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Archive for April, 2013

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Often the first thing that comes to someone’s mind when they think of the word “heaven” is a place up in the clouds, where people wear wings and play harps. And if you were to ask most Christians what heaven is, they would probably say it is a place where Christians go when they die physically. But the first concept of heaven is unbiblical and the second is incomplete. We will not turn into angels, wear wings and play harps (thank God!) And though it is true that we see the reality of heaven more clearly when we pass on from this life, the teachings of Jesus point to heaven as a realm that is opened up to us at the very moment we follow Him. It is a realm whose resources are available to us here and now; not when we die. When we understand the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven, things like inside-out transformation, experiencing Jesus 24/7, and Whole Life Worship make even more sense.

When Jesus started His earthly ministry, He proclaimed: “The time has come. The Kingdom of Heaven is near (literally “at hand” or “within our grasp”). Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15) Jesus constantly preached what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. Most of His parables were about the Kingdom of Heaven. In fact, his Sermon on the Mount was about life in the Kingdom of Heaven. Now why would Jesus talk about “loving our enemies” (Matt 5:44) or “praying to God in secret” (Matt 6:6) as something we only do in the “after-life?” The answer is that He wasn’t explaining the afterlife at all – He was explaining what the NOW-life can be under the reign of God.

The Kingdom of Heaven happens wherever God is reigning. The Kingdom of Heaven surrounds those who follow God’s rule (through Christ). It’s really quite simple: if God is truly reigning in your life, you are operating in the Kingdom of Heaven. When you act upon Jesus’ Kingdom instructions (like turning your cheek, choosing to die to yourself or surrendering your will to His), you are living in the Kingdom of Heaven. That also means that God’s resources are now available to you to accomplish God’s will within you and through you. Likewise, if God is not reigning in our lives, we operate outside of the realm of the Kingdom and our access to God’s resources our limited due to our lack of following Christ.

I see this principle of the Kingdom of Heaven in my life all the time. When I am actively following God’s rule and reign in my life, when I surrender all things to Him, my life experiences so much more fruitfulness, blessing and fulfillment. I see God at work. However, when I deny God the rule over certain aspects of my life, I find my efforts futile, tiring and wasted. I feel much like Adam after his fall: my work produces nothing but thorns and thistles (Gen 3:18).

So it is important to get back into the “heavenly flow.” All we need to do is to simply allow God to rule again. Yield to the Lordship of Christ. Seek His Kingdom first.

Don’t wait until death to experience heaven! Heaven can’t wait. The Kingdom of Heaven is for you, for now, for ever!

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Stayed on Jesus

Jesus and Me

Have you ever wondered what Paul meant when he said, “Pray without ceasing” (Ephesians 6:18)? If you’re like me, it’s hard enough time being focused for 5 minutes, much less a ceaseless prayer that is mentioned here!

But I think what Paul meant is for us to have a prayerful attitude throughout our day. The old gospel melody talks about “walkin’ and a talkin’ with my mind stayed on Jesus!” This is a powerful concept: what if we could have Jesus on our mind all day long? It would affect everything we say, and do, and even think – to the betterment for us and those around us! This is a possibility, for we know that Christ’s Spirit dwells within us and wants to empower and guide our lives throughout the day.

However, we also know that our flesh is weak and easily distracted. Plus, we have an enemy who works 24/7 to keep us feeling defeated. Our desire is to have Jesus on our minds all the time, but how can we do that?

Here are a couple of suggestions to help the staying power of Jesus to stay with us:

1. Don’t try for perfection; try for “better than yesterday.” If you thought about Jesus three times yesterday, shoot for four times today. Pretty soon you’ll be up to thirty times a day – an improvement of 10X’s! This was the plan of missionary Donald Baillie, who was eventually able to keep Jesus on his mind just about every waking moment.

2. Start off your day by giving it to Jesus. It can be as easy as one statement when you get out of bed. Ask Jesus to be at the center of your life. Ask Him to remind you to meet with Him in prayer throughout the day.

3. Set your watch to go off every two or three hours as a reminder to pray. When you hear the beep, let that remind you to lift up a quick prayer to get centered on Jesus. Ask Him to enter your life and sit on the throne of your heart.

4. Many short, direct prayers are better than fewer long ones. There is a place for extended prayer, but not during the course of a busy day. The object is to get “stayed” on Jesus. The short, direct prayers help us to allow Jesus to get into our ordinary, everyday lives. Those are the places where Jesus’ life transformation can take place the best.

