Playoffs vs. Piety: Where Is Your Mind During Worship?

I love sports. If you know me at all, you know that college basketball is my favorite, and I follow it quite closely. Time (or maybe maturity) has a way of causing me to not follow it as closely as I used to, but I still enjoy it. Over the past couple of years or so, I have enjoyed the NFL more and more, and other sports are fun to follow, too.

playoffs piety

It is just a couple of weeks until the annual time for the jokes and questions about Sunday night services on Super Bowl Sunday. Probably every preacher gets asked about shortening the sermon on that night. Thankfully, I have been asked by people who I knew were kidding, but for some, the question is serious.

Then I came across this video. Please watch it before continuing to read. It’s scarcely over a minute long.

(Trouble viewing? Click here to watch on YouTube.)

Without getting into all the denominational stuff of the video, I want to say this: as a religious person, I am ashamed of this video.

Does this man really think that this was good for religion? In whatever faith he belongs to, the pastor wears robes that set him apart as a type of religious leader. Of course, I do not agree with that practice, but what does it say when “the man of the cloth” is ready to watch a football game instead of helping the worshipers…oh, I don’t know…worship?

But I want to make this personal. As I said in the opening paragraph of today’s post, I love sports. It is playoff time in the NFL, and we are just a few weeks away from March Madness. Maybe you don’t care about these sports, but it’s your own child’s softball team or your local college football playoff.

Maybe you don’t like sports at all, but you love sales at the local mall, or there’s a TV show on Sunday nights that you just “can’t miss.”

Where is your mind when you are assembled for worship? Is it asking the question, “How long until we get out of here?”

I heard a parody of the hymn “Trust and Obey” one time that would be funnier if it weren’t really the mindset of a lot of people gathered in worship.

Rush and hurry,

For there’s no other way

To get out of church early,

Than to rush and hurry.

Think of the discussions that often happen at lunch on Sunday. They are about “how long” the prayers went, or how the song leader led all the verses of every song. “The preacher seemed to go a little long today.”

Now, there is a sense in which we need to be efficient in worship. I’m not advocating a longer worship service just to prove a point.

But I am asking us all to think about where our mind is at during the time we are worshiping God. Is it on the playoffs, or is it on piety?

Quit watching the clock and focus on the Creator.

Stop thinking about lunch, and consider the Lord.

Don’t dwell on sports, meditate on the Savior.

And get your mind off that power nap, and put it on the Powerful God of the universe.

Your team may win, or your team may lose, but what really matters is if your mind is focused on the Army of God, in which you are a soldier. Where is your mind during worship?

QUESTION: How do you focus your mind during worship? Share suggestions or stories in the comments!

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“Fit for the Pulpit”

Some months ago, I received a message asking if I would consider writing a chapter for an upcoming book for preachers. It was one of those emails that is both an honor and extremely humbling at the same time. After some thought and prayer, I agreed, and I am so thankful I did.

The finished product is now available, and, having gotten to read it already, I commend this resource to you. The book is called Fit for the Pulpit, and the basic idea behind this volume is that it provides some “ministering for the minister.” Chris McCurley, who preaches for the Oldham Land Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas selected the topics and speakers, and also wrote the introduction and final chapters of the book. Michael Whitworth, who runs Start2Finish books, served as the editor, and Start2Finish published the volume in both paperback and digital (Kindle and iBooks) formats.

The list of those contributed chapters to the book is wonderful. The writers are Chris McCurley, Neal Pollard, Jacob Hawk, Jay Lockhart, Jeff Jenkins, Dale Jenkins, Kirk Brothers, Michael Whitworth, Steve Higginbotham, and myself. Subjects covered in the nearly 150-page book include “The Preacher and His Finances,” “The Preacher and Discouragement,” and “The Preacher and Laziness.” I was honored to write a chapter called “The Preacher and His Family,” which proved to be a soul-searching exercise.

