Author: James Mark Gulley

Waiting Well

Being a Gulley brother is the best. (Sorry, I don’t make the rules.) This is, of course, my entirely biased opinion. But that doesn’t make it any less true. We Gulleys laugh together, cry together, fight together and pray together. We even have a Gulley Man Motto:

MAN OF GOD – FULL OF FAITH – TOUGH AS NAILS – LOVE ALWAYS

And we live by that motto.

Sounds incredible, right? Nah, it’s downright enviable. But let’s cut through the highlight summary and remember that anything worth having has been painstakingly fought for. This is absolutely true for my family. And I gotta tell you: it’s been a hell of a fight. And by that I mean we have literally fought against the powers of hell for our brotherhood. And in case you missed the reality check, there was a time when we were not all men of God. Each of us has his own story of being rescued from the clutches of darkness, but one story has defined us all: the story of the youngest.

Jeff, our youngest brother, walked a wayward path. His choices were short-sighted and selfish. After several years of dangerous living and burned bridges, he didn’t seem to be slowing down. In fact he was gaining speed toward destruction, affecting others negatively. That’s when my dad called Jeff to his house for an intervention with the brothers. It took a while, but Jeff received our words and even gave His life to Jesus. That is a night I’ll never forget. And I mean that.

But there I go again with the highlights. What I did not include in the story above is the grueling moments of watching my parents worry whether he would come home at night. Day after day after day of witnessing them anguish in prayer for his salvation only to hear news that he’d gotten in trouble again. Minutes and hours and days of embarrassment as people’s lives were damaged by the sins of, “the Christian family.” And so many prayers and songs and cries from every last one of my family members, day and night, over and over that God would break through his blindness already and save him from himself! I told you the highlights but glossed right over the in-between place: the minutes and hours and days and months and years before that breakthrough moment in August of 2004.

BUT THAT IN-BETWEEN PLACE IS VITAL.

Life can sometimes feel like a long road going from problem to breakthrough to problem to breakthrough. But most of the time spent in our lives is lived in the in-between place. That season in which we are painfully aware that a looming need has taken over, and worse yet, there’s little to nothing we can do about it. This in-between place is called waiting.

I found a song that puts into words exactly how I’ve been feeling lately, and I’ve been listening to it almost every day. The first lines are ones I feel deeply.

Walking around these walls

I thought by now they’d fall

But You have never failed me yet

Do It Again, Elevation Worship

My life circumstances can feel like those walls of Jericho: insurmountable and impossible to penetrate. Only God can bring the breakthrough I’m waiting for… and He hasn’t yet.

This Easter week, we can peer into the Scriptures and see ourselves in the characters we find there. When Jesus’ followers saw that He had died and was buried, they lost hope. Afraid and confused, they waited, unsure of exactly what they were waiting for. All they knew was to stick together and pray. So in the darkest moment of history with the Savior of the world dead and gone, and with Him their hopes of life and freedom – they had nothing else to do but wait.

Waiting is not merely sitting on the dock until our ship comes in, twiddling our thumbs and staring into space.

WAITING WELL IS A CONTINUAL CONVERSATION WITH GOD, ACTIVELY TRUSTING THAT HE WILL COME THROUGH FOR US BECAUSE OF WHO HE IS.

We do what we can to prepare our lives for good circumstances, but in reality we have no control over anything but our focus. And that’s where the battle is fought.

It is utterly human to desire relief. We have a propensity toward comfort. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the children of God know there are two realities we cannot shake this side of eternity:

LIFE IS NOT EASY AND GOD IS GOOD.

That first truth hits us in the face every day; the second we must make a conscious choice to remember.

Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

So trouble and sorrows are a foregone conclusion. I hope your theology includes this truth. While Jesus has promised us comfort, He has not promised us ease. So we would be wise to focus on the constant in our lives: God’s character and His ways. Life will ebb and flow with problems and breakthroughs. The light at the end of a dark tunnel is not your preferred form of circumstance-improvement. The Light is Jesus Himself.

Since we know troubles and breakthroughs will come, we would do well to resolve to fix our eyes on the God who has “breakthrough power” rather than on the illusive breakthrough itself. Of course, it is natural to long for ease over all things, but why would you aim to live a merely natural life? Don’t you want to live a supernatural life? It is short-sighted to live your life constantly looking for circumstances to become easier.

This is not merely a pithy philosophy that belies a broken tendency to hide from pain by choosing not to look at it. Mountains do not move by ignoring them. But neither is it a decision to cling to fear and pain in order to be “real.” Anyone who would rather sit in darkness to be seen as genuine instead of standing up and walking into the light is not well.

