The importance of worship.

I’ve often been in meetings where the songs that are being sung have long outlived their day. Don’t get me wrong, at one time they had power and carried revelation and a weighty anointing, but they’ve become familiar and stale. In these services rarely will there be a fresh release from Heaven because the atmosphere that’s being created is not filled with faith, passion, and fresh revelation. People just get stuck in song mode.

Our worship is the key to bringing the new sounds and realms of glory into the earth. It is the song of the Lord that flows from His heart through ours. As we worship, we usher in streams of Heaven that change the atmosphere in which we live. As we join together and our worship intensifies, it will lift us into another realm – the glory realm.

The new sound that is being released is the sound of His voice riding on the praises of His people. God sings His song through us, releasing the sound of Heaven on earth. The angels listen for the new sound; when they hear it, they come from other nations just to worship. All of Heaven and earth long to worship and see what God may reveal next. Anyone can worship, but not everyone will worship with the new song of God. Until we sing the new song, the greater realm of the Spirit will not be released in our midst.

There is a song in our spirits that can take us to new places in the glory realm. Nobody can do it for us; we need to do it ourselves. When we release the song that lies dormant in our spirits, it will lift into a greater glory of His presence.

The new song is the now song. It is the prophetic word of the Lord song that must be sung. The angels search for the aroma that is released from the new song, drawing them like bees to a flower. When they come, they begin to stir the atmosphere of glory and help release the miraculous. The devil, however, hates when we step over into the new song. He is powerless against it and is locked out of the glory as the high praises are released.

I’ve been in worship services where the cloud becomes so thick that a golden hue begins to form in the atmosphere. I’ve been privileged to capture the glory cloud on video. I’ve seen many photos, but rarely have I seen the cloud on film. When God’s people hold back their praises, it doesn’t seed the heavens for the much needed glory rain.

Many people get caught up in asking God to rend the heavens and come down. They cry and call out to God for a visitation when all the while God is saying, “You come up here!” The heavens are open – Jesus has already cleared the way for us to access the Father. “You come to Me.” Our praises rise like incense to the Lord drawing Him to us. Our praise goes up and the glory comes down.

As we sing the new song, God releases His Word, which brings the framework of Heaven into the now. This is why spontaneous supernatural explosions of glory manifest when His presence is in the room. The superior realm of Heaven literally collides with the inferior, natural realm of earth, causing the inferior dimension to be instantly affected and changed. This is why it’s mandatory that we change the way we worship. We need to learn what brings Heaven – the old ways won’t cut it. Only the high praises of God will release the new dimension we long for.

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Why we dress modestly.

Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness – with good works // 1 Timothy 2:9-10

Is dressing modestly just an outdated cultural standard from the 50s? Turn on the television, go to the movies, or flip through the pages of just about any magazine and it appears that our society has lost the value of modesty. People dress in clothing and styles that are designed to reveal and to bring considerable attention to their bodies.

To suggest that we need to dress with modesty is often looked on as “restraining” or “limiting our freedom.” This argument, however, overlooks the personal rewards of living and dressing modestly.

Modesty in dress sends a message of purity and honor. It puts an emphasis on and values the inner person over outward attractiveness. It says that a person is worth far more than what meets the eye. There is a depth of character that rises above beauty or charm. When we dress modestly, we are saying that we possess inner qualities for which we should gain appropriate attention and value from others.

When we choose to dress in a provocative way, we send a message that we believe our value comes from our looks rather than from our heart. Skimpy clothing says that our worth is in our sex appeal. This is a weak foundation to build self-esteem or self-worth. What happens when we age and the wrinkles start showing? Where will the sense of value and worth come from then? For various reason (e.g. past sexual abuse, low self-esteem) some believe that their worth comes from how good they look and how many heads they can turn. But that can leave a person feeling empty and alone. All of us, ultimately, want to be pursued and loved deeply because of our hearts and minds, not for our bodies. Dressing in a showy fashion puts the focus on our outward appearance, not on our heart.

The Bible places a high priority on modesty. In 1 Timothy 2:9, for example, it teaches that Christian women are to dress modestly. They are to focus on their inner attractiveness rather than being overly concerned about outward appearance. This does not mean that they shouldn’t take care of themselves, look their best, and enjoy their beauty. It means that they should not use their God-given beauty for selfish, self-centered reasons, like competing with other women or gaining the lustful attention of men.

Modesty demonstrates self-control, which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit ( Galatians 5:22-23 ). Those who understand the principles of modesty acknowledge human sexuality and the tendency toward self-promotion. But they control those inclinations by choosing to express themselves with humility. Immodesty, on the other hand, can create a false sense of security and self-esteem because it puts too much emphasis on outward appearance.

