Archive for March, 2017

One of the blockages to worship of God is being unaware of who God really is and what He has really done. When we can actually view the mercies of God through the eyes of our heart and soul, the response to worship Him flows freely and powerfully – leading to amazing transformation of our surrendered lives (Romans 12:2).

One concept that has helped me is that God’s mercies and greatness are revealed in “3D.” So often, we worship God in a linear (one dimensional) or planar (two dimensional) sense. For example, if we know that God is “Sovereign” but we’ve never experienced how His Sovereign hand works in our lives through trusting Him, our worship/response to Him will be lacking. Merely viewing God as an intellectual or theological concept is a one dimensional perspective. Or we can know that God is our “Provider” and we have experienced His provision in our lives, but if we don’t embrace the other amazing attributes of God (like He is also our “Sanctifier” and may lead us into “lean times” to purify us from our over-attachment to material things), our view of God is only two-dimensional – also leading to worship/response that will be less than whole hearted when things get tough.

What I propose is a 3D view of God’s mercies and greatness. Paul describes this 3D view in Ephesians 3:17-18:

“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.

In this, Paul describes Christ’s love (or “God’s mercies” according to Romans) in three tangible (“grasp-able”) dimensions: breadth (wide and long), height and depth. I’ll explain these dimensions of God’s mercies in greater detail over the next few days.

What I want to leave you with is this: the primary engine which activates our awareness of these 3 dimensions of God’s mercies and greatness is Prayer. Notice what Paul writes at the beginning of this passage: “I pray that you … may have power … to grasp …” God reveals these things to us when we ask Him.

Certainly this involves engagement in Scripture – as the Word of God reveals the nature of who God is. And, yes, our experiences of God in our daily lives give us the basis of thanking Him for what He does. But the eyes of our heart need to be opened to “notice” both the character of God in Scripture and the deeds of God in our experience. And that requires supernatural power of God. And that only comes through prayer and His grace (which He so desires to give us).

So let’s pray for “the power to grasp” the 3D wonder of who God is and what He has done for us. And get ready to have your whole life worship expand and explode with authentic passion, communion, and empowerment as we respond to our truly great and wonderful God!

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I didn’t want to go to the gym this morning. And, frankly, if I hadn’t promised my wife that we were going, I probably would have blown it off. But we went and I got on the elliptical and started my workout. I decided not to push it and just let it “come to me.” This is hard because I am a “pusher.” Even though I didn’t want to be there, I will push and try to beat my best time or my best calorie burn or whatever statistic I can come up with. But I simply let my body lead with what it could do. About half-way through the work out, I was feeling pretty good. By the time I finished I actually came close to what my normal workout would have been (if I had gone full-bore). I had a good sweat and I was glad that I did it. Among other things, the workout gave me the idea for this morning’s blog:

“Getting there is half the battle.”

This is true in our spiritual lives as well as our physical lives. In the spiritual disciplines of solitude, silence, Sabbath, worship, Bible reading, giving, being in community, serving in ministry, reaching out to others, the hardest step is always the first one. It’s that decision to simply do it.

As one of my cycling training buddies told me, “The hardest part of the training ride is walking out the door and taking the bike off the rack.”

Once we decide and take that first step to spend time with Jesus or open that Bible or get ready for the worship service or write that tithe check, it’s downhill from there. God meets us at that place of faith, usually in a very powerful way.

But that first step is so hard. If “getting there is half the battle,” what can I do to help me win that half of the battle? Here are some things that have helped me:

  1. Make a plan ahead of time to do it. “When you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” This has more to do with intentionality, than with the specific plan. The night before our workout, Letty and I planned to work out the following morning at 5:30am. It was intentional.
  1. Get someone to partner with you. One of my close friends, Pastor Gary Keith, asked his entire church to pray about reading through the Bible together via Facebook. He and several church members covenanted to read the passages daily and then write about it (even if it was just a sentence or two) on their Facebook page. This was very powerful to keep him accountable to the process (and sometimes it was difficult). As I mentioned earlier, I would not have taken one step toward the gym if I had not already agreed with Letty to do it.
  1. Ask God for grace and strength to “get there.” The spiritual disciplines are things God wants us to engage in because they help us to draw near to Him and hear His voice. So to ask Him to empower us to take those first steps is a prayer He loves to answer. It’s funny that we ask God to do “big” things (like heal sickness, provide jobs, etc. – which he does do), but we are reluctant to ask Him to do a smaller, yet very significant thing, that helps us to do His will. As I quoted 2 Corinthians a couple of days ago, “When we are weak, He is strong.”

