Archive for July, 2013

Glimpse vs. Gaze


At our recent retreat in the greater Chicago area, Letty took a walk around the lake with a couple of her new friends. One of the friends, Sybill, made an observation, “Do you notice that as we look over this beautiful landscape that we have a choice? We can either take a glimpse of it then move on without thinking any more about it. Or we can stop and GAZE.” So they took that moment to stop and gaze at the wonder of God’s creation: the lake, the trees, the leaves, the branches, the squirrels romping around. It totally expanded their understanding of what was going on all around them. As well, it opened up the window to see the “enchantment” of God’s handiwork.

I think our default in life is “glimpsing.” We notice things around us just enough to inform us of what we need. We glimpse at people in line to checkout at the supermarket just long enough to see which line is the shortest. We glimpse at the lyrics of the worship song on the screen at church just long enough so that we sing the right words. We glimpse at our family at dinner time just long enough to make sure everyone is there, eating their vegetables, and behaving well. The problem is that in our glimpsing, we miss on the larger “enchantment” of life. There are people in that checkout line, each with a story to tell, a heart ache they are bearing, a glory yet to be uncovered. There is meaning in the worship song/hymn lyrics, a profound spiritual and life giving truth, a testimony to God’s greatness put to a heart-felt melody. There is a beauty to a family that gathers together; an opportunity to deepen relationships, share needs, give an encouragement, to live life together.

In our Personal Worship Times, do we glimpse at God when we trudge through Scriptures, prayers and spiritual disciplines – trying to find that quick spiritual fix? Or do we take time to gaze intently into the Word, to be present before our holy God in loving adoration and attentiveness? It is amazing to see what happens in those times when we slow down enough to take a gaze.

Gazing opens up our hearts to the reality of God in our midst. Gazing gives us hope and peace. Gazing leads to opportunities for love. At times we wonder where God is, why He doesn’t answer our prayers, and why He seems so absent in a world that is so lost and confused. Those are hard questions, no doubt. But could it be that some of these issues come closer to resolution if we take time to gaze? We might find that God is not as absent as we think. But our thinking (and our believing) is very much shaped by our seeing.

Like Jacob in Genesis 28:16 who exclaimed, “Surely the presence of the LORD is in this place and I was not aware of it,” let us open our eyes and gaze on the reality of God in our midst.


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Taming the Tongue


(This is a re-blog while I am on Retreat. New blogs start again on Monday!)

I remember a day when I was quite upset with one of my sons. He made a request that disrupted my plans. I was angry for a number of “good reasons.” I stewed it over for several moments. I determined in my heart that I would not lash out at my son, but make this a teachable moment. Later on, my son came to me and apologized about the inconvenience of his request. I opened my mouth and, all of a sudden, this tirade of accusations and anger came out! I could not believe what I had just said. And my poor son stood there, obviously wounded by my cutting words. I was now the one who needed to apologize and, as I did, I was quite thankful (and relieved) that my son showed me more grace than I had given him.

James 3:6 says, “The tongue … is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”

Our words get us into a lot of trouble. Many times, our words get us into trouble when we do not think about what we are going to say. We react and then our mouths take over; not unlike a fire-breathing dragon!

However, there are times when even our minds cannot control our tongues. My situation is a good example of what James is talking about in verse 8: No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

Yet it is so important to get our tongues under control. Our tongues affect our witness (how many times have unbelievers been turned off by the hypocrisy, judgmentalism and harsh words of Christians?) and our walk (the guilt from things said get us off track from following the Lord). How do we tame our tongues when our tongues are “untameable”?

The secret is not just controlling our speech, but controlling what influences our heart. You see, the tongue is the outward expression of our hearts. Whatever is in the heart is what is waiting to be said with the tongue. That is why the mind has a difficult time taming the tongue: the heart is much deeper and stronger than the mind. Our minds can keep our mouths closed (for awhile), but eventually the things of the heart come out in one way, shape or form.

