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Archive for July, 2013

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Wednesday is known as “hump day” in our culture. It is the middle day of the week. It is also the day we feel the “grind” of work and toil – especially augmented by a culture that drives us to work harder so that we can earn more to pay off our uber-materialistic lifestyle. As the song parody goes, “I owe, I owe, it’s off to work I go.” And we really feel it on “hump day.”

Perhaps it’s no accident that Wednesday is named after “Woden.” Woden is the pagan god who is the Germanic equivalent of the Roman god, Mercury (“Miercoles” is Spanish for Wednesday – the day of Mercury). Mercury, among other things was the god who oversaw commerce, trade (his name is also where we get the word, “merchant”), and wealth. It is also interesting to note that Mercury was known for escorting people to Hades (death, underworld). I’m reminded of Jesus’ statement, “What profit a man if he gains the whole world, but forfeits his soul?” (Mark 8:36). In the Orthodox tradition, the Wednesday of Holy week is designated by Judas’ betrayal of Jesus for … 20 pieces of silver. Interesting.

As well, preoccupation with wealth and work is one of the main things that cause people to forget about God. Is there any wonder why Wednesday is one of the hardest days to keep spiritual focus? I believe that is one of the reasons why traditional churches have Wednesday services or Bible Studies. It is also interesting that Lent, the season of repentance, begins on a Woden’s-day (Ash Wednesday).

As Whole Life Worshipers of God, we choose to worship God every day. We are called to “serve God, not money” (Matt 6:24). So here are a couple of ideas we can walk in the opposite spirit, transforming Woden’s-day or Mercury’s-day into Christ’s-day:

1. Spend some time doing a “heart check” and an “eye examination.”  Jesus said, “Wherever your treasure is, that is where your heart is” and “The eye is a lamp … If your eyes are bad, your whole body will be filled with darkness” (Matt 6:20-23). So let’s check our hearts: What do we really treasure? Is Christ the “pearl of great cost” to us? What is competing for our hearts? And let’s check our eyes: What are we choosing to gaze at? Do we spend too much time browsing through shopper magazines, email offers, or looking up specs on the latest gizmo that we have to have?

2. Take time to turn our hearts back to God. If we do #1, then this step is the necessary follow through. One of the most under-utilized spiritual disciplines (but one we so desperately need) is repentance. It seems like we only repent when we know we’ve done something wrong (and it usually has to be really “baaaad”). But repentance is simply “making the turn back to God.” It is a discipline we need to regularly exercise because we get knocked off course all the time. Why wait until Ash Wednesday to turn our hearts to God? Make every Wednesday (maybe every day) an opportunity to repent and to correct our course back on Jesus.

 3. Be generous today. Instead of our wealth using us, let’s use our wealth for good. Take someone you want to bless out to lunch. Contribute to a worthy cause. Write out your tithe check to your church on Wednesday (and maybe give a little bit more). Or be generous with your time or your encouragement. We are not created to serve wealth – and it’s a horrible, enslaving master. We are created to serve God – and one of the best ways we can do that is to serve others.

I believe that if we choose to be Whole Life Worshipers of the Lord on a day that represents worshiping material wealth, it will transform our “hump day” into “jump day” – both leaping for joy in Christ and jumping forward in bringing His light to our lost world.

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One of the most unsettling things at work or at home is undue conflict. While some conflict is inevitable (and sometimes good), unresolved conflict is the root of much stress, fear, and broken relationships.

Yesterday I shared how the days of our week are named after pagan gods who were worshiped in ancient times. But as followers of Christ we can transform some the harmful patterns and spirituality of these dark influences through the redemptive means.

Tuesday is our English rendering of “Tiw’s Day.” Tiw was the Norse god of conflict. This parallels the Latin god of war: Mars (in Spanish, “Martes” – which is their word for “Tuesday”). So the pattern of Tiw (and Mars) is antagonism, clinging on to selfishness and self-righteousness, and making war with those who stand in the way.

