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Archive for June, 2013

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My wife is going to love this blog. The title is inspired by one of our favorite songs by the BeeGees (remember “Saturday Night Fever,” disco dances? It’s all part of our courting days in college – another story for another time). But it drives home a very good point in our discussion of viewing the mercies of God: we need to know the depth of God’s love and character in order to respond to Him in Whole Life Worship.

Yesterday we looked at expanding the breadth of our God-vision (by the way, you can still get the list of 100 attributes of God from me; email me at wholelifeworship@gmail.com). But even if we could know all the attributes of God’s character and mercies, it could only take us so far. We need to know how deeply God is involved with you and me – in specific ways, not in general.

For example, it is one thing to know that God is loving. It is an altogether different (and more wonderful) thing to know that God is loving … to you! Then to experience this love in specific ways makes this even more wonderful and powerful.

Such knowledge and experience of the depth of God moves and empowers people to things they never imagined possible: like the confused, young man who experienced God’s grace in a way that called him to lead millions of people to salvation in Christ (read “Just As I Am” by Billy Graham). Or Agnes, the humble young woman from Albania, who experienced God’s love so profoundly that she left her family and moved to India to show God’s love to the poorest of the poor (we know her better as Mother Teresa). Certainly their religious background taught them many things about God. But it wasn’t until God went deep with them that this something wonderful happened to them that made them world changers. I call this phenomenon: “Whole Life Worship.” And it happens to anyone who wants to go deep with God.

I want to share two ways we can position ourselves to go deeper with God and see the depths of His love and character for us:

1. Start with an attribute of God, reflect on it, and ask God to show you the depth of His love for you in this attribute. For example, the first of God’s attributes in my list of “100 I Love About You” is “holy.” God is holy. Holy means “set apart, distinct, one of a kind.” There are a couple of Scripture verses in my list that name this quality of God. Read them and reflect upon them. Think about how God is holy. Then think about how God’s love for you is holy – it’s set apart, unique, one of a kind. Then reflect on how God’s holiness has been expressed to you, for you, and in you. If you go deep with God, He will go deep with you. He will take you to places and give you revelation that will blow your mind, melt your heart, and strengthen your will.

2. Start “noticing” the things that happen to you, around you, within you – and ask God, “Is that You?” I love that word, “noticing.” To notice, in the spiritual sense, is to anticipate the activity of God in your “view-finder.” I am convinced that God reveals Himself in thousands of ways each day, but we miss them because we have not been trained to “notice” Him at work. When you notice something, like an unexpected blessing or a song that plays on the radio or witnessing a small act of grace or an insight to Scripture or a gentle breeze on a hot day, then pause, ask God the question (“Is that You?”), and move into that moment – just for a little while. It might be just the break the Holy Spirit was waiting for to get into your life and take you deep! Of course, this means we need to wean ourselves from our “busy-ness” and “urgencies” and “agendas” and technology (text messages, emails, alerts, games, etc.) that keep us so pre-occupied that we fail to notice the small, still things of God that come our way.

One of the things I “noticed” today was how some of the phrases in the song, “How Deep is Your Love,” can be perfectly descriptive of our relationship with God. So I close with these specially chosen lyrics and, instead of seeing it as a love song between two people (like Doug and Letty), make it a prayer of your desire to go deep with God.

I believe in You,

You know the door to my very soul,

You’re the light in my deepest, darkest hour

You’re my Savior when I fall.

 

How deep is Your love, how deep is Your love?

I really need to know … 

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Yeah, this title was partly inspired by the 1999 Heath Ledger/Julia Stiles teen romantic comedy, “Ten Things I Hate About You.” However, it’s also inspired by a spiritual exercise I did several years ago that amazingly renewed my worship of God. But first let me give a little context.

We left our discussion on “viewing the mercies of God” on the topic of 3D perspective. If we can grasp God’s love and character in three dimensions (breadth, height, depth), the natural response of worship flows freely and powerfully. This morning I want to share specifically about how we can expand the “breadth” of seeing God and His mercies.

Several years ago, I led the worship team in a “praise” exercise. I shared the very simple definition (you probably have run across this) that praise is “glorifying God for who He is.” So we did some “popcorn” praise prayers: one sentence prayers that go, “God, I praise You because You are _______ (fill in the blank).” The first five prayers were easy:  “You are loving,” “You are powerful,” “You are holy,” “You are gracious,” “You are forgiving.”

Then, dead silence … for a very long time.

