Worship

The Power of Praise

worshipWhen I was on the Northstar Project with Cru during the summers of ’85 & ’86, I learned a children’s worship song, that we were encouraged to sing when times got tough during our missionary efforts in the former Soviet Union. The lyrics were so simple, but every time I sang them, I sensed the enemy flee. The song, It’s Amazing What Praising Can Do, simply went like this:

It’s amazing what praising can do,
Hallelujah, Hallelujah.
It’s amazing what praising can do,
Hallelujah.
I don’t worry when things go wrong,
Jesus fills my heart with a song.
It’s amazing what praising can do,
Hallelujah.

In Psalm 89:15 , the psalmist declares, “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim You, who walk in the light of Your presence, O Lord.” In this passage, we discover that there is power in praise. And my experience tells me this is true for when I have personally made the decision to fix my eyes on God, and give Him praise, no matter what’s staring me in the face, I begin to experience the release of those struggles over me.

I have been thinking about the power of praise today, and in looking at the Scriptures, here are some reasons I have found to praise God…

Praising God produces a revived and rejoicing heart when we are downcast and discouraged.

Notice that praising God is a choice we make and how praising God lifts our souls in Psalm 63:1-4, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen You in the sanctuary and beheld Your power and Your glory. Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You. I will praise You as long as I live, and in Your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise You.”

Praising God raises an awareness of how we have fallen short, and leads us to confess, repent, and appropriate His forgiveness.

In Isaiah 6:1-5 we read that, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him were seraphs, each with six wings: with two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Praising generates triumphant faith.

One of the most striking illustrations of this is found in 2 Chronicles 20. King Jehoshaphat and Judea are about to be attacked by their enemies. Jehoshaphat calls the people to prayer and fasting to seek the Lord regarding how they should respond. The Lord tells them not to worry because the battle isn’t theirs but His. He gives them the battle plan and assures them of His presence and deliverance. Jehoshaphat then does something incredible: he appoints a choir to go ahead of the army, singing and praising the Lord for His holiness. Jehoshaphat demonstrated great faith in God’s plan by appointing a choir to lead His army into battle. In an awesome demonstration of great faith, they marched off singing, praising, and thanking the Lord for His enduring love. And here is what happened as a result: As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated (2 Chronicles 20:22).

Praise invites His presence.

God dwells close to us when we praise Him. He lives there. He looks for it.  As it says in Psalm 22:3, God “inhabits the praises of His people.”

As Christ followers we have a choice every day…To live in the worry and stress of our self-absorbed, fast track world. Or, we can ask God to help us take our eyes off all that may be swirling around us and to look up to Him, the One who holds it all together! And as the classic hymn goes, when we do, we will see that “the things of Earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”

God longs for us to know the power of His presence. He desires to bless us more than we could imagine. His Spirit urges us onward, calling us closer. And in response to His invitation, may we open our mouths and sing, for its amazing what praising can do!

Tell Your Story

tumblr_m4kwqpURcm1rwoq6lo1_500Who doesn’t love a good story? Whether it’s a story told on a riveting television show, the big screen, or a page-turning book, we all love a good story—especially one with a happy ending!

For me, I love to hear the stories of changed lives! In fact, it’s one of the things that motivates me as a minister. And it’s one of the reasons why I love “testimony night” at Celebrate Recovery! I love hearing the stories of how people overcame their hurts, habits, or hang-ups. And in hearing the stories, I believe we all glean insights into our own journeys toward wholeness, as we identify with their struggle and find the hope and courage necessary to face our own character defects.

There is power in the story of our lives. And in telling our story, our hearts become full of gratitude, as we recall God’s faithfulness in the land of the living. You see, while most of our stories include a period of hopelessness, trauma, or addiction, they usually have a ‘redemptive ending.’ That doesn’t mean that our lives have become rosy or problem free. Instead, the stories remind us of the journey we’re on, recalling that it’s about progress, not perfection.

