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Archive for June, 2013

What Are You Full Of?

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Have you ever thought about the Early Church in the book of Acts? One of the things that constantly amaze me about the 1st Century Church is the boldness, depth of character and power this early Christian community exemplified. They were willing to sell their possessions to help others in need, they prayed for more boldness to proclaim Jesus in the face of persecution, and they saw the demonstration of God’s power in their midst (healings, miracles, and even  … judgment). In Acts 7 it’s hard not to marvel at the extraordinary boldness, confidence, peace and compassion Stephen had – even as he was being slammed with stones! It’s easy to wonder: why don’t we see this in the American church of the 21st Century? Let’s take it one step further and make it uncomfortably personal: “Why don’t I see this boldness, compassion and power in my life?”

I believe the key difference between the dynamic church of the 1st century and the relatively weak church of our time can be found in the simple phrase that we see many times in Acts: “full of the Holy Spirit.” The apostles, leaders and followers of Jesus in that early community of faith were “full of the Holy Spirit.”

While I believe, theologically, all followers of Christ have the Holy Spirit, I would speculate that not very many are actually full of the Holy Spirit. And that, I believe, is one of the main differences between them and us.

Another obstacle for us is a contemporary misconception of what it means to be “filled with the Holy Spirit.” For some, that phrase conjures up images of people swooning in a worship service or speaking in an unintelligible utterance or feeling that “mountain top experience.” And while I think these describe some of the manifestations of the Spirit in believers, I don’t think this defines what being full of the Holy Spirit is. I think it has more to do with “how we live” than “what we experience.”

“Being full of the Holy Spirit” means that God is given total control of our lives: where we go, what we do, and how we respond to Him. Most of the time, this could feel rather mundane, if not antagonistic – because it goes against the grain of our human nature. Although we can experience tremendous joy and peace as we do the will of God under His control, the focus of being Spirit filled is not on how high our emotional gauge is.

I think the reason we do not see 1st Century power and impact in our time is that, though we have the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are probably too full of ourselves. We want God’s will and our personal comfort, agenda, prosperity, safety, and selfish desires. One cannot be full of the Holy Spirit and full of ourselves at the same time. And yet, do we expect miracles, power and revival from lives that barely give God a couple hours a week, a few “bless me” prayers, and “what’s in it for me?” worship.

As one who is admittedly probably not 100% of the Spirit” Christian, I have a couple of Biblical concepts that might help us become more full of the Spirit and less full of ourselves:

1. We must die to ourselves. The only way to get more of the Spirit is to start emptying ourselves. Dying to ourselves means surrendering how we do things, letting go of pride and control, releasing our agenda, plans and hopes. Jesus said that unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it will never bear the fruit it was meant to have.

2. Seek first God’s Kingdom. If you gave your life to Jesus, that means He is King (and you’re not). We don’t seek our way anymore; we seek to do the will of God. We don’t worry about the little things (provision, safety, fears) because our Jesus will take care of us.

What are some thoughts that you have to help us to become more full of the Spirit? I welcome your input!

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No Comparisons

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Back in the late 90’s was this movie called “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion.” (Alert: this movie was rated R – primarily for language).  It’s about these two gals who want to impress their peers at their ten-year HS reunion. Apparently, they categorized themselves as part of the “B” group and they felt inadequate to the girls in the “A” group (popular cheerleader types). However, they unknowingly made girls in the “C” group (the nerdy outcast types) feel just as jealous and inadequate as they were of the cheerleaders. Poetic justice comes to this story when the star of the reunion is not the prom queen or the football hero, but a former “C” groupie – a braniac nerd who became a suave multi-millionaire. (BTW – If the Nerd thought resonates with you – as it does with me, let me recommend an outstanding Nerd and spirituality blog is thechristiannerd.com written by my friend and colleague, @scotthiga)

There’s a little of Romy and Michelle in all of us: we get preoccupied with how well we measure up to the standards of this world. Too much time, energy and money are spent in trying to be people we’re not, in order to impress people we don’t like. In turn, we are also guilty of looking down on those who don’t measure up to us; often in ways that make them feel inferior or inadequate.