It was a little embarrassing for me, not only because the praise exercise was disintegrating rapidly, but also because I could not come up with more characteristics of God! It was painful to realize that this Pastor of Worship’s “breadth” of viewing God was severely limited.

So over the next few weeks, with Bible in hand, I expanded my list of the five aforementioned qualities of God to 100. Hence the title, “One Hundred Things I Love About You.”

But more important than coming up with a list of attributes, my heart was opened up – wide. My God is not just powerful, loving, holy, gracious and forgiving; he is also Creator, Redeemer, the Provider, my Righteousness, the Alpha and Omega, the good Shepherd, the great I AM, and so on. My God became “bigger” before my very eyes. I think that’s a part of what “magnifying the Lord” means.

I am reminded of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s famous poem, “How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways.” If we really love someone, we should be able to come up with dozens of reasons why. And there are hundreds, if not thousands and millions of reasons why we should love God. But to just say that means nothing. We have to name them, recite them, remember them, meditate on them, expand on them. That’s what “breadth” means: knowing the many, many ways God is great and merciful.

So, how is your “breadth perspective” of God? Try listing out as many qualities of God and then read them over and reflect upon them. Then worship Him … with your whole life!

By the way, if you would like an electronic copy of my “One Hundred Things I Love About You,” email me at wholelifeworship@gmail.com . I’d be happy to send it to you. (Maybe we can compile a list – together – of a thousand things we love about God! J )

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Many Christians think that worship of God is something we have to “make happen.” Whether it is corporate worship or personal worship time, it’s so easy to believe that we or someone (like the Pastor or Worship Leader) has to “get the ball rolling.” And while it’s true that worship requires effort on our part, it’s dangerous to think that we are the ones who initiate it.

First, it’s unbiblical. True worship is always a response to the greatness of God. Worship is the second act. The revelation of God (who He is and what He does) is always the first act.

Romans 12:1, Paul’s definition of worship says:

“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercies, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to the Lord. This is your spiritual act of worship.”

Notice that Paul does not begin with our action (of offering our bodies as a living sacrifice). Rather, the act of worship is in response of what we see God doing: “in view of God’s mercies.” When we see God’s mercies, we then respond. So when the Lord does something good for us, we respond with thanksgiving and gratitude. When the Lord reveals His beauty, majesty and goodness, we respond with praise. When the Lord demonstrates the extent of his sacrifice upon the cross to save us from sin and death, we respond with offering of our lives to His service.

Second, if we think worship was something we initiate, we could easily have expectations that God should respond to us. That’s how the prophets of Baal acted in 1 Kings 18. They thought that if they initiated passionate worship (by dancing, screaming, even cutting themselves), Baal would just have to respond to them. Or course, Baal didn’t respond – mainly because he is not God. But, in my opinion, it is wrong to use worship as a way of getting God to do something for us. That’s manipulation and any God worthy enough to be worshiped would see through that.

And yet it is so easy to fall into that trap! How many times have we used our acts of devotion and worship because we think we can appease Him to do something good for us? If He could only see how spiritual we are, how devoted we are, maybe He will be merciful and gracious to us…

Baloney! He’s already merciful and gracious to us. And He will forever be merciful and gracious to us! Alleluia! Amen!

And that’s the point: Often, the problem with our worship is that we don’t view God’s mercies; we don’t see all the ways He is gracious and merciful to us. God is gracious, but we are unaware. That’s why our worship seems forced or contrived at times. We try to praise Him or thank Him or give our lives to Him, but there’s nothing happening in our souls or minds. It’s not because we don’t believe God is praiseworthy or worthy of worship; of course, we know that. But we have difficulty in centering our hearts and minds on why He is praiseworthy. We have difficulty in specifically seeing and understanding and naming the mercies of God. It escapes us. It eludes us. And, as a result, our worship of God suffers in authenticity and passion.

In the next few blogs I want to explore how we can become more aware of “the mercies of God.” For if we are unaware of the extent of God’s greatness in His character, in His love, and in His deeds, how can we worship Him? And if we cannot worship Him, how can we authentically offer Him our lives and be transformed? Viewing the mercies of God is the cornerstone of Whole Life Worship.