So where is God calling you to a deeper spiritual discipline?

What would a plan of action entail?

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One of my all-time favorite movies, though it is very dark, is “The Matrix” (1999). In this movie, I see some parallels to the Christian life. If you’re not familiar with the movie, it’s a Sci-Fi type of movie and the main character is a young man named “Neo.” Neo suspects that there is something wrong with the world he perceives, but he can’t put his finger on it. He meets up with a sage, “Morpheus,” who tells Neo that what he senses is correct. The world he thinks he lives in is actually a fake world, a virtual world. What he perceives as America in 1999, where he works as a computer software engineer, is nothing but an illusion. The true reality is that he is living in the 22nd Century, that his body is hibernating and is being used for his thermal energy (to power up machines, who have now taken over the world). The machines have devised a mental illusion in his mind (called “The Matrix”) to keep him and the other human energy units placated and comfortable.

In one key scene, Morpheus gives Neo the opportunity to be free from the illusion and live in the Truth. This involves taking a “Red Pill.” Morpheus does not candy-coat the process: waking up from the illusion will be frightening and wild, but at least he will be free and living in the Truth. However, Morpheus also gives Neo the choice to take the “Blue Pill.” In taking this pill, Neo will forget this conversation with Morpheus ever took place and he would continue living in the illusion – not free, nor true; but certainly comfortable and predictable.

Of course, Neo takes the Red Pill, and his adventure takes off.

I find this very similar to what Christ offers His followers and the process of transformation through the Holy Spirit. Like Neo, we live in a false reality – the illusion of the “world.” In this illusion we think we are in control – as we live, eat, drink, sleep, fall in love, have families, work jobs, go to church – but in reality we are being “played” by the deceiver, and every decision we make (good, bad or otherwise) perpetuates the illusion. However, Jesus offers a new reality, the true reality he calls the “Kingdom of God.” In this reality we find Truth, Freedom and Love.

But Jesus does not candy-coat the process. He does not promise comfort, ease, and safety for our “status quo.” Rather, in order to follow Jesus, it requires “denying self and taking up our cross” (essentially, dying to ourselves). It means we are no longer in control. It means becoming humble so that we rely on God. It means letting go of things that might be dear to us; even things that are a part of who we are.

It means taking the Red Pill.

I think, in some ways, the Christian Church has done a disservice to many in “candy-coating” what it means to be a Christ-follower. I don’t want to rag on any church or Christians in particular, because we’ve all done it. In our desire to “get people to heaven” we tell them that if they want eternal salvation all they have to do is pray a prayer to ask Jesus into their heart. But we often neglect mentioning the cost of discipleship. We never mention that they will have to undergo a process of transformation that will totally change them; sometimes painfully so. We rarely, if ever, mention that to follow Jesus means that we will have to learn things that are counter-intuitive, like: to love people we now hate, to give of our lives sacrificially for the good of others, and to forgive those who may have brutally wronged us. But all of this is absolutely necessary if we are to truly be free, living in the Truth, and experiencing unconditional love and grace.

By not understanding and explaining the real process of transformation in Christ, we are simply taking the “Blue Pill”: relegating the Christian faith to forgiveness in the hereafter, but choosing to continue to live life in the comfortable “illusion.” And then we are surprised at how little impact Christians have in this world, how they are no different from anyone else in the world. When you take the Blue Pill, how can you honestly expect to be different?

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to chime in on this topic of Christ-centered transformation. It will be interspersed with “lighter” devotionals that are more situational; what I call “Worship in the Everyday Ordinary.” But I really sense I need to share some deeper things on the process of transformation, without “pulling any punches” (all of which, of course, go back to myself!) For Whole Life Worship is about transformation: we offer ourselves to God, totally and without reservation, so that He can transform us into the people He created us to be – free, truth-filled, grace-filled, Spirit-empowered and Spirit-guided world changers.

But this involves taking the Red Pill.

So which one do you choose: Red Pill or Blue Pill?