But Jesus calls us to be “Peace-makers.” In Matthew 5:9, He says:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called ‘children of God.’”

Theologically, God makes us His children through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and our surrender to His Lordship in our lives. However, one of the qualities of being a child of God is that we bring peace (shalom – which is the Hebrew word for “wholeness and wellness”) to areas of conflict. The world will recognize the reality of God when His children operate as peacemakers.

This does not mean that Christ-followers are to be co-dependent “doormats” who preserve peace at all costs – like being trampled on by bullies. Rather, armed with truth and love, we follow God’s lead in bringing reconciliation, justice, compassion, and resolution to conflict. The end result is a higher level of understanding, better solutions, and a greater measure of truthful and grace-filled relationship. Isaiah described this reign of peace/shalom with the vision of mortal enemies dwelling with each other (Isa. 11:6 – the wolf with the lamb, leopard with the goat, the child with the poisonous snake, the USC Trojan with the UCLA Bruin – well, let’s not get carried away!)

So as Whole Life Worshipers of God, what are some practical things we can do to be peace-makers on “Conflict Tuesday?”

1. Detach from things that we “own” too much. Sometimes we become conflicted because we are too attached to things, projects, people, and agendas. When people threaten these attachments, we want to go to war – either external conflict or passive aggression. The one thing that helps us to detach is to surrendering our attachments to God. We must understand that He always is looking out for our best; we can then let go and let God.

2. Do not succumb to the evil one’s temptation to go “sideways” on people. I learned my propensity do this when I sharply disagreed with a trusted friend (who is a also pastor). I dug in my heels and he said to me, “Doug, please don’t go sideways on me. We need to work this out together.” It was like someone splashed a glass of cold water on my face! I woke up and realized how selfish and uncooperative I was becoming. The devil had ensnared me into “insisting on my own way.”

3. Seek to understand before being understood. Underneath aggression and conflict is usually a deep desire to be understood. People often resort to aggression because others have continued to devalue their opinion on things. Remember St. Francis’ prayer, “Master, grant that I may seek to understand, rather than to be understood.” A good listening ear and discerning heart can get to the foundation of what’s really bugging people.

4. Be filled with God’s love so that you can love others with your overflow. Our human ability to love is limited, conditional, and sometimes manipulative. The only way we can bring peace is if we love from a source that is unlimited, unconditional, and unselfish. Most of us know this, but we often by-pass one important step. Before we can ask for the power to love as Christ loves, we need to be filled with His love; we need to experience it. Only as we have been loved in a way that is patient, kind, not envious or self-seeking, can we begin to love others in such a way. This requires spending time with God and asking Him to reveal His love to us.

So make peace, not war. And allow your Whole Life Worship of Christ bring healing and wholeness to relationships and situations.

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Crazy Mondays

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Have you ever noticed how “crazy” Mondays can be? It seems like anything that can go wrong goes wrong on Mondays. It seems that the “to do” list on Mondays magically overflows beyond capacity. And it seems like everyone becomes a little more uptight and less jovial and forgiving on Mondays.

While it is easy to blame the craziness on the work week, I have a “crazy” hypothesis on why Mondays are crazy:

It’s because Monday means “moon” day and the root word for moon is related to the concept of insanity.

In Latin, moon is “luna” which is where we get the words “lunatic” and “lunacy.” In ancient times people worshiped the “moon god” on this day, hence the word “Monday” or “Lunes” (Spanish word for Monday). In fact, each day of our week has been named after celestial bodies who, at one time, represented pagan gods who were worshiped (and we’ll look at that throughout this week). And in some ways, I think that people are still affected (some subtly, others not as subtle) by these pagan demarcations in their thoughts, attitudes and actions.

However, as followers of Christ, we believe that His death and resurrection not only provides forgiveness of our sins, it also causes redemption and reversal of the “curse” to take place (Galatians 3:13-14). The realm of darkness is rendered powerless (Col 2:15) when Christ’s reign is established in the way of Christ; what the Bible calls “the Kingdom of God” (Matt 6:33). So this means that we don’t have to be helpless to the ways our culture or darkness that have established; even in the fabric of naming the days of the week.