WE WERE NOT MADE TO LIVE IN THE DARK; WE WERE MADE TO OVERCOME IT.

There are two kinds of God’s children who cry out for the gift of breakthrough: one is a selfish child who, when she receives the gift, says a quick “thanks” and runs off to play with her new toy and returns only to ask for another. The other is a child of the King who knows that God created us all for relationship, and her life is a war to remain connected to her Father no matter what, so she does whatever it takes to remain in His presence. Breakthrough is coming for both of these children. Which will we be today?

I recently visited a friend whose wife was admitted to the hospital with a debilitating condition. I asked how his kids were handling it, and he described an ongoing conversation he’d been having with his oldest child who had been taking the sickness very hard. Fear had crept in, all but paralyzing her. The sadness had become overwhelming. My friend is a good father and said to his daughter, “Listen baby, we can feel any feeling we want. No feeling is wrong. But at the end of the feelings, we are going to land on the goodness of God. I want you to share your feelings with me because I love you – and then we are committed to take those feelings to Jesus and stand on the foundation that God is good.” Sitting in that hospital, I felt the Spirit of God touch my heart and speak to me, “That goes for you too, son.”

I have received His encouragement, and I hope you will, too. If you are waiting for a breakthrough, I want to encourage you: wait well. The Psalms are our most qualified teacher in these seasons. When he wrote Psalm 13, King David was merely pouring out his heart to God, but he also ended up teaching generations to come how to bring a complaint to God. So let God have it! He’s a big boy; He can handle you. Start in Psalm 13 or Psalm 142 as a guide for how to cry out for a breakthrough in your situation. Pour out your pain to God in the most honest language you can muster. Resist the temptation to skip talking about the mountain in front of you simply because God already sees it. Your Father wants to hear from you: what it feels like to be you. Tell Him what you see, what you want Him to do about it and why.

And then do what my friend does: land on God’s goodness.

But how? Thankfulness.

THE WAY TO REGAIN OUR SIGHT OF GOD’S GOODNESS IS THROUGH EXPRESSED GRATITUDE.

The Bible says, “Give thanks.” It does not say, “Feel thanks.” Having grateful sensations is not a prerequisite for worshipping God in the waiting; in fact, I would imagine it is rare. So we can begin to thank God with little to no positive emotion. Start by saying, “Thank You, Jesus.” Say this three times, five times, ten times – whatever it takes to move your focus to Him. Your mind will begin to search for a place to pin that thankfulness. What has God shown you about Himself? What has He done for you? “Thank You for creating me. Thank You for loving me, and for setting me free. I’m thankful for Your faithfulness to me throughout my life. You’ve always provided for me, Jesus.” Remember: stay in the game here. When the pain tries to creep in through the cracks of your conversation, simply turn your gaze back to God and keep thanking Him.

This is your battle! The battle of the moment for your attention, for a healthy view of God. Victory may come sooner than you think, or it may not – but it will come. Two things cannot occupy the same space, and your active thankfulness will push away the things that distract you from seeing and hearing from Him clearly.

If you are committed to walking with Jesus through every season of life and you don’t want to be sidelined by bitterness or overwhelmed by the trouble that will inevitably come, then you must get serious about this: be thankful.

WE HAVE BEEN GIVEN AN INVITATION TO BECOME FLUENT IN THANKSGIVING.

Fight for your vision, to see clearly. Thank your Father in Heaven at every turn. We will spend a lot of life waiting. If you’re going to wait for your breakthrough, my friend… then wait well.

By James Mark Gulley – Worship Pastor

What is JMG Listening To?
Fall Edition


I grew up listening to a wide variety of musical styles. I have always loved both hip-hop and classical, pop and folk, etc. I have a deep appreciation for almost all the genres. So maybe it comes as no surprise that this season’s playlist is pretty diverse. Below are some explanations, but you can just jump right to the “What’s JMG Listening To? Fall 2017 Edition” Spotify playlist here and now if you want. (Spoiler alert: there are a couple of songs below that aren’t on Spotify, but you can find them on YouTube.)

                       

We start with three songs that I am especially proud of. AntiochLIVE has been releasing a single every month, and they are here in descending order for your enjoyment. Unchanging, Your Name and All in All. Check them out!

Amen by People & Songs is a straight up gospel song that takes you right to the throne room. Another worship leader friend turned me on to this one, and I am so thankful. Keeps your sights on Jesus and all that is right and true.


What A Beautiful Name is not a new song, but have you heard Hillsong Worship’s dedicated EP? If not, you’re missing some arrangements that will bless you in very different ways. I highly recommend the Gospel Version and the Orchestral Selah.


