Monday, June 30, 2008

Great couple of days

I'm writing from San Antonio where I am hanging out with the Middle School Choir on our annual mission trip. I didn't think I was going to have internet access, but there was an unprotected WiFi connection close by. So I hopped on!

I flew in yesterday after church and met the group just in time for a festival we did at the church down here. We had snow cones, popcorn, hot dogs, face painting, a bounce house, and a live band. I got to play acoustic guitar with the praise band. We have such talented young people here at Hunters' Glen! I'm so proud of how they so willingly use their gifts for Jesus. Please continue to pray for us as we share the love of Christ with people in San Antonio. Pray for our safety and for the Holy Spirit to work in our lives. We want to come back different than how we left.

Yesterday's worship time at HG was truly anointed. We previewed a Celebration Service for our people. As I mentioned before, we are moving to two worship formats on August 24 - one traditional and one contemporary. We hope that revisiting the contrast between the two will assist people as they prayerfully make their decision as to which service they choose to attend. It was funny when we sang "Your Grace Is Enough." I saw our high school students punching each other in appreciation. Young or old, people like to sing songs they know!

A memorable moment on Sunday was when my identical twin brother, Matthew, sang in our choir at the 11:00 service. A lot of folks didn't know I had a twin brother. Our pastor even had Matt come up on stage with me just to have a little fun. Last week, we sang "Cartoons" by Chris Rice in church and now this! Both nice ice breaker moments for HG. Church should be a place where people laugh, don't you think?

P.S. Congratulations to Pastor Kim and Martha on the birth of their first grandson, Carson. Congrats to Hunter and Becky as well.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Personal note

This is a three-parter:

1) I won't be blogging for the next few days as I am away for our Middle School Mission Trip. Please be in prayer for our students and our sponsors as we serve in San Antonio. I want to say a special "thank you" to Jimmy and Amy Storrie, Johnny and Laurie Weesner, and Amy Lambert. They've been amazing this year as they've led our Middle School Choir (The Edge) all year. We are blessed to have such wonderful layman serving at HGBC.

2) Saw WALL-E yesterday with my family. What an amazing movie! Pixar has done it once again.

3) Just wanted to say publicly how much I love my wife and two girls. I'm sure you're reading this, Tangie. You're the absolute best! I'll miss you while I'm away.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Wind of the Spirit

I spoke with my buddy, John Hudgins, earlier this week. John pitches for the Padres in their minor league system. Unfortunately, he developed some arm problems and had to have Tommy John surgery a little over a year ago. While he was recovering, we got to hang out together at the Life Church quite a bit. He actually played electric guitar in the praise team.

More than anyone I know, John desires to personally and corporately worship God. He grew up in a Vineyard Church where his dad pastors. John had some awesome experiences growing up such as being there when Marie Barnett (his worship pastor) wrote the popular song "Breathe." Vineyard churches do things a lot differently than most mainline denominations. They don't have a fixed worship segment. They simply worship until they're done. Even after the service, people hang out and worship until the last person decides to leave. Now God has placed John in a Baptist church where we sing four songs and we're done. Needless to say, God has used John in my life to challenge me.

So back to our conversation. The gist of it was that in an attempt to not offend American sensibilities about time and keeping a schedule, might we be offending the Holy Spirit who does not want to be bound by a schedule or even our sensibilities for that matter? By bowing to the god of time in our worship, are we programming His work right out of the event? This is an important question. We all would say that we want God to move in our churches. We all talk about revival. But are we allowing God to send it when we sing 2 verses of "Just As I Am" for the invitation because we have to get out at a set time?

John 3:8 says, "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." So then why are we worship leaders placing the Holy Spirit in time slots in our worship sets? Perhaps we've formulated something for which there is no formula.

Before I run too far off the beaten path, let me acknowledge that we all minister in different contexts. If our worship time was completely spontaneous and our pastor got up to preach at an undetermined point in the service, our church would shrink. Wouldn't that be a bad thing? Aren't we here to reach people for Jesus and grow His church? I'd rather disciple 1000 people in worship than have 300 "super worshippers" that don't mind hanging out in God's presence for an hour. Besides, even if I change our format from structure to controlled chaos, I can't tell the wind when and where to blow.

The bottom line is that we all must repent and come to Him in humility. How our indifference to God in corporate worship must grieve the Holy Spirit! It's going to take the wind of the Spirit to get us to budge. We need it, Lord!

P.S. Just a disclaimer to say that this blog entry is directed to mainline denominational churches across America. Not exclusively to the wonderful church in which I am privileged to serve.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Top 5 Worst Worship Songs

People are always quick to share with me which hymn or chorus is their personal favorite. Everyone has a favorite. Remember those old time pick a hymn nights? Got to love the teenagers picking "Jesus Loves Me" and thinking they're real clever.

