Thursday, January 31, 2013

Worship In The Zone!

Leading worship for some twenty years, I've realized that my definition and philosophy of worship has evolved (dare I use the word). I, along with so many, have been trying to grasp what real worship is. I continue to ponder on it.

Certainly worship music has changed over the recent years. We are in a fantastic era as far as praise and worship music go. There are so many new and talented Christian bands, musicians, and song writers. One of the reasons that we are blessed with a flood of new music is the web, which allows us access to so much music. But it also seems that we are in a worship revival - a world-wide worship movement. And praise and worship music is a part of it.

As I reflect on my journey over the years as a Worship Leader, I realize that I have grown along with this wave of praise and worship, and I love that I have. As a musician, I've seen how song writing has changed in the last twenty years - the chord progressions, the style, and the lyrical expressions. The worship music culture is certainly continuing to change and grow.

What I see as a negative, as far as the current worship movement is concerned, is the common philosophy of worship today. There is an emphasis in recent years that worship is simply 'how we live our life'. This philosophy is widely prevalent in so many modern worship books. But is worship simply living our life for Christ? Is worship just "our whole life" as some profess? Not in my view. My opinion is that if we take such a general approach to worship, then our concept of worship becomes watered-down. It becomes diluted.

My philosophy is that worship is a specific, deliberate action. After all, can we really worship God without even realize we are doing it? I don't think so. Is worship simply serving God? No, we certainly can serve without worshiping. During a worship leader conference, I attended a seminar where the instructor used the illustration of a husband serving his wife by doing the dishes, and called that an act of worshiping God. I do the dishes many times, but I don't do the dishes as an act of worship.

For worship to be real, three areas must be engaged. First, the heart must be engaged. In other words, the right attitude must be present (a submissive, reverent heart bowing before God). Second, the mind must be engaged (a deliberate, intentional, focused effort). Third, the soul must be engaged (a spiritual connection or encounter with God). When the heart, the mind, and the soul are all engaged, it's what I call being 'in the zone', as far as worship is concerned. It's only then that we can truly express worship.

Yes, worship is an expression. But for this expression to be sincere and real, our heart, mind, and soul all must be engaged. For example, praise can be one of the expressions you use in the act of worship. However, it's also possible to praise God aside from worshiping Him. We could praise Him by simply saying to someone, "Praise God for this new day He's giving me." But it's just praise. That's OK - as long as you understand there is a difference between praise and worship.

Worship can be much broader than just an expression of praise. When we are 'in the zone', we can express things like our reverence, our thanksgiving, our awe, and our adoration to Him. This expression can be done through words, through prayer, or through action, as long as our heart is right, we are focused and intentional about it, and we are spiritually connecting with God. We can worship 'in the zone' anywhere, at anytime. It can happen in a brief moment or an extended time period. It can be prompted by a song, or a sunset, or a sermon, or anything that reminds us of God.

So, worship is not doing the dishes as a good deed to please our wife. However, it is possible to worship while we are doing the dishes! And as far as getting better at worshiping God, practice getting 'in the zone' as much as you can!

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Apostle Peter - Gunslinger?

OK - so I wanted to be sort of Biblically relevant with what's going on in our world. And right now, there's so much attention on guns and the right to have them, it made me wonder, how was it like when Jesus walked the earth, as far as personal weapons are concerned? Did the disciples carry personal weapons?

No doubt, it was a dangerous world back then. The Apostle Paul knew that well. Listen to his experiences........."Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure." (2 Corinthians 11:24-27).

Certainly, it was a dangerous world. But not much has changed. It's a dangerous world today too. It makes you wonder though - what was it like to walk with Jesus and his disciples from town to town? Did they worry about robbers, muggers and thieves? Were they in dangerous places, around dangerous people? After all, the Bible does talk about Jesus being around sinners, tax-collectors, and such.

Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) ” (Mark 2:15-17)

The more Jesus began to be known, the more His life was threatened. "After these things Jesus was walking in Galilee, for He was unwilling to walk in Judea because the Jews were seeking to kill Him." (John 7:1)

Things seemed to get more dangerous for Jesus and the disciples as time went on. "Then Jesus asked them, 'When I sent you out to preach the Good News and you did not have money, a traveler’s bag, or an extra pair of sandals, did you need anything?' 'No,' they replied. 'But now,' He said, 'take your money and a traveler’s bag. And if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one! 'Look, Lord,' they replied, 'we have two swords among us.' 'That’s enough,' He said." (Luke 22:35,36,38).

Of course, no one could ever kill Jesus even if they wanted to, until it was the proper time - after His teachings were complete, after the disciples were trained, and after all prophecy was fulfilled. "So they were seeking to seize Him; and no man laid his hand on Him, because His hour had not yet come." (John 7:30)

It seems in the later years, the Apostles were armed. Remember the famous incident when Jesus was arrested? The following is what happened when Judas the betrayer came with a group of Roman soldiers, looking for Jesus.

“'I am He,' Jesus said. (Judas, who betrayed Him, was standing with them.) As Jesus said 'I am He,' they all drew back and fell to the ground!'” (John 18:5-6)

I love the way Jesus momentarily demonstrated His power - He basically knocked them all to the ground by some supernatural power, just to show that He could never be taken by force. He could only be taken if He allowed it. (He died willfully on the cross for our sins). He could have wiped them all out if He wanted to.

The story of Jesus' arrest continues, and involves Peter drawing and using his sword! OK, it wasn't a gun - so Peter wasn't a gunslinger after all. However, Peter was a swordslinger!..........."When the other disciples saw what was about to happen, they exclaimed, “Lord, should we fight? We brought the swords!” (Luke 22:49) "Then Simon Peter drew a sword and slashed off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s slave." (John 18:10) "But Jesus answered, 'No more of this!' And He touched the man’s ear and healed him." (Luke 22:51)

You see, at that point, the time was right for Jesus to allow Himself to be arrested without a fight. After they took Him to Pilate, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36)

It's important to note that the nature of Apostles' fighting changed after Jesus died, resurrected, ascended, and the church began. The Apostles were later empowered to fight, and would fight relentlessly, but no longer with physical swords. Instead, they would fight with spiritual ones.

The Apostle Paul said, "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

So, what can we learn from all this? First, the Apostles were brave men. They were real men, not a bunch of wimps. They were courageous. They were Christ's disciples, but they were also His bodyguards and defenders. They were ready to fight for Jesus, if need be. They were men who were sold out, committed, devoted to Christ, and would lay down their lives for the cause.

Secondly, we need to stand strong in our own faith. "Fight the good fight of faith." (1 Timothy 6:12). "Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong." (1 Corinthians 16:13). "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." (1 Peter 3:15).

One more thing - how does all this relate to our right to bear arms? I suppose it supports the basic right to be able to defend oneself. I'm not for taking away that right. If someone broke in my house trying to attack me or my family, I like the idea of having a gun available.

On the other side of the story, there should be a line drawn somewhere on what type of weapon a person should be allowed to have. Certainly, there's no need to keep a bazooka around the house. Or a nuclear bomb stored in the closet. We need to be reasonable. Does one really need a machine gun with a thousand rounds of ammo?

Better yet, it would be worthwhile to analyze the root cause of all these shootings. It's certainly not guns. I can't help but look at the TV shows and the movies that our culture thrives on. Just last week, I saw a commercial for the new upcoming Sylvester Stallone movie called, "Bullet To The Head." And have you seen how real the video games look today? And so many of them are filled with blood, killing and shooting. 

Yes, our culture seems to thrive on violence for entertainment. Sad. Seems like our society is going down hill fast and following the course of the Romans. My brother, Tony, senses that. He sells bumper stickers that say, "We're Doomed." Our preacher, Mark, often mimics the words of the Apostle John in the book of Revelation, "Lord come quickly!"

Sunday, January 20, 2013

My Top 10 Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes

1. “No one really knows why they are alive until they know what they'd die for.”  

2. “The time is always right to do the right thing.”