One of my favorite finds of late is the album Labyrinth by David Baloche. You may have heard of David’s dad, Paul. He wrote Open the Eyes of My Heart and many other major worship songs. With truly inspiring music and vocals, David puts the Scripture in our heads and hearts in a unique way. I listen to this while working on projects, writing, you name it. It’s the Bible put to music.


This next one is not new, but every time I listen to To My Knees by Hillsong Young & Free, I want to do exactly what it says: hit my knees and worship Jesus. It makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time.


There are several versions of The War is Over, but nothing beats the man, the legend and author himself, Josh Baldwin. The album version is amazing, but don’t miss the “Live at White Sands, NM” version – so raw and beautiful.


I love a song that makes much of Jesus’ sacrifice, combining the devastating loss with the final victory. The Cross Has The Final Word is a powerful anthem of truth for us to sing to Heaven and to our own souls. Also, Cody proves to be every bit the vocal acrobat that he seems on this breathtaking acoustic version of Til The End of Time from the same album.


I am a complete sucker for just about anything by my friend Chris McClarney. This homie is hysterical (see his Instagram for proof). But when Chris leads worship, it’s no joke. His tenacity to come boldly to his Father is real, and his voice soars to bring Jesus glory. His hunger for intimacy with God is tangible. My One My All from Jesus Culture’s newest album does just that.

Whatever you do, worship Jesus like crazy this season. He deserves it and you need it. From one person going through a crazy season of life to another, trust me: only in His presence does life begin to make sense.

“So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” ‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭4:16‬ ‭NLT‬‬

By James Mark Gulley – Worship Pastor

Song Story – Unchanging

In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, our country was in a state of chaos and upheaval. Six years later there had been some healing for sure, but we were still looking for answers as a nation. It was after World Mandate 2007 and the powerful teachings on the ever-advancing Kingdom of God in the midst of trial and fire that I began to pen the words to Unchanging. I found myself pondering how God could heal our broken world after such a blind-siding blow to our own country. Instability defined our culture. So I did what songwriters do: I began to sing into the chaos.

I sang about God’s solidity in the shifting sand, His faithfulness in our failure and His strength in our weakness.

I thought of God’s creation, and how even something as majestic as the mountains will eventually erode into nothing. Even something as powerful as a bolt of lightning is here for a moment, but then fades away. But through it all, Jesus is the One steadfast person upon whom we can depend. Come what may. We recorded the song at World Mandate 2008. I’ll never forget the experience of leading it for the first time and watching every person stand to their feet and lift their hands in grateful surrender.

As I take the temperature of our nation in these days, it seems we are again in an unstable place. Every day we are each bombarded with shaking current events that erode our sense of trust in our fellow man. I look around at the emotional landscape of our world and there doesn’t seem to be much stability. But those of us who have let the seed of God’s Word be planted deep in our hearts can hear the mantra of heaven, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

He has proven Himself to every generation as the one true foundation that never falters or fails.

These words came back to my mind recently and I knew God was stirring us to record Unchanging again with renewed passion and purpose. We rearranged the song and were excited to have AntiochLIVE member Clare Woods return to our Sunday services to lead the song. The refreshed music attains a uniquely powerful drive and lift that befits the anthem, “Faithful is the Son!” I have mixed emotions every time the song is led now:

I want to weep with gratitude and shout with victory at the same time.

I hope you’ll listen to Unchanging. I hope you’ll worship God with it. I encourage you to heed the words of the song’s bridge and respond to God’s faithfulness by actively praising Him. The greatest temptation during unsteady times is to shut down and focus merely on ourselves. But those who exert their faith to “stand up and worship” amid the trial and the pain will find a different level of grace and wisdom, a confidence that Jesus truly is stronger and He will always be faithful to His people.

“But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.” (Hebrews 3:6 NIV)

LYRICS

As the lightning fades from sight

And the sun sets into night

You stand there unchanging

Our hearts still await the day

When the clouds will roll away

And You’ll stand there unchanging

 

Jesus Savior in this world that’s ever changing

You are faithful forever the same

 

Grass will fade and flowers fall

Mountains crumble beneath it all

But You stand there unchanging

Heaven’s angels bend their knees

All around the glassy sea

And You stand there unchanging

 

Faithful is the Son

Faithful is the Son

Faithful is the Son so unchanging

 

We will stand up we will worship

We will give our lives to the One who gave His life for us

For You are always faithful so unchanging

 

Unchanging is available on iTunes, Spotify and anywhere else music is available.

