Tag Archives: Worship

A Glimpse of Heaven.

Most of us have some idea of what to expect when we arrive in heaven, though views are as varied as the people who hold them. Many anticipate an eternal reunion with friends, family, and loved ones. Others plan to spend eternity playing golf, relaxing on the beach, getting a deep tissue massage from some angelic host, or hiking, biking, and kayaking the heavenly outdoors.

On arriving in heaven many of us expect to enjoy the same activities we did in this world, but without the suffering, sorrow or stress associated with it. In essence, we believe heaven offers everything we liked on earth with none of its problems. But some of what we believe about heaven finds little support in Scripture and at times contradicts it.

While the entirety of heaven will remain a mystery until God calls us home, the Bible offers a brief glimpse into what we can expect. In particular the book of Revelation provides a few pieces to the puzzle. Here are some activities it records in heaven.

#1) Praising God: The apostle John declares that all angels, living creatures, and elders, who number in the hundreds of millions, sing throughout heaven, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12, NKJV). John later informs us that everyone in heaven praises God saying, “Blessing and honor and glory and power, be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13, NKJV). Praising God in speech and in song represents an integral part of the heavenly experience.

#2) Serving God: John states that God rewards the saints who “come out of the great tribulation” by allowing them to come into His presence and “serve Him day and night in His temple” (Revelation 7:14-15, NKJV). According to John, the reward for martyrdom is the opportunity to serve God daily. Later, in a detailed description of heaven and God’s presence he announces, “the Lamb shall be in it and His servants shall serve Him” (Revelation 22:3, NKJV). These verses reveal that serving God is a fundamental feature of heaven.

#3) Worshipping God: John portrays a scene around the throne of God and before the risen Savior in which “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues” cry out with the angels, elders, and living creatures and “worshipped God” (Revelation 7:9-11, NKJV). Worship captures the essence of heaven. In fact, we observe all of heaven worshipping God numerous times in Revelation.

So how does heaven sound? Does the idea of praising, serving, and worshipping God for eternity excite, energize, and inspire you? I hope so, since those activities reflect a significant part of eternal life. As you head into the week consider this: we need not wait until heaven to prioritize these interactions with God. We can praise, serve, and worship Him today and every day of our lives – not just Sundays. In pursuing those activities, we not only enrich our relationship with the Lord, we also catch a glimpse of heaven.

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A Spiritual Bucket List.

Thousands of people created a bucket list following the release of the 2007 hit movie by the same name, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. For those unfamiliar with the film, the bucket list represented a collection of activities and experiences two terminally ill characters wanted to enjoy before their pending deaths. Only the most extreme, adventurous, and extraordinary undertakings made the list; nothing was run-of-the-mill.

For example, they don’t just visit the Great Wall of China; they ride motorcycles on it. They don’t just visit historical sites of local significance; they travel to India and Egypt to admire the Taj Mahal and the Great Pyramids. They don’t settle for visiting a regional peak to climb; they journey to the base of Mount Everest. I could go on but you get the point.

Imagine how much we could impact our communities, nation, and world, if Christians pursued a similar exercise with our faith – a spiritual bucket list, if you will. Only distinctly Christian activities would qualify – those that draw us closer to Christ, advance His kingdom, or fulfill His will. Similar to activities on the secular bucket list, these undertakings would require a significant commitment of time and resources, and involve a degree of adventure, discipline, and courage. Such a process would certainly stretch our faith.

Of course, you should pray for God’s guidance as you create the list. In fact, this exercise might open your heart and eyes to an assignment (or two) God has communicated in the past but you were too busy or distracted to hear. Here are ten possibilities to stimulate your creative juices and ignite your imagination. No doubt readers will think of hundreds more.

1) Memorize an entire chapter of the Bible.

2) Worship with believers in an under-developed country.

3) Spend one summer of your retirement volunteering with an organization that fulfills the Great Commission or meets basic human needs.

4) Start an orphanage overseas.

5) Throw a lavish dinner for the homeless and destitute in your community. Make it an annual event.