As well, for Christ followers every day can be the “Lord’s day.” We can choose to walk in an opposite spirit to the prevailing standards that our culture and darkness dictate. In other words, we don’t have to succumb to the lunacy of Mondays! Indeed, God can use us as instruments of “soundness of mind” (2 Tim 1:7 KJV) as we follow the lead of the Holy Spirit. This can bring change, not only to our lives, but also positively affect the people around us – who are often unaware of the craziness associated with this day.

So how can we walk in the opposite Spirit of “crazy Mondays?” Here are a couple of ideas:

1. Use silence and stillness as ways to yield to God. Psalm 62:1 says, “For God alone my soul in silence waits; from him comes my salvation.” I am spending more and more time in silence before the Lord; especially when things get crazy. It works! Include silence and stillness in your Personal Worship Times. Take moments during the day to be still and take deep breaths as you relinquish things to God.

2. Humbly ask God for the needed wisdom to walk in His ways. The truest definition of insanity is “to believe that anything else, besides God’s way, is going to work.” I pray the “Jesus prayer” 100 times a day (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”) because I realize that at best (in the truth and light of God) I am a sinner and at best I really don’t know much of anything. But Christ knows everything and to humbly ask Him to show the way is the best thing we can do.

3. Train yourself to pause before acting on something. During that pause, ask God to lead and protect you. I love the opening to mid-day prayer in the Daily Office: “God, come to my assistance; Lord, make haste to save me.” That is a prayer that I try to pray before I act on things. It is amazing what God can do when I give Him just a moment of my time before I make a decision or send an email or make a comment or start on a task.

Mondays can be crazy. It’s easy to be a lunatic on Mondays. But for Christ-followers, Mondays are an opportunity to live out the sanity and wisdom of Christ through Whole Life Worship.

What are some “hot points” that cause you to go crazy on Mondays (or other days)?

Which spiritual practice helps you best to relinquish your craziness to God?

What ways help you to follow the wisdom of Christ during crazy days?

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Thank God Friday!

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You’re probably thinking, “You forgot a word, Doug. It’s ‘Thank God it’s Friday.” Actually, it’s intentional. I know the popular phrase (and the restaurant bearing that name). I want us to think of Friday, not as a benchmark that we made it through another work week, but as a day where we can recollect the ways God has blessed us. I want us to make Friday a day of thanksgiving, hence: It’s “Thank God Friday!”

Actually, giving thanks to God is something we should do all the time. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to give thanks in every circumstance. This, along with prayer and rejoicing in the Lord, is what God wills us to do. So we don’t need a special day to thank God; it should be part of what we do every day and many times during each day.

But Friday is a good time to “collect” our thanksgivings. Because it’s at the end of the work week, we can look back and remember the faithfulness of God for the entire week. I don’t know about you, but when I hit the weekend it’s like pushing the “reset” button on my mind – I forget what I did during the week because I’m engaged in the weekend. So Friday is as good a time as any to remember the good things God has done.

So grab a paper and a pen and start jotting down the ways God has blessed you this week. If you’re having a hard time thinking of things – don’t fret! Maybe some of the following things will jog your memory:

1. Did God bring someone new to you this past week? Did you deepen a relationship? Is there someone you are really thankful for?

2. Did God give you strength to accomplish difficult tasks this week? Was there a time when you saw “fruitfulness” in your work? Did someone affirm or encourage you for something you did?

3. Did God give you a prompting that you followed up on? Did He speak to your heart about something? Did He draw you closely to Himself through prayer or personal worship?

4. Did God teach you something new this week? Did He speak to you through Scripture, a Christian author? Did you apply some new spiritual insight? Did following a Biblical principal this week protect you or bless you or bless someone else?