If we have a favorite Christian song, it stands to reason for us to have a least favorite. But something about having a least favorite worship song seems unspiritual. Might that be the unpardonable sin?

I don't think so. Bottom line is some Christian songs (like any other type of song) flat out stink. "All scripture is inspired by God." Doesn't say anything about songs. So click here to read a rare article about bad worship songs. There are a ton of comments for you to read. Some will induce a chuckle.

Off the top of my head, here are 5 worship songs (be they hymns or choruses) I won't ever sing in heaven:

1) The Lily of the Valley (ugh!)
2) God of Earth and Outer Space (bless the astronauts as they fly....)
3) I Will Dance Like David Danced (love the story, hate the song)
4) The Church in the Wildwood (get it out of my head!)
5) What a Mighty God We Serve / We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise (same key, same first letter, same number of words in the title, same annoying result)

Thanks for reading. I promise to post something more edifying next time.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Let the Veil Down

Our choir sings a great song called "Let the Veil Down." Let me share the lyrics with you before I tell you a cool story:

Behold, hanging before you
Is the sacrifice of God
The Lamb pure and holy
Creation stands in awe
Removing all that hinders
The worship of our King
As He cries it is finished
Heaven sings

Let the veil down
Let the praise go up
Let the veil down
Let the praise go up
Let the veil down
We're the presence of the Lord

We come before You
With a sacrifice of praise
We're singing our song
Here in this holy place
To the Lamb of God we raise
For the veil that stood reminding
Us of all our sins
He has been torn away
And now we can go in

Let the veil down
Let the praise go up
Let the veil down
Let the praise go up
Let the veil down
We're the presence of the Lord


So the other day my daughter was singing this song. She stopped, looked at Tangie, and said, "Mommy, I guess some people's veil is up and their praise is down."

Out of the mouths of babes!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

When God shows up

One of the most dramatic stories in the Bible is found in 1 Kings 8 when the Ark of the Covenant was brought to the Temple. Can you imagine the peoples' excitement as the Ark was brought to its rightful place? The first part of the chapter tells us how all the priests and the people of Israel gathered together for the special occasion. Their sacrifices were so many that "they could not be recorded or counted." Then it gets good:

"When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the LORD. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled his temple."

Just once, I would like to experience this! To have all my plans in place for a Sunday worship service. To work out every segue to perfection. To have the worship leaders primed and ready. To see our people united in their desire to offer a sacrifice of praise pleasing to the Lord. To enter into a time of corporate worship with the expectation that God is going to work. And then to have the Spirit of God arrive in such power that all my plans go out the window. To not be able to minister at all because God is. I long for that!

This type of experience isn't limited to the Old Testament. God stills moves in power. He's willing to and will if we simply humble ourselves before Him. One such story is recounted in Jim Cymbala's book, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire. Pastor Cymbala identifies this moment as the turning point in the life of The Brooklyn Tabernacle:

"On one of those Sunday nights early on, I was so depressed by what I saw—and even more by what I felt in my spirit—that I literally could not preach. Five minutes into my sermon, I began choking on the words. Tears filled my eyes. Gloom engulfed me. All I could say to the people was “I’m sorry . . . I . . . I can’t preach in this atmosphere. . . . Something is terribly wrong. . . . I don’t know what to say—I can’t go on. . . . Carol, would you play something on the piano, and would the rest of you come to this altar? If we don’t see God help us, I don’t know. . . .”

With that, I just quit. It was embarrassing, but I couldn’t do anything else. The people did as I asked. I leaned into the pulpit, my face planted in my hands, and sobbed. Things were quiet at first, but soon the Spirit of God came down upon us. People began to call upon the Lord, their words motivated by a stirring within. “God, help us,” we prayed. Carol played the old hymn “I Need Thee, Oh, I Need Thee,” and we sang along.

A tide of intercession arose.

Suddenly a young usher came running down the center aisle and threw himself on the altar. He began to cry as he prayed. When I placed my hand on his shoulder, he looked up, the tears streaming down his face as he said, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I won’t do it again! Please forgive me.” Instantly I realized that he was apologizing for taking money from the offering plate. I stood speechless for a moment, bewildered by his unexpected confession.

It was our first spiritual breakthrough. I had not had to play detective, confront the culprit with his misdeed, or pressure him to confess. Here in a single night, during a season of prayer, Problem Number One (out of seemingly thousands) was solved. That evening, when I was at my lowest, confounded by obstacles, bewildered by the darkness that surrounded us, unable even to continue preaching, I discovered an astonishing truth: God is attracted to weakness. He can’t resist those who humbly and honestly admit how desperately they need him. Our weakness, in fact, makes room for his power."