Let me end this with a prayer:

Lord, have mercy on me. I know You are great, loving, powerful, and wise. I know that You have done wonderful things for me, both in the past and in the present. But I have a hard time realizing this in my heart and mind. My heart is hard and my mind is dull. Please reveal Your great mercies to me in a way that I can grasp, revel in, and worship You wholeheartedly in response. I ask this in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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(Some reflections after a great vacation)

In the past, I viewed vacation as my time. It was my time to get away and to do whatever I wanted to do: eat, drink, play, divert, spend time with people, have time for myself, watch movies until 3am, and sleep all day – if I wanted. After spending the other 50 weeks out of the year being “on the clock,” working, meeting demands, trying to live balanced, being spiritually disciplined, and meeting other peoples’ needs, it seemed that I was entitled to a little bit of “my time.”

The problem with this type of thinking is that it became so easy to take a vacation from God. I can’t tell you how many vacations I’ve taken where I left “God behind” at home. It’s not like I didn’t take my Bible with me. I did bring my Bible on vacation; but reading it was another story. It’s not like I become a prayer-less pagan; but, outside of saying “grace” before meals, I kind of stopped conversing with God. I discovered (the hard way) that “my time” vacations often waste my time and, worse, damage my soul. I might spend time on amusing myself, but I do not have real fun. I might get rest, but I am hardly restored. I might be with the ones I love, but I find myself loving them less (it’s what happens when your kids or grandkids also see vacation as their “my time,” and then trying to balance everyone’s expectations – can you relate?) and not being “present” with them.

You see, vacations are not meant to be “my time.” Vacations are a “gift of time” from God. And like everything else in life, they are best enjoyed if God is at the center. Taking a vacation from God, at any time in life, is always dangerous. It is unplugging from the Source of Life. If anything, vacation should be seen as an opportunity to go deeper with God. I see it as an “extended Sabbath” in the best possible sense. This doesn’t necessarily mean that our vacations should be week-long hermitages of solitude and intense spiritual discipline. But it does mean that we should continue our rhythms of Whole Life Worship as a way of bringing re-creation to our souls.

As we enter into “vacation” season, here are some ideas that have helped my vacations be restorative to my body, soul and relationships with God and others:

1. Make Personal Worship Time a daily priority during vacation. I actually spend twice as much time in this rhythm of solitude, silence, prayer, Word, and journaling than I do in my non-vacation times. I find a nice, quiet spot and just park myself there to have time with Jesus. Or if you prefer, take a long walk with the Lord. Let your family members know this is a priority for you so they can respect your space and time; maybe it will encourage them to spend time with God themselves.

2. Engage in spiritual conversations with godly people. On this vacation, Letty and I had several wonderful conversations with several godly mentors and colleagues. One couple has been our mentors for 25 years. Besides catching up with family, we ask each other questions like: What has helped you grow in the Lord recently? Have you read any good books lately? What challenges have you faced and how has God led you?

3. Turn off technology and leave work at work. Admittedly, this is hard and sometimes I violated this promise to myself. But technology makes it so hard to be still enough to be restored by God and others. There were times I was so tempted to do work. Vacation came at a strategically bad time this year. But my godly and more-than-capable assistant stepped up and took care of things (she also chastised me for checking up on work!) This freed me up for the more important things God wanted me to engage in during vacation.

4. Ask God to give you opportunities to show the people you love how much you love them. For a couple of days on our vacation, we had our grandsons (ages 8 and 4) join us. Leading up to the day of their arrival, I prayed for God to give me the strength and grace to love them deeply (as much as love them, those kids can wear me out in a hurry!) When they arrived, we were prepared to engage with them. And God gave us grace and opportunities. One memorable instance was teaching my 8 year old how to play ping pong. We had a wonderful time and a great conversation. And old Gramps didn’t get impatient or worn out (Miracle of miracles!)

God is the Author of Creation. He is also the Author of Re-creation. As you prepare to go on vacation, go with the expectancy of being “recreated” and renewed. Don’t take a vacation from God. Take your vacation with Him.

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One of the values we hold dear in Whole Life Worship is the transformation. We believe that Christ not only came to bring us eternal life, but abundant life, as well. This abundant life occurs as we are changed or transformed by the power of Christ through His Spirit who dwells within us. The theological word used to describe this process is “sanctification;” that is, to become holy or Christ-like in character. Sanctification allows the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22 – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, etc.)  to be genuinely demonstrated through our lives.

Now, if this were true, why do so many Christians struggle with transformation? Why are these Christ-like character qualities lacking in people who bear His name? Why does it seem that many Christians are just as worldly, just as impatient, just as worrisome as anyone else?

The answer is not easy, but I believe one reason why we don’t see more “fruit of the Spirit” coming from Christians is that many choose the path of “sanitization” over “sanctification.”