It can be difficult to maintain modesty when we think of it in terms of it being “limiting.” But if we consider the personal rewards of modesty: self-respect, honor, and self-control – the price is too high not to be modest. 

On dreams and visions.

And it shall come to pass afterward,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions // Joel 2:28

In these last days I believe God is choosing to use dreams and visions as a means of speaking to His people and giving direction and answers to prayer.

Dreams and visions differ. Dreams are usually more prophetic and symbolic, not usually literal. Visions are actual pictures of what will happen. Though dreams take more experience and maturity to interpret than visions, they often offer much more detail once interpreted. That is why it says in the Bible that “old men will dream dreams and young men see visions” (Joel 2:28). It may take more maturity to understand dreams than visions – a picture can say a thousand words. 

For instance, Peter had a dream about eating all the unclean animals. It was in no way a literal dream. God was not telling him to go to an “all you can eat” pork and shrimp buffet. Peter was even surprised about the dream and told God that he had never eaten animals considered unclean. Actually the dream was speaking metaphorically about bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles, who were considered unclean by the Jews of that day. In fact, they were forbidden to even enter the home of a Gentile. Therefore, Peter’s dream was revolutionary and symbolic, not a new doctrine about what Jews could eat. For the first time he was to share the Gospel with the Gentiles. The proper interpretation of the dream changed the entire course of the Church resulting in Cornelius becoming the first Gentile convert (Acts 10).

How can you experience dreams, visions, and third heaven encounters? One thing I have noticed is that many people receive visions and dreams while sleeping, daydreaming, or soaking in the Spirit – all are in a relaxed state. Often upon awakening I hear the voice of God or receive a vision. Why do people receive better when they are resting or sleeping? When you are resting,your mind is relaxed and able to receive from Heaven. When your mind is so full of the cares of life, when God tries to speak to you, you unknowingly block it out because the “mailbox is full.” When you are praying but fully awake, often it is still hard to see a vision or hear the voice of God because your mind is prayerfully active with many thoughts and concerns. 

One way to receive revelation, visions, and dreams while awake is to lie down while listening to soft worship music and simply relax – we call this “soaking.” Then see what images pop into your mind and spirit and go with them. Oftentimes God speaks when we are still. Also, before going to sleep you can ask God to give you a dream and He will often grant your request as you are trusting your faith dreams and asking in faith. I notice that I receive more dreams when I ask Him for them than when I don’t. Ask and you shall receive. I also ask Him for visions while I am praying or soaking in His presence. 

Revelation 2:1 // An historical look

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: “The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lamp-stands.” // Revelation 2:1

That Ephesus is the first church the angel addresses makes sense. If one were traveling from Patmos to Asia Minor, Ephesus would be the first of the seven cities that one would encounter. Also the most prominent of them, it was politically more powerful than Pergamos and more favored than Smyrna with regard to the cult of emperor worship.

Symbols of the civil religion filled the city. Augustus (27 BC – AD 14) had allowed Ephesus to build temples in his honor, although he himself did not care for emperor worship. Domitian (AD 81-96) proclaimed the city the foremost center of the imperial cult in Roman Asia. Also it became renowned for the worship of Artemis (Acts 19:23-40), the practice of magic (verses 13-19), and its large Jewish community (verses 8, 9). All of these elements would have made the book of Revelation relevant to the church in Ephesus.

Shortly after the time of Revelation the church received another letter, this time from Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch in Syria. Ten Roman soldiers had taken him into custody and were transporting him through Asia Minor to Rome, where he would die in the arena. Along the way the soldiers allowed him to meet with other Christians. One memorable encounter was the warm welcome in Smyrna from Polycarp, the leader of the local church.

While Ignatius was in Smyrna, four representatives also came from Ephesus to encourage him. They included the bishop of Ephesus, Onesimus, possibly the former runaway slave mentioned in Paul’s letter to Philemon. Ignatius responded to their visit by sending a letter to the church at Ephesus. Later on he also dispatched letters to Philadelphia and Smyrna.

In his letter to the Ephesians Ignatius thanks the church for its kindness, praises its unity, and warns them to be subject to their bishop and not allow divisions in the church. As did John in the three New Testament Epistles, Ignatius considered Docetism, a theory that rejected the full humanity of Jesus, as the greatest thing facing the church at that time.

