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Archive for July, 2013

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Today we’re traveling to Chicago. This trip is partly celebration of our anniversary and partly an investment in our spiritual formation. The first few days, Letty and I will explore the “Windy City,” visit a couple of museums, and sample some of Chicago’s best pizza (which we love). The last few days we’ll be in spiritual retreat with my Transforming Community (along with my colleague, Kathleen Acker) and learning from Ruth Haley Barton. We anticipate a great trip!

And that’s what I want to focus on today: taking a trip, traveling. Many of us enjoy traveling and taking trips. All of us have great expectations of how these trips will go: we assume everything will go as planned, that we will have a great time, and that we will come back refreshed and renewed. And a lot of the time, things go the way we expect. But there are those times when the unexpected happens during travel (delays, incidents, accidents, unrealized expectations). When that happens, do we get de-railed and defeated? Or do we see the greater design of God behind the unexpected?

Here are a few Whole Life Worship ideas to keep in mind when we travel:

1. Hold expectations lightly. This is true for any situation in life, but more so when we travel. Believe it or not, we have expectations for everything when we travel: that we’ll get through security with no hassles, that we will have a less-than full flight and have a row to ourselves, that our rental car will be clean and roomy, that our GPS will get us to our destination in the fastest way. Chances are, not everything will go according to plan. But behind the “best laid plans of mice and men” is the Sovereign God we worship. So in spite of delays, disappointments, and unmet expectations, we trust that God is guiding us in the best way possible. This not only lowers our blood pressure, but it helps us to be aware of the next principle.

2. Look for opportunities. When God gives us a “left turn” from our expectations, He may be preparing us for an opportunity. Ask the question, “God, what are you trying to show me?” as you face an unmet expectation or surprise. Then look. On our flight to an earlier retreat this year, I noticed my colleague Kathleen initiating a conversation with the person she sat next to. As I overheard her conversation (I’m a terrible eavesdropper!) I could tell God was moving them to a significant discussion. Kathleen also goes out of her way to build relationship with the flight attendants, encouraging them and engaging them in conversation. She was making the most of her opportunities. I thought of Paul’s admonition to the Colossian church, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders. Make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt” (Col 4:5-6). Her example inspired me to make the most of the opportunities God gave me by initiating conversation with others on the return flight.

3. Adapt Spiritual Rhythms. The one thing travel will usually do is disrupt your spiritual rhythms of solitude, Bible reading, prayer, maybe even your Sabbath. I encourage you to adapt your rhythm to your travel schedule. If you are flying – and you are not engaged in an “opportunity” – you might consider putting on the headphones, listen to some reflective music, and have a personal time with Jesus at 30,000 feet. Or as you are driving to your destination, pull over and spend five minutes in silent prayer. Or as you wait in the airport terminal, instead of playing a game on your iPhone, read and reflect on a passage of Scripture. It might not be your “prime time,” but engaging in spiritual rhythms on a travel day can make a huge difference.

I write this, not only to encourage you, but to also prepare myself as I travel this day. Please pray for us as we travel this evening to “Chi-town” via Denver. I also want to thank my dear friends, Benjamin and Susan Fudge who, along with Letty, gave me some good thoughts for this blog (while Jacuzzi-ing in Temecula).

What helps you maintain your spirituality as your travel?

#ruthhaleybarton #transformingcommunity #wholelifeworship

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Today, Letty and I celebrate 31 wonderful years of marriage. I can honestly say that we are more in love with each other now than we were on our wedding day (and we thought we were hopelessly in love back then!) My wife is truly remarkable. I marvel at how God has blessed me with a spouse who is so beautiful (inside and out), “faith-full,” and loving. In spite of all of my flaws and sins (which are many), she has persevered in her love for me and grace toward me. Most of all, she is the one person in my life who can “call me to the carpet”; lovingly confront my sins and selfishness, and help me to repent. (Those of you who know Letty – and me – you know these things to be so true). As I reflect on our marriage and all the ups and downs of life we experienced together, I am reminded of one small book that made a huge difference in how we approached our relationship, and how this book also influenced our relationship with God.