James says in verse 11: Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? The obvious answer is “no”. But the point of what he is saying is this: is my tongue connected to the “fresh water heart” of Jesus or the “salt water heart” of my flesh? And the state of my heart is determined by what I put into it. What I put into my heart will determine what comes out of it – and what comes out of my mouth.

So taming the tongue involves examining what we put into our lives. If we “input” our lives with things like prayer, Bible reading, wholesome fellowship, serving, giving, forgiveness and walking with Jesus 24/7, our hearts will be purer and our speech will follow suit. But if we fill our lives with things that reinforce the values of the world (TV, music, gossip, materialism, selfishness), our hearts will shrivel up and our tongues will betray the smallness of our hearts.

Transformation of the tongue is evidence of transformation of the heart, and that’s what Whole Life Worship in the everyday ordinary is all about.

How has the untamed tongue reeked havoc in your life? What has helped you tame the tongue? Can you visualize how your life would be different if your tongue was used for praising God and building up others, rather than for cursing, complaining, and tearing down?

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

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(This is a re-blog while I am on Retreat)

It is good to dwell upon God’s grace. Many songs and scores of sermons are written about God’s unconditional love for us; love that drove Him to take the cross for us, love that bore our sin and shame. It is also wonderful to meditate upon our great salvation: how we were spared from an eternity of hell and punishment, how Jesus delivered us from evil, death and darkness. But often we leave out the best part of God’s grace and salvation: His great work of art in us. We were saved from darkness, but we are saved to greatness. That is the tremendous “punch-line” of the gospel: worthless sinners becoming priceless saints – how great a salvation is that?!

Many of us know Ephesians 2:8-9. It is a well-known verse:

For it is grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.

This famous Scripture was one of the great texts that set in motion the Protestant Reformation and transformed Christianity’s thinking back to the Biblical basis that we are saved by grace alone (soli gratis).

However, the purpose for Paul’s writing these verses was not as a theological argument for salvation, but as an encouragement for Christians to live out the precious gift of salvation life for all to see. Ephesians 2:10, a lesser-known verse, explains the punch line:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Worthless sinners are saved by God’s grace so they can become priceless saints. God is doing a work within us; we are God’s “workmanship.” The Greek word is poiema. I believe it is where we get the word, “poem.” You and I are God’s poetry; a work of art that is on display to show the goodness, beauty, brilliance and great compassion of our Redeemer.

You might be thinking, “Me – a work of art! Hah! If you only knew the junk in my life.”

Yes, and in mine, as well. But isn’t that the miracle of Christ? His ability to change our cheap junk into fine jewelry? His ability to change our “scars” into “stars”?

Years ago, Letty and I watched a gifted Christian artist paint a unique painting at a conference. On the canvass, he wrote the words “MY SIN” and then he threw some dingy colors that left this beautiful white background marred and ugly. Then he went to work. He blended the colors, he added new tones. He took the scraper to the canvass. It was hard to figure out what he was doing; I thought he was doing one of those “pop art” drawings (you know, like one of those paintings of random stuff that a kindergartner could have done!) Finally, he stopped. The audience paused and then applauded wildly. The result was a beautiful picture of the face of Christ, with the crown of thorns on His brow.

Isn’t that what God does to our lives, if we let Him? You are Jesus’ work of art, His poiema. God don’t make junk – He transforms it! You are a priceless saint; dearly loved and equipped to do great things under His leadership. Let’s live it out today in Whole Life Worship. You and I are  “Master”-pieces in the making!

You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of dust. You make beautiful things out of us (#gungor #beautifulthings)

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Blocked Goals!


(This is a re-blog while I am on Retreat)

I had an interesting phone conversation with a friend the other day. He was driving down the freeway (using his “hands-free” device, of course) when, all of a sudden, a large truck pulled out in front of him. “I can’t believe that truck pulled in front of me and blocked me in!” he exclaimed. I told him, “Isn’t that a metaphor of life? It seems like ‘life’ is a constant series of blocked goals!”