By James Mark Gulley – Worship Pastor

Behind the Scenes: The Making of “Yes Lord”

We stood on the beach of Lesvos, Greece and stared across the strait at the nation of Turkey. There were a few faded life jackets littering the shoreline, but we knew they were just a shadow of all that had filled this beach over the past few months. Mentally visualizing the thousands of refugees who had ferried over the water, dropping their life jackets as they touched ground here, we stood with conflicting feelings: broken for families torn apart, relieved so many had made it to safety, bewildered by the cruelty and apathy that caused this injustice and honored to be a part of a movement who have been serving these precious people both on the ground and in prayer. We picked up our instruments and started singing the words we had sung so many times before.

“I hear a whisper in the night…”

Months back, Caleb Seibert had first played for me a new worship song he was writing, Yes Lord. It wasn’t finished yet, but after one listen I already knew it was going to be powerful. Most songs take a lot of work to complete, and we definitely worked on this one together, but there was something so natural about the process of writing this song. And I think that is because

YES LORD WAS THE SONG OF OUR MOVEMENT DURING THAT TIME.

When God ushers His people into a new season, He often gives us a new song – an anthem for us to declare that reminds us of His call, His character and His promise. When the Syrian refugee crisis began to unfold, our church decided not merely to read about it, but to engage the crisis. To us, that meant to pray for the people affected with passion and compassion as well as to go to their aid in the countries where they had been relocated. Going into refugee camps to serve was anything but convenient. But the people needed help. They needed Jesus. So our movement developed trainers for the hundreds of short-term missionaries who came by the droves from our network of churches through Europe and into Greece. Every person who came to serve sang the words of Yes Lord with passion because

IT WAS IN OUR HEARTS TO ANSWER GOD’S CALL TO SURRENDER OUR LIVES FOR OTHERS, FOR JESUS.

We recorded Yes Lord as a part of Antioch College Worship’s second live worship album in the spring of 2016. It had become a kind of centerpiece to the album, carrying the heart of what God had been doing in us at that time. Even the title of the album, When You Call, had come from the chorus of Yes Lord: “When You call me, I’ll come running, I’ll say yes, my life is Yours.”

The idea came up to record a music video of the song to be used to create a link between all the World Mandate conference sites around the country. We decided if we were going to record a music video of this song, we’d want to do it at ground zero of the crisis, where the refugees had landed as they stepped out of the boats in search of a new life – which is where our people had met them with hands to serve and hearts full of compassion and good news. We shot the video in a whirlwind 36-hour trip in three locations in Lesvos, Greece, one of which was the renowned “life jacket graveyard,” where hundreds of thousands of discarded life jackets are still piled in a dump, an almost overwhelming memorial to the countless lives affected by this crisis.

IT WAS DISTURBING AND BEAUTIFUL AT THE SAME TIME. AND SO IS THE GOSPEL.

I’ve led a lot of worship services, but perhaps none of them compare to the World Mandate session in which we played the Yes Lord music video shot on location in Greece that transitioned to the live conference. Standing next to my friends helping to lead worship for our people, both in Waco and around the world, as we raised the banner of surrender yet again, we sang the words we have now sung all over the world. Words to live by: Yes Lord.

I hear a whisper in the night

Your loving voice I’ve heard a thousand times

Calling me out on the waves

To the place where I can only stand by faith

It’s what I’m made for anyway

I say yes Lord, I say yes Lord

I say yes, my life is Yours

When You call me I’ll come running

I say yes, my life is Yours

For there is no One else like You

You won my heart when You ripped that veil in two

I hold nothing in these hands

Just Your promise to be with me to the end

Jesus lead me on again

And on that day when I go home

And see my Jesus seated on His throne

I’ll find a crown upon my head

A thousand jewels for every yes I said

And I’ll offer it right back to Him

I say yes Lord

We’re incredibly honored to be able to provide for you the full experience of the heart behind the song, Yes Lord. As you listen, we pray you will answer Jesus’ call to surrender. When tragedy strikes, the ones who have already surrendered their lives to Jesus and His will are the ones best prepared to be agents of healing and restoration because their time, their energy, their money and their very lives are not their own. We can be the healing hands of Jesus – if we are surrendered, if we have already said, “yes, Lord,” before He even makes His request. Jesus is worth it, and He is worthy.

We invite you to sing along.


AND CHECK OUT SOME PHOTOS FROM OUR SHOOT IN LESVOS, GREECE:

 

By James Mark Gulley – Worship Pastor

What is JMG Listening To? Spring Edition

Spring is here! The rains have brought colder temperatures here in Wacotown, and the grass is already turning green. So here’s a fresh round of worship songs for your daily devotion. You may recognize a few of them as songs we have been singing in our weekly services, and some of them will be showing up there soon as well.

