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Archive for August, 2013

Thank God Friday!

thankyougod

(In case you are wondering, this is a reblog. Trying to catch up after a busy and challenging week – thanks for your patience!)

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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wholelifeworship

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(This is an ongoing series about prayer in Whole Life Worship)

One of the most profound prayers in the Bible is found in Mark 9. A father watches helplessly as his son is being tormented by demonic powers. Jesus’ disciples cannot cast it out. Jesus comes onto the scene, having just been transfigured in glory on the Mount. But instead of casting out the demon, Jesus engages in a casual conversation with the father. The demon tosses the boy like a rag doll by now, and Jesus makes what appears to be an “unconcerned” comment to the father, “Everything is possible for one who believes” (v. 24). To which the father cries out to Jesus in desperation,

“I believe. Help my unbelief!”

In this prayer we see several things. First Jesus is neither casual nor unconcerned in this story. His actions are intentional. He is trying to draw out the…

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Have you ever played the shell game where you have to guess which shell contains the nut? Sometimes it seems like the pursuit of our desires can be like a cosmic “shell game” where we gauge our circumstances, watch the movements of opportunities, and take a wild stab at it – only to find an empty shell. Or is it?

I want to end our little discussion on the topic of Desire with a personal story:

When I was graduating from High School, I was a new believer in Christ. I thought about what I wanted to do with my life and three desires came to me: 1) Doctor, 2) High School Music Teacher, and 3) Pastor. The third choice was a pretty far-fetched since I was very new in the faith, but – hey – I was just dreaming. So I narrowed my choices in colleges to three: USC (where I could study to be a doctor), UC Santa Barbara (where I could study music – my amazing piano teacher just moved there), and Westmont College (where I could become a pastor).

My strongest desire was to become a doctor, so I took a stab at the “first shell” and went to USC. I did well as a pre-med, acing the first couple of Chem tests. But then I went to a Christian conference sponsored by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. There I understood for the first time that Jesus was not just my Savior, but my Lord. And I realized that I never asked the Lord Jesus what career I should pursue. So I asked Him. Immediately there was a yearning in my heart toward music. As Christ opened that desire, I also realized that my reasons for being a doctor were purely self-serving (being admired, making boat loads of money, and upholding the family reputation). But it was still a major move, had financial ramifications (USC is not a cheap place to change your major) and it was hard on my pride as many of my friends and family expected me to become a doctor. Equally hard was that my first “shell” attempt drew a blank.

Nevertheless, I followed the Lordship of Christ and changed my major. Fortunately, USC had a great music school (even better than UCSB) and it was a great fit for me. Even more important, I met the love of my life, Letty, at USC (at an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship meeting). After we graduated, we both got teaching jobs and got married a short time later.

I enjoyed teaching High School music for several years. One day, Letty and I visited a church that would become our church home – Community Baptist Church. Among other things, I loved the worship music there. But something peculiar happened. As I watched the worship pastor (Byron Spradlin, who later became my mentor) there was a yearning in my heart that I had not felt since that conference in college. Only this yearning was, “I want Byron’s job!” I was appalled that I would have such a thought. I felt I was coveting. And I loved my job as a music teacher, we had built a top shelf program at the High School, and the Lord was using me to lead students to Christ. Besides, Byron was the worship pastor and he wasn’t going anywhere.

Well as it turns out, Byron went somewhere – to plant a church. And to make a long story short, God gave me the opportunity to become the music director at CBC. However, it meant taking a pretty big cut in salary. It also meant leaving a music program that I had built from the ground floor. It also meant that my second attempt of turning the shell drew a “blank.” But all those things did not seem to matter because I knew God was leading me.

I’ve been in full-time ministry for 25 years and, in the process, there have been many more desires/shells in my heart. In every one of them, I’ve had to go through a discernment process of examination and surrender. Sometimes the doors just closed up (those were the easy ones to discern). But sometimes the doors were open and they were very enticing, but the Spirit told me not to go through them. And sometimes the doors opened and I sensed God’s invitation – but I had no idea what was waiting on the other side of the door. Needless to say, it has been an adventure. And, as a result, I’ve had a wealth of experiences over those years: pastoring, church planting, counseling, mentoring, worship leading at house churches and national conferences, and teaching at a seminary (as well as Junior High and elementary school).

One might say, “This guy is still searching for the nut, because he only comes up with empty shells.” And I think that would be true if getting the nut was the goal of this game. And that’s what I thought in the beginning. But I learned that “desires” are just shells. Even if we get the “nut,” it doesn’t amount for anything if our pursuit is anything less than a pursuit of God. But when the “desire” is centered on pursuing God, the “shells” we turn over become stepping stones toward transformation and unlocking the Truest Desire of our hearts.

I still can’t name my Truest Desire. I probably won’t until I see Him face to face. What I do know is that, at this stage of life, my desires have shifted from “what I do” to “who I am becoming.” I’m more concerned about becoming a loving person than being a pastor or a professor or an author. Now my desire is based more on becoming faithful, than being fruitful or famous. The process of turning over shells has taught me to trust God first and that I’m better off not being in control or getting what I want (see blog from 8/22). Whole Life Worship has shown me that life is not a cosmic shell game, but a process of “becoming Christ-like” as I walk with Him in the adventure of life.

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jesus-in-gethsemane

Yesterday we discussed the sticky wicket of “desire.” Though the True Desire is good and godly, our pursuit of it, outside of God, leads to darkness – placing us in bondage to lesser desires and further away from what our hearts truly long for.