The key to overcoming the “comparison trap” is knowing who we are in Christ. When we grasp how God looks at us, we don’t need to worry about what other people think. When I realize that God loves me for who I am, that He sees the Christ’s righteousness when He looks at me, and that He has redeemed me to become like Jesus – it really doesn’t matter what others think.

Of course, this understanding is easier said than done. Any of us can say, “God loves me for who I am; and I don’t care what anyone else thinks!” But it is another thing to actually live that out. We exist in a world where, like it or not, we are constantly compared with others and our ability to measure up to human standards of adequacy (whether that be productivity, appearance, wealth, or status). The “comparison game” is insidious; it pops up when we least expect it and before we know it we are sucked into its traps of envy, bitterness, gossip, and self-preoccupation.

I wrestle with this issue more than I would like to admit, but I have found the following to be very helpful to keep me out of this “game” and into the Lord’s business:

1. Focus on what God thinks of you. I do this often as part of my personal worship time. I set God apart as my Righteousness (Jeremiah 23:16). I tell Him (and myself) that my Righteousness comes from Jesus and His shed blood for me; not from my accomplishments or good deeds, not from what others think about me. Letty reads aloud Scripture that talk about her identity in Christ (from Neil Anderson’s Steps To Freedom). Whatever your method, it is important to center on “God’s perspective of you” as a part of your daily routine.

2. When discouraged, get encouraged. I have a file of notes and letters that people have written to me when God used me to bless them. When I feel the “comparison game” coming on, I will read one of those notes to remind me of God’s work through me. Mentoring is also a good way to get honest encouragement. Share your struggles with comparing yourself with others to a trusted mentor or accountability partner. They will help you to get perspective and encouragement.

3. Depopulate your “C” group. There are those we look down upon; not just groups of people, but individuals as well. They are the ones we gossip about or avoid or patronize. We need to see them as God does: people He created, formed and made for His glory – just like you and me. As we lower the population of our “C” group, the desire or need to compare ourselves with the “A” group becomes increasingly less.

Why compare? You are unique and special to the Lord. To Him, you are beyond comparison. Whole Life Worshipers revel in God’s love for them … and to become all that He created us to be!

What things have helped you overcome the comparison trap?

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God has called us to live a “large” life for Him. He wants to give us His blessings, His power, His love, His forgiveness, His joy, His hope, His peace, His transformation. These are all things that make life LARGER. They, if we will receive them, enable us to live ABUNDANT lives (see John 10:10, and John 15); more than that, we will also be able to live INFLUENCING lives – where others look and take notice (see Matt. 5:14-16).

But there are parasites within our soul that want to keep the seed of God’s largeness from bearing fruit. I call them “life-shrinkers”, they are the thoughts, attitudes and actions that make our lives “smaller” than they need to be. These life-shrinkers are in direct opposition to following the life of faith, of walking with Jesus 24/7. I am reminded of when Jesus could not do any miracles in a particular Galilean village because of their lack of faith – they were living lives dominated by life-shrinkers!

Although life-shinkers are common to all, everyone has their own set of life-shrinkers that specialize in short circuiting the life of Christ in their particular life. Mine are: impatience with others, critical spirit, greed, envy, guilt and fear. We are confronted constantly to choose between God’s “life increasing” things or my life-shrinking things. Here’s how they work in some not-so-hypothetical situations:

I notice that someone else is flourishing (ministry, financial, relational). I have a choice of rejoicing in their blessing or becoming envious. If I choose the envy route it leads me down a life-shrinking path: discrediting them, becoming resentful, joining others who are also envious, passing on juicy gossip, etc. In the process I become a much smaller, limited person.