Ignatius also sent a letter to the Christians in Rome, asking them not to intercede with the emperor on his behalf. He seems to have been almost eager for martyrdom, in order that he might sooner be with Christ. In fact, he declared that if the wild beasts were not hungry he would urge them on. While his eagerness for martyrdom may strike us as odd, his love for Jesus would have been a great model for a church that was lacking in love.

 

On the prosperity gospel.

In the prosperity gospel, the believer is told to use God, whereas the truth of biblical Christianity is just the opposite – God uses the believer. Prosperity theology sees the Holy Spirit as a power to be put to use for whatever the believer wills. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is a person who enables the believer to do God’s will. The prosperity gospel movement closely resembles some of the destructive greed sects that infiltrated the early church. Paul and the other apostles were not accommodating to or conciliatory with the false teachers who propagated such heresy. They identified them as dangerous false teaches and urged Christians to avoid them.

Paul warned Timothy about such men in 1 Timothy 6:5, 9-11. These men of “corrupt mind” supposed godliness was a means of gain and their desire for riches was a trap that brought them “into ruin and destruction.” The pursuit of wealth is a dangerous path for Christians and one which God warns about: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (v. 10). If riches were a reasonable goal for the godly, Jesus would have pursued it. But He did not, preferring instead to have no place to lay His head (Matthew 8:20) and teaching His disciples to do the same. It should also be remembered that the only disciple concerned with wealth was Judas.

Paul said covetousness is idolatry (Ephesians 5:5) and instructed the Ephesians to avoid anyone who brough a message of immorality or covetousness (Ephesians 5:6-7). Prosperity teaching prohibits God from working on His own, meaning that God is not Lord of all because He cannot work until we release Him to do so. Faith, according to the “Word of Faith” doctrine, is not submissive trust in God; faith is a formula by which we manipulate the spiritual laws that prosperity teachers believe govern the universe. As the name “Word of Faith” implies, this movement teaches that faith is a matter of what we say more than whom we trust or what truths we embrace and affirm in our hearts.

A favorite term in the prosperity movement is “positive confession.” This refers to the teaching that words themselves have creative power. What you say determines everything that happens to you. Your confessions, especially the favors you demand of God, must all be stated positively and without wavering. Then God is required to answer (as though man could require anything of God). Thus, God’s ability to bless us supposedly hangs on our faith. James 4:13-16 clearly contradicts this teaching: “No listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry in business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Far from speaking things into existence in the future, we do not even know what tomorrow will bring or even whether we will be alive.

Instead of stressing the importance of wealth, the Bible warns against pursuing it. Believers, especially leaders in the church (1 Timothy 3:3), are to be free from the love of money (Hebrews 13:5). The love of money leads to all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Jesus warned, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). In sharp contrast to the prosperity emphasis on gaining money and possessions in this life, Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19). The irreconcilable contradictions between prosperity teaching and the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is best summed up in the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:24, “You cannot serve both God and money.” Or as the rapper Shai Linne puts it “If you come to Jesus for money, He’s not your God, money is.”

Where feet may fail.

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand will be my guide.
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now.

Every wave presents us with a choice to make, and quite often, unfortunately, I have stood, both resolute and terrified, staring down a wave. I have been smacked straight on with the force of the water, tumbled, disoriented, gasping for breath and for my swimsuit bottoms, and spit onto shore, embarrassed and sand-burned, standing up only to get knocked down again, refusing to float on the surface and surrender to the sea.

There were also a few glittering, very rare moments of peace and sweetness, when I felt the goodness and familiarity of people who loved me, when God’s voice sounded tender and fatherly to my ears, when I was able to release my breath and my fists for just a moment and float. And as I mine back through my heart and memories, I notice something interesting: the best moments of the last few years were the very rare moments when I’ve allowed these changes to work their way through my life, when I’ve lived up to my faith, when I’ve been able even for a minute to see life as more than my very own plan unfolding on my schedule, when I’ve practiced acceptance, when I’ve floated instead of fought, when I’ve rested, even for a moment, on the surface instead of wrestling with the water itself. And those moments are like heaven.

So that’s where my mind and heart are these days: more moments of heaven, and less locking of the knees. More awareness of God’s presence and action and ability, and less stranglehold on my fear and anxiety. More floating, and less getting tumbled.

And while I certainly didn’t thrive on the process, I’m really thankful for the result. I’m thankful for what change forced me to face within myself. I found myself confronted by the whiny, entitled child I had become. I like what got stripped away – like my expecations – and what was revealed. I appreciate the things that became grounded more deeply in my spirit and in my relationship with others. I respect the things that change forged in my life, even though it was very painful.