Our churches need more of that. We all know we do. We just assume that it will never happen to us. So it never does.

God shows up where He is wanted. Where He is invited. Where He is free to move. Where all the glory goes to Him rather than ourselves.

I pray He is welcome in my church and in yours tomorrow morning.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Top 10 VBS Moments

We had a busy (but great) week at church. VBS is now behind us. It was great to see the teachers as well as the children enjoying learning about Jesus. There were some memorable moments for me. In no particular order, here are my Top Ten VBS Moments:

1) Seeing my daughter take her Bible to VBS with her each day.
2) The snacks (especially the pigs in a blanket).
3) Watching Bev and Sherry make spectacles of themselves for Jesus!
4) Running to Guitar Center with Colton and buying some major electric guitar pedals for the church. I'm totally pumped about the Line 6 DL4!
5) Watching the kids and teachers get into worshipping Jesus.
6) Hanging out with David Glover (one of our members) and getting to know him better. Great man of God! Check out his rap group TRU Prophets.
7) Knowing our Children's Minister, Teri Pittman, had it all in hand and was prayed up.
8) Jamming with the VBS band. Thanks to Kelly Eberst, Colton Bishop, Travis Toney, Robby Luke, Cathy Middleton, and Angela Herron! Honorary mention goes to Jody Mazzola and Nathan Kocurek for their help with the Cartoon Song.
9) Talking with the kids in the hallways.
10) Sneaking over to Prestonwood's choir rehearsal on Wednesday since we had none. It was a blessing to be IN a rehearsal for once. Their worship pastor, Todd Bell, is one of my all-time favorites. He graciously introduced me and some other visiting ministers to his people and had everyone pray for our ministries. And if anyone asks, I am NOT joining Prestonwood! Todd thought it humorous to announce that I was since I minister in the same city. It was funny, actually!

Least favorite moment:

Swimming in the community pool with my Blackberry in my pocket. Just happened today. Total bummer.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The "New" Music

Several months back, my pastor preached a series on worship. There was an illustration he used that I'll never forget. He was talking about how many folks are opposed to what Christian songwriters are producing these days when he read this quote taken from a preacher's sermon:

“There are several reasons for opposing it. One, it’s too new. Two, it’s often worldly, even blasphemous. The New Christian Music is not as pleasant as the more established style. Because there are so many new songs, you can’t learn them all. It puts too much emphasis on instrumental music rather than godly lyrics. This new music creates disturbances making people act indecently and disorderly. The preceding generation got along without it. It’s a money making scheme and some of these new music upstarts are lewd and loose.”

To whom was this pastor referring?

He was referring to The Father of English Hymnody, Isaac Watts in 1723.

Yes, the same Isaac Watts that wrote, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross", "Joy to the World" and hundreds of other well-loved hymns of our faith. Guess it goes to show that there really is nothing "new" under the sun!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Abide in Me

I've been reading several of Andrew Murray's devotional books on prayer recently. I'm currently reading "Abide In Me" which deals with Jesus' command found in John 15. If you've not been exposed to Andrew Murray, I recommend you check out his collected works on prayer which is fittingly titled "Andrew Murray On Prayer." Here's an excerpt:

"Apply this, your experience in coming to Jesus, to the abiding in Him. Now, as then, the temptations to keep you from believing are many. When you think of your sins since you became a disciple, your heart is cast down with shame, and it looks as if it were too much to expect that Jesus should indeed receive you into perfect intimacy and the full enjoyment of His holy love. When you think how utterly, in times past, you have failed in keeping the most sacred vows, the consciousness of present weakness makes you tremble at the very idea of answering the Saviour’s command with the promise, “Lord, from henceforth I will abide in Thee. “ And when you set before yourself the life of love and joy, of holiness and fruitfulness, which in the future are to flow from abiding in Him, it is as if it only serves to make you still more hopeless: you, at least, can never attain to it. You know yourself too well. It is no use expecting it, only to be disappointed; a life fully and wholly abiding in Jesus is not for you.

Oh that you would learn a lesson from the time of your first coming to the Saviour! Remember, dear soul, how you then were led, contrary to all that your experience, and your feelings, and even your sober judgment said, to take Jesus at His word, and how you were not disappointed. He did receive you, and pardon you; He did love you, and save you — you know it. And if He did this for you when you were an enemy and a stranger, what think you, now that you are His own, will He not much more fulfil His promise? Oh that you would come and begin simply to listen to His word, and to ask only the one question: Does He really mean that I should abide in Him? The answer His word gives is so simple and so sure: By His almighty grace you now are in Him; that same almighty grace will indeed enable you to abide in Him. By faith you became partakers of the initial grace; by that same faith you can enjoy the continuous grace of abiding in Him."