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One of my all-time favorite songs comes from the old Bing Crosby movie, “White Christmas.” And no, it’s not “White Christmas”! Rather, it’s a lesser known song called “Count Your Blessings.” The first line goes like this, “When you’re tired and you can’t sleep, just count your blessings instead of sheep. And you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings.”

I don’t know about you, but there are times at night when I can’t fall asleep. Or there are times when I wake up in the middle of the night (usually to go to the bathroom – yeah, old age!) and I can’t get back to sleep. I’ll toss and turn and squirm and puff up my pillow. But if it takes me longer than 5-10 minutes to go to sleep, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Lord wants me up for some reason. And so I’ll get up and pray.

I’ll usually start off with giving thanks to God for His blessings (like the song says). Paul says in 1 Thess 5:17 to “give thanks always” – I assume “always” means anytime, even in the middle of the night. You can’t go wrong with giving thanks to God. It always puts our hearts and minds in the very center of God’s goodness. Plus, the enemy hates it when we give thanks … and he usually tries to make us drowsy and fall asleep, rather than give us the opportunity to glorify God. This is always a win-win situation.

But sometimes it doesn’t end with thanksgiving. Sometimes God wants me to pray for something. I’ll ask him, “Lord, what do you want me to pray about?” And until I get an impression from God, I’ll pray “in the Spirit” (for some this means praying with an open heart for God’s will to be done, for others it involves a prayer language). Sometimes I already know what God wants me to pray for. My most powerful times of intercession often come between midnight and 6am.

And sometimes, in those wee hours of the night, God leads me to read Scripture or a book by a Christian author. In any case, my night time sleeplessness is not wasted on trying to get myself to sleep. Rather, I see it as an opportunity to practice Whole Life Worship – to offer my “unsleepy” self to God as a living sacrifice. I find that when I do this (and sometimes I’m up for a few hours) God almost always gives me a restful sleep for the remainder of the night. And I wake up refreshed and ready to live another day for him.

The Psalms talk about those who serve in God’s Temple, keeping their watch at night (for example, Psalm 134:1). Sometimes God calls us to that “night watch.” As God is always up, keeping an eye on all of us, occasionally he will ask us to stay awake with him – to tarry with him, to join him in the work he is doing in peoples’ lives, to worship him with the angels in the quiet hour.

The liturgical church’s night time prayer focuses on the fact that we might be asleep or awake during the night hours. And so the prayer goes:

Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in his peace.

So if you can’t sleep at night, don’t worry. Instead, worship. Practice Whole Life Worship in those un-sleepy moments. And God will give you rest: falling asleep while counting your blessings.

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Life can be a rat-race at times. I’m reminded of the old Broadway musical, “Stop the World – I Want to Get Off!” I’ve never seen it (nor do I have the foggiest idea of what it’s even about) but it is a great description of how hectic life can be: with appointments, deadlines, chores, responsibilities, crises, meetings, practices … and, oh yeah, sometime I gotta eat and sleep, too! But breathing is optional. (smile)

The problem with rat-races is that the more we “race,” the more we become “rats.” Busy-ness, harried-ness, and being on the “go” all the time eventually changes us – and not in a good way. Busy-ness increases our anxiety, lowers our frustration threshold, makes us even more selfish and rude, and often causes us to compromise our character and faith. What’s more is that the last thing on busy people’s minds is seeking to glorifying God or becoming more Christ-like (even when their job is to help others glorify God and follow Jesus – “ouch!”)

In the midst of the rat-race, God gives us a timeless reminder from the Psalms:

Be still and know that I am God. (Ps. 46:10)

The first phrase (“Be still”) literally means, “Cease from striving.” It means to take a time out. It is the act of stopping the world – your world and my world. It also implies, “Silence” and turning off the noise.

But in the stillness and silence we have a focal point: God; in particular, knowing that God is, indeed, God: the One in control, the One on the Throne, the Lord over everything, the One greater than anything we face, and the One greater than any demand that wants our attention. Our stillness and silence is not just a break from the rat-race; it’s a way out of the race and aligning ourselves with The King’s Way

We normally think of silence and stillness as a part of our Personal Worship Time; our one-on-one times with God in solitude. However, I also find it helpful to take regular “time-out with God” breaks from the rat race throughout the day.