5. Did God give you opportunities to serve and love others this week? Did you sense the joy of serving? Did you get to use your spiritual gift or special ability to bless another person or make a situation better?

6. Did God give you a pleasant memory this week? An unexpected blessing? An email encouragement? A blog that really spoke to you? (Ok, I confess I’m guilty of manipulation!) Something that lifted your spirit when you felt down?

7. Did God teach you something through a trial? Are you finding grace in unexpected places through a hardship? Is your soul expanding toward God and others because of difficulties you’ve endured?

8. Is there something you normally take for granted that you realize now is a great blessing? (like breathing, eating, taking a hot shower, driving a car) Did you notice something in everyday life that is amazing (like watching a hummingbird gather nectar from a flower)?

Now that you have a list of things you are thankful for, I want you to do something with it:

Bring it with you when you go to worship with your church – and get there a little early. Before the service starts, take out your little “Thank God Friday” list and use it to give God an intentional, well-thought out sacrifice of thanksgiving. And see if that doesn’t “jump start” your worship of God!

Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him and praise His name. (Psalm 100:4)

Don’t just “Thank God it’s Friday”; but make today a “Thank God Friday”!

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It Is What It Is

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There is an expression I’ve been saying a lot lately. In fact, I’ve been using it so much I’m afraid it will be inscribed on my tombstone by my surviving family:

“It is what it is.”

(I suppose it’s better than some of my other popular colloquialisms like “Now that’s what I’m talking about!” or “I need more keyboard in my monitor.” Though they would make interesting tombstone inscriptions …)

I think the reason I’m using that phrase more often is because I’m realizing how little control I have over my life. I used to get so upset when things didn’t happen according to my plan. I guess I’m learning that whining and complaining accomplishes nothing in most cases! It is what it is.

But there are two ways to look at this expression. The first way is the perspective of resignation. That means we acquiesce to the powers-that-be (whether our human superiors, the government, corporate America, or “the fates”) because there is no other recourse. It is a “I-don’t-like-this-at-all-but-I-don’t-have-any-choice” perspective. While this perspective may help a person “cope” with the harsh realities of life, it also serves to shrink our lives and our faith. This perspective is also called “fatalism” and it is indeed “fatal” to the human soul.

The other way to look at this phrase is from the point of trust. Behind the “It is what it is” is the Great “I AM WHO I AM” (which is the translation of God’s personal name, “Yahweh” or “Jehovah”; see Exodus 3:14). In other words, God is in control even though I am not. And this Yahweh (“I AM”) is not a god who is distant and indifferent. The Holy Scriptures go out of its way to describe God as the ultimate Person – therefore, ultimately personal – who, amazingly, can and does express deep concern and care for every creature and thing of creation (see Matt. 6:23-33).

In this case, “It is what it is,” means that things happen for a purpose, for a reason. Paul sums it up best when he writes, “For I know that in all things God works together for the good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Does this mean that I simply allow things to happen to me and not do anything about it? No! (or as Paul would say, “By no means!”). But it does mean that I do not let the circumstances (good or bad) get the better of me. Instead, I bring every situation before God. My struggle is not with the disappointing event or the unmet expectation, but with God. So as I bring each thing before God, I ask Him, “What do you want me to do with this? What are you trying to tell me?” And I wait. More often than not, God’s Spirit gives me a prompting as to how I should respond. Sometimes it is as simple as “Just let it go.” Sometimes it is more involved like, “I want you to do something about this.”

I mentioned a couple of days ago about an experience in Chicago where we had to buy 3-day transportation passes because the rail station had run out of the single day passes (had to do with a silly Cubs game or something). At first I was pretty miffed about it (they cost twice as much). But having been reminded about my reaction to the Hertz Rental Car clerk the day before (see Tuesday’s blog), I fought back the frustration and asked God, “Ok, what do you want me to do?” I sensed that I should purchase the three day passes. And God reminded me, “After all, it is My money, not yours, right?” Conviction…

As I reflected upon it further (it’s amazing how much time you have to think when you take the train into town), I also thought, “Maybe God wanted me to buy these passes so that someone else could be blessed?” It gave me a sense of peace knowing that the Great I AM was in control of the “it is what it is.” He obviously had a plan for what happened.

