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Archive for July, 2014

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Have you ever experienced where you are doing something and it seems like something greater is flowing through you? Maybe it’s when you are doing a task or you’re in a conversation with someone or when you are serving in ministry. While you are doing it, you feel a lift or you get an insight or you gain energy or strength that is definitely “not of yourself.”

For me, I feel this flow of “through” when I am leading worship or preaching or writing this blog. But there have been times when I feel it when encouraging a person who is going through a rough spell. And many of those times, I’ve led them to a decision for Christ – and then Jesus takes it from there!

It’s truly a marvelous, wonderful experience to feel the flow of the “through!” Through Christ, through the Spirit, through Father – His power, His wisdom, His compassion, His grace.

Unfortunately, if you’re like me, this flow of the “through” is more accidental than it is intentional. A lot of the times, it is only by the grace of God that He works through me. It’s not because I ask for it, but because God providentially brings it into a situation that really needs it. I often wonder how many opportunities I’ve missed because I didn’t intentionally position myself for the flow of the “through”?

The familiar theme of this week, as we’ve looked at the holy prepositions (from, by, to, in, and with God/Christ), is intentionality. I think many struggle with being an “accidental Christian,” where God’s power, mercy, grace and love happen primarily because He is gracious – and not because we are proactive. As a result, I think we miss out on the amazing life Christ gives us. We settle for “eternal life” the here after, but we skip over the “abundant life” that is available to us here and now.

The secret to intention is to start with small, baby steps. It could be stopping to pray a quick 2-second prayer before starting a task (“Work through me, Lord”). It could be putting a coin in your shoe and every time you feel that coin, you turn to God. What helps me is praying part of morning office throughout the day:

“Almighty God, preserve me with your mighty power that I may not fall into sin nor be overcome by adversity, and in all I do direct me to the fulfilling of your purpose through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.”

Intentional flow of the “through” is a huge part of Whole Life Worship. It is making every thought and deed an act of worship to God; which can only be done “through” the flow of His power and presence.

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The four most comforting words in life are:

“I am with you.”

Whether it’s my five year old grandson who is still afraid to go upstairs in the dark or a person who just finds out he/she has a terminal disease or a prophet who has to confront the Pharaoh with some hard truth or a group of disciples in a small boat caught in a raging storm, that four word phrase brings courage and confidence like none other.

“I am with you.”

Before God demonstrates His power to His people, He always promises His presence. He knows that our greatest need is not healing or provision or victory or safety. Our greatest need is to know that we are not alone. He is with us.

Holy companionship.

The “with” of God is a constant theme in Scripture. All the godly patriarchs, prophets, kings, widows, disciples, and marginalized people were met by God with the promise of holy companionship. Indeed, the first name given to the promised Messiah (Isaiah 7:14) reveals the intent of God for all people, “Immanuel” – meaning “God is with us.”

The “with” of God encourages us, emboldens us, empowers us, and excites us. As Chris Tomlin expounded on the Pauline concept, “And if our God is with us, then who can ever stop us” (Our God), so we know that God’s presence with us is what tilts the odds ever in our favor.

But holy companionship is a two-way street. The “with” goes both ways. Sure, it is great to know that God is with us. It helps us when we’re afraid of the dark or face an unbearable trial. But the real question for us is, “Am I with God?”

Jesus, after thinning out the crowds with one of his “cost of discipleship” speeches, poignantly asked his disciples, “You do not want to leave me too, do you?” To which Peter answered, “Lord, to who shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:67-69).

Peter got the concept of Holy Companionship. It’s not just about God being with us, but it’s actually more about us being with God. And it’s not just about being with God on Sunday mornings or in our Personal Worship or in our times of crisis. It’s about being in Holy Companionship with God in our tasks, in our comings and goings, in our daily decision making, as we are with our families, friends, co-workers, strangers and current enemies (with whom God wants us to be reconciled to).

It’s about constantly asking God what He wants us to do, rather than focusing on our own agenda. It’s about actively jettisoning every sin, every leading of the false self, and every superfluous distraction that He calls us to let go of.

The interesting thing is that the more we learn to be with God/Christ, the more we realize that He is indeed Immanuel; that his Presence is really with us. That makes the difference when we face those trials and fears. The person who occasionally walks with God hopes that God is with them. But the one who regularly walks with God in Holy Companionship knows that God is with them – through thick and thin.

So, how is your walk with God?

How can you be with God more, as He is with you always?

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It seems that the shortest of the short words we call prepositions are also the most powerful. Yesterday we looked at the power of “to.” As we go “to” God/Christ we are heading the in right direction. He is our compass, our guide.

Today’s word is just as short and perhaps more powerful: “in.”