5. At the end of each day, evaluate your encounters with Jesus. The important thing to realize is that this is not a “numbers” game (the more times you meet with Jesus, the more “brownie” points you get). Getting “stayed on Jesus” is a way of getting plugged into the life of Jesus. What lessons did I learn? How were people affected by my meeting with Jesus? What graces and blessings did I see today? Who are the hurting and the lost around me?

Being “stayed with Jesus” is not the extraordinary Christian life; it is the normal Christian life that God wants us to have. It’s living out Whole Life Worship in the Everyday Ordinary. It is something we can have, and something God wants for us. It’s up to us seize it. Get “stayed.”

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Worship-sm

My desire in doing the Whole Life Worship blog is two-fold. First, I want to share what God has put on my heart with regard to Whole Life Worship. I believe that our current culture’s perspective on worship is missing something. It tends to limit the definition of “worship” to the worship service or worshiping through music or liturgy. But the Biblical definition of worship (in Romans 12:1-2) is so much more than that: Worship is the offering of our whole lives to God in response to His great mercy and grace through Christ. Worship involves us in the process of transformation; that the offering of our lives and the surrendering of our will to God changes us from the inside-out. Much of this type of worship takes place outside of the worship service and has very little to do with singing a song (although we often find ourselves singing when we see God at work in our lives!)

After three months of blogging, I think we are getting the idea of what I am talking about. There is still much more to write on Whole Life Worship, but now I want to bring some focus to the other purpose of this blog:

I want you to share your Whole Life Worship experiences with me and, if appropriate, to our Whole Life Worship Blog community.

I realize that my experiences with Whole Life Worship are limited to ummm … my experiences. It is just one person’s perspective. But God has given each of you unique experiences with Him in Whole Life Worship. And I want to hear about it, learn from it, and pass it on to others.

I think that some of you have some amazing, wonderful, and very practical things to share on this topic. But you might feel a little intimidated or reluctant to share with the blog community. Or you might not feel very confident about your ability to communicate through writing.

So let me throw this out to you: if you have a Whole Life Worship experience you would like to share with me, send it to me via email. If it’s something that I think would work well for our Blog, I’ll rewrite it and, with your permission (including whether you want to be named or anonymous), I’ll post it so we can all benefit from it.

How does that sound?

Send your contributions to wholelifeworship@gmail.com

Let the Whole Life Worship Community speak up and give glory to our awesome God!

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Last week I met with one of my key leaders about growing in understanding of Scripture. I mentioned that there are three main ways of studying the Bible: the micro, the medium, and the Big Picture methods.

The “micro” method is where we look at a key verse or verses and memorize them. Psalm 119 speaks of “hiding God’s law” (word) within our hearts. I’ve memorized many key verses in the Bible over the course of my life, and it has been extremely helpful to recall them in the heat of life situations. For example, when my heart gets overwhelmed or anxious I remember Philippians 4: 6 which reminds me: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything with prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present my requests to God.” The Navigators’ organization has some great tools to help with memorizing short passages of Scripture.

The medium method is looking at larger portions of Scripture in its context. The problem with only using the micro method is that it is easy to take verses out of context, and therefore lose the true meaning of the text. In the medium method, I will read a book of the Bible one section at a time – usually a chapter or a couple of paragraphs (depending where the natural break occurs). In this method, I use the Observation-Interpretation-Application sequence where I seek to understand what the author is trying to say before I start coming to conclusions. There is more to discuss about this method, but suffice it to say that this has been my “bread and butter” in getting the Word into my life.

The Big Picture method is what I want to discuss in greater detail. While it is helpful to gain the meaning of the individual verses and books of the Bible, it is in looking at the Big Picture that gives best perspective of God’s story through Scripture. Unfortunately, I think this is where Christians are lacking the most in their Biblical growth. However, when we understand the Big Picture, the Big Story, of the Bible it makes the other methods of Scripture study come alive.

One of my younger friends, Robbie (who is pretty new in the faith) started reading the Bible cover to cover in January. He finished reading it just after Easter! As he shared about this with our small group, the other members (who have been Christians for years) were astonished at this young man’s faith and perseverance. Most of them had never read the Bible cover to cover.