Letty and I had a great day taking public transportation throughout Chicago. That was the day we rented a tandem bike and rode around Lake Michigan. When we finished our day, we arrived back at the train station. There was a local man (I think he was homeless) who needed a transportation pass. Since we had already gone through the ticket counter, we didn’t need ours anymore. So we gave him our passes. I could imagine his surprise when he realized what we gave him was not a day-pass, but three-day passes!

It is what it is.

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The Power of the Song

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I’m a musician by trade and profession and, even though my blog is called “Whole Life Worship,” I’ve not written much of anything about what most people believe is what worship is about: music. There’s a reason for this. It’s a reaction to how our contemporary Christian culture has made worship all about the music to the neglect of everything else that worship is; including the central focus of honoring God with our lives. It has gotten so crazily out of proportion that I believe God has called me to make this my life aim: to call the Body of Christ  back to what worship really is – the offering of our lives to God in response to His great mercies (Romans 12:1). So my blogs will always be more about what we do with our lives than what we do with our vocal cords.

That being said, I also want to make one thing perfectly clear: I love music, I love songs, I love singing to God, I love making music to His name. And I believe, like Martin Luther and Johann Sebastian Bach, that music is indeed a “glorious gift from God.”

One aspect of God’s glorious gift of music is the power of the song. The “song” is a subset of music. A song combines words with pitch and rhythm to create a powerful expression of mind and heart. If a song does not have words, it is not a song. (I still cringe when I hear well-meaning band and orchestra directors introduce their group’s next musical selection as a “song.”)

Songs are especially powerful when they declare truth. The greatest songs that last through the test of time are the ones that express profound truth with music that appropriate matches it. Whether it is “Let It Be” or “Amazing Grace” or “Auld Lang Syne” or “Ode to Joy,” songs of truth resonate soulfully in our being. Sometimes such songs move us to tears because our souls so long to express truth with heartfelt intensity.

That is why songs that declare truth about God and sung to God or to God’s people are particularly impactful. God is the ultimate truth. The story of His love for us through Christ is the most compelling, moving story of all time. When that “truth-full” story of His love seeps into our hearts on a personal, experiential level, it brings mercy, healing, freedom, empowerment, grace, and a profound sense of right-ness and goodness into our souls. And many times, those experiences come through the power of song. I was so overwhelmed this morning when I worshiped God through a new song (“Sovereign”) and a new arrangement of a hymn (“Crown Him with Many Crowns – Majesty”). The greatness of God touched my heart through these songs.

But sometimes we take such songs and such moments and make them something they weren’t meant to be: a holy shrine, or worse, something that we subtly worship. I warn my worship team members occasionally to not “worship the worship (songs).” It’s so easy to do. We want to recapture the “magic” of when that song touched us profoundly; forgetting that it was God who touched us, and that He exists outside of the song.

So God has shown me two things recently about worship songs:

 1. Focus on what the lyrics really mean. This means slowing down enough to take a “gaze” (Monday’s blog topic) rather than just a glimpse at what I am singing about or to God.

2. Let the songs propel me to greater responsiveness to God. I need to think, “Ok, now that I experienced God in this song, how do I need to respond in my actions today?” I need to be alert and prepared to respond to God in the next thing.

Both Letty and I had profound experiences this morning through worship songs. God met with us through the song, “Sovereign.” When we met for lunch at Subway (I live there now … literally!), Letty saw a homeless man. She asked me if I would feed him something. At first, I balked. But my heart was already softened by the graciousness of God. So, I got up, introduced myself to the man (his name is “Duck” – “Doug, meet Duck”), and asked if we could get him a sandwich. He was surprised and said, “You would do that for me?” I smiled. Another man saw this and, almost on cue, started a conversation with Duck. It was an amazing encounter: four strangers brought together in fellowship through the giving of a Subway Club sandwich. Or was it the Bread of Life? It was truly a “sovereign” experience … that began with a song.