It is a powerful thing when the Church gathers to worship Jesus in one voice. But there is something irreplaceable about the choice a follower of Jesus makes to devote a significant slot of time to worship God personally. Jesus spoke of going “into your closet” to pray. There is a unique blessing to be obtained by those who will get away by themselves and lift up their hearts and voices to Jesus, pouring out their devotion and affection for their Savior and King.

My hope is that these songs will stir you to do just that: worship the Lord with all your heart.

  • King of My Heart – Recording Collective (iTunes only)
  • Never Alone – Hillsong Young & Free
  • Glorious Day – Passion
  • Mercy and Majesty – Brian & Jenn Johnson (iTunes only)
  • God With Us – Brian & Katie Torwalt
  • Because You Say So – Emmanuel LIVE
  • My Victory – Crowder
  • Fullness – Elevation Worship
  • Scandal of Grace (I’d Be Lost) – Hillsong UNITED
  • O Come (Holy Spirit You Are Welcome) – Harris Creek Worship (YouTube only)

If you use Spotify, you can follow this playlist and have all of the songs in one place!

By James Mark Gulley – Worship Pastor

 

7 Days of Extravagant Worship: Resurrection Sunday

I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and hell.
 – Revelation 1:18
The resurrection blasts apart the finality of death, providing an alternative to the stifling, settling dust of death and opens the way to new life. – Billy Graham

There was a funeral this past weekend. He was the most powerful force on earth. No man or woman could rise above his control. He was here long before you and me. And yet, somehow he was ousted from his preeminent reign and bound in chains. And there is no epitaph engraved on his tombstone, so I’ll tell you who he is. His name is Death. For when Jesus came bursting out of the tomb, He came out with keys in His hands and a shout in His heart. He held in His hands the keys to a prison – the prison in which He had locked up Death forever!

For the grave was strong. Stronger than us. But there was indeed someone stronger. Strong enough to put Death in his grave.

JESUS ROSE TO LIFE AND WENT STRAIGHT TO HIS WORK OF RAISING US TO LIFE.

We can get excited because the One who is working His life in us is the only One – the only One – to whom Death bows his head in utter servitude. His life is vibrant and powerful, and it is raising us to life everyday.

The tomb where soldiers watched in vain
Was borrowed for three days
His body there would not remain
Our God has robbed the grave
By Your spirit I will rise from the ashes of defeat
The resurrected King is resurrecting me
In Your name I come alive to declare Your victory
The resurrected king is resurrecting me
Your name, Your name is victory
All praise will rise to Christ our king

Resurrecting, Brown/Brock/Ntlele/Furtick/Joye

IN RESPONSE

God was already worthy of our worship because He created us with His own hands – we are His workmanship. But in light of Jesus’ victory over Death – that power under whose tyranny we all were doomed – we are left with nothing but pure exultation, and with no excuse for anything but extravagant worship. So today is a day to play music, shout, kneel, sing and dance for praise with hearts full of life from our risen Savior, Jesus!

MUSIC AND VIDEO:

VIDEO:

MUSIC:

Take a look at the rest of the extravagant worship devotionals here.

By James Mark Gulley, Worship Pastor

7 Days of Extravagant Worship: Holy Saturday

At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.‭‭ – John‬ ‭19:38-42‬ ‭NIV‬‬

True worship doesn’t put on a show or make a fuss; true worship isn’t forced, isn’t half-hearted, doesn’t keep looking at its watch, doesn’t worry what the person in the next pew is doing. True worship is open to God, adoring God, waiting for God, trusting God even in the dark.  – N. T. Wright

It was a day of rest, the Sabbath. And Jesus’ body was laid to rest in a borrowed grave. But His disciples were anything but restful. Their hearts were broken, their hope was demolished and their fears were coming true. Because their Master was gone, and with Him their memory of His promise for what lay on the other side.

OF COURSE, HIS PROMISE WAS ALIVE AND WELL… BUT HIS BODY WAS DEAD.

Under the surface of all they could see, much was happening. Eternity was stirring. The devil was screaming, hell was being harrowed and Jesus was winning. But they could not see this. All they could see was defeat, and all they could feel was loss. But Peter’s life-altering words still rang true: where else could they go? Jesus had the words of eternal life. And since they couldn’t hear His voice, they had nowhere else to go. So they waited.

Maybe this is a place you’ve been before. Maybe you’re there now. Waiting. Waiting for a promise to come true. Even if you are not there now, you will be there someday. We all travel this road at some point, for the road to resurrection always passes through the valley of death. So if you’re going to have to wait, then wait well.

WORSHIP IN THE WAITING.