Though the book is obviously aimed at preachers, I think that others would love this book as well. It truly gives some insight into the thinking and relationships of a preacher that others might be interested in learning. Though, as the saying goes, no one knows the mind of a preacher better than a preacher, a book like this one can give some good insight to others who are interested in better understanding those who strive to preach the Gospel for a living.

Since release, I have seen several reviews of the book. My favorite comes from brother Wes McAdams, who wrote these words:

Make no mistake, this is no light, fluffy, feel-good book about ministry. This book is like being in a locker room at halftime, having several star players grab you by the shoulder pads, and explain to you—in no uncertain terms—what you need to work on when you get back on the field! You’ll put this book down, saying to yourself, “I can—and will—be a better man of God!”

As I said, this was a project that was an honor to be part of, but it was completely humbling, as well. I hope you’ll pick up a copy of this book to give to a preacher, or that you’ll get a copy to learn more about the life of a preacher. You can get a paperback copy from Amazon here, or download it to your Kindle for just $9.99 here.

[Note: This is NOT an affiliate post. I am not making any money off the sale of the books from this post, other than a tiny percentage from Amazon for "click-throughs." I simply wanted to let my readers know about this exciting new resource, and I hope you'll pick up a copy to enjoy.]

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Lebanon Road in 2014: The New Bulletin Design

With the transition to four ministers, we thought it would be a good time to redesign our bulletin, as well. We do not change it often, as we’ve kept the previous design for over 4 years. And this was not a major overhaul. We mostly changed the fonts and laid the front page out a little differently. Even these small changes, we think, make the bulletin attractive and useful.

Here’s the finished product. Let us know what you think!

Lebanon Road Bulletin 2014

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Lebanon Road in 2014: Meet Andrew Pate

[NOTE: This week on the blog, we are sharing with you 5 posts about how Lebanon Road is starting 2014. We are excited about what this year holds, and we hope these articles encourage you.]

In our fourth installment this week, we want to introduce you to our new Youth Minister. Andrew Pate worked with us at Lebanon Road this summer as our youth intern, and we are grateful that he is now back with us full time. He and JD will be working together closely for the first few months, which will be a great asset to both Andrew and the youth program.

Andrew was kind enough to sit down with me for a few moments so you could get to know him. Enjoy the interview!

(Trouble viewing? Click here to watch on YouTube.)

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2014 at Lebanon Road: What is a Minister of Growth and Education?

[NOTE: This week on the blog, we are sharing with you 5 posts about how Lebanon Road is starting 2014. We are excited about what this year holds, and we hope these articles encourage you.]

As we mentioned some time ago on the blog, Lebanon Road decided to hire a fourth minister. (We’ll have more about that later in the week.) We are so thankful that JD Buckner is still with us at Lebanon Road, but he is transitioning from being our Youth Minister to being our Minister of Growth and Education.

What does that mean? JD took some time to sit down with me and give this short description. We hope you enjoy it!

(Trouble viewing? Click here to watch on YouTube.)

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Lebanon Road’s Four Goals for 2014

[NOTE: This week on the blog, we are sharing with you 5 posts about how Lebanon Road is starting 2014. We are excited about what this year holds, and we hope these articles encourage you.]

Like other congregations, Lebanon Road puts forward goals for each year. For 2014, however, the decision was made to reorganize the way we approach our goals for the year.

In past years, we would have 10-15 goals, covering a wide array of “church life.” Goals might include possible attendance numbers, emphasis on community involvement, changes to the physical facilities, or interest in a mission point.

In 2014, we still have very similar ideals, but we wanted to narrow down the goals to a much smaller number. We ended up with just four goals, under which we have set some ideas we want to emphasize. To re-enforce the goals, we made them into a small chart, and even passed out business cards to every person last Sunday with the chart on it.

Here is what they look like:

2014 goals circle

The idea for a circle is, in some ways, the most important part of our goals, because we want to emphasize that all of these goals actually work together and never end. As you can see, almost any specific thing we might want to emphasize fits well under these four, but it keeps us from trying to remember 10, 12, 14, or more items. Instead, we can all memorize four things, and always have them on our minds and in our prayers.