(“Sovereign” and “Crown Him-Majesty” are both on Chris Tomlin’s Burning Lights album)

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Some of you might be wondering: How did Doug do on his recent trip?

As always, the Lord knew what He was doing. It turned out that the primary reason for me to write a blog about how to handle expectations during a trip (see July 11 blog) was not because my readers need to read it, but because I needed it for my own benefit! (Hopefully it was helpful to some of you, too). Allow me to explain.

On the first leg of our trip we flew out of Burbank Airport (Bob Hope). If you’ve never been there, think of an airport that is locked in time to the year 1965. The first unexpected thing was my phone (with all my trip information, maps, GPS app, etc) was running out of juice. Try finding an electrical outlet in an airport that hasn’t gone through renovation in 50 years (I might be exaggerating, but not much). Fortunately, I found an outlet at the furthest edge of the terminal, behind some lockers. I had to wedge my charger with my suitcase, because it wouldn’t stay in on its own! But I calmly took a deep breath, prayed the Jesus prayer, and it was okay.

Next, our late night flight into Chicago Midway was behind schedule. Instead of arriving at 12:15am, it got in around 12:45am. We hustled to the rental car tram (the rentals were now conveniently offsite) and we got to Hertz before it closed. However, there were two large parties in front of us and only one clerk. I was pretty patient – for the first 30 minutes. But it became apparent that either the clerk did not know what to do or the customers were making some unusual requests. By now the line behind us had grown to 6 customers – and they were all pretty irritated, since it was now 1:30am. What made matters worse was that a 2nd clerk, probably the manager, had poked his head out a couple of times but made no effort to help the poor guy at the desk.

By the time, I got called up, I was pretty upset. I was tired, hungry, angry and confused. The Jesus prayer wasn’t working anymore (forgive me, Lord, I am a sinner!) and my flesh was getting the better of me. I complained rather loudly to the clerk and he calmly and quickly processed my order. To make a long story short, the two walk-ins in front of us wanted him to do things that were unorthodox (multiple drivers, multiple credit cards, hybrid car etc.) Strangely, during his explanation, God gave me grace and peace. I was able to let it go (or most of it). We finally got to our hotel at 2:30am and crashed.

When I woke up, I realized that I was experiencing the very thing I had warned about in the blog – letting my expectations get the better of me. During my Personal Worship Time, God reminded me about holding things loosely, trusting Him to be in control, talking things through with Letty, and to remember to enjoy the “adventure.” In addition, I sensed that the unmet expectations and surprises would continue throughout the trip; so I better get used to releasing things to His care and Sovereign plan.

As it turned out MANY more unexpected things happened on this trip (buying tickets for the wrong tour, having to buy a 3 day train pass because all the one day passes were sold out, discovering that cupcake shops in Chicago are closed on Saturdays – what’s up with that?, and finding a large Board room table and chairs in our Embassy Suites room instead of the conventional sofa and TV). But it was one of the best trips of our lives. Letty and I enjoyed the quirky experiences, met some great people, and spent a lot of time laughing on our “adventure.”

The one big unexpected thing happened when we got to the Bicycle shop. We wanted to rent a couple of bicycles to ride around the Lake Michigan beach front. It was a gorgeous day. But the shop was all OUT of single rider bikes. The only bike they had left was a Tandem – a bicycle built for two. Letty and I looked at each other, with a grin, and said, “Even better!” So for the first time in our lives we rode 20 miles around Lake Michigan on a bicycle built for two. It was so symbolic because for most of our lives, our journey has been like “a ride on a bicycle built for two.” I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate our 31st wedding anniversary.

And I guess, neither could God!

It pays to let go and let God. It’s just hard to do it sometimes …

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