6) Share the good news of Jesus with one thousand people and follow-up with them to answer questions and offer encouragement.

7) Fast one day a week on behalf of the persecuted church, an unreached people group, or for revival in this country.

8) Spend your vacation in an area hostile to Christianity and encourage local believers with your presence.

9) Donate twenty percent of your 401(k) this year to fund evangelism efforts in places where Christ’s love and sacrifice are unknown. Then travel to those places and participate in the sponsored activities.

10) Shift careers to work for a Christian or non-profit organization in desperate need of your God-given talents.

Take time this week to begin creating your spiritual bucket list. Add to the list as the Lord lays on your heart more extraordinary activities and assignments. Put the list in a conspicuous place to keep it top of mind. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Act with the same urgency the characters in the movie did to fulfill each item on their list. And don’t be afraid to include activities that seem too enormous, ridiculous, or farfetched. Those are exactly the types of undertakings God honors.

Unconditional Faith.

One of the most powerful examples of faith found in the Bible involves three young men named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. Many of you will recall they were exiled Jews living in Babylon, along with their friend, Daniel. Over time they had distinguished themselves as leaders and were entrusted with administrative powers to manage the king’s affairs.

Eventually, the king issued an edict demanding everyone worship a statue of gold, a violation of the Lord’s command that people worship Him alone. Anyone defying the decree would face immediate death by being thrown into a fiery furnace. The declaration forced these young men to make a critical decision. Where would their loyalty lie: with God or with the king; with their faith or with their careers? Would they compromise their faith by trying to have it both ways: loving the Lord in private while publicly obeying the king’s decree?

Once the order was made public, colleagues immediately leveled accusations against the three young men. The rabble-rousers informed the king that this trio of Jewish exiles refused to obey his proclamation. Furious, the king demanded their instant obedience, taunting them with this rhetorical question: “Who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?” (Daniel 3:15, NKJV).

The young men responded, “O king, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand” (vs. 16-17). What a bold witness. The men not only refused to obey the king, they used the encounter to testify of God and His omnipotence. Instead of destroying their faith, the king’s threat fueled it.

The three men then declared, “But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up” (vs. 18, emphasis added). With those words the Jewish exiles removed any doubt about their commitment to God. They knew He could rescue them from the fiery furnace and the painful death that would result.

But if, for whatever reason, He chose not to, they would refrain from denying Him or serving a false god. Their faith was not predicated on God blessing them, making life easy, or protecting them in the face of danger. They trusted Him implicitly, even if doing so yielded intense pain and a brutal death. They understood that God worked in ways that did not always make sense to them and therefore would obey Him no matter the cost. What a powerful testimony.

Job possessed a similar perspective and evidenced a comparable commitment to God. His faith was not predicated on having his desires met or his agenda fulfilled. It did not ebb and flow with the tide of God’s blessings. Instead, it remained steadfast in the face of whatever circumstances he confronted, including a series of relentless and brutal attacks by Satan that left all ten of his children dead, destroyed his wealth, and weakened his health.

Yet in response to that collection of tragic events, Job didn’t shake his fist to the sky and curse God. Nor did he renounce his faith in the Lord. Instead, Scripture tells us “he fell to the ground and worshiped” (Job 1:20, NKJV). What a remarkable reaction. Despite being unaware of what had precipitated the catastrophes or why God would allow them, Job instinctively placed his trust in the Lord and praised Him. He knew that out of the ash heap of overwhelming pain and tragedy God would raise up something good.

Not surprisingly, Job’s response pleased God, who subsequently described him as “a blameless and upright man who fears God and shuns evil and still holds fast to his integrity (Job 2:3). Though obviously grieved and devastated by the news of the calamities, Job resisted the temptation to blame God. Instead, he found solace in his Creator and worshiped Him in the midst of his tears.

That response, however, shocked and angered his wife, who remarked contemptuously: “Do you still hold to your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9, NKJV). Her statement captures the predominant view of faith in our secular society: unless faith yields immediate and lasting temporal benefits, what’s the point. Sadly, that perspective infects many churchgoers today as well. As long as the sun shines on their lives, they remain loyal to God. But the moment tragedy strikes, their faith weakens or collapses altogether.