QUESTION: What are your thoughts on having such a simple series of goals for a congregation? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Lebanon Road Theme for 2014: Royal Relationship

[NOTE: This week on the blog, we are sharing with you 5 posts about how Lebanon Road is starting 2014. We are excited about what this year holds, and we hope these articles encourage you.]

For the past couple of years, we have tried to have a theme at Lebanon Road that gives us an umbrella under which to work. We do not try to make every sermon, class, or activity fit under this theme. Instead, the theme provides us with a general framework that we are striving to emphasize at various times throughout the year. In 2012, we went “Back to the Basics,” then in 2013, we went “Outward and Upward.”

RR

For 2014, we chose the theme “Royal Relationship.” This theme is one that is centered on God. We need balance in our understanding of Him, but often we overemphasize one side of God or another.

At times, we hold God up as “high and holy,” and emphasize all the great attributes that make Him “God.”

At other times, we want God to be “near” and we think about a “personal relationship” with Him.

The problem is that we can so emphasize one or the other, that we fail to see that both are what we need to have. God is Lord, but He is also Father.

Through several sermons and other things this year, we are going to emphasize having a Royal Relationship with the God of heaven, who is our Father. For example, on Sunday nights, I am going to preach from a different Psalm each week, since that book provides us with such a clear picture of the balance between awe and nearness with the Lord.

So, there you have it. The 2014 theme for Lebanon Road: “Royal Relationship.” If you are near Nashville and would like to know more about this God we love and worship, contact us directly, or go here to learn more about Lebanon Road.

One of our members, Shane Williams, made this video to kick off our year and introduce our theme. Enjoy!

QUESTION: What do you think about our theme, “Royal Relationship?” Share your thoughts in the comments.

A Prayer for Single Christians

Father,

Thank You for blessing the Church with committed Christians. It is a joy to get to work beside such wonderful people, and You have made it so by placing us all together in a wonderful family. Thank You, and we praise You for this blessing.

I confess, though, that I often focus more on those who are married, though not intentionally so. I fear that, too often, I fail to remember my brothers or sisters who are not married, but who are single Christians. But they are so special, and the work done by Your people would not be what it could be without their effort.

Today, Lord, I’m praying to You for them.

I pray for those who would like to find a spouse, but who struggle to do so. Give them strength to press on in patience, even when they feel lonely or even like they are not desirable. Help us to show them they are truly important, and that we could not do all we do in Your Name without them.

I pray for those who have no desire to marry. They are strong, but have to sit through service after service where families are emphasized, knowing all the while they do not have that desire for their own lives. They are dedicated to Your cause, and use their singleness as a real asset. Forgive us when we fail to utilize that asset in our planning and work.

I pray for those who are “single again,” and I ask them to forgive me if that phrase is not one they find proper. Some are hurting, because the person they thought was that “special someone” is still alive, but has walked out, leaving feelings of loneliness, hurt, and abandonment, and adding more pressures in this life than they should have to bear. Help us shoulder those burdens with them, and show Christ in our attitude of compassion.

My prayer is also for those who hurt when certain dates come around, because the man or woman they spent years–or even decades–with has passed from this life. They have so much wisdom from experiences, both good and difficult. May we use their wisdom, while giving them the care and compassion they so much deserve. Father, thank You for these amazing men and women, who show faithfulness through grief.

Lord, help the Church to be a place where those who are single always feel important, and where they can use their talents, wisdom, time, and money to help Your Kingdom grow. Whatever they may need individually, give all of us wisdom and care to see and meet their needs. Whatever they may have to offer in Your Name, let them know that You see their good works, but You also see when they have pain. Help them to know You as their King, but also as their caring Father.

Teach us, Lord, what to say–and what not to say–so that our precious brothers and sisters feel close and comforted by our words as we all seek to serve You together.