We all have a story to tell! And when we share our story for His glory, something amazing happens. It offers a powerful witness to those who don’t yet know Christ, and brings hope and inspiration to those who call Jesus their Savior. So tell your story often and tell it well, for you may never know the impact it can make in the life of another.

The E’s of Decision Making

4260399_300x300While the Scriptures give us a lot of direction for life, there are a lot of issues we face that don’t seem to have a direct scriptural response. In other words, the Bible seems silent. But in actuality, the Scriptures are not silent on these matters. Instead, the Bible gives Christians the liberty to make God-glorifying decisions based on their convictions and principles from God’s word.

As followers of Jesus, God desires us to reflect his character, conduct and commitments, yet each day we are faced with lots of choices that the Bible seems unclear on. In other words, what does the Bible say about the movies we watch, the music we listen to, and the activities we engage in. Well, below is a list of questions, based on the principles of God’s word that can help guide you when making choices, in what I call the grey areas of life:

  1. Expedience: Will it be spiritually profitable?
    “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything.  – 1 Cor. 6:12
  2. Edification: Will it build me up?
    “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.  – I Cor. 10:23
  3. Excess: Will it slow me down in the race?
    Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. – Hebrews 12:1
  4. Enslavement: Will it bring me into bondage?
    I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. – 1 Cor. 6:12
  5. Equivocation: Will it hypocritically cover my sin? Does it give me a license to sin?
    You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. – Galatians 5:13
  6. Encroachment: Will it violate my conscience?
    He who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin. – Romans 14:23
  7. Example: Will it strengthen and help other Christians by example?
    Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. – Romans 14:13
  8. Evangelism: Will it lead others to Christ?
    Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved. – 1 Cor. 10:32-33
  9. Emulation: Will it be consistent with Christ-likeness?
    Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. – I John 2:6
  10. Exultation: Will it glorify God?
    So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.1 Corinthians 10:31
  • So what questions do you have? Run them through the principles above. And remember what is good for me, might not be good for you. So be careful not to judge, but hold true to your own convictions.
  • As a people charged with the task of being salt and light (Matthew 5:13–16), a “royal priesthood” called out of darkness and into light (1 Peter 2:9), we must consider how our choices contribute or detract from our calling.

A Thanksgiving Prayer

Thanksgiving IstanbulPraise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalm 103:1-5

Dear heavenly Father, we join King David, on this Thanksgiving Day, in rehearsing just a few of the multiplied reasons why we love being your children—why we love being loved by you. By your Holy Spirit, free us over the course of these next several hours to abound in gratitude and overflow with thanksgiving, that we might offer you the heart-filled praise of which you alone are worthy.

Father, here are a just a few of the way-too-easy-to-forget benefits that you give us so richly and fully in Christ:

We praise you for being the God who forgives all of our sins. Because of what you’ve done for us in Jesus, all of our sins—past, present and future—sins by our words, thoughts and deeds, all of them have been forgiven. When we trusted Jesus, you didn’t give us a clean slate and a second chance at life; you gave us a new heart and your robed us in Jesus’ perfect righteousness. Hallelujah, for such a standing in grace!

We praise you for being the God who heals all our diseases. Everything about us is broken—everything about us bears the effects of sin and death, but you are the God who is making all things new through Jesus—all things. In this life, the healing journey has begun—a story with a guaranteed ending of whole-being health—in body, heart and soul. We will be healthy forever! Hallelujah, for such a living hope!

We praise you for being the God who redeems our lives from all kinds of “pits”—from the pits into which we have aimlessly fallen in life; from the ones into which we are thrown by our enemies; and from the ones into which we foolishly jump. Nothing will ever separate us from your sovereign and sufficient grace.  Hallelujah, your name is Redeemer!

We praise you for crowing us with love and compassion. You have taken our garland of guilt and shame and have crowned us with the victory of your beloved Son, Jesus. He has triumphed over sin and death for us. Hallelujah, your banner over us is love and your rejoicing over us is loud!