Job provided the perfect rebuke to such faith, telling his wife: “You speak as foolish people do. Should we accept good from God but not adversity as well?” (Job 2:10). Later Job would proclaim, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15, NKJV). Job did not withhold his own life from God nor condition his obedience on understanding God’s purpose. He assented to follow, worship, and praise God irrespective of his circumstances or the condition of his life.

Do you possess a similar commitment to God? Is your faith as steadfast in the midst of painful trials and difficult circumstances as was the faith of Job? Are you willing to obey God, no matter the cost, as were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego? Confronted with a comparable choice between life and death, would you choose the Lord or your life? As our world grows increasingly hostile to God, a modern version of the scenario confronted by that trio of Jewish exiles seems more and more possible in our generation. Are you prepared to stand firm for God? I pray you are.

Pursuing our own glory.

Recently I attended a men’s Bible study that was studying the twelfth chapter of the book of Genesis. After reading the chapter out loud as a group the facilitator asked the men for any initial thoughts they had on the verses. One gentleman referenced verse two where God informs Abram (Abraham), “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:2, NKJV). The man then explained that he believed the verse demonstrates that God wants to make the names of His people great. Specifically, he said the verse provided him the confidence that God planned to make his name great and would do so through his career. Other men agreed and weighed in with equal confidence that God would also make their names great among neighbors, at the church, and in the community.

After the others spoke I interjected that the book of Isaiah provides an applicable verse on the matter that we need to consider. In the forty-second chapter God proclaims, “I am the Lord, that is My name; And My glory I will not give to another,” (Isaiah 42:8, NKJV). God leaves no room for ambiguity – He will not share His glory with anyone. David understood this truth when he remarked, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Your name give glory,” (Psalm 115:1, NKJV). I explained that God does not seek to make great the names of men but instead declares the glory of His name alone. Therefore, we ought to pursue Him with humility and in awe rather than explore ways to make our names great.

The others fervently disagreed and insisted these two verses had no application to the saints of God. They wanted to limit their relevance and take a narrow view of them. They even expressed umbrage the verses were mentioned since they were not germane to the conversation.

Sadly, the American church tends to adopt a similar approach to Scripture. We want to universalize verses that capture God’s blessings and promises and insist they apply to all saints, especially when they speak of material blessings and promises of greatness. We often individualize verses and proclaim they represent God’s plan for our own lives when they assert some benefit we desire. At the same time we dismiss as irrelevant and inapplicable any verse that discomforts us or contradicts the plan we have for ourselves. Certainly God would never want us to follow Him down a path that does not align with our own desires, we insist.

But if we examine again the verses above we realize that God gave the promise of a great name to Abram for a specific reason – to bless the other nations of the earth. Nothing in the passage suggests that God wants us to claim the verse as our own and then expect to have Him make our names great. We personalize it to ourselves because that’s what our flesh desires.

Similarly, the verses in Isaiah and Psalm are clearly universal in application because they reflect the omnipotence and worthiness of God, which require we give Him all the glory and praise. But we dismiss the applicability of those verses because they do not advance the narrative we want to believe – that our faith is all about ourselves.

Let me add that the interpretation these men had of the verse in Genesis is not unique to their church, which is by all accounts evangelical and professes orthodox doctrine. Reading Scripture with an eye towards personalizing the verses that appeal to us and rejecting as irrelevant those that do not, represents a disease that plagues most evangelical churches in America today. And no surprise since we have been taught for too long that Jesus came to make our lives better, more pleasant, and fulfill our every desire.

We need to discipline ourselves better as we read the Bible and resist gravitating to any interpretation that gratifies our flesh. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal truth and remove our biases that distort our understanding of His Word – ask God to preclude us from viewing Scripture through the lens of our own agenda.

Otherwise we risk adopting a faith grounded in the desires of our flesh and not in the power of God’s truth – a faith that may well jeopardize our relationship with the Lord.