It is through worship that our eyes are opened. In the waiting, our vision can be hijacked, making us miss the forest for the trees. God’s promises are eternal – so we must worship to see past this temporal state into the eternal reality.

Extravagant worship is the only kind of worship taking place in heaven; there is no half-hearted or distracted worship around God’s throne. When we actively place our focus on Jesus and declare the truth of who He is, we join the hosts of heaven – the ones who see Him more clearly than we can here on earth – in allowing Him to take His rightful place in our hearts: in the center, on the throne. When Jesus is given His exalted place in the center, everything else takes its humble place around Him: our joys and heartbreaks, our temptations and aspirations, our relationships and even our enemy, the devil.

You are everything You’ve promised
Your faithfulness is true
We’re desperate for Your presence
All we need is You
 
Waiting here for You
With our hands lifted high in praise
And it’s You we adore
Singing alleluia
 – Waiting Here For You, Tomlin/Reeves/Smith

IN RESPONSE

Waiting for God with our hands lifted in praise – this is waiting well. And it is all over the Bible. The Hebrew word YADAH means “hands to God,” and “to throw the hands” as a response to God’s faithfulness. We often find David lifting his hands to the faithfulness of God while waiting for Him in the darkest places in life.

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise [YADAH] Him, my Savior and my God.
– Psalm 42:11

Today, be more than a casual bystander. Lift your hands and your heart to heaven and use many words of adoration. Tell Him that You love Him over and over again. Thank Him for His faithfulness to you. Here’s an extravagant idea: play a worship song that stirs your heart to God and keep your hands lifted in praise for the duration of the song.

At the moment, we live in the Kingdom of the now and the not yet. Let’s wait well. Let’s worship extravagantly in the waiting.

MUSIC AND VIDEO:

Check out all of the extravagant worship devotionals here.

By James Mark Gulley, Worship Pastor

7 Days of Extravagant Worship: Good Friday

They will look upon the One they have pierced.  – John 19:37

We cannot encounter Jesus without encountering the cross. – J. Heinrich Arnold

Read or listen to Mark 15:1-39.

There are many words used to describe Jesus’ life and ministry in the Word of God. But at the critical moment of it all – at the moment that Jesus’ execution begins, the Bible becomes startlingly succinct. There is no description of the physical suffering He endured at the cross, no graphic detail of the torture. Like an oblivious coroner, at the climax of the greatest act of all of history, the Bible simply states,

It was nine in the morning when they crucified Him.
– Mark 15:25

But it makes sense. When we take the time to gaze at Jesus hanging on the cross, we don’t need words. You may find that being quiet is your best form of worship today. If so, know that you are accepted in your silence and your focused pondering of His sacrifice is a pleasing form of worship to God.

WE DON’T HAVE TO SAY A WORD; THE CROSS SAYS IT ALL.

You may also want to hear the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, as in the links below. Maybe you’ll want to read the story in each of the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I encourage you to linger at the cross – don’t move on too quickly from the discomfort of observing Jesus’ death. Worship Him extravagantly by choosing to remain at the cross when others slip away.

HIS DEATH IS LIFE FOR YOU.

BARAK means “to kneel.” The picture the Hebrew word depicts is of a person’s stature being broken, no longer standing straight up and down as if in a straight line, but broken in two. And so we are each at the foot of the cross: broken. Take some time to get on your knees in front of Jesus today. Picture His body on the cross, His eyes looking into Yours. Worship Him. Adore Him.

When I encounter Jesus on the cross, I often cry. The flood of emotions – grief, guilt, release, gratitude and a host of others – can be overwhelming. Know that Jesus is okay with that. Let it draw you to Him. Only know this: in your lamenting, refuse the temptation to spiral into self-focus. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. He never takes His eyes off of you. Look upon our Savior. Worship Him. And be broken.

Grace what have You done
Murdered for me on that cross
Accused in absence of wrong
My sin washed away in Your blood
Too much to make sense of it all
I know that Your love breaks my fall
The scandal of grace
You died in my place
So my soul will live
– Joel Houston & Matt Crocker, Scandal of Grace

MUSIC AND OTHER RESOURCES:

STORY OF THE CRUCIFIXION:
  • VIDEO: St. John in Exile, a one-man play in which Dean Jones plays the aged, last living apostle telling his story that would become the Gospel of John. The story of Jesus going to the cross is remarkably impactful.
  • VIDEO: “Matthew 26:39-27:38”, a powerful spoken word piece by David Bowden

STUDY OF THE CRUCIFIXION: 

SONGS OF THE CRUCIFIXION: 

Find the rest of the extravagant worship devotionals here.