That might be a bit of an overstatement, but facing blocked goals is a reality we all live with. We all come across expectations that fail to be met, relationships that go haywire, circumstances that are trying, timelines that get sidetracked, and things that get broken or delayed at the most inopportune time.

And to a certain extent, our true spiritual character comes out when we face blocked goals such as these. When things are going well it’s easy to be spiritual, have a lot of faith and be disciplined in our priorities. But when our goals get blocked, it’s amazing how fast our spirituality flies out the window! In fact, many of us deal with extreme guilt because of the damage done by a fleshly reaction to a blocked goal (angry words, cursing, fighting, breaking things, addictive behaviors, etc.).

Surely Jesus wants us to live victoriously in spite of blocked goals. But how do we do it?

As one who has struggled with many blocked goals (and still learning) let me offer these thoughts. When immediately encountering a blocked goal, these things help me from reacting poorly:

1. Bite your tongue! Answer a blocked goal with silence, not with a vicious reaction. Although not every blocked goal is caused by Satan (like some would like to think), the evil one does use block goals to cause us to stumble. Don’t let Satan get your goat; keep silent. James 3 tells us that our tongues can cause “forest fires”; we need to keep them under control. (See wholelifeworship blog on 3/4/13)

2. Take a few deep breaths and pray. Regroup yourself before determining your next step. Taking deep breaths cause your body and soul to pause. Prayer allows the Lord to enter your moment. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.”

3. Call on a trusted brother or sister and share your struggle with them. Finding a safe place to share your frustration gets the “steam” out. Keeping our struggles inside of us will only cause damage later on. Galatians 6:2 tells us to “carry each others burdens and fulfill the law of Christ.”

4. Reflect on the larger picture. Blocked goals are not necessarily bad. In fact they often reveal deeper issues that the Lord wants to work on in our lives. These include: impatience, not living for God’s will, unhealthy performance orientation, relational dysfunction, lack of compassion toward others, unresolved anger, materialism, and people pleasing, to name a few.

God may be trying to get your attention through a blocked goal. It is important to get beyond the disappointment in the blocked goal and see the larger picture. When frustrated I often ask myself, “What is God trying to tell me through this?” In some ways, God uses blocked goals (the Bible calls them “trials”) to do a greater work of transformation in our lives. Your proper response to a blocked goal today can translate into a greater abundant, Christ-filled life tomorrow.

Instead of letting our blocked goals be stumbling blocks to sin, God wants us to use them as stepping-stones to a righteous and truly free life. As we choose the path of Whole Life Worship of God in our everyday ordinary situations, like blocked goals, we see more and more of how God uses everything for the good to those who love Him.

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(This is a re-blog while I am on Retreat)

I come from a family of pharmacists. My dad and uncle were pharmacists, as are my brother, sister, sister-in-law, and brother-in-law. Back in my HS years, I used to work in my dad’s drug store, mostly receiving the shipments and making sure the shelves were well stocked with merchandise. A large part of our inventory was devoted to what we called “OTC”. These were over-the-counter drugs; medicines people can buy without a prescription. These included cough syrup, aspirin, cold capsules, antacids, eye drops and the like. We sold a lot of OTC products. What is funny is that, as a family of pharmacists, we never kept very much of the OTC stuff in our personal medicine cabinets.

Dad told me the reason for this was that: OTC drugs may take care of the symptoms, but they really don’t take care of the problem. OTC medicines make you feel better, but they don’t make you better. In fact, people who use OTC’s too much run the danger of ignoring the larger issues by focusing on taking care of the symptoms. A person with an ulcer can delay needed treatment because he appeases the symptoms with large doses of Pepto Bismol.

As a pastor I see in many Christians an alarming trend towards “Over The Counter” Christianity. This is characterized by the following:

1. Focusing on the symptoms (what is wrong with life around me?), but ignoring the issues (what is wrong with life within me?)

