Yes I Will

This past weekend it was my joy to serve on the worship team during the morning services. It’s hard to believe that I have played drums for 30 years now, and it is remarkable how the Lord has used music in my life over those years. I was able to play for two sitting US presidents during my high school years – not something I ever dreamed would be on my resume. Then I went to college at UNC Chapel Hill, where I had the opportunity to play for very large crowds, even over 100,000 people on several occasions as a member of the UNC Marching Tar Heels. In the colder months I would trade my snare drum and marching band uniform for a drum kit and a seat in the basketball pep band. As a lifelong Tar Heel fan, I am overwhelmed to think of how privileged I was to get to play drums for teams coached by Dean Smith and Bill Guthridge. I played in the Dean Dome for home games, in Greensboro and Charlotte for ACC tournament games, and in various arenas across the country for the NCAA tournament games. My first several flights were chartered thanks to the opportunities the Lord made available to me through the music program at UNC. I will always be grateful for the great opportunities the Lord has made available to me through music.

And it was through music that I was first able to serve the Bride of Christ. Through various churches I have been able to play music that praised the name of Jesus while making great friends and great memories. When my wife Erin and I first came to Community Bible in 2005 it was through the music ministry that I first got plugged into the church. Jon Eric had only been at the church for a little over a year when we showed up for the first time. There was a choir on the stage, an acoustic guitarist, a keyboardist, a saxophonist (Jon Eric) and a guy playing electronic drums on the floor in front of the stage. I was not impressed. But the Lord began to show how the gifts He’d given me were to serve the church and He began to grow me in really significant ways over the next 14 years.

With my role now as Discipleship & Administration Pastor I have lots of other commitments on Sunday mornings so it is rare that I’m available to serve on the worship team, as I did this week. But being back in the saddle was a great encouragement to me this week. I mean, I definitely became aware of just how rusty I’d gotten when I sat behind the drum kit at practice on Wednesday, and I also realized how soft my hands had gotten! But as I studied the music for this week and contemplated the lyrics, the Lord really helped me connect deeply to one particular song. The third song we sang on Sunday is called “Yes I Will” and the Lord ministered to me through that song, even during my prep for Sunday’s worship services.

The verse goes like this:

I count on one thing

The same God that never fails

Will not fail me now

You won’t fail me now

In the waiting

The same God who’s never late

Is working all things out

You’re working all things out

I love how this verse proclaims the unchangeable faithfulness of our God. It’s both beautiful and appropriate to celebrate the great attributes of God. Among those attributes are his faithfulness and sovereignty.

God never fails. So even in my time of need I can count on God coming through for me. In other words, even though my circumstances have taken a turn for the worst, I can be full of faith that God is still able, interested, and faithful to provide. God is not subject to circumstances. Indeed, He stands above circumstances. But often our faith is swayed by the circumstances around us. While we are called to be steadfast and immovable (1 Cor. 15:58) we sometimes feel like we are getting tossed to and fro by life.

But even in the being tossed we have a choice.

We can choose to praise the Lord. And we should do just that.

After recognizing the attributes of God in the verse, I love how the song lyrics move to praising the Lord in the chorus:

Yes I will lift You high

In the lowest valley

Yes I will bless Your name

Yes I will sing for joy

When my heart is heavy

All my days yes I will

The song writers go on to declare the choice that they’re making:

I choose to praise

To glorify glorify

The name of all names

That nothing can stand against

As I listened to and studied this song last week I was really struck by the declarations of praise “I will lift You high… I will bless Your name… I will sing for joy… I choose to praise”. These lyrics exhort us to move beyond the emotions of our circumstances and to worship the One who is praise-worthy. And what motivates this praise? The recognition of the worthiness of the One whose name is above every name (Phil.2:9). In good times and bad, in the ups and the downs, in the happy and the sad, God remains steadfast and worthy of our praise.

I had to ask myself how consistently I’m faithful to praise the Lord, even through the ups and downs of life. I wish that I could say I’d achieved a Grade A rating, but often times I also find myself being distracted by my circumstances and my gaze is taken off of the Anchor and becomes fixed on the waves. Sometimes I fall into a “what has God done for me lately” mentality instead of remembering Who I have the privilege of worshiping.