The book was, “The Secret of Staying in Love.” It was written by John Powell, a Jesuit priest. Letty and I read this book at the same time (summer of 1978). We had just started dating. We experienced a deep love for each other and we wanted to keep it going. We were looking for ways to love each other well. Little did we know how much this book was going to help us.

There were three things in Powell’s book that greatly influenced how we approach our relationship. I share these with you, not only to encourage you in your significant human relationships, but also to point to our relationship with God – who, in many ways, we are enjoined to in deepest relationship.

1. Vision for One-ness. Powell’s book gave us a great vision for our relationship – to become One, to experience One-ness. Although this was a difficult concept for us to understand (we were both around 20 years old when we read this), there was something about it that appealed to us, that this was a worthy vision to pursue. Instead of thinking, “Okay, if we get married we’re going to try hard not to get divorced (or do things that will cause separation),” our thoughts were, “Okay, if we get married we are going to pursue one-ness in everything: love, thought, action.” Little did we know that such a pursuit of one-ness is the primary concept behind the Shema (Deut 6:4) and Greatest Commandment (Mark 12:30) – which is to love the One-ness of God with totality of being, and to love others in one-ness of self.

2. Communication is the key. Powell stressed that communication was the key to success in a long-range love relationship (and not having things in common, physical attraction, doing activities together, or having great sex). Letty and I established early on the “evening de-brief” – where we devote a block of time for just talking about our day or sharing hopes and dreams or unloading fears and anxieties. We also adopted a “no-secrets-between-us” ethic – which is easier said than done. But the quality of our open, honest communication over the decades is what makes our relationship so strong. The same can be said with our relationship with God: open, honest communication (through prayer, worship, Scripture) is the key.

3. Anticipate changes in seasons. I’m not sure if Powell spoke directly to this, but because Letty and I had a long-range expectation to our relationship we knew that our love as “20 somethings” would look different over the course of time. We knew that there would be challenges in life that would demand an “elevation” in how we love and our expectations in receiving love. We constantly surrounded ourselves with older mentors who could tell us what we can anticipate in the coming stages of life. We didn’t anticipate everything, but we knew enough to keep our focus on God, growing, and persevering during those changes in seasons.

Interestingly enough, the nature of our love transformed over the years: from that of star-struck lovers to the type of love that Paul describes in 1 Cor 13 – patience, kindness, persevering, seeking to understand first, bearing offenses, not self-seeking, believing in each other, forgiving. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t still “in love”; actually, just the opposite. As our love matured over the years, our attraction to each other is at an all-time high!

And the same can be said about our relationship with God. As we grow in love with the Lover of our Soul, through a vision of one-ness, priority of open, honest communication, and elevating in our love through seasons of life, we become increasingly inseparable from Him – adoring Him and receiving His unfailing love through whole life worship.

#johnpowell #thesecretofstayinginlove

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This morning I learned a spiritual lesson from my computer. It was time to get an update for iTunes (one of the important “necessities” for worship pastors these days). I thought this update would take just a couple of minutes to take effect, but no! It took several minutes for the online updater to figure out what my computer had. Then it took ten minutes to download the software. Then another 5 minutes to install the software on to my computer. Then I had to restart my computer for the new changes to take effect (another 7 minutes to close all my programs and then the rebooting process).

I know, some of you are saying, “Doug, you need a new computer!” But that’s not the lesson. And, no, the lesson I learned wasn’t about “patience,” either – although I did use the time of this update to make coffee, breakfast, read the news on my phone (that sounded weird), and take out the trash.

The spiritual lesson I learned from my computer was about the process it takes to assimilate Biblical principle into daily life. In our “information-oriented” world, it’s easy to think that once we know something, we can apply it to our lives. We hear a great sermon. We read a great book. We get some great advice. We read a great passage of Scripture. And now that it is in our “head,” moving it to our actions and habits is easy.

Wrong.

Just as it took my computer several steps before I could actually use the new iTunes applications, so it takes several steps before Biblical principles become “whole life worship applications.” It’s important to know that because it is easy to get discouraged when our attempts to live the right way, do the right thing, or say the right words get short-circuited by circumstances, distractions, and ingrained habits.