We praise you for satisfying our desires with good things—partially in this life, and fully in the life to come. You freely give us all things to enjoy, and to share with others. May that be evidenced today, as we gather as family and friends—all in need of your daily mercies and steadfast love. Hallelujah, for intending our joy and for renewing our strength! May everything within us bless you holy and grace-filled name! So very Amen we pray, with gratitude and hope, in Jesus’ name.

The Early Heroes

indexThis is part of a series, celebrating those who have cheered me on in the race…

What motivates someone to invest in the life of a teenager? It certainly can’t be a paycheck, as teachers and youth pastors are some of the most underpaid workers in the marketplace. There has to be something of greater significance and purpose for these unsung heroes who give sacrificially to make an investment in the life of a teenager.

For those early “heroes” in my journey of faith, I believe it was their love for God and love for others that motivated them to make an investment in me. Now, at the time, I had no realization what they were doing, but through their investment of time and friendship, they served to lay a solid foundation of faith on which I was able to build upon in my life.

As a teenager, I was incredibly blessed to be part of one of the largest youth programs of its day, Campus After Dark. It had an incredible presence on the local high school campuses and an incredible bunch of youth interns and workers. The youth staff was fun, well liked and cool! We played wacky games, learned about God and served our community. And in my humble opinion, we had one of the best youth pastors in the nation, Mike Maples.

Through Campus After Dark, I learned about character, leadership and life. But it was the relationships that I formed that helped those spiritual truths become reality, as they lived the Christian life in front of me. Two of those stand outs were, Dennis Bennett and Dan McElroy. While I can’t pinpoint the first time I met these guys, they shaped my view of God and their encouragement helped me through the difficult teen years. They took a genuine interest in me. One that went beyond the confines of our youth program. They shared their struggles, their ambitions and what they were learning as a follower of Jesus. They also took me to ballgames, concerts and bought me pizza!

I remember one night when Dennis and I went to a San Francisco Giants game at Candlestick Park. It went extra innings and we got the “Croix de Candlestick” button at the conclusion of the game. As a teenager, that was pretty cool, especially given that it was a school night. Dennis and I also played racquetball together. Those moments of fun, allowed me to hear truth from Dennis, because I knew he wanted the best for me. So when the hard conversations came, I listened, especially when he spoke from his own experience.

It was Dan’s eclectic taste in music that connected us together. But his influence went far beyond music and I will never forget a talk we had right before I headed off to college. His “make it or break it” talk motivated me to go the distance in my Christian faith. In fact, since that talk, the number one hope for my life has been to “finish well” the race that God has called me to. But the immediate application of that talk, was to plug into a church and a Christian group at UC Santa Barbara as soon as I got there. That advice served me well in college, but Dan also made sure I stayed the course in college, often checking in with me, sending me money for pizza and praying for me behind the scenes.

So what’s the purpose in all this? First, it’s an expression of gratitude from a grateful heart and a way to say thanks to God and to those he put in my life. Secondly, it’s a reminder that the Christian life is one that is given away. It is meant to be shared with others. This was Jesus’ exhortation in Matthew 28:18-20 when he told us to “go and make disciples of all men” and Paul’s expression in 2 Timothy 2:2, when he told Timothy, “the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” Finally, it’s my way of recalling God’s faithfulness in my life, as I recall His goodness in the land of the living.

So, Dan and Dennis, thank you for making a difference in my life! I am grateful for your influence and for being among the “cloud of witnesses” in my life.

God’s Grace

ephesians2-8-9I did absolutely nothing to earn my salvation. God orchestrated the steps. He is always swimming upstream.

My journey toward Jesus began with an invitation to attend Thursday Night LIve, a youth ministry of First Baptist Church of San Mateo. A college student was outside my middle school handing out fliers for free root beer floats. That hooked my friends and I, so we decided that we would meet up at the church that night to check this group out.