By James Mark Gulley, Worship Pastor

7 Days of Extravagant Worship: Holy Thursday

… do this in remembrance of Me. – Luke 22:19
It is in the process of being worshiped that God communicates His presence to men. – C.S. Lewis

Deception. Treachery. Betrayal. The process was in motion. Disillusioned and frustrated, Judas had already made his deal with the devil: he gives Jesus to the evil rulers, and they give him what amounts to about $600 today. It was all arranged in secret, but Jesus knew. He had always known. That doesn’t make it hurt any less. The dread is looming. The pain is inevitable. The cross is coming.

Still, it is time for the Passover meal, so the brothers gather together. And even here, with the temptation to be distracted by the coming threats, Jesus listens to the leadership of His Father, and so yet again He surprises His followers.

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for Him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God; so He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him. – ‭‭John‬ ‭13:1-5‬

Here at Antioch, we have an incredible, life-changing conference called World Mandate, often affectionately abbreviated to “Mandate” by our attendees. This mandate, this call comes from Jesus’ words in the Great Commission. But Jesus gave another mandate that changed history as well. And He didn’t give this charge as He was victoriously ascending into heaven. He gave it after having done the slave’s task of washing His disciples’ feet:

“LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS I HAVE LOVED YOU.”

Because of these paradigm-shifting words after an unparalleled act of servant leadership, through the centuries, Holy Thursday has been called Mandate Thursday, more commonly known as Maundy Thursday.

This is the Jesus we worship with our hearts, our songs and our very lives. The King who kneels down to serve us, and while our eyes are still wide with wonder at this exchange, He calls us to do the same for other people.

HE ALWAYS MAKES A WAY FOR US TO DRAW NEAR TO HIM WITH HIS LOVE, AND THEN CALLS US TO JOIN HIM ON HIS MISSION TO CHANGE THE WORLD WITH THE SAME LOVE.

Every other religion in the world is basically a code of ethics, a list of rules to keep. This is why so much worship in the world is done from an emotional distance; it is people merely fulfilling the basic level of commitment to their particular “supreme being.” Every other religion is a list of rights and wrongs to abide by in order to earn our way to God. But Jesus is the real God, the only God who knew we could never earn our way to Him – so He came to us.

His loving pursuit of our hearts has always been relentless and extravagant.

HE DID WHATEVER IT TOOK TO WIN US BACK TO GOD.

He “wasted” His love and blood on us. So extravagant worship – worship that costs us something: our focus, our energy, our thoughts, our affections – is an appropriate response to the extravagant love of God.

Thankfulness is a sacrifice; it costs us something. When we overcome our laziness and unbelief to thank God out loud, it pleases His heart. Praise is often a sacrifice because it is a choice to remember.

  • Remember how much God has done for you
  • Remember how He’s never left you alone
  • Remember that every perfect gift comes from your Father
  • Remember that He promises that your future is in His hands

Remember. And today we commemorate one occasion when Jesus personally requested for us to remember Him. He sat in a room with His disciples and told them… to remember.

And He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” – Luke 22:19-20

The faithful sacrament of Communion, or the Eucharist, is worship in itself. Let us never forget it. Let’s be the ones who fulfill Jesus’ request: remember. I love it that directly after the first Communion it was first nature for Jesus and His disciples to sing to God. They took time to worship God together.

And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. – ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭26:30‬

IN RESPONSE

The Hebrew word “ZAMAR” carries with it a meaning with which we are very familiar. Zamar means to play musical instruments in order to sing songs and make music that bring praise to God. It’s what we do these days – play guitar and sing. Today, play an instrument if you have one. Let every note and every beat bring to mind how Jesus has served you. Even if you don’t play an instrument, by all means – sing! Click the songs below and sing! And as you sing, remember Jesus.

MUSIC AND VIDEO:

You can find the other devotionals for this week here.

By James Mark Gulley, Worship Pastor

7 Days of Extravagant Worship: Holy Wednesday

They asked, “Why this waste?”
Jesus said, “She has done a beautiful thing to me.”  – Matthew 26:8, 10
Because worship is a conversation, and not a mere review of the past, it is dynamic, unpredictable, and open-ended.  – Gary Furr & Milburn Price

Imagine the scene: she is standing there in a room full of people and not one of them seems to get it. Her heart is pounding with fear and grief. Jesus sits there laughing and listening to His disciples over dinner. And the others just laugh along with Him like nothing is wrong, not a care in the world. He has said it numerous times – that terrible phrase – and everyone just responded with a quizzical look on their faces. But the last time He said it, it moved in on her heart like a perpetrator, and she has been able to think of nothing else. Did any of them hear what He said?! Doesn’t anyone understand?! Does anyone care?! It isn’t as if He’s prone to exaggeration, so it must be true. But if it is true, then everything is going to change, and she doesn’t know if she can bear it. She doesn’t even know if she can believe it. But that’s what He said.