A supervisor at work has the gall to reprimand me about something that he/she is always guilty of doing. What nerve! I have the choice to either look at the reprimand objectively and prayerfully or to harbor bitter feelings toward my supervisor. If I choose to harbor bitterness and its “life shrinking” powers go immediately into effect. I spend my hours at work watching for their every mistake, stacking up my case against them, and looking for the opportunity to get even.

The world calls Christians “a bunch of hypocrites.” Many Christians suffer a credibility gap – what they say about themselves does not match how they live. I believe this is due to the fact that, although we have the BIGNESS of God in our lives, our day to day decisions are still being decided by the “life-shrinkers” within us. The Apostle Paul tells us to put to death those things that “shrink” our lives (see Galatians 5:16-21, Ephesians 4:17-5:21).

What has helped me put these life-shinkers to death is to recognize them for what they are when they come to me. When a thought or attitude wants me to take action or to react in speech, I’ll say to myself, “That is such a small way of thinking. C’mon, Doug, you were called to bigger things than to react in that way.” Then I will pray, “God, I rest my case in You. Please lead me in Your path of right thought, speech and action.” And every time I do this, the thought or attitude dies. Every time! I must say that it is a lot easier to do this when you nip these things at the bud. It much harder (but not impossible) to overcome the “life-shinkers” when you’re already on the path of the flesh.

I hope this encourages you to gain victory in Jesus and to live the LARGE life He has for you!

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(This week’s blogs will focus on the Personal Worship Movement of Whole Life Worship)

I was in college when I started having a regular devotional time. I was excited to introduce this spiritual discipline in my life and, for the first few weeks, I was pretty consistent. But then it got increasingly difficult to maintain this time. I found it hard to stay awake while I read my Bible. My prayer time felt like I was just going through the motions. And on top of that there were things clamoring for my attention: from studying for tests and working on projects, to reading the newspaper and taking out the trash.

Then I read a little booklet that changed my perspective forever: My Heart, Christ’s Home by Robert Munger (#IVP) #myheartchristshome. Written from a metaphorical perspective of Jesus making his home in a new believer’s heart, one of the sections dealt with the devotional time which Munger called “The Living Room.” In the Living Room Christ spent one on one time with the believer. The line that got me was when Jesus told the believer (something to the effect of), “You’ve been thinking that this time is for you. That’s fine, but don’t you realize that I want to spend time with you? I redeemed your life at a great cost and I love you. Don’t miss this time, if only for My sake.”

Reading those words cut directly to my heart! I never thought that spending time with me was something that Christ wanted, something that He desired. I felt convicted, but at the same time affirmed. Jesus wants to spend time with me! It made me look at all that I do during my devotional time with different meaning and purpose. I wanted to hear His voice. I wanted to understand His heart. I longed for the intimacy and empowerment that such thinking implied. After awhile (as I understood the concept of Biblical worship), I no longer call that my quiet time or devotional time, but my Personal Worship time with Jesus.

Over the past 37 years that have transpired since that moment, I have drawn such great strength, profound insight, and deep encouragement from meeting personally with Jesus. Of course, there have been times when I lose sight of the relationship and drift back into the task mindset. As well, there have been times when Jesus wants me to learn how to wait on Him. And sometimes my sin and laziness still gets in the way. But He always draws me back to Him, because – you know – He really does want to spend time with me!

Did you know Jesus wants to spend time with you? That He desires your presence and company? That He longs to impart His heart to you? And that He wants to hear what’s on your heart (even though He already knows – He loves to hear you express it)?

He is jealous for me. His love is a hurricane; I am a tree bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy (#howheloves #johnmarkmcmillan)

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One of my all-time favorite songs comes from the old Bing Crosby movie, “White Christmas.” And no, it’s not “White Christmas”! Rather, it’s a lesser known song called “Count Your Blessings.” The first line goes like this, “When you’re tired and you can’t sleep, just count your blessings instead of sheep. And you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings.”