3. “Faith is taking the first step even when you can't see the whole staircase.”  

4. “I have decided to stick to love...Hate is too great a burden to bear.” 

5. “Our lives begin to end -  the day we become silent about things that matter.” 

6. “No person has the right to rain on your dreams.” 

7. “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.” 

8. “Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”  

9. “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy to a friend.”  

10. “The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: 'If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?' But...the good Samaritan reversed the question: 'If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” 

Martin Luther King Jr   
January 15, 1929 - April 4, 1968

Thursday, January 17, 2013

My Best Advice for You - Top Ten List

A high school student friend of mine, as a school assignment, needed to ask 3 people for their best advice for his future. Here's what I decided on, and here's my advice for you too.

1. Be a Christ Follower, not just a 'Christian'
2. Follow your passion in life
3. Be a person of integrity
4. Pray about everything first and you'll never have regrets
5. Love your family and love others too
6. Have a teachable spirit
7. Be thankful and content but not lazy
8. Be a good listener
9. Encourage those around you
10. Laugh :)

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Day The Earth Stood Still!

Warning....this post, to some, will seem to have some outlandish claims. It may stretch your belief system a bit. But first, you must really ground yourself on this concept: "For nothing is impossible with God." (Luke 1:37). After all, God is Creator! And if God is Creator, that means that He not only oversees everything, but He can intervene in the physical realm at any time, and even defy what we would call the laws of physics or science. I like the word 'defy'. To defy is -  to challenge to do something considered impossible. A miracle, for instance, is basically defying the laws of nature. Miracles are considered impossible as far as science is concerned. Walking on water is impossible. Calming the raging sea is impossible. Bringing back a dead person to life is impossible. But, of course, as far as God is concerned, "nothing is impossible."

The other concept you must be convinced of is this - "the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.” (Hebrews 11:3)  This statement is incredible. It means that God is so powerful that He created everything, including the entire universe, just by His command - "the entire universe was formed at God’s command."  Wow!  Consider this: “The Lord merely spoke, and the heavens were created. He breathed the word, and all the stars were born.” (Psalm 33:6). Not only that, He created everything from nothing. In other words, he created 'matter' itself, instantaneously. He didn't just make everything out of pre-existing matter - He made matter itself! But again, remember,"nothing is impossible with God." 

A God so powerful is able to do anything, on any scale, large or small. The Creator is more powerful than what He has created, and is sovereign over what He has created. That means He can, at any time He chooses, alter or change what He has put in place. If He is powerful enough to put something in place, He is certainly powerful enough to alter it. Do you believe it?

That brings us to the incomprehensible:  the day the earth stood still. That's right, a day when the earth stopped rotating for a day! Seems 'impossible' doesn't it? The earth rotates at just over 1000 miles per hour! It's impossible to stop this rotation - or is it? Scientists will say it's impossible. But don't listen - believe instead. Scientists will say life is created by evolution, not creation. Scientists will say there couldn't have been a world flood that covered the earth. Scientists will say that the star of Bethlehem was a natural event (see my post, "Don't Tell Me The Star Was Just A Star!").

I like what God says about those who proclaim to know things that are not meant to be comprehended by man. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much. Who determined its dimensions and stretched out the surveying line? What supports its foundation, and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4-7).
God continues to put Job, as well as any human, in his place. Being facetious, He says, “Where does light come from, and where does darkness go? Can you take each to its home? Do you know how to get there? But of course you know all this! For you were born before it was all created, and you are so very experienced!” (Job 38:19-21)

Yes, the earth stopped in it's tracks. It's recorded in the book of Joshua. "On the day the Lord gave the Israelites victory over the Amorites, Joshua prayed to the Lord in front of all the people of Israel. He said, “Let the sun stand still over Gibeon, and the moon over the valley of Aijalon.” So the sun stood still and the moon stayed in place until the nation of Israel had defeated its enemies. Is this event not recorded in The Book of Jashar? The sun stayed in the middle of the sky, and it did not set as on a normal day. There has never been a day like this one before or since, when the Lord answered such a prayer. Surely the Lord fought for Israel that day!" (Joshua 10:12-14) -  You see, God stopped the rotation of the earth so that the sun could stand still, giving them extended light for battle.