HE IS GOING TO BE KILLED.

He has become her world, her purpose, her everything… and He is going to die.

This dinner has been given in His honor, and she wants to honor the One who has opened her eyes to see God and people and the whole world in a completely different light – the light of truth. So if He is going to die, then He should be anointed, prepared for burial. And it shouldn’t be a last minute errand; no mediocre ceremony will do. No, He should be anointed properly – like a king.

So she goes to get the alabaster jar she’s been saving for what seems like a lifetime. She brings it to the table. It seems all the voices of the small crowd have faded away. All she can see is His face. All she can hear is His voice. And she can’t imagine life without that face and that voice. Her heart is as heavy as lead as she kneels down. No one noticed her before, but the crack of the wax seal made all eyes shoot in her direction.

She knows this costly perfume is meant to be measured out drop by drop – but not today. Not for Jesus. She freely pours all the perfume over His feet. She hears the collective gasp in the room, but she is undeterred. It will take more than the disapproving glance of mere humans to stop her from lavishing her offering on Jesus. This perfume may be of more worth than anything else in her whole house, but nothing in this world is worth more to her than Him. As she pours, she mops up the excess with her hair.

The perfume runs out. Most of it went to His feet, but some just seeped into the floor. There’s a good amount in her hair now. The fragrance that fills the house is one she will not soon forget. She looks up and sees Jesus’ gentle, approving smile. Then comes their question, breaking through the silent sacredness of the moment and filled with accusation: “Why this waste?!”

Today is Holy Wednesday, and events are beginning to unfold. Maybe you are beginning to feel it inside: the cross is coming.

IT IS A TIME FOR EXTRAVAGANT WORSHIP. AND ONE DEFINITION OF THE WORD “EXTRAVAGANT” IS “WASTEFUL.”

I want to be like Mary. She listened to Jesus and she seemed more concerned with what was going on in His heart than others. It’s like she was less concerned about how His death would affect herself and others and more concerned for what He was personally going through. Her Savior, her Teacher, her Friend. She wanted to minister to His heart, to care for Him as He prepared for the fight of His life. She didn’t have much more than her faith in Him, but He had said that He was pleased by her faith and she wanted to give Him the honor of living as if that were true.

SO SHE BROUGHT WHAT SHE HAD.

It was vulnerable. It was open-hearted. It was over-the-top. And when others scoffed at her, Jesus stepped in and defended her. And then He told her it was His favorite gift. (Matthew 26:10-13)

THE FASCINATING THING ABOUT WORSHIPING JESUS EXTRAVAGANTLY IS THAT THE MORE YOU GIVE YOURSELF TO HIM, THE MORE HE BECOMES YOUR GREATEST DESIRE.

We have thanked Him with our mouths, we have celebrated Him with shouts of praise and with dancing wildly before Him – all to express to Him with our voices and bodies what our hearts desire. And we are ruined for the ordinary. We are no longer okay with lesser worship. We are unsatisfied with distant, unemotional worship because relationships are emotional and expressive – and Jesus wants relationship with us. That’s the very reason He was going to the cross!

IN RESPONSE

I am immensely grateful for the people who have written worship songs through the years because they have helped me connect with God. But there is often something richer about your personal song to Jesus. There is nothing like singing the song of your own heart to God.

SO ARE YOU WILLING TO WASTE YOUR WORSHIP, YOUR HEART ON JESUS?

Form and tradition have their place in the church, but we also need to cultivate in our worship the unpredictability and spontaneity of a real love relationship. The Hebrew word “TEHILLAH” is to “spontaneously express spiritual songs.” It is one way God has given us to approach Him. Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise [TEHILLAH]…” meaning, come to worship God singing the song of your heart.

I have found that withholding extravagant worship breeds cynicism. When you worship Jesus, are you willing to be so vulnerable that you would begin singing the thoughts in your heart in that very moment, even if they are not yet polished and put together? Will you trust Him to receive your heart’s offering? As you do, maybe a theme will develop and your spirit will agree. If your prayer or song continues on that theme, your mind will engage and naturally begin to give shape to your expression. But remember, your heart should lead in your worship.

You will find that this place is fertile ground for songwriting, but the goal is not to write a song, it is to pour out your heart to Jesus. Let’s waste our worship on Jesus today. Sing your own song all day today. Start with the video below and go wherever He leads you!

MUSIC:

You can find the other devotionals for this week here.

By James Mark Gulley – Worship Pastor