I am reminded of the great hymn, “In Christ Alone.” Here we see how the life, death and resurrection of Christ sets us free to live our lives without fear and with great confidence. I love the line in the last verse: “No power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from His hand, until He comes or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I stand.”

The hymn speaks of our position in Christ because of what He has done for us. Hallelujah for this position! We did not earn this; this is the great gift of God that we live in. However, there is another aspect of “in” that requires our conscious effort. And this aspect of “in” empowers us to live transformed and fruitful lives.

In John 15, Jesus speaks of Himself as the Vine and we, as his disciples, are the branches. The key concept of this analogy is “to abide in” or “to dwell in.” While the position of grace emphasizes what has already been done for us, we still need to respond. And that response is more than us going to Jesus or following behind Jesus.

We are to live in Jesus.

While the dynamics of this concept is a great mystery, the practicality of it is quite simple: acts of trust. Notice that I said acts of trust, not just mental trust. The difference is seeing a chair and believing that it would support your weight versus actually sitting in it. The latter is the act of trust.

For me, it’s about taking time to be still, silent and listen for God’s voice rather than assuming that I know what God is saying to me. It’s about acting on what God is saying to me, rather than postponing it or putting on the back burner. It’s about obeying Him by taking the initiative to reconcile with a person I’m at odds with, rather than waiting for them to initiate. It’s about spending regular, daily time with Him, not as a task to check off my “to-do” list, but because I am meeting with the Lover of my Soul. It’s about asking and relying on His strength as I do His will, because I know there is no way I can do it in my own.

I like to call these “in” activities “Worship in the Everyday Ordinary.” It’s where the rubber of our faith in Christ meets the road of our actual lives.

There are many other aspects and applications of what it means to live in Christ. You, my reading friend, probably have a few ideas that would help me – please share what comes to your mind!

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There’s a funny scene in the old movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” where George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) asks his mother to point him in the right direction (where Mary Hatch – who eventually becomes his true love and “compass” – lives). She points his body right toward her house. And then he starts walking the other way!

One of the smallest of the small words we call “prepositions” is the word, “to.” This word is all about direction. We are either going “to” this place or that place.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, God initiates with the “by” and “from.” Our first response of God’s initiative should be “to” Him.

The Bible speaks of this response of “to God.” We are to cry out to him. We lift up our hands to his Name. We run to the Rock of our Salvation, our Strong Tower. We draw near to God. All who are thirsty or heavy-ladened or broken hearted, are invited to come to Christ.

But like George Bailey, we often go the other way. Our false self believes that we can find greater satisfaction, comfort and fulfillment by going “to” other things. The Old Testament called this propensity of going to the wrong things, “idolatry.”

That’s why repentance is such a big deal in the Bible. Repentance is that awareness that we are pointed in the wrong direction. Repentance is all about making that “about-face” so that we go to God.

Too many Christians think that repentance is a “one-time” thing. But that’s delusional and prideful thinking. Human beings are bent toward going the wrong way. Once is not enough. Repentance is a regular and on-going practice for the honest Whole Life Worshiper.

George Bailey eventually came to his senses, repented from his foolish pride, and headed towards Mary’s house. It was a battle, but he soon realized that going to Mary was the “opportunity of a lifetime.” And for us, going to Jesus is always the opportunity for life itself.

So what does going to Jesus, to God, mean for you right now? For some it means establishing a rhythm of connection, like Personal Worship Time in the morning or fixed times of prayer during the day. For others, it means a “turn around” from something that takes away life – to the One who gives life.

And oh, I’m running to Your arms. I’m running to Your arms. The riches of your love will always be enough. Nothing compares to Your embrace. Light of the World, forever reign. (“Forever Reign” by Reuben Morgan and Jason Ingram)

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Prepositions are little words than mean a lot, particularly in the process of spiritual growth. This is especially true with those prepositions that point to Divine Initiative, like “from” and “by.”

It’s easy to fall into the trap to think that spirituality is something that begins with us: our seeking after God, taking our steps on our spiritual journey. We think that practicing the spiritual disciplines, like prayer or reading the Bible or worshiping God, is something we do based on our own decision making. But we are dead wrong.

It doesn’t begin with us. It begins with God.

The Bible says that we are “loved by God,” “chosen by God,” “called by God,” and “known by God.” We also receive “grace/peace/mercy from God,” “righteousness from God,” “the Spirit from God,” and “power from God.” Paul sums it up by saying “all this is from God” (2 Cor 5:18), meaning that all that we have been given (especially our ultimate redemption) comes from God.

Spiritual life begins with God’s Divine initiative to reach out to us. Jesus Christ gives us this perspective when he told his disciples, “You didn’t choose me. I chose you” (John 15:16).