We shy away from the task of reading the entire Bible because of its’ immensity: 66 books, over 1,000 pages (in tiny print). One would have to read several chapters a day to read the Bible in a year. Robbie said that he read the Bible for 1-2 hours each day. For most of us, in our busy schedules, that is a daunting task.

Sometimes it is helpful to get some inspiration, guidance and context from someone who understands the Big Picture. One of the best books I’ve ever read that gives the Big Picture story of the Bible in a condensed form is “The Divine Rescue” by Edward Fudge (2010, Leafwood Publishers). Fudge communicates the story of Scripture in compelling and dramatic language (like a good novel, I found it hard to put the book down!), yet with excellent scholarship (it’s definitely not “watered down” – his background information was insightful, profound, and “spot on” to what I learned in seminary). He covers Genesis to Revelation, and all with the Big Picture story in mind. He explains the different genres (literary styles) of the Bible and how they fit into the Big Picture in brilliant fashion. You don’t have to be a seminary student to understand it. But after reading it, you might have a deeper perspective on the Bible that most seminary grads do not have. Most of all, you will fall deeper in love with the Creator God and His amazing rescue of us from sin, death and darkness.

If you read this book, I guarantee that you will be more inspired and informed the next time you read the Bible. You may even be so inspired to read the whole thing, cover to cover!

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Today is tax day. We remember Jesus’ immortal response when asked by the religious leaders whether it was right for them to pay taxes to the Roman government. He said, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and render unto God that which is God’s.”

This is not just a clever statement. Jesus really meant that. Many years ago, I learned that the hard way.

It was in the 80’s and I was doing my taxes by hand. This was before Turbo Tax (and before I was in ministry). It was the evening of April 14th and I just completed my 1040 Federal Tax Return. I put it in an envelope and stuck it in the mailbox. It was then I realized that I did not report some income I had made teaching private music lessons that year. It was not a large sum of money (a few hundred dollars) and people paid me cash, so I did not think it was a big deal. Plus, I had already filled out my tax form (in pen) and sealed it in the envelope.

Then I noticed something happening to me. I felt myself trembling and shaking. My skin started breaking out in welts and rashes all over my body! I realized that the Lord’s disciplining hand was upon me. I knew He was not happy with my decision to be dishonest with the government. At first I was stubborn, lazy and rationalizing. What is a couple hundred dollars of income to a government that is so fiscally irresponsible that we are trillions of dollars in debt? But the rashes were not going away.

Finally, I went to the mailbox, got out my return, opened the sealed envelope, got out a bottle of “White-Out,” and whited-out every line of my 1040 form. After it dried, I added my income from teaching private lessons, re-worked my taxes to reflect that gain of income, got a new envelope, put a new stamp on it, and stuck it in the mailbox.

The moment I closed the door on my mailbox, the rash, the welts and the shaking went away!

I learned a lesson about integrity, honesty, and the hand of God on those He loves.

Hebrews 12:5-6 says:

My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.

I’m convinced that the Lord was not that concerned about the $15 of extra tax I needed to pay to the government. But he was very concerned about the cost to my heart if I felt I could get away with something less than honesty. It also showed a lack of faith. Allowing dishonest actions – whether it is evading taxes, lying to a person, or trying to put a disingenuous “spin” on a situation – demonstrates a lack of faith in the God who provides, who is Truth, and who redeemed us to live free, righteous lives. Out of his love, God chastised me for my own good. Yes, he gave me a good slap on the hand, but it moved me back into the right direction. I guess that’s what it means when the Psalmist says, “His rod and his staff ‘comfort’ me.”

So happy tax day! Do right today. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s (whether you think he deserves it or not). And render unto God that which is God’s – your heart, your life … your whole life worship.

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Bread or Band-Aid?

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From time to time, I experience spiritual dryness; going through seasons where I struggle. But today, while going through my daily discipline of Scripture reading, I came across a passage that totally ministered to me. It was as if God had inspired that Scripture to speak to my particular situation for that particular moment!

Now there are reasons why I came across that Scripture today. One is that God loves me and wanted to deliver to me a personal message. Another reason is that there are a lot of people praying for me and asking God to refresh my life. But the most important reason (important, because it has to do with my response) is because I was following a daily discipline of reading God’s Word. If I didn’t read God’s Word on a regular basis, my finding that passage would have been delayed. And if I don’t read God’s Word at all, there would be no way I would have found that passage. Regular, disciplined Scripture reading puts us in the position to hear from God.