That's good stuff! I can so relate to that feeling of failure and doubt. But we belong to the Vine! Without Him, we can do nothing. So next time you question yourself, remember whose you are.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Worship styles

I'm excited about a change on the horizon at Hunters' Glen. We currently have two worship services with identical music in each hour. Our worship was described to me as blended before I came here in September. The only problem with such a broad term is that everyone has a different definition of what it means.

Fairly early on, I realized that our church might have a need for two distinct worship styles. After surveying the congregation and seeking the Lord's will, the staff (and the people) agreed to go to two worship formats beginning August 24. The first will be what we are calling our Classic Service and the second will be our Celebration Service. Yeah! No more trying to segue from Israel Houghton's "You Are Good" to "Fairest Lord Jesus."

The change is naturally creating a problem for some families and is not everyone's preference, but I truly believe more needs will be met than not. But worship is not supposed to be about us or our needs, right? Isn't worship intended for the Lord? Of course. God has no preference when it comes to worship other than that we worship in "spirit and truth." In John 4, Jesus said that the Father is seeking worshippers who fit that criteria. He alone can look in our hearts and find our offering of worship to be fitting.

I truly believe that God doesn't base His approval of worship on the manner in which the music is played or sung (in fact, worship is not synonomous with music). But if musical style is such a big hurdle for many of our people, why not remove that hurdle to the best of our ability? Why plant my flag on a hill and make the choice for them? That would only be based on what I deem as "good" worship which is just as subjective as the next Christian Joe.

The bottom line is that this move will help inspire our diverse congregation to actively participate in worship. We will be fulfilling our purpose to "faithfully and effectively model personal worship to our congregation thereby leading others into a life-changing encounter with God." That, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly what we are going to do.

Bring on August 24th!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

What really matters

Tangie and I went on an actual date last night! We haven't gone out without the girls since Isabelle was born. We had a great time together. I highly recommend Randy's Steak House in Frisco for a romantic dining experience. It wasn't cheap, but the food and service was first class.

Pastor Kim and Martha were kind enough to watch the girls for us. Abigail was pumped about Pastor Kim reading her night time Bible story to her. She listens intently to what he says each week. It always blows my mind what she gets out of his sermons. She was telling Tangie and me all about Samson this morning. I'm sure I'll be pretending I'm the tragic Nazarene before the day is out.

Naturally, Tangie and I enjoyed spending some quality time together last night. We've been extra sweet to each other and hugging each other all day. We were hugging in the kitchen when Abigail asked why we were hugging each other so much. We explained it was because we love each other. "Then why don't you hug every day?" Ouch!

I think God was using my little girl to remind me of what really matters. It's so important that we as parents set a godly example for our children. Yes, Abigail needs to see me reading the Bible. It's great that she is learning how to worship Jesus from her dad. She is blessed to have parents that read her Bible stories each night. We tell her we love her a thousand times a day. She needs those things, but she also needs to see me hugging her mom.

I never want my little girl to ask that question again.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

All Is Found in You

I like to try my hand at song writing from time to time. I usually write stuff when I sing my prayers to the Lord. That happens most often in the car on my way to the office or when I take out my guitar and start noodling. I thought I'd share the lyrics to a song that I wrote. I hope they're a blessing to you. They're pretty simple.

"All Is Found in You"

All is found in You
My beginning and the end
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus blood and righteousness

In You I live
In You I found my home
Jesus, You're still all that matters
All is found in You

All is found in You
There is nothing else I need
Jesus, the name that calms my fears
Still is music to my ears

In You I live
In You I found my home
Jesus, You're still all that matters
All is found in You

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Just like riding a bike

I put training wheels on Abigail's bike last night. Yes, our six year old doesn't know how to ride a bike quite yet. She's so excited about learning. She doesn't seem to be the least bit worried about crashing. But when I take off those training wheels, it's going to be a whole new Abigail. Fear will set in. Her confidence will be shaken. I'm sure I'll have to work to convince her that she's ready to fly solo. At some point she's just going to have go for it.

Made me think of the younger days of my faith. I wasn't worried about failing in my calling. I knew that God had great things in mind for me (Jeremiah 29:11) and that He would bring them to pass. That confidence was like training wheels. But somewhere along the way, I lost the training wheels, and I got scared. Fear and doubt set in. We call this a "crisis of faith."