So here are some steps I see in the process of assimilating truth into whole life:

1. “Download” – we need to hear, see or read Biblical truth. One of the values of attending regular worship service is that you get receive many “downloads” of God’s truth in different ways: preaching, worship songs, prayers, fellowship, serving. We also need the “downloads” provided through personal worship (reading and meditating on Scripture), good books (I’m reading a great book called “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” by Peter Scazzero), and spiritual friendships (small group community, accountability or mentor partnerships). We need good input in order to have good output.

2. “Install” – this is usually the most neglected step. “Installing” is the time needed to reflect and pray on how these principles work specifically in our lives. We think that once we’ve heard it or read it, we automatically apply it. That is extremely naïve thinking. Plus, we often don’t fully understand what our souls can or cannot do. Silence and reflection help us to see the ways Biblical truth applies to our situations. Prayer allows God to speak to our hearts on how we can apply it to our lives. Scripture memory is a good tool to establish the importance of why this principle is necessary to my following Christ as Lord.

3. “Reboot” – just as I need to reboot my computer before I can start using new applications, we need to reboot our lives to apply God’s truth into our daily circumstances. This spiritual reboot involves re-aligning ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ (it’s amazing how easily we take back the throne of our hearts – pathetic, actually). It also involves asking the Holy Spirit to fill us and empower us. Thirdly, the reboot involves anticipating specific ways in the upcoming day to apply this truth (like showing love to a co-worker, or praying for patience during a long work meeting, or being present with my family when I come home).

Download, install and reboot. This is the high tech version of Jesus and the apostles’ words when they command us to not just be hearers of the Word, but doers of the Word (Matt 7:24, James 1:22). It puts feet on our faith and enables us to be Whole Life Worshipers of our God.

(#peterscazzero #emotionallyhealthyspirituality #applyingbiblicaltruth)

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Last night, I had a dream about a person I really dislike. In the dream, he was really “rubbing” me wrong and I woke up feeling angry, but also a little puzzled. I totally understood my anger – I always get upset when I just think about this person. But the emotion of being puzzled was what got my attention. I’m learning that when I “notice” something, I really need to go before God with it. So, even though it was about an hour before I needed to get up, I got out of bed, went to my office (my “sacred space”) and sought the Lord through Silent Prayer.

The Lord revealed to me that it was time to eliminate a bitter root in my life. Now, I kind of knew that my bad feeling toward this person was not a good thing. But I figured that since no longer see this person any more that I could just move on and dismiss this unpleasant chapter of my life. However, God didn’t share my opinion. I realized that I needed to forgive this person for what they did (knowing that the likelihood of this person ever asking for my forgiveness was slim to none) and to release the bitterness in my heart to God’s healing.

So I did and I thought that was the end of it. But God said, “Hold on a second. There are some other people you are holding grudges toward.” Sigh … So I brought each one up, looked at their sin against me, my attitudes toward them, and surrendered them to the Lord. When I climbed back into bed (I still had 5 minutes before the alarm was going to go off – stop laughing! I like my sleep), there was a lightness in my soul and peace in my heart.

Now the point of all this is not just about dealing with bitterness and forgiving others or getting up to pray in the early hours of day. I’ve written quite a bit about those topics. Rather, I want to say a brief word about the moment of being “puzzled” and “noticing” this emotion. One of the new spiritual disciplines I have tried to implement in my life is the “Examen.” The Examen is the process of reviewing my day in God’s presence. In the Examen, I do two things: first, look for those times where I was aware of God’s presence (called the “Examen of Consciousness”) and, second, those times when I departed from God’s path (called the “Examen of Conscience”). I’ve actually struggled to get consistency with this discipline, which I try to practice before going to sleep. But last night, I did practice the Examen, and I believe that the dream and my puzzled emotions were direct result of it.

The Examen gives permission for my soul to “open” itself before God. So even though the Examen the night before did not reveal my root of bitterness, it put my soul in position to be “examined” by God’s Spirit; which He did over the course of the night through my dream. The emotion of being puzzled was a warning “flare” to not dismiss the opportunity of transformation – which I could have easily done by focusing on the more predominant emotion of anger.