This has tremendous ramifications to our spirituality. When you and I pray, it’s not because we came up with the idea to pray. Rather, it’s because our soul was “wooed by God” to pray. When I open up the Bible and start reading, it’s not because I am a spiritual giant. Not hardly! It’s because God’s Spirit helped me realize my spiritual hunger for something more substantial than reading Facebook entries or Twitter tweets or watching something on TV.

Even our worship of God, wanting to sing of his greatness or declare his glory, comes from the Divine initiative of his singing his love over me first. The eyes of my heart are stirred by visions of his mercy and grace. The synapses of my mind are filled with memories of his goodness and amazing acts. My worship is simply a response to those things done by him and from him.

So open up the door! Swing wide those gates! The King who has loved you, called you, and chosen you – wants you and is knocking on the door (Rev. 3:20)! Spiritual life is not what we do on our own toward God. It’s becoming alive and alert to the “by’s” and “from’s” of God toward us.

What are those things “by God” and “from God” that speak to your soul right now?

How does God want you to respond to them? With thanksgiving? With obedience toward something? With repentance from something? With a sacrificial act of love toward him or another person in His name?

“In view of God’s mercies, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice … this is your spiritual act of worship.”

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Have you ever done a Mad-Lib? It’s a story where all the nouns, verbs and adjectives are replaced by a bunch of blanks.  One person spouts out random words, while the other person writes them in the blanks – often accompanied by a giggle or a chuckle. Then after all the blanks are filled out, the writer reads the story back to the “spouter.” It’s hilarious, if not a little embarrassing at times.

But what would happen if the blanks in the Mad-Lib were the prepositions, instead of the nouns, verbs and adjectives? You know, those little words like “by,” “to,” “with,” “in,” “through,” and “for.” The result probably wouldn’t be as funny, but it could dramatically alter the meaning of the writing.

We don’t think about prepositions, but they reveal so much; especially in light of how we are to grow spiritually and biblically.

If you’re like me, it’s easy to gloss over those little words. Sometimes phrases like “through Christ” or “in Christ” or “by Christ” sound like the same thing. But there are reasons why the Biblical writers chose specific prepositions in their phraseology. Prepositions determine direction and flow. It’s important to know whether something is coming “from” someone or something is going “to” something else. Prepositions also inform us the nature of relationship – being “with” someone is different than doing something “for” someone or being “in” something. And prepositions can tell us the nature of a particular action: there’s a difference between something that is “by” someone or “through” someone or “for” someone.

I’m not going to get technical about grammar (I can hear those sighs of relief – you know that just ain’t my style!), but over the next few days I want to look closely at some of these little words and how they help us in understanding the dynamic of transformation that happens through Whole Life Worship.

“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)

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Thanks for your patience! I’m back to blogging, though I’m cautiously careful to not put the “cart before the horse.” It was a rude awakening when I realized that, in trying to write about Whole Life Worship to others, it was actually keeping me from living out Whole Life Worship. So, I needed some time to “reset” and get my head on straight.

There will be a couple of changes this time around with the wholelifeworship.com blog:

1. I won’t guarantee any sense of frequency for the blog. It might be daily. It might be three times a week. It might be once a week, or something else. It’s important for me to work out of God’s overflow for this blog.

2. The blogs will probably be shorter. Maybe. I’m going to try to just get out a seed idea and not try to expound too much. I say “maybe” because it is actually harder for me to write less than to write more! But for the sake of keeping things fresh I’m going to shoot for less, rather than more.

3. I don’t promise any graphics. Sometimes it takes a lot of “think” and “research” time to find a good pic or photo to go with the blog. If I can’t come up with a decent graphic (or idea), I’ll just pass on it.

But I’m glad to come back to blogging. More than ever, the Whole Life Worship paradigm is a message that needs to be explored and expanded in today’s Christian world. Over the past couple of months, God has led me on a solid transformative path through personal worship, worship in the everyday ordinary, small community worship, and congregational worship. It’s amazing what happens when we worship God with our lives – our whole lives.

With that, I want to ask for some prayer. My church (Community Baptist Church of Rancho Cucamonga, CA) is doing a six-week sermon series on Whole Life Worship. It’s entitled “More Than a Song” and it will start on August 8/10 weekend. I will be preaching three of the sermons (actually 2 ½ as Pastor Rob and I will be co-preaching the last week). Please pray for our church, we would grow in our understanding and practice of Whole Life Worship. And please pray for Pastor Rob, Kathleen Acker (who is preaching on Personal Worship; entitled “Heart of Worship”), and myself as we prepare for these messages.

It’s good to be “back in the saddle again!” Hopefully, I won’t fall off the horse this time …

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