I remember the moment that I stopped worrying and just went for it. It was when I read "Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire" by Jim Cymbala in the summer of 2003. Have I crashed and burned a few times since then? Many times, actually. But by the grace of God, I get back up and go back at it.

We can do this thing, people. More importantly, God took our training wheels off for a reason. HE knows we can do it.

UPDATE: Here's Abigail on her posh bike.

Monday, June 9, 2008

WWGS

I've been meditating on a certain passage for a few weeks now. It is 1 Peter 4:11 -  "If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God."

I've heard some amazing preachers in my lifetime (Adrian Rogers, Jim Cymbala and Francis Chan to name a few). Some were more effective than others. The ones who seemed to have the most impact on me weren't always the ones with the most energy or the ones who told the best jokes or the ones with the most powerful speaking voice. The messages that changed my life were the ones preached with conviction and authority. 

It's not just preachers that are called to speak with power and authority. "If anyone speaks." That's ALL of us who claim to be Christians. When we speak His Word, we speak with God's authority. So we'd better chose our words carefully.

I propose a new wrist band: WWGS - What Would God Say?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Favorite scripture

The best thing about a brand new blog is that all your material is new! I thought I'd share my favorite passage of scripture with all my loyal readers.

James 4:8 - "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you."

I've always loved that passage. It gives me hope because it applies to everyone all the way from Billy Graham to Mark Celoria. None of us are so close to God or so far gone that we cannot draw even nearer to God. And the best part is that He draws near to us!

My daughter takes much shorter steps than I do. I imagine if we started walking toward each other from a far distance that I would cover a lot more ground than she would. And that's how it is with God. He always covers the greater distance!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Awesome night of worship

I just got back from a great night of praise and worship at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX. This amazing worship ministry puts out the industry standard in terms of choral worship music in their annual collection. Tonight was the live recording of their newest project called "Tell the Story."

There were many annointed songs (arranged by the great Bradley Knight) and inspiring leadership (Todd Bell), but the best part for me were the moments of personal worship. It was great being part of the congregation. I tried to put myself into the shoes of my people to see what I could learn, and I noticed some things that I plan on taking to heart:

1) It wasn't easy singing along with an unfamiliar song. It actually presented a bit of a challenge to worship. Of course, I did my best and approximated the melody at times and was thrilled to learn these great new songs, but not everyone is musical enough to do that. I'm not saying that we shouldn't sing a new song to the Lord (Ps. 98:1). I just think I'm going to be more cognizant of really helping folks to learn songs as we sing them.

2) Prestonwood is big.

3) I didn't smile at the choir the whole time. For some reason, I can get it in my head that blank expressions mean lack of personal worship. But there were moments where I was listening closely to what the choir was singing and was convicted in such a way that I might have actually scowled. Granted, I did a lot of smiling and clapping and hand waving, but I'm a worship leader who is used to such things.

4) I now know why people never come up to me and give me kudos after a worship service. I felt a little weird tapping Todd Bell on the shoulder to tell him, "Good job." I guess I assumed he'd be busy or something. Or maybe I feared appearing a little eager. Maybe that's why I don't have a line of encouragers after worship? (I'll tell myself that at least!)

5) Bradley Knight is an incredible musician.

6) I tend to favor vertical worship songs. Those are songs about how I feel about God (ex. How Great Is Our God). There were several songs tonight that were more about how God feels about me that really touched me. Stuff like, "He will never leave me." Need to include a few more of those into my mix.

7) And last, but not least, Jack Graham just announced his new blog. Guess that makes us blog brothers!

To wrap it up, best song I heard tonight was a new arrangement of Jonathan Stockstill's song, "Let the Church Rise."

"Let the church rise from the ashes
Let the church fall to her knees
Let us be light in the darkness
Let the church rise!"

Friday, June 6, 2008

My goal for this blog

My good friend, Jeff Bumgardner, has been blogging for a few years now. He suggested I begin my own as a ministry tool. With the best of intentions, I got everything in place last November. Now it's June. I guess I attribute this to the new arrival at the Celoria household. On January 4, little sister Isabelle Faith joined big sister Abigail Grace in the world. My wife Tangie and I have been adjusting ever since. We couldn't be happier, wearier, or more blessed!

My goal for this blog is to keep a journal of what God is teaching me in my own devotional life and share that with anyone who wants to read. I especially hope that those serving in the ministry at Hunters' Glen will stop by from time to time as this is a great way for them to hear my heart and get to know me better. But even if no one ever reads, I see this as a great tool for spiritual discipline in my life.

I also plan on doing the typical dad stuff like posting pictures of the family and telling funny stories about them!

So after months in the making, I begin blogging...