I almost didn’t go that night. Dinner was unusually late and I was afraid of walking into the meeting without my friends. However, I somehow found the courage to walk into the room and quickly found my friends. I missed about half the meeting, but in the end I got my free root beer float and decided to come back the following week. In fact, I kept coming back because I noticed something different there. The people seemed to have a warm sincerity and genuine love of life.

So God used the program of Thursday Night Live and the youth leaders to begin drawing me to himself.  And later that year I would commit my life to Jesus at a camp that they would invite me to.

Yep, my gift of salvation had nothing to do with me. I didn’t earn it. I didn’t do a thing to prove my love or devotion to God before I could receive it. It was God ordained. God pursued. However, God did use some extraordinary people, who were obedient to his leading and direction to pursue me. People like Doug Patterson who was willing to stand in front of my middle school and hand out fliers about the Thursday Night Live program. And folks like Danny Waller who took an interest in a junior high kid and was bold enough to share God’s plan of salvation with me. As well as the generosity of First Baptist Church of San Mateo and/or an anonymous donor who was willing to scholarship me to camp.

I am forever grateful to God and his grace in my life. And I am forever grateful for those who reflected the love and grace of God to me.

34 Years with Jesus

971432_10151584246129397_1426969184_nAugust 14th will mark my 34th year as a follower of Jesus! I remember that night well. It was a summer night in mid-August at Camp Sugar Pine, just outside of Yosemite National Park.

I was going into high school that fall and had never attended a camp in my life. I couldn’t afford to go to camp, so I didn’t even consider it, when it was mentioned at the youth group. However, someone at the church, decided to make an investment in me and made a way for me to attend high school camp on scholarship! I didn’t quite know what to expect, but God had something great in store for me that week.

It was a great week! One in which I made new friends, had a ton of fun and as a “city boy” enjoyed God’s creation. That week, I also heard of a God who loved me, made a way for me to know him personally, and who had great plans for me. And although I had attended church as a kid, that Thursday night of camp, it all made sense to me and I invited Jesus to come into my life, trusted him to forgive my sins and asked him to take control of my life. I remember that night laying on the roof of the church bus gazing into the sky. I had never seen so many stars in my life and I remember being overwhelmed by the way God was revealing himself to me that night. The message I took away from that camp, was one of hope. I left with a sense that God had great plans for me. And while I didn’t quite understand it at the time, I recall, being overwhelmed by this message of hope and in the reality that I was a new creation in Christ.

As I approach my 34th birthday as a new creation in Christ, I am overwhelmed by the faithfulness of my God. These last 34 years have been an amazing journey. Filled with amazing people who have helped me know God better and serve him well.

In Lamentations 3:21, it is written, “This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope.” So in following the wisdom of this verse, I am going to spend the next few weeks recalling. Recalling the faithfulness of God in my life by recalling the people, the places and the things God used to shape me into the man that I am today. I think it’s going to be a great journey. One that I believe will build my faith, develop a greater capacity for gratitude in my heart and enlarge my hope for the future. Yes, this I recall and therefore I have hope. I invite you to follow along on the journey.

Anyway

line-1Back in 1968, Kent M. Keith wrote the Paradoxical Commandments as part of a booklet for student leaders. These commandments, as penned by Keith, were rumored to have once hung on the wall of Mother Theresa and inspired a blockbuster song for Martina McBride.

I love the wisdom in these words! For in this life people are going to hurt us, disappoint us, and even betray us. But in those moments of pain or anger, we can rise above the circumstances and choose to love, forgive and extend grace, even if its undeserved. That’s a tough assignment at times, but with God’s help, it is possible. Because, instead of being consumed or paralyzed by what someone thinks or their selfishness behavior, we choose instead to live in the flow of the Spirit, and in doing so, experience love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness and self control (Galatians 5:22-23). So consider these words and don’t let your disappointment in others lock you into an unhappy past, when God has a joyful future for you.