2. Wanting the quick fix (inspirational worship, Christian seminars, profound sermons) rather than pursuing the cure (personal prayer, Scripture intake and meditation, spiritual mentoring).

3. A “Me-first” mentality (faith to make my life better) versus a “Love Others” mentality (faith to make other people’s lives better).

4. Emotion, instead of Devotion. Obligation, instead of Obedience. Religion, instead of Relationship… (you get the picture)

I don’t have enough space to deal with each of these topics; let’s start with #1 and see if we can get to the others in the future.

When life gets hard we have a tendency to blame the things outside of us (people, situations, demons, etc.) But this is contrary to what Jesus taught. He instructed us to “take the beam out of our own eyes” before attempting splinter removal in others. We need to confess before we blame.

David says: “Search my heart, O God .. See if there is any offensive way in me.” (Ps. 139: 23-24)

James says: “Confess your sins to one another so that you may be healed.” (James 5:17)

Confession is one of those lost disciplines in the Christian church, but it is badly needed in today’s OTC world. Confession roots out the cause of poor spiritual health. It requires ruthless honesty and intense humility, in an atmosphere of safety and trust. But Dr. Jesus will use it to set you free.

I encourage you to take time today to allow God to search your heart. Start an accountability group with a trusted Christian friend to get things out in the open. (If you need help with this, feel free to contact me – I have materials and ideas that can help get you started).

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Spiritual Coolant

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(This is a re-blog, while I am on Retreat)

The days of summer are getting warm, and it reminds me of how our cars tend to run hot this time of the year. Sometimes I have to add more coolant to some of my older cars when I see the temperature gauge creeping toward the “H.” I’ve learned the hard way what happens when you don’t attend to a hot-running car – it breaks down (and becomes a money pit!)

Likewise, from time to time our emotions get hot and our tempers flare. If we don’t watch it, we end up saying or doing things that we end up regretting. And then we wrestle with guilt because we know that, as Christians, the devil got the best of us – and we hate it when that happens!

Paul says in Ephesians 4:26-27 “In your anger do not sin.” Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

When our anger reaches an emotional level, it is almost too late to do anything about it. It is like a radiator that is boiling over. The only thing you can do is pull over, stop the “engine” and wait for it to cool down. However, we can do “preventative maintenance” on our emotional cooling system by adding “spiritual coolant” to our beings. Here are three Biblical tips to help be cool:

1. Be constantly filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our spiritual coolant. He is also our spiritual counselor, empowerer, cleanser and encourager. To be filled with the Holy Spirit means to yield to the Holy Spirit. It means placing God in charge of your life. God will not take charge of your life; you must willingly and deliberately give Him control. It means asking the Holy Spirit to fill you each day (see Tuesday’s blog and some of the great comments by fellow readers); perhaps several times a day. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, you start bearing His fruit – including gentleness and self-control; which can keep your temper under control.

2. Regularly gauge your temper. If you know that your inner temper is rising, you can take preventative measures to deal with it. Your temper is affected by many different factors. Remember the “HALT” acronym, which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired (see the blog for 3/12/13). When I get a little edgy, I check my gauges: maybe I need a little snack or a little nap or a call a good friend. Often when I take care of the HL&T, I will be in better shape to deal with my A(nger).

3. Remind yourself who you are and Who is in control. You are a child of God. You are a follower of Jesus. You are dearly loved by the Lord of the Universe! And you are not in control. The Lord, alone, is in control. And that means your circumstances and situations. Although this is a good tool to use in an emergency – when you are in the “heat” of boiling over, it works best when we apply this as a daily spiritual discipline – in a PROACTIVE way. In your devotional time, remind yourself who you are and Who is in control. During a coffee break or lunch break, pause and pray: “Jesus I belong to You, and You are in control.” The more you do it, the more spiritual coolant will enter your life. And when the devil wants to throw an “angry” your way, it won’t affect you because you are resting on the bottom line: God is in control of your situation.

