jesus said “all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me”, 20 “and lo, I am with you always.
Acts 1:8 “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you”

Have we so overemphasized evangelism that we have actually hindered the work of evangelism?

One of my favorite authors and preachers A.W. Tozer suggests that may be the case. In his devotional he states:

“The popular notion that the first obligation of the church is to spread the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth is false. Her first obligation is to be spiritually worthy to spread it.”

When we go out of obligation and of our own strength believing we must “go” we can spread a “degenerate brand of Christianity to pagan lands” which does not fulfill the command of Christ. He never said make converts He said “make disciples” and a disciple who has “set Christ apart as Lord in his heart” will evoke the question, “what is it about you?” and that same person will be able to answer “with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience”.

Again please don’t misunderstand. There may be a place for the person at the mall passing out tracks. however if all of us were setting Christ apart in our hearts and communication with those entrusted to us with courtesy and respect how much more effective would we be making disciples?

I also believe if we are all walking in the fullness of our calling, being who God has called and created us to be, the church would grow. Ephesians 4:15-16 says as much:

When we all grow up in “Christ who is the head from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according the the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”

Paraphrase: When we are all walking in the fullness of our gifts and calling the church will grow.

A.W. Tozer points out Jesus chilling words in Matthew 23:15:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”

Are we living our lives in such a way we can say “follow me as I follow Christ”? I know I could grow in that area. Please pray with me for the church to get a revelation of her primary purpose.


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Are We Asking The Right Questions?

Over the last several months I have been involved in conversations on blogs and forums surrounding all things related to the corporate worship service and the teams of people who facilitate our corporate worship experience.

The conversations are about everything from style, to heart, to practical aspects related to worship in the church. I hear the hearts cry from these leaders and team members and believe the motivation, for the most part, is good. They genuinely want to create an environment where the people of God can come together without distraction and enter into the presence of God with the community of believers they have chosen to identify with.

Today I ran across a conversation entitled “The Ideal Band Member”. I eagerly clicked the link thinking we were going to talk about the type of person we are looking for to be on our worship team. Someone who possesses a servants heart, a lover of God and His word. Someone who will lay down their life for the Bride of Christ, not positioning themselves for something bigger and better but sincerely serving the house. And oh by the way they are skillful. I was disappointed.

The conversation was about instrumentation. “We have two guitars, a bass, a drummer, and two keyboard players what should we be trying to add next?”

Please don’t misunderstand. This is not an invalid or unimportant conversation. If our goal is excellence this is a valid stream however; in the context of the last several months it made me wonder if we are really asking the right questions.

What is our purpose as leaders in the church in general and worship leaders specifically?

I remember receiving an email telling me I would not be asked to be a part of the worship team because the pastor wanted a cohesive group of musicians. And since I was an unknown they were going to choose people who they knew could deliver. I wanted to scream “our purpose is not to build a cohesive group”. Now if my skillset is not at an acceptable level fair enough but if the reason I am not invited is so you can have a “cohesive group” there may be a misunderstanding of our purpose.

Our purpose is first the equipping of the saints, and second to operate in our gifts. This is the order were given in Ephesians 4:12

“the equipping of the saints for works of service”  is first and then;
“the edification of the body”

I have much more to say on that topic but for now I’ll leave it there.

Certainly when we stand on the platform we must be invisible. Actually transparent is a better word and the best way to do that is to be excellent. Not perfect but excellent. Excellence is giving the best you have which is much different than perfection. This is not an either or proposition. We can, and must, accomplish both. It was God’s idea and He can certainly give us the wisdom to accomplish it in our context. But if were not even asking the question we are grossly missing the point.

If we are faithful with the faithfulness entrusted to us God will give the increase and bring the right instruments/musicians or whatever we need at the right time. People are our purpose and we must never lose sight of that priority.

Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders. Acts 20:28
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Are Worship Pastors Becoming Extinct?

The Key word here is “Pastors”. We have tons of technicians, musicians, etc. etc. but a shortage of pastors.

Glenn again nails it here. So I will re-post in total

Thanks Glenn:

Over the past seven years, I have served as the Director of the New Life School of Worship, a 9-month program designed to train worship leaders for local churches. We believe that to effectively prepare our students for local church worship ministry they need to be trained in more than music. They need to be grounded in theology, familiar with church history, and responsible with their handling of the Scriptures. Moreover, they need to learn what it means to be a pastor: to shepherd the people under their care. 

But it seems that some churches aren’t looking for that. They would prefer a musician who can lead the “singing”, oversee the tech team, and produce recordings of their original songs. None of these are bad expectations, of course. But are we looking for these trade skills at the expense of other, more essential pastoral qualities? Are worship leaders simply highly skilled technicians who have a “steady gig” at a church? 

Today’s worship leader may spend more time with his Macbook than with a real book. She may be more familiar with GarageBand than the people in her band. He may be better versed with directing the choir than providing spiritual direction. 

Of course, the trade side of being a worship leader and the pastoral side are not mutually exclusive. A person can be good at Pro Tools and at pastoring the people on his team. The trouble is we’ve lost the sacredness of the pastoral vocation. Any person who says their core role is to pray, study, and provide spiritual direction is not as “useful” to the corporation we call church. What else can you do? we ask. Then we proceed to fill so much of their time time with scheduling bands, arranging music, and working with the latest recording software that they are no longer doing any pastoral work. Musicians and singers become cogs in a wheel, things we use to fill slots. True, the administration needs to be done. And yes, musical excellence is valuable. But at what price?

Ross Parsley, the long-time worship pastor here at New Life, is fond of saying that music ministry is not about music; it’s about people. Worship ministry is first a sort of a “helps” ministry that serves the Body of Christ. But more to the point, it is an excuse for us to connect with one another. Music is the table we gather around, the place where we see each other face to face, and then learn how to walk alongside one another in this life of faith.

Perhaps the question every church who hires a worship pastor– and every aspiring worship pastor– should answer is this: What will Jesus ask us about: the music we produced, the services we programmed? Or the people we pastored, the sheep we fed?

Take time today and think about the people on your team. Pray for them. Pick up the phone and call them. Break bread with them. Talk to them about more than the setlist. Remember your calling as a worship pastor, not a music program manager. Clear some of the clutter from your week. Maybe it’s time to appoint others to do the tasks that are keeping you from your role as a shepherd. You have never met a mere mortal. Our music will not last forever; these people will.

glenn Packiams’s blog

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