Again, Lord, thank You for the family that is the Church, and for every member, no matter their stage in life. And thank You for sending Jesus to make that possible.

In Him,

Amen.

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2014: The Year You Do Your “Great Work”

He was nearing completion of one of the most remarkable renovations of all time. Though a trusted man, he was still just a servant of the king, but was allowed to go home to lead a construction project that boggles the mind in its scope.

…and Nehemiah did it.

In just 52 days, he led a downtrodden people in the rebuilding of the wall surrounding Jerusalem, and in repairing the gates that hung around the wall. It is a remarkable work, but one that could have ceased had Nehemiah lost perspective.

The enemies of the work tried several ways to stop the progress. They realized that, if the people could do this amazing work, they would be re-energized and would be a force. The enemies also realized they could not ransack a city with walls as easily as one that was in ruins! So, they set about to stop the work. Thankfully, due to Nehemiah’s leadership, the enemies failed in their plot.

As the work was nearing completion, the enemies sent a letter to Nehemiah asking for a meeting on the plain of Ono. Nehemiah saw through the little scam, as we are told his realization, “But they intended to do me harm” (Nehemiah 6:2).

His response is one that needs to be our response to naysayers. Read it carefully: “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down” (Nehemiah 6:3).

great work

Here was a man who saw a terribly difficult work, but saw it as great. He saw the danger, but he also saw the finish line, and he refused to let anything stand in his way of doing this great work.

Here is my challenge to you. It is one that challenged me when I got this idea from a recent sermon by Andy Stanley. The challenge is to select your “great work” for 2014 and not let anyone or anything distract you from finishing it.

To help you, we have created the photo that serves as this post’s title header for you, utilizing Nehemiah’s great answer. We want you to put this picture in a place that will inspire you to do your “great work” in 2014.

Maybe for a homemaker, the picture needs to be printed and put on the bedroom door of her children. Moms, you are doing a “great work” in building into the lives of those children. Don’t let anyone steer you away.

Maybe for a businessman, the picture needs to be put above the photos of his family in the office. Ever since that new woman started working down the hall, you’ve let your mind stray a little, and you need to keep about your “great work” of providing for your precious family.

Maybe for a college student, the picture needs to be the wallpaper on his laptop or tablet, so he isn’t tempted to view porn after a late night of studying. The “great work” for him is overcoming a growing addiction that is encouraged by his peers on campus.

Maybe for you, the picture needs to be the background of your phone, because you have a relationship that has gone way too far, and you need to have the encouragement to hit “decline” when he or she calls again. Your “great work” is ending that relationship; stopping it cold.

Maybe for a preacher, the photo needs to be placed inside your Bible, to remind you that, as discouraging as your work might be right now, you are doing a “great work” in being faithful to the Word, no matter how far others may drift away from it.

For you, maybe the picture needs to be placed in your wallet, so the next time you are in the gas station, you won’t spend those few dollars or swipe that card again for cigarettes or a cold one. The “great work” you are doing is overcoming something that has become a habit.

And maybe for you, the picture needs to be on the inside of your front door. Why? So that, each time you leave, you are reminded that someone–a neighbor, coworker, classmate–needs to hear about Jesus, and your “great work” is to share Him…today.

Download the picture, or print it out and put it wherever it will most help you to do your “great thing” for the Lord. Let’s make 2014 the year that our enemy–the devil (1 Peter 5:8)–tries with all his might to get us to stop, but we say, “I am doing a great work, and I cannot come down!”

COMMENTS: What is your “Great Work” for 2014? Where will you put the picture to help you? Share in the comments to encourage us all as we strive to do a great work for the Lord!

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Photo background credit: Ski China on Creative Commons

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2013 Blog Year in Review, and Goals for 2014

2013 is almost over. (I know. I can’t believe it, either.)

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This has been an a very busy year for us, but one that has also been wonderful. Our work at Lebanon Road continues to go well, and we continue to be more and more grateful for this wonderful congregation. It was announced a few months ago that we are adding a fourth minister to the ministry team, and we look forward to Andrew Pate beginning his work with us on January 8. We are spending a lot of time in prayer, asking God to bless this time of stepping out in faith.