I am still learning quite a bit about the ancient Christian practice of Examen. I am grateful to Ruth Haley Barton’s work in books like, “Sacred Rhythms,” which have given me better handles on this practice as well as inspiration to desire honesty, truth and freedom in the depths of my being. The examined life is an important quality of a true Whole Life Worshiper.

How “examined” is your life before God and your soul?

Has God used sub-conscious promptings (like dreams, thoughts, attitudes) as a way to get your attention to areas that need His transformation?

(#ruthhaleybarton #sacredrhythms #examen #bitternessforgiveness #godspeakingthroughdreams)

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Have you ever gone through a day where you never gave God a single thought? I know I have. And there have been those days when I get off to a good start (having Personal Worship with God), but then I forget God the rest of the day … and it’s not until my Personal Worship time with God the next day that I have my next thought about God!

I want you to know that this blog is not about laying guilt trips on us. Rather, I want us to recognize the reality of how difficult it is to engage with God in “worship in the everyday ordinary.” It’s not easy to focus on God during the day. In fact, it is hard. In the words of Max Dugan (from the movie, “A League of Their Own”): “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it!” As whole life worshipers, we want to be walk with God throughout our day. But there are reasons why it’s seldom of “piece of cake.”

1. We are creatures of habit. We are used to doing things without God. So, if everything goes smoothly we just go on to the next thing. In fact, God usually doesn’t come to mind until something goes wrong (which is one of the few ways God can get our attention!)

2. We are creatures of the flesh. (I mean “flesh” in the sense of our fallen nature) We have a default setting of “not God” in our being. Our ego or false self want to be in charge of everything. Even though we are new creatures in Christ, our flesh wants to constantly resurrect and assert its authority.

3. There is an enemy of our soul who wants to keep us from God (thinking about God, praying to God, communing with God) as much as possible. And when we do have the presence of heart, mind, and soul to respond to God, the enemy goes full bore to distract, bore, suppress and minimize this desire.

So it takes proactive steps, awareness of what we are up against (the dark powers within and without), and much grace from God to engage with God during the day. There are two things that will help us:

1) Anytime is the right time to re-engage with God. It can be mid-morning, lunch time, afternoon, evening, or even right before we hit the pillow. You can re-engage with God anytime (even now).

2) The object is not to feel guilty that we don’t think about God all the time. I think we focus too much on the lofty expectation that good Christians are centered on God all the time. Such thinking frustrates us and we end up not spending any time with God at all. Rather, look to improve our “get back to God” so that we realistically increase our engagement with Him during our days. One time a day is an improvement from none. Two times is an improvement over once. And so on.

Here are some practical ideas that have helped me to engage with God more frequently during the day:

– Setting the chime function on my watch or phone to go off on the hour as a reminder to pray a “breath prayer.”

– Start each work project with one minute of silent prayer.

– Every time I turn on my car, I thank God for a family member or friend.

– Praying the Daily Office once or twice a day (there are Offices for every three hours of the day)

– Reading the Bible at lunch time.

– Taking a walk after dinner and praying through the “examen” (evaluating my day in the presence of God – I’ll write about this some later).

So what are some ways that have helped you get back to God during the day?

What is one thing that you proactively do today to get back to God?

As we worship God in the everyday ordinary in greater frequency, we see His power, grace and wisdom revealed in greater ways.

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Celebrating Freedom

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Today, we (in America) celebrate our nation’s birthday. Our country is 237 years old. But even more important than our longevity as a nation (we’re actually a pretty young nation compared to most), is the celebration of freedom.

Freedom, as you know, is not “free.” There was a great cost (blood, resources, time, etc.) to gain our independence and to establish a nation founded on many freedoms. It is good for us to pause and reflect on that cost and  those who paid it, so that we can enjoy freedom today.

It is also good to reflect and celebrate the freedom God gives us. Our freedom as a nation is predicated on the fact that the God we worship values freedom. The God of the Bible is opposed to tyranny and oppression. Our God established freedom from the first day of Creation when He ended the chaos and brought forth light. He gave freedom to the first human beings: they were free to be fruitful, multiply and enjoy the good earth. He also gave them the freedom to choose; knowing full well that they would choose poorly.