But there's even a more incredible miracle! There was a time when God not only stopped the rotation of the earth, but moved it slightly backwards for a moment, before allowing it to rotate again. 

Meanwhile, Hezekiah had said to Isaiah, “What sign will the Lord give to prove that he will heal me and that I will go to the Temple of the Lord three days from now?”
Isaiah replied, “This is the sign from the Lord to prove that he will do as he promised. Would you like the shadow on the sundial to go forward ten steps or backward ten steps?” “The shadow always moves forward,” Hezekiah replied, “so that would be easy. Make it go ten steps backward instead.” So Isaiah the prophet asked the Lord to do this, and he caused the shadow to move ten steps backward on the sundial of Ahaz!
(2 Kings 20:8-11)

 So....believe what you may. As for me, nothing is impossible with God. I believe He stopped the earth's rotation twice. If you believe in the Creator God, who are you to put limits on Him? Who are you to tell him what He can and cannot do? What gives you the authority to question these things? - or dare to tell God He didn't or couldn't do such things?

And if God can do such incredible things like stopping the earth's rotation, imagine what He can do in your life. "Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think." (Ephesians 3:20).  


Friday, January 4, 2013

Jesus and the Fiscal Cliff

I'm so tired of the end-of-the-world style financial fear mongering by the politicians and the media! Reminds me of Y2K - remember that? I really believe most people weren't all that worked up by all the "fiscal cliff" looming disaster threats. Life goes on. The country goes on. The political debates go on. Sorry - I know I should take a political stance on all this economic mess, but I'm just tired of it all. Politics, taxes, and economics are nothing new. They were all around in Jesus' day. I don't think Jesus was too worried about a fiscal cliff. There are a couple of cliffs He had to deal with though. Both are in Luke chapter 4.

 The first one was right after His baptism, when He went into the desert where the devil tempted Him for 40 days. Satan took Jesus to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say,‘He will order his angels to protect and guard you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’” Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’” (Luke 4:9-12). ....As you can see, Jesus was victorious and never gave in to any of the devil's schemes.

The other cliff episode from Luke 4 involves the time Jesus was teaching in the synagogue. Basically he was implying that He was a prophet similar to Isaiah the prophet. "When they heard this, the people in the synagogue were furious. Jumping up, they mobbed him and forced him to the edge of the hill on which the town was built. They intended to push him over the cliff, but he passed right through the crowd and went on his way." (Luke 4:28-30). ....Like they could really push Jesus off a cliff - NOT!

The above two cliffs that Jesus dealt with were cliffs, but not 'fiscal cliffs'. However, there were fiscal issues that Jesus dealt with. By fiscal, I mean dealings with government taxes and finances. In the scripture below, Jesus answers the question, it right to pay taxes?

Then the Pharisees met together to plot how to trap Jesus into saying something for which he could be arrested. They sent some of their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to meet with him. “Teacher,” they said, “we know how honest you are. You teach the way of God truthfully. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. Now tell us what you think about this: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” But Jesus knew their evil motives. “You hypocrites!” he said. “Why are you trying to trap me? Here, show me the coin used for the tax.” When they handed him a Roman coin, he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”  “Caesar’s,” they replied. “Well, then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” (Matthew 22:15-21)

Jesus and his disciples were approached by the tax collectors to pay a temple tax. The money to pay the tax was provided in a very interesting way (must be nice).