Just today I found myself getting too busy and stressed-out. So I pulled away, got to a quiet place, took in a few deep breaths, and stilled myself with some silent prayer. In that prayer, I quieted my heart and mind, and asked God to be my focal point. I actually recited Psalm 46:10 a couple of times. I was quiet and still for about three minutes – just enough to quiet the noise within and without. More importantly, I placed my anxieties and fears at the foot of His throne and remembered that He is “large and in charge.”

The result was peace and focus as I entered into my next meeting. I sensed the presence of God with me and the meeting was a very fruitful and powerful time.

So when life gives you too much, take a 2-3 minute time-out with God. He’ll get you out of the rat-race and back into the flow of His life and grace.

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The Jesus Prayer

I love to pray. And fortunately for me, prayer is essential for Whole Life Worship, as the concept is predicated on the foundation of being in a relationship with God. To me, prayer is more than conversation or communication; it is “communion with God.” This involves talking and listening to God, but it is more than that. It is being with God and, in the process, finding our own souls. In the next several blogs, I’ll be sharing about the ways I commune with God in prayer.

As a Western, evangelical, non-liturgical Christian, the method of prayer I was taught (and prefer) involves using words that are spontaneous, free-flowing and conversational. Whether I pray with people or by myself, I talk to God like I would talk with a human being. I don’t use flowery language or histrionics. Since I’m talking with God there’s no use in trying to impress or pretend. Prayer always originates from my heart and translated, as best as I can, into human language. I liken this style of prayer to the way Tevye from the musical, “Fiddler on the Roof” prays; open, free, two-way, and honest.

However, there are times when I find that words to my prayers are elusive. Maybe it’s because I can’t quite “name” what I want to express to God. Sometimes I find myself in a “quandary of the soul” that I can’t even begin to describe with words (have you ever experienced that?) I do have a prayer language that I use on occasion during private moments; and sometimes that helps. But recently I’ve re-discovered some simple prayers, based on Scripture and practiced by Christians throughout the centuries, that have helped me commune with God when my spontaneous prayers of conversation and spiritual language fail me.

One of them is called the “Jesus Prayer.” It is an amalgam of two simple prayers: 1) a poignant request made by a blind man named Bartimeus to Jesus on the road to Jericho (Mark 10:47-48) and 2) an equally poignant petition of a repentant tax collector in one of Jesus’ parables (Luke 18:13). Blind Bart shouted to Jesus, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The tax collector cried out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Over the years, the church combined these two prayers: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This is a prayer recited primarily by those in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions.

Without delving too deeply into Church history, I have found this very simple prayer to be helpful for me. First of all, it is short and to the point: I need help and I’m asking Jesus to help me. Secondly, it puts everything in its proper place: Jesus is Lord, Christ and God’s Son, while I am an undeserving sinner in desperate need. Oh, there is so much freedom in this humble realization! Thirdly, it is easy to memorize, which makes it easy to access during those times when I can’t even think straight.

I don’t use the prayer as a magical formula or incantation. I don’t use it as a way to earn some sort of merit from God or to get what I want. God cannot be manipulated. Rather, it is a way to state a very honest and crucial truth of who I am, who Jesus is, and my most fundamental need for mercy.

There are times when my heart gets overwhelmed with anxiety over a situation. Or I am preoccupied with whether something will get done. Or I feel paralyzed over what I should do next. Or I get discombobulated by a relationship that is going south quick. So I pray the Jesus prayer (usually several times so that the meaning of it sinks in: “Lord”, “Christ,” “mercy”, “me, a sinner”, etc.) Saying the prayer is almost like taking deep breaths in an oxygen mask. The mercy of Jesus comes as I “cocoon” myself in His presence. In my helplessness, He holds me in His strong arms. I also relinquish control, self-concern, fear, and responsibility into His care. He becomes greater than whatever issue I face, for I know in my heart that He is Lord – and I’ve asked Him to step in that role for me.

I also find that when I get a little too prideful or too much in control or get too “big for my britches” (which happens all too frequently in the world of ministry), the Spirit reminds me to pray the Jesus Prayer: I’m just a sinner who needs mercy, whether I realize it or not. And Jesus is One who is Lord and King! It helps me to dethrone myself and put the right One back on the throne of my heart.

This little prayer has become so important to me that I use it all the time. It actually becomes the prayer that opens the door for other prayers. The Jesus Prayer helps me land firmly on the “rock of reality,” of what really is and how things really operate. It is one of those prayers that creates a solid starting point whereby I can commune with God.

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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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