I don’t know about you, but there are times at night when I can’t fall asleep. Or there are times when I wake up in the middle of the night (usually to go to the bathroom – yeah, old age!) and I can’t get back to sleep. I’ll toss and turn and squirm and puff up my pillow. But if it takes me longer than 5-10 minutes to go to sleep, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Lord wants me up for some reason. And so I’ll get up and pray.

I’ll usually start off with giving thanks to God for His blessings (like the song says). Paul says in 1 Thess 5:17 to “give thanks always” – I assume “always” means anytime, even in the middle of the night. You can’t go wrong with giving thanks to God. It always puts our hearts and minds in the very center of God’s goodness. Plus, the enemy hates it when we give thanks … and he usually tries to make us drowsy and fall asleep, rather than give us the opportunity to glorify God. This is always a win-win situation.

But sometimes it doesn’t end with thanksgiving. Sometimes God wants me to pray for something. I’ll ask him, “Lord, what do you want me to pray about?” And until I get an impression from God, I’ll pray “in the Spirit” (for some this means praying with an open heart for God’s will to be done, for others it involves a prayer language). Sometimes I already know what God wants me to pray for. My most powerful times of intercession often come between midnight and 6am.

And sometimes, in those wee hours of the night, God leads me to read Scripture or a book by a Christian author. In any case, my night time sleeplessness is not wasted on trying to get myself to sleep. Rather, I see it as an opportunity to practice Whole Life Worship – to offer my “unsleepy” self to God as a living sacrifice. I find that when I do this (and sometimes I’m up for a few hours) God almost always gives me a restful sleep for the remainder of the night. And I wake up refreshed and ready to live another day for him.

The Psalms talk about those who serve in God’s Temple, keeping their watch at night (for example, Psalm 134:1). Sometimes God calls us to that “night watch.” As God is always up, keeping an eye on all of us, occasionally he will ask us to stay awake with him – to tarry with him, to join him in the work he is doing in peoples’ lives, to worship him with the angels in the quiet hour.

The liturgical church’s night time prayer focuses on the fact that we might be asleep or awake during the night hours. And so the prayer goes:

Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in his peace.

So if you can’t sleep at night, don’t worry. Instead, worship. Practice Whole Life Worship in those un-sleepy moments. And God will give you rest: falling asleep while counting your blessings.

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vacation

I will be taking vacation (or as some of you from the UK would call it, “holiday”) over the next week and a half. I view this as a spiritual discipline of extended Sabbath and replenishment. Of course as Whole Life Worshipers, all we do is somehow linked into our spiritual relationship with God (either pulling us closer or leading us away).

During this time I will not be writing new blogs. It was a hard decision as I love to write and I love how it causes good interaction between us (those of you who comment – your comments are inspiring and give me greater food for thought). However, writing is work and I need to pull away from work and allow God use the rhythm of Sabbath to restore my being. As well, I’ve been reading some good stuff (especially Henri Nouwen’s “The Way of the Heart”) which reminds me that the “words” that bless and give life come from the wells of silence before God. So if I want to continue to write things that are edifying and helpful, I need to take some time off and allow God to work in me through the discipline of silence (that is, not writing). The last thing I want to be is some babbling idiot trying to find new words to fill a blog space each day – or to keep such writing at a minimum.

But the blog will go on. I’ve written over a hundred blogs since I started wholelifeworship.com and some of you may not have had an opportunity to read some of my earlier blogs (although some of you have read all of them – thank you!) So I will re-post some of the best of the Whole Life Worship blogs over the next week and a half. I will be “back in the saddle” again on Monday, June 24th with new blogs and, God willing, new inspiration.

I want to also take this opportunity to thank all of you who prayed for me when I was sick last week and this weekend. God definitely heard and responded to your prayers as I had strength to minister at church in the midst of my sickness (without getting anyone sick – which is not easier for someone who likes to give hugs and handshakes, like me. Let’s hear it for the “fist bump”!) I think I am fully recovered from the illness, which is good because I’m going on … vacation!