As far as this site goes…what a year! We shut the site down for a few weeks late in the summer for a complete redesign. We rethought pretty much every aspect of the site, and have seen good results since. We started…then took a break from…our family podcast, which was ranked on iTunes for several weeks straight, thanks to your interaction. We decided to end our monthly newsletter, as it was just too much overlap with the blog.

And, under the heading of our publishing company, we released more books and started a short eBook division. If you’ve never checked out our books (now 7 in number), here is the entire list.

Our overall goal for 2014 is focus. Organized focus. We want this blog to grow, and we think that focus will help us with that.

But before we get there, here are some quick reviews from 2013 we thought you might enjoy.

Top Five Posts from 2013

Honorable Mention: Victoria’s Shame. The rest of our top five posts are at least a couple of months old, so they have the advantage of getting views throughout the months. This post, written less than a month ago, just missed the top five, in terms of views, so I felt it was worth mentioning. In this article, I talked about the shame I felt when an ad for Victoria’s Secret came on my TV screen while my family was all together watching otherwise wholesome television.

5. Husbands, It’s Time to be a Real Man: Stop the Affair Before it Starts. A long title, and a lot of page views! Rarely do our “family-based” posts get so many hits (as you’ll see in the remainder of this list), but this one obviously struck a nerve and was passed around a lot through social media.

4. President Obama’s Forgotten “S.” After a speech about civil rights by our President, I wrote that he “forgot” to mention the rights of the unborn. The post was well-received and one person even left a comment suggesting that it get sent to every elected official.

3. Cheering Miley Cyrus. This post tried to do what we often attempt on our blog: take a relevant story and look at it from a different angle. Instead of focusing on Miley’s “twerking,” we asked readers to consider those who were cheering it on. The post was a Facebook favorite, and easily landed here on our top posts, despite one comment-writer saying it was a “big yawn.”

2. A Personal Letter to My Homosexual Friends. This was a post that was a long time coming, and when it was finally written, it was viewed a ton of times (for our site). It was attacked heavily on Reddit, but that’s okay, as the interaction brought more eyes to the site, and more conversation on a very personal article.

1. Thank God for Modest Ladies. Sometimes, a post just “takes off.” This post was spread around so much that it was actually used in an online magazine, and even translated into a Spanish tract! With over 5400 views to date, this was easily our most viewed post this year, and is already the most viewed post in the history of our site!

Subscription and Social Media Goals from 2013

Each year, we set goals for how we’d like to see growth among subscriptions to our blog, and this year we made the effort to focus those goals on growing email subscriptions. We also set goals for social media numbers for the year. Here is how we did.

Total subscribers (email + rss). Goal: 250. Actual: 258 email and 110 rss, for a total of 368.

Facebook fans. Goal: 300. Actual: 459.

Twitter followers. Goal: 900. Actual: 966 (This was the one that surprised me the most.)

As you can see, we easily exceeded all our goals, thanks to you!

2014…

So, what are our goals for the coming year? We really want to focus on our subscriptions, especially through email. As we always say, we do not know if we’ll hit our goals for the year, but here is what we are shooting for.

Blog subscriptions (Email + rss): 550. (If you’ve never subscribed by email, click here to do so! You get a free eBook when you do, so help us start reaching that goal today!)

Facebook fans: 600 (Here’s the link to our Facebook page, so you can “like” us there.)

Twitter followers: 1100 (We tweet out lots of good links and do not just share what we’re having for lunch. We hope you’ll follow us here.)

We know that the only way to do this is to do our best to give away content that is God-centered and well-presented. We pray that we do this on an ongoing basis in the coming year.

If you don’t feel like we’ve said it enough lately, thank you, thank you, thank you. It is your reading, comments, and sharing of articles that keeps us going forward with the site month after month.

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Photo credit: Dan Moyle on Creative Commons

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