Sanitization is fake sanctification; it substitutes true transformation with “image orientation.” Sanitization makes a person look good on the outside (through religious acts and behavioral management) but leaves them still putrid and foul on the inside. Jesus identified “sanitization” in the Pharisees when He called them “white-washed tombs” (Matt. 25:27).

Sanitization is kind of like make-up: it is convenient, hides a multitude of sins and comes off with soap and water (once you are out of the public eye.) With sanitization, you don’t have to hassle with confession or denying yourself or taking responsibility for your own actions or relying on the power of the cross. Sanitization is easy – it’s so much easier to act “nice” than it is to be good. It’s easier to act out “modesty”, than to travel the path of true humility. It’s easier to keep busy with church activities, than it is to meet with Jesus regularly in your quiet place. And it’s far easier to put a WWJD sticker on our car than to actually drive like Jesus would! (ouch!)

But sanitization is not real. It shrivels up under pressure. It is a “house of cards”; a façade. Jesus talked about this in Matt. 7:24-27. The house built on the rock (hearing Jesus’ words and doing them) is the process of sanctification. The house built on sand (hearing Jesus’ words, but not doing them) is sanitization.

How do we choose the path of sanctification over sanitization? That is a topic that would take far more space than I have left. But here are some principles to ponder:

  1. Get rid of our spiritual make-up kit; it didn’t make us look that good anyway!
  2. Understand our faults, our areas of character growth. Ask Jesus to reveal them
  3. See our trials as God’s way of answering point #2!
  4. Ask for God’s grace and then rely upon it.
  5. Obey the leading of the Spirit

Purify my heart, cleanse me from within and make me holy. Purify my heart, cleanse me from my sin deep within (“Refiner’s Fire” by Brian Doerksen)

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moonlight

I confess. This is not an original thought. I got the gist of this from Joni Earekson Tada’s (@joniandfriends) radio show. But it’s too good not to share it with you!

When the autumn season comes, I encourage you to take some time to look at the moon – particularly a full, harvest moon. It is rather an awesome sight to see this huge orange orb dominate the evening sky. And when you see the moon, praise God that you are just like that moon.

The moon has no light of its own. Left to itself, the moon is a dark, lifeless rock floating in space. But the moon is a good reflector. As long as it is facing the Sun, the moon becomes glorious – the crowning, shining gem in the midst of darkness. And it is interesting to note that the side of the moon that faces the sun is a thousand degrees warmer than the dark side!

Isn’t that like you and me? We have no light of our own. Left to ourselves, we are dark and lifeless – without hope in a cold universe. But the light of the Son shined on us, and as long as we are facing Him we shine. We reflect His glory for others to see. And as we face the Son, we bask in the warmth of His love, mercy and grace.

The only time when the moon does not shine is when the Sun’s rays are blocked by the earth. Isn’t that true for us as well? When the things of the world get between us and Jesus, our light begins to diminish and our glory fades immediately. We fall into dullness and, eventually, darkness because we have been cut off from our source of light.

So the way to stay bright and warm is to keep facing the Son. John 1:4 says: In Him was life and that life was the light of men.

Which is why Personal Worship times with Jesus are so important. We let busy-ness, our amusements and the false importance of the worldly things “eclipse” our times with Jesus. Think about it: what is keeping me from spending 30 minutes each day with Jesus (in personal worship, prayer and Scripture reflection) – who is the source of my light and life?

Which is why living our Everyday Ordinary with Jesus is important. The Bible talks about “walking in the Light”, not just having an occasional encounter Light. Walking with Jesus means bringing Him into our workplace, our schools, our comings and goings (even in freeway traffic!) It means allowing Him to influence our decision making, our speech, our actions.

Which is why spiritual friendships with Jesus-followers are important. An important source of Son-light happens when the “moons” get together and share Jesus with one another. That is why Jesus said wherever two or more are gathered in His name – His presence is there!

One last thought: that there are stars which emit their own light, are more numerous and millions of times larger than the moon in the night darkness. But the moon is more visible and glorious to those on this planet than the stars. Why? It’s because the moon is closer to the earth than the stars. In the same way, we are the closest representation of Jesus to some people in this dark world. People will see Jesus through us, but only if we let our light shine. Too often we let the clouds of fear and embarrassment cover our light. We often hope that some other “star” might come and shine their light into the lives that Jesus has brought us close to. But YOU are the light of the world to these people. Don’t hide it, but ask the Son to shine even more brightly through you!

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