As we enter into the vacation season, I want to strongly encourage us to not take a vacation from God. Actually, vacations are a gift from God and we do Him honor by thanking Him for the opportunity extended Sabbath and by keeping our spiritual rhythms of Whole Life Worship going as we celebrate our “holiday.” So here’s to great vacations and great experiences with our great God!

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I didn’t want to go to the gym this morning. And, frankly, if I hadn’t promised my wife that we were going, I probably would have blown it off. But we went and I got on the elliptical and started my workout. I decided not to push it and just let it “come to me.” This is hard because I am a “pusher.” Even though I didn’t want to be there, my tendency is to push and try to beat my best time or my best calorie burn or whatever statistic I can come up with. But this time I simply let my body lead with what it could do. About half-way through the work out, I was feeling pretty good. By the time I finished I actually came close to what my normal workout would have been (if I had gone full-bore). I had a good sweat and I was glad that I showed up. Among other things, the workout gave me the idea for this morning’s blog:

“Getting there is half the battle.”

This is true in our spiritual lives as well as our physical lives. In the spiritual disciplines of solitude, silence, Sabbath, worship, Bible reading, giving, being in community, serving in ministry, or reaching out to others, the hardest step is always the first one. It’s that decision to simply do it.

As one of my cycling training buddies told me, “The hardest part of the training ride is walking out the door and taking the bike off the rack.”

Once we decide and take that first step to spend time with Jesus or open that Bible or get ready for the worship service or write that tithe check, it’s downhill from there. God meets us at that place of faith, usually in a very powerful way.

But that first step is so hard. If “getting there is half the battle,” what can I do to help me win that half of the battle? Here are some things that have helped me:

1. Plan to do it. “When you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” This has more to do with intentionality, than with the specific plan. If you sense God wants you to become more consistent in going to corporate worship service, then write it down on your calendar (or smart phone). Don’t just leave it in your head as an “idea.”The night before our workout, Letty and I planned to work out the following morning at 6:30am. It was intentional; we talked about it and set our sights on it.

2. Get someone to partner with you. Find someone who has a similar goal and plan to do it together. For example, if you desired to spend some time with the Lord in the morning and you have a friend who desired the same, make a covenant with them that you will both do it – and then figure out a way to hold each other accountable (maybe through email, phone call, or a meeting during the week). As I mentioned earlier, even though I had planned to work out the night before, I woke up “not feeling it.” But Letty made me do it. I would not have taken one step toward the gym if I had not already agreed with Letty to do it ahead of time. Accountability is a very strong motivator (especially if it’s your wife!)

3. Ask God for grace and strength to “get there.” The spiritual disciplines are actions that God wants us to engage in because they help us to draw near to Him and hear His voice. So to ask Him to empower us to take those first steps is a prayer He loves to answer. It’s funny that we ask God to do “big” things (like heal sickness, provide jobs, etc. – which he does do), but we are reluctant to ask Him to do the smaller, yet very significant thing, that enables us to do His will; thus glorifying Him. As it says in Philippians 2:13 says, “For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” So, let’s ask Him to do so!

4. Once we are “there” we let God take the lead. We don’t try to make things happen, the spiritual disciplines are designed to help us let go and let God. Just as I started my workout slow and “let it come to me,” so we enter into the disciplines with nothing but the expectation that God is going to meet me in this. We don’t strive to be “perfect” in our practice (that kind of defeats the purpose) nor do we try to act like “Super Christian” in what we do (like, “I’m going to pray for an hour” or “I’m going to read the entire book of Ezekiel and write a commentary on what it means”). Do not view the spiritual disciplines as bar bells and weights to gain spiritual prowess, but as doors and windows that allow our souls to encounter the Living God.

But “getting there” is half the battle. God awaits for us there, desiring to open our lives to new horizons in Whole Life Worship.

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