More than anything, I know now that I never want to live that way again – I don’t like the person I became, and I’m not proud of the contagious fear and ugliness I left in my wake everywhere I went. Again, this is my confession, and my promise: I want to live a new way, the way I’ve always believed, but temporarily lost sight of.

I know that I can make it through more than I thought, with less than I thought. I know better than to believe that the changes are over, and I know better than to believe the next ones will be easier, but I’ve learned the hard way that change is one of God’s greatest gifts and one of his most useful tools. I’ve learned the hard way that change can push us, pull us, rebuke and remake us. It can show us who we’ve become, in the worst ways, and also in the best ways. I’ve learned that it’s not something to run away from, as though we could, and I’ve learned that in many cases, change is not a function of life’s cruelty but instead a function of God’s graciousness.

The world is changing all the time, at every moment. Someone is falling in love right now, and someone is being born. A dream is coming true, another dream is crashing and crumbling. A marriage is ending somewhere, and it’s somebody’s wedding day, maybe even right in the same town. It’s all happening.

If you dig in and fight the changes, they will smash you to bits. They’ll hold you under, drag you across the rough sand, scare and confuse you. But if you can find it within yourself, in the wildest of seasons, just for a moment, to trust in the goodness of God, who made it all and holds it all together, you’ll find yourself drawn along to a whole new place, and there’s truly nothing sweeter. Unclench your fist, unlock your knees and also the door to your heart, take a deep breath, and begin to swim. Begin to let the waves do their work in you.

The journey is beautiful.

Mercy on the horizon.

I believe that God is making all things new. I believe that Christ overcame death and that pattern is apparent all through life and history; life from death, water from stone, redemption from failure, connection from alienation. I believe that suffering is part of the narrative, and that nothing really good gets built when everything’s easy. I believe that loss and emptiness and confusion often give way to new fullness and wisdom.

But for a long season, I forgot all those things. I didn’t stop believing in God. It wasn’t a crisis of faith. I prayed and served and pursued a life of faith the way I had before that season and the way I do now in greater measure. But I realized all at once, sitting outside Bethel on a cold dark night, that the story I was telling was the wrong one – or at the very least, an incomplete one. I had been telling the story about how hard it was. That’s not the whole story. the rest of the story is that I failed to live with hope and courage and lived instead a long season of whining, self-indulgence, and fear. This is my confession.

I’m able to see now that what made that season feel so terrible to me were not the changes. What made that season feel so terrible is that I lost track of some of the crucial beliefs and practices that every Christian must carry with them. Possibly a greater tragedy is that I didn’t even know it until much later.

Looking back now I can see that it was more than anything a failure to believe in the story of who God is and what he is doing in this world. Instead of living that story – one of sacrifice and purpose and character – I began to live a much smaller story, and that story was only about me. I wanted an answer, a timeline, and a map. I didn’t want to have to trust God or anything I couldn’t see. I didn’t want to wait or follow. I wanted my old life back, and even while I read the mystics and the prophets, even while I prayed fervently, even while I sat in church and begged for God to direct my life, those things didn’t have a chance to transform me, because under those actions and intentions was a rocky layer of unfaithfulness, fear, and selfishness.

I believe that faith is less like following a GPS through a precise grid of city blocks, and more like being out at sea, a tricky journey, nonlinear and winding, the wind kicking up and then stalling. But what i really wanted in the middle of it was some dry land and a computer-woman’s soothing voice leading me through the mess.

If I’m honest, I prayed the way you order breakfast from a short-order cook: this is what I want. Period. This is what I want. Aren’t you getting this? I didn’t pray for God’s will to be done in my life, or, at any rate, I didn’t mean it. I prayed to be rescued, not redeemed. I prayed for it to get easier, not that I would be shaped in significant ways. I prayed for the waiting to be over, instead of trying to learn something about patience or anything else for that matter.

I couldn’t make peace with uncertainty – but there’s nothing in the biblical narrative that tells us certainty is part of the deal. I couldn’t unclench my hands and my jaw, and I locked my knees and steeled myself in the face of almost every wave. I cried in the shower and alone while driving my best friend’s car. When I looked into my own eyes in the mirror, they seemed flat and lifeless, and things that should have been wonderful left me blank and despairing. Sometimes at parties during this past season, I felt my cheeks trying to smile, but I knew that my eyes weren’t playing along. The tension and anxiety flattened me, and the fear about my future threatened to vacuum up the energy and buoyancy from almost every day, even as I fought to celebrate the good moments. Looking back, it seems like I mostly lost that fight, or, possibly, generously, it was a draw. But his mercy is there, on the horizon, just out of sight but fastly approaching.