Too many of us look at Scripture reading as a “band aid”: only when we are in times of trouble do we crack open the dusty pages of our Bible, frantically trying to find words of wisdom and direction that can soothe our souls. But, save a miracle from God that leads us mysteriously to the appropriate verse, we don’t find our “magic verse” and it often leaves us frustrated and disillusioned, leading us to the false conclusion that the Bible is irrelevant and outdated.

You may have heard the story of the man who needed direction from God, so he closed his eyes, opened his Bible to a random page and pointed blindly at a verse that said: “Judas went and hung himself.” Sometimes that happens when we try to use the Bible as a “band aid”!

But Jesus tells us that Scripture is not a band aid, it is daily bread for our soul. “Man shall not live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God!” Jesus declared as He was tempted by Satan. We need to be in the Word daily in order to hear the voice of the Lord.

I can tell you that I have had many a dull, uneventful reading of Scriptures. For every epiphany (a fancy name for “God moment”) I have experienced through a Scripture reading, I have had a thousand ordinary, plain old “manna” type readings. But the effect of all those Scripture readings has helped me to recognize God’s voice when it comes, as well as renewing my mind.

So how can we get a steady diet of Scripture? Here are a couple of practical steps:

1. Set apart a time and a place to read the Bible. You don’t need a lot of time, but you need to establish it. Find a quiet place to read where TV, radio, newspaper or people cannot distract.

2. Choose a book of the Bible to read through. Start with a book that’s easy, like a Gospel or Psalms. Don’t start with Revelation or Ezekiel or Leviticus (perhaps later on).

3. Be accountable with someone. Ask a friend to ask you each week how your Bible reading is going. They don’t have to be a Christian; in fact, it might be better if they weren’t!

4. Jot down questions that come from your reading. If there’s something confusing, don’t let that bog you down. Write out your question and ask a Christian mentor about it.

Is Scripture reflection a struggle for you or a delight?

What helps you in getting into the Word on a regular basis?

How have you moved from Scripture reading being a “band-aid” to “bread”?

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The other day I was having breakfast with my good friend, Felix – a fellow Whole Life Worshiper of Jesus. Felix has seen many spiritual doors open up with clients and associates (he’s both an amazing contractor and an accomplished jazz musician) who constantly ask him about his sunny disposition and cheerful outlook on life. He tells them, “I begin each day making a choice to live it for God. God has done everything to make this a wonderful day. He set everything in motion while I was asleep and now it’s my turn to live it out. It’s up to me to approach it selfishly or selflessly. It’s like a baseball pitcher with a ten run lead going into the 9th inning, and God is giving me the ball. The only way I can lose is to not play His way. This day is my day to win by following God or lose by following my way or the world’s way.  So I choose to win.”

Now it’s important to understand that Felix is not exhibiting a “Pollyanna” perspective. This is not an overdose of positivity. He understands that life is not always easy or positive (and he’s been through his share of rough spots). Rather, this is an expression of faith in God’s sovereignty, intentions, and power in the midst of our reality.

This perspective is described in one of the great promises of Scripture in Romans 8:28 –

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

Underlying this amazing promise is the intention of God toward you and me: that God is good – all the time. He desires the best for us. God is not malicious. Nor is He forgetful or careless. And He sovereignly works all things in our lives for our best possible interests. It is imperative that we believe this with all our hearts.

However, this promise does not mean that everything will always turn out the way we want. Sometimes what we want is not the best thing for us. Sometimes we want bad things and that is not good. Sometimes we want to get our way (maybe like, all the time). But if God gave us that we would become spoiled, impatient people. In light of that, we need to approach our day with the expectation that not everything will go according to how we want or what we want.  And that is good, because it’s for our best.

Also, this promise does not mean that bad things or trials will not come our way. God wants us to become strong, loving, and faith-filled people. The only way we can become “good” people is to face trials and hardships with the presence of Christ. So we need to approach our day with the expectation that bad things and trials may come our way. But as we face these trials, we have Christ. And that is good, because being good is the ultimate goal of God for us.

The key operative phrase in this verse is “those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” As the things of life come our way, we approach them with the presence and the purpose of our loving God. If we see our day as lived for His purposes (Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done) and lived out of a trusting love for God, how can we lose? As Paul later states, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

This is the perspective that my friend Felix and other Whole Life Worshipers of Jesus have. God has set up this day for us to win, and we choose to live it out His way. It is our day to win or lose.

As for me, I choose to win!

How about you?

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