So, my encouragement to the church is to consider Hebrews 12:28 which reads, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe”.  Looking beyond your circumstances fix your worship on the Almighty, who was and is and is to come, and who is worthy of our praise.

I’m grateful to God for my church family, the opportunities and gifts He has given me to serve the church, and for the gift of music as a means to worship Him. This past week served as a good reminder to me of how music continues to be a gift to me and how service through music is a means of God’s grace in my life.

What means of grace can you recognize in your own life? Even if you’re in a difficult season, there are various means that God is using for you. Identify those and praise the Lord!

The Strength of Gentleness

When you hear someone described as gentle or characterized by gentleness, what thoughts come to mind? The dictionary defines gentleness as kindness, meekness, mildness, even delicate. We tend to think of gentleness as a sign of weakness. Gentle people get walked over, taken advantage of, ignored. Most of us aren’t interested in that. Charles Swindoll once said in this age of rugged individualism, “we think of gentleness as weakness – being soft and virtually spineless.”

As such, gentleness doesn’t seem like an effective strategy to deploy when we experience relational conflict, disappointment or failure. And yet, Scripture points to gentleness as one of God’s most effective remedies to the relational mess we often make of our lives.

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” (Galatians 6:1)

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:24-26)

“Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness with patience, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)

It is striking to me that God’s Word tells us to pursue gentleness in the most intense and complicated relational entanglements. In Galatians 6, Paul tells us to be gentle with those who sin against us and others. I usually retreat or retaliate. In 2 Timothy 2, he tells us to be gentle with argumentative, contrary, hostile, devil-influenced antagonists. I’m tempted to take them down with an articulate counter argument. In Ephesians 4, he tells us to demonstrate patient kindness with people we’re called to put up with for the sake of Jesus (meaning we might not have chosen this relationship of our own volition). I’m more likely to find a new friend group than put up with people who frustrate or annoy me.

Gentleness means to approach others (including our enemies) in a humble and caring spirit, not using force to get our way. Strong’s Greek Concordance defines gentleness as “exercising God’s strength under his control…demonstrating power without undo harshness.” When you consider that gentleness is the opposite of using force, coercion, manipulation, or power to get people to conform, we surprisingly discover that deploying gentleness as a strategy in conflict requires far more strength and self-control than we typically associate with gentleness.

Scripture is showing us that gentleness is one of the most beautiful other-centered expressions of love we can offer someone in a relationship. When we treat sinners with kindness, quarrelers with compassion, and annoying folk with patience, we are honoring the dignity of those made in the image of God. When we counter a heated exchange with calmness and peace, we seek to disarm the person who, in their anger or shame or disappointment or self-righteousness, might otherwise lose their mind if we matched their level of emotional turmoil and unrest.

Gentleness is not the releasing of strength in our relationships. It’s yielding to the strength of God through the power of his Spirit. I tend to make a mess when I try to navigate relational disappointments, conflicts and failures on my own. Things tend to escalate quickly. But that’s not what I should desire when I’m mired in a relational mess. I want things to de-escalate, not escalate. And the way towards nuclear disarmament in my relationships is through gentleness. Reserve and strength. Power and control. These are not words we typically associate with gentleness. Yet, the lives of the Spirit-empowered gentle ones are marked in this way.

Here’s my confession: I’m not a naturally gentle person. That probably doesn’t surprise some of you. But just in case there’s any question about it, gentleness is not one of my strong suits. I tend to use my words to gain power over people and situations (this is probably a weakness of most communicators). And my words are not always guided by the Spirit. I want them to be. They can be.

But I, like most, need to grow in this area. The Spirit’s purpose is to guide the way we access and leverage the power of God at work within us. One way he leverages it is through gentleness. So, even if the world thinks I’m weak for desiring to increase in gentleness, I’ll take being thought less of for seeking gentleness if it means being an advocate for peace and dignity in this relational mess we call life.