After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”  “Yes, he does,” he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own sons or from others?”  “From others,” Peter answered. “Then the sons are exempt,” Jesus said to him. But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” (Matthew 17:24-27)

Tax collectors back then were disreputable. They were known for collecting not only the tax that was due, but also some extra for themselves. John the Baptist commented on this.
Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?” He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.” “What should we do?” asked some soldiers. John replied, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.” (Luke 3:12-14)

Jesus didn't avoid tax collectors, though. He even picked one as His own disciple, one of the 12 apostles! - Matthew.
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him. Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (Matthew 9:9-10)

And I'm sure you remember Zaccheus, the wealthy, chief tax collector who wanted to see Jesus. Because he was short, Zaccheus had to climb up a tree to get a glimpse of Jesus. But Jesus spotted him, and said, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’” But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (Luke 19:5-8) ......Looks like even tax collectors can have a change of heart when they meet Jesus!

So as far as taxes go, remember that Jesus had to deal with all that mess too. That includes finances and tax collectors. And when it's time to pay your taxes, don't feel alone. There's nothing new under the sun!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Make This Your New Year's Resolution! Now!

The most popular New Year's Resolution for 2013?  ...........Lose Weight. (This is from a secular survey by the Journal of Clinical Psychology published 12/13/12.) Here are the rest of the top-five most popular ones........2. Get organized, 3. Spend less save more, 4. Enjoy life, 5. Stay fit.  The survey said that 45% of all people make resolutions, but only 8% actually are successful in keeping them.

Those top five resolutions are good, but remember, this is a secular survey and not a spiritually-focused one. Maybe for you, it's always procrastinating to the last minute in choosing, or should I say remembering, to make a New Year's resolution. If you haven't decided yet whether to make one or not, or if you want to make one, but can't decide on a resolution, consider using mine this year:

My New Year's resolution for 2013................"Get to know God better."

Sounds simple and very general, but this resolution is founded on the words of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 1:17, where he is writing to Christians at the church in Ephesus, describing his prayer for them.
"...asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God."

It doesn't matter if you currently don't know God at all, or if you have know Him for a long, long time, whatever your relationship is like now, you can always know Him better! And as Paul asks for us in the above verse, we need to gain "spiritual wisdom and insight" so that we may get to know God better. 

So here are three ways how you, as a Christian, can make this resolution happen and keep it going throughout the year........

1. Know God better through daily Bible reading.
First, commit to reading it daily, even if it is just a few verses a day. This will surely give you spiritual wisdom and insight. Where to start? - my thoughts are to start in the New Testament, perhaps one of the Gospels, like the book of John. Read a chapter a day, or if that's too much, read several verses a day, but read every day! After reading through a Gospel, which is basically the life of Christ, next read one or two of the Epistles (letters to Christians), such as Colossians or Ephesians. Then maybe the book of Acts (the history book of the early church). Then another Gospel, more Epistles, continuing through the New Testament at your own pace. After the New Testament, it's time to tackle Genesis, Exodus, and the rest of the Old Testament. It's better to read slowly with understanding than reading too fast. However, if you are really up for a challenge, try the "Chronological New Testament Bible Reading Plan" that I am starting on January 1 - see my last post.

2. Know God better through daily prayer.
By prayer, I mean basic conversation with the Lord. I'm not talking about formal prayer, but prayer that is simple dialogue with God, like you are talking to Him on a personal level. And this should be done throughout each day - not just in the morning, not just at night, but as you go about the day. 

3. Know God better through daily walking with Him
By walking with Him, I mean committing to 'doing life with Him' - and doing life with Him on a daily basis. Walking with the Lord translates into being a Christ follower - following His way, His truth, His teaching, His example. This involves submission and obedience. Walking with Him is being more than just claiming to be a Christian, it's being a Christian. It's more than words, it's how you live your life. And it's who you live you life for. Don't be like those in Titus 1:16, "They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him."

So what is it to know God?  Here is an interesting know God, is to be known by God! That's really know God, is to be known and acknowledged by God. This thought comes from Galatians 4:9, "But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles?"

"To know God, is to be known by God" a concept that is all about relationships. As your spiritual wisdom and insight grows, and your knowledge of who God is and what His expectations are, our relationship with Him grows - closer and closer, into an intimate Father/Child relationship. That's the type of relationship the Lord is looking for.

So if someone asks you, "What's your New Year's Resolution?" Just say, "to get to know God better." Then you can share three ways on how they can do the same.