A little warning: some of you may have deep-seated anger issues, stemming from deep wounds. If you regularly wrestle with angry emotions, if little things tick you off on a regular basis, if the above recommendations do not help your anger, you may need some deep healing from the Lord through a trained spiritual and/or professional mentor.

Whole Life Worshipers stay spiritually cool in the heat of life!

What spiritual principles help you to stay cool in the heat of life?

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Next week, I’ll be attending a spiritual retreat in the greater Chicago area with Ruth Haley Barton. This is a part of the “Transforming Community” I joined earlier this year. As part of the community, I will be attending these retreats every quarter for the next two years. The experience (I’ve been to two retreats thus far) has been amazing and powerful for me. And a lot of my Whole Life Worship blog material has been greatly influenced, in one way or another, by what I’ve learned through the retreats, the books (I’m required to read 4-5 books each quarter), and the spiritual practices. My church helps pay for the expenses of these retreats as a part of my development as a leader. I am so blessed to be a part of such a wonderful church who has invested so much into my life!

So I want to just touch on the topic of spiritual retreat this morning. Many Christians think “spiritual retreats” as an option for Christ-followers; for those who have the time and finances for such an experience, or for those who are ultra-serious about their faith (but not for the everyday, any person Christian).

I think those thoughts miss the mark. Retreats are an important spiritual rhythm for any person who seeks after God. The people in the Bible took spiritual retreats (see the Patriarchs, Moses, Elijah, David). Jesus regularly took spiritual retreats by himself and with his disciples. Sometimes when they ignored the rhythm of retreat, God imposed it on them because they needed it more than they thought (see the Patriarchs, Moses, Elijah, David – ha, ha!)

Retreats are part of the spiritual rhythms we need to take to be unplugged from the world and re-connected with God. This rhythm is daily (personal worship time), weekly (Sabbath), and monthly/quarterly (retreat).

The purpose of the retreat is to get centered on God. A retreat could be long (several days or even weeks) or short (6-8 hours). It can be with others in community or by yourself (I take a quarterly retreat with my staff and a quarterly solitude retreat; at times I’ve gone on retreat with a spiritual friend where we alternate times of solitude and community). You can utilize several spiritual disciplines during a retreat (prayers – of all types, solitude, silence, Scripture meditation, journaling, fasting, liturgy, reading spiritual books etc.)

Here are a couple of thoughts that have been helpful for me during my times of retreat:

1. The focus of the retreat is connection, not discipline. Use the disciplines to help your connection with God. Don’t view the retreat as a time for a “spiritual workout.” Be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading in the use of spiritual practices and listen to your soul.

2. Make rest a part of your retreat. Probably the one thing you really need is some “holy sleep.” I usually start my retreat with a nap so I can be fully engaged (rested) with God during the rest of my time.

3. Start small. Don’t start with a 3 day solitude retreat. Rather, start with a 6 hour retreat where you go to a quiet place that you enjoy (maybe a park, or the beach, or a lake, or a retreat center – there are several Catholic retreat centers where you can visit for the day for free or a nominal fee). By starting small, you can have a significant time that leaves you wanting for more. Then you can build up (as your time and resources allow).

4. It takes a while to “settle in.” Don’t expect God to zap you with a mountain top spiritual experience. It might take a few retreats to discover what really ministers to your soul.

One thing I want to exhort you with is this: don’t view spiritual retreat as a “luxury.” It is a necessity for your well-being as a follower of Christ. Make it a priority to plan a spiritual retreat in the next 2-3 months. Your soul will thank you, and you will feel the effects of being a centered Whole Life Worshiper of God.

By the way, because I am on spiritual retreat next week I will not be creating new blogs. I will re-post some of my favorite blogs (“The Best of Whole Life Worship, part two”). I hope you don’t mind. I ask for your prayers during my retreat time, that God would speak to me and that I would have some more good things to share with you in the coming weeks.


#ruthhaleybarton #transformingcommunity #spiritualretreat

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