Looking to Jesus Together,

Pastor Aaron

Forgetful Hearts

Easter is my favorite time of year. I recently heard that according to the church calendar, Easter actually lasts for 50 days. I would like to propose that we all commit to wearing pastel colors and provide Cadbury eggs to the congregation during these days at CBC. Who do I need to speak to about that?  (Joking, joking…)

In all seriousness, Easter can splash by us like a rock skipping on a lake.   Many of us moved from praising our risen Lord in the morning to vacation mode or back-to-work-the-next-day mode in a matter of hours. As believers, we live in the shadow of Easter every day, but as we know, we are a forgetful people.  

The message of Easter is a familiar one to most of us, but still we move through it, here today gone tomorrow. The Lord knows that we are forgetful, and he reminds us to remember again and again, no matter how familiar the message. Peter tells us, “So, I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.” Not only does he give us his own Word so that we will always have the “remembering” at our fingertips and in our heart, he writes the story of Easter so our eyes can see it. I heard someone say last week, “Isn’t it beautiful how creation tells the Easter story over and over again?” Yes, it certainly is.

Some years ago, long before we moved into this house, someone planted a magnolia tree in our back yard. It’s a rare kind, according to my dad who knows about such things. When we moved in a few years ago, it quickly became my favorite view. It grew up tall and huge, shading the corner of our sun-room and perfectly hiding the unattractive corner where the air conditioning unit and coiled-up hose lived. 

However, apparently its glorious leaves and branches that I loved to see draped over the corner of my house were (not quite so gloriously) threatening to rub the shingles off the roof. One summer day last year, my husband casually mentioned that he was going to trim it back “because it’s brushing all over the roof.”

I headed out for the afternoon and this husband of mine—whom I will identify by his initials to protect his identity B(ert) W(ilson)— killed my tree. All that remained was a sawed off fat stick in the ground with spiny looking angry branches that poked out from its once beautiful form. I sputtered and stared and may have gotten a few tears in my eyes and said (yelled), “What have you DONE to my tree?? You killed it!”

“Of course I did!  It was destroying the roof, Shannon!”

For the past year I have stared bleakly in the direction of my once beautiful tree, hating the stumpy spiny thing that remained, lonely for its previous shape and health and life and shade. A few weeks ago I walked out onto my porch and sat down facing the used-to-be-tree. The tree that was dead. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Out of the spiny hideous poking remains bloomed the most pristine, perfect white flowers. My dead tree (indeed, dead!) was suddenly gloriously bursting with life. 

I stared and then cried as this tree proclaimed the story of Easter to me. It shouted it with flitters of joy in the petals of those flowers. “Remember Jesus!” It said. “Remember the good news!” And I did. I remembered that his body was once dead. Dead! His body was ruined, crushed, destroyed, pierced, buried behind the rock and sealed in death…. until LIFE burst forth where there was no life. This is the resurrection story of my Jesus written on the white bursts of life on that tree. Before my very eyes. 

I love Easter and I loved celebrating here at CBC among our body. I love that one week later I sat and thought of that magnolia tree again as Pastor Aaron painted the picture of my heart- our hearts. Dead. Without life. No thready pulse, no shallow breath indicating life. No life. 

“You (me, us!) were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ!”

Because of HIS life bursting forth that Easter morning, our hearts that were dead can burst to life.

We heard from Ezekiel the prophet that it is the LORD who does this. HE washes us with clean water so we can be clean. HE cleanses us from all our idols.  He gives us a new heart and a new spirit. HE doesn’t just give our old heart a jolt, he removes it (as it was dead and made of stone!) and puts a new soft heart within us —  one that will love the Lord our God. One that will  mark us as a child of God. One that was bought for us with the blood of his Son. 

And into the world we go with our new hearts pumping the life of Christ in our veins. No longer are we followers of the course of the world and the prince of the power of the air, but we are followers of our Jesus who died and gave himself for us. 

So, Happy Easter (again and still), brothers and sisters of Community Bible Church.  It is a joy to walk with you in the newness of life. Let’s be on the lookout for the story of Jesus as creation proclaims it in these weeks and tell others what we see!