But God went beyond the freedom of  our choice – which we foolishly used in a way that brought brokenness, shame, darkness and condemnation – by exercising His own freedom: the freedom to love, the freedom to save, the freedom to redeem, to freedom to set free. Through the incarnation and atoning work of Christ, we have been set free – indeed!

So while we have been given certain, wonderful freedoms as Americans, our true freedom comes from being Christians (from Christ). Indeed, this was the freedom our Founding Fathers understood as “inalienable from God” which gave them the vision for American freedom. If there was no Christian freedom, there would not be American freedom. In fact, Christ-followers are always free; whether they live in America or in Communist China or under extreme Islamic fanaticism. For as Christ-followers, we are free regardless of any tyrannical ruler or oppressive government or even the “prince of the air.” We have a freedom that transcends any earthly or spiritual situation that attempts to enslave us. As the hymn writers, Townsend and Getty, exclaim:

No power of hell, no scheme of man

Can ever pluck me from His hand,

Till He returns or calls me home,

Here in the power of Christ I live.

(“In Christ Alone”)

Whole Life Worshiper, celebrate your freedom with joy and gusto. Remember the God who loved you and created you to freedom. Remember those He inspired to sacrifice for your freedoms as Americans. Remember His great own sacrifice that makes it possible for you to be free indeed – inside and out.

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Breath Prayer

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Last night I woke up at 3am in a panic. Something just gripped my mind and heart as I was filled with anxiety. A small, still Voice told me, “Just breathe … and pray.” So I took deep breaths. I tried praying the Jesus prayer, but it was too long. All that could come out was, “Jesus, have mercy on this sinner.” So each breath I prayed, “Jesus, have mercy on this sinner” over and over and over again. Sure enough, God showed mercy on this sinner. The anxiety lifted, perspective was granted, and peace came.

I was reminded of the power of the “Breath Prayer.” The breath prayer is a short prayer (a few words long) that fits in the moment of a breath. In some ways, breath prayer is one of the ways we can seek to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:18) as breathing is something we do all the time. You can pray it aloud or in your mind. Breath prayer is the quickest and most effective discipline to get me back “in touch” with God. It is also the most rhythmic and portable spiritual practice. It aligns with the tempo of physical inhalation and exhalation. And you can pray a breath prayer anytime, anywhere.

Depending on the situation, the breath prayer can be a desperate and immediate cry for help (like my 3am attack) or it can be a long-range desire or petition. One of my long-term breath prayers is “Lord, help me to love as You do,” as God helped me to realize my deficiency in my life (and, interestingly enough, also my deepest desire). Or if someone you know has a great need, you can do powerful intercession through a breath prayer (“Lord, grant grace to _______” or “Draw ________ with Your love” or “Give _______ wisdom”).

The power in the breath prayer is repetition. You pray it over and over and over again. You can pray a breath prayer 20 times a minute. You can engage in this prayer several times a day. You can pray it in your car or waiting in the checkout line at the store. Like the relentless prayer of the widow in Luke 18:1-3, breath prayer is a way to keep knocking on the door until something happens.

Many authors have written great stuff about the power of breath prayer. Richard Foster (“Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home”) mentions a dual-breath prayer that utilizes the power of inhalation (“Fill me, Holy Spirit”) and exhalation (“I empty _____ from my soul”). Ruth Haley Barton (“Sacred Rhythms”) advocates finding a breath prayer that captures your deepest desires and longings as revealed by the Holy Spirit. She describes this as a “gut prayer” because it is a prayer that requires little thought, but deep soulfulness.

Most of all, you don’t have to be a spiritual giant or a theological scholar to pray a breath prayer. It’s a prayer that anyone can pray at anytime. It is a prayer that God hears, certainly. Like the power of water in erosion, persistent breath prayers can dramatically change the contour of situations, hearts, and societies.

But even more important, God uses breath prayer to shape our hearts and souls. It refines our motives, desires and petitions. It helps us to practice perseverance. It brings us to the throne of God at times that we normally might not even think about God – during our everyday ordinary daytime hours or in the wee hours of the night.  As the name of God is on our breath, His presence comes into our thoughts and His peace enters our hearts. Breath prayer postures us to constantly offer our lives and our desires to God. Breath prayer aligns us for Whole Life Worship.

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