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

Palm Sunday Reflection

palm-sunday-title-slide053I’m not sure how the word spread, but as Jesus was preparing to enter Jerusalem, the people of Israel gathered and awaited his arrival. Now up to this point, the Jews knew of the miracles that Jesus had done, and that he was a remarkable teacher, but this great gathering wasn’t about celebrating what Jesus had done, rather it was a greeting of hopeful expectation of what Jesus was about to do! You see, all along Jesus had been teaching that the Kingdom of God was at hand, and for some reason the Jews believed that the long awaited Messiah, the future king of Israel was about to present himself and liberate the people from the oppression of their Roman rulers.

So the city was wild with excitement and I imagine that as they waited the people imagined what this moment might look like. Perhaps they pictured a military King who would ride into town on a stallion prepared for battle. Or they imagined a mighty King who would bring soldiers with him, perhaps even some chariots. Or they thought about a powerful king who would finally take his rightful thrown as the King of the Jews.

But as soon as Jesus came into plain view, there was no stallion for this Messiah, just a donkey on loan. There was no army for this Messiah, just a small band of common fisherman. And this Messiah was no defeater of Romans; he was just a Galilean carpenter.

Now I imagine that if we were to find ourselves in the crowd today – yelling and cheering and waving our palm branches as Jesus enters into Jerusalem, that we like the Jews would probably be caught up in the emotion of the moment, so excited that the moment of liberation had finally come! And yet, as Jesus turns the corner, something within us balks as Jesus approaches on a donkey, and our grasp around our cloaks begins to tighten, and we ask, “Is this really the Messiah?”

And just like the Jewish people in this story had to do, we have to lay down our cloaks before Jesus, setting aside our assumptions, our hopes, our plans AND worship Jesus for who He is, not what we want Him to be. You see the Jews wanted a reigning king and instead welcomed a suffering servant! And while Jesus wasn’t going to bring the political liberation they were hoping for, I imagine that there were some who got a glimpse of Messiah for who is truly is and what he longs to do in our lives…bring us true spiritual liberation!

So I think the questions for us this day is: What kind of king do you prefer to follow? What’s stopping you from laying down our cloaks before Jesus? Why are you holding on so tight? And would it really be so bad if we let go? Would it really be so bad if we trusted God more than we trusted ourselves? I think if we’re able to do that – we’ll be one step closer to experiencing the liberation that Jesus came to bring.

Heaven is For Real Movie Review

MV5BNjc3MzYzMTUzNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTYzNzI2MDE@._V1_SX214_I just returned from having the opportunity to see an advance screening of the movie, Heaven is for Real, which releases nationally on Wednesday, April 16. In case you missed the book’s national prominence, Heaven is for Real, is the true story of a four-year old boy named Colton, who experiences heaven during an emergency surgery. After his near death experience, Colton talks about looking down to see the doctor operating on him and his dad praying in the waiting room. The family doesn’t know what to believe about Colton’s experience, so they doubt, but soon the evidence is clear.

Having not read the book, I didn’t know what to expect. But I was pleasantly surprised. Overall, I felt that the film delivered an entertaining, moving and inspirational perspective on the topic of heaven. In fact, I would say it was probably one of the most professionally done “faith-based” movies I have ever seen. The cast is solid, the acting stellar, and Connor Corum, the 4-year-old boy who plays Colton, is simply adorable. In addition, Greg Kinnear turns in a very emotional performance as Todd Burpo, the father/pastor who is faced with whether or not to believe his son’s account of “Heaven.”

While I appreciated the authentic portrayal of a pastor who struggled with doubts, how to pay the bills, and his own sense of pride, I did feel that the producers muddled the message about heaven, most likely to make it easier for the non-Christian community to swallow. However I will say this, there was no compromising of the message that heaven is the place where Jesus resides!

Although I did have some issues with the film, I believe that the film will serve as a great conversation starter to get people talking about God, heaven and the afterlife. And that’s what director Randall Wallace and the producers likely had in mind. I also believe that the movie can prove to be very healing and hopeful for those who’ve experienced loss and need to be reminded of the fact that heaven IS for real! Therefore, I would encourage you to go and see it.

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