Obviously, the key to pursuing True Desire is God. The Psalms direct us, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desire of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). Jesus affirms this in his Sermon, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things (including the desires of our hearts) will be yours as well” (Matt. 6:33). As well, Jesus says this about himself, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by me.” The key to pursuing our True Desire is to pursue through Christ. Jesus brings us to the Father and the Father unlocks the desires of our heart as we pursue Him.

This is not rocket science. If we seek God and to do His will, the True Desire of our heart will be fulfilled. It is through the journey of seeking God and doing His will that the True Desire of our hearts becomes known and fulfilled. Yesterday, we discussed that we do not know what our True Desire. We cannot name it, especially early in our journey. We sense it, we feel it, we yearn for it, but we cannot identify it. The only way we begin to understand our True Desire is if we are in the flow of the One who created it within us. As we become more Christ-like, the influence of the flesh is reduced and we begin to recognize aspects of our True Desire: callings become clearer, we see God at work around us, in us and through us. We see greater alignment with the right kind of “lesser desires” (still not able to name the True Desire) and godly character that we are being transformed into. Most of all, we see how everything in our past (not just to positive, but especially the negative) works in a redemptive way toward this True Desire.

There are a few things I’ve learned in this journey toward True Desire:

1. The feeling toward certain desires is a “shadow” of my True Desire. There are “desires” and there is “Desire” (True Desire). I now realize that the “desires” I can name are lesser and need to be scrutinized in the name of Christ and the True Desire He calls me. However, each lesser desire (no matter how lesser or noble or base or altruistic) has at least a “sliver” of the True Desire. It is a shadow of my True Desire. My shadow is not my “person,” but it gives me hints of what my personhood looks like (shape, features, direction). It’s also interesting to note that the greater the “light” that shines on me, the more distinctive my shadow describes me. This leads me to the next thing I’ve learned.

2. I need to “notice”, not judge my lesser desires. A really “good” lesser desire is still not my True Desire. Likewise, a really “bad” lesser desire may reveal something truthful about my True Desire. So before I judge whether a lesser desire is “good” or “bad,” I’ve learned to just notice. Noticing requires discipline, both to not “give in” to lesser fleshly desires (which may lead to sin) nor to jump on a seemingly “godly” desire (which may lead toward a wrong direction). Quick judgment – in either case, is not good. But noticing puts me in the posture of examination.

3. Examine and surrender desires in the presence of God. This is where the “examen” discipline comes into play for me. As I evaluate my day before God, I recall instances where I felt the power of “desire” strongly. I ask God two questions: a) What are You telling me through this desire? b) What do You want me to do with this desire?

I find it interesting that both of the documented cases where Jesus wrestled with desire (the wilderness after His baptism and the Garden of Gethsemane) He examined the desire and surrendered them to God. Here we see Jesus wrestling with “lesser desires”: to meet needs, to be validated as the Son of God, to gain followership, to somehow bring redemption through a way less excruciating than separation from the Father. In both cases, He understood that the True Desire was greater than these worthy desires. In both cases, He surrendered to the Father’s will. And in both cases, He was strengthened through this process to pursue whole heartedly the True Desire that the Father placed in His heart of hearts.

What was Jesus’ true desire?

There is a small, obscure verse in Isaiah 53 that gives us a hint of what Jesus’ true desire was:

“He shall see the travail of his soul and be satisfied.” (verse 11a, KJV)

The “travail” of Jesus’ soul was you and me. When Jesus realized that His suffering and death on the Cross would set the love of His life totally free (namely, you and me and humanity), He was satisfied. Jesus’ True Desire was to see us free from the power of sin and death forever. And it is now possible for us, thanks to Jesus’ ultimate act of Whole Life Worship.

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The last two blogs have got me thinking a lot about “desire.” This is a topic that I’ve learned a lot over the past several months (thanks to Ruth Haley Barton and some other amazing authors), and I still have a ways to go. What I notice is that desire is something that people don’t talk a much about in Christian circles. However, I think we should broach the subject because people constantly make poor choices based on their understanding of “desire”; and some of those people include the person we see in the mirror each morning (at least that’s true for me).

The problem with “desire” is that the Christian community is very divided over it. Some believe that desires are good and God-given. They cite Psalm 37:4 (“Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart”) as one of the proof-texts for their theology. Others believe that desires are evil; that they pull people into sin and away from God. They would quote Scriptures like James 1:15 (“Desire … gives birth to sin, and sin … gives birth to death”) to prove their point.

I think both of these camps have valid arguments, but are wrong in their approach. Like many other things in our walk with Christ, “Desire” can be good or bad; it depends on how you approach it. It’s like “money.” It’s not absolutely bad or absolutely good. It’s what you do with it, how you respond to it.

Three things have helped me in my thinking about desire:

1. Our truest “Desire” is good because it is from God. Our truest desire comes from God, the author of both desire and truth. God’s desire created the world. God’s desire made a way of salvation for humanity through Christ. And this same God who breathed His Spirit into us to both create and redeem us, gave us a true desire in our heart of hearts.

2. We really don’t know what our Truest Desire is. One of the difficulties is that we can’t really “name” our truest Desire – not in a way that connects and resonates with our whole being. Theologically. we can take “stabs” at guessing that our truest Desire; like it has to do with God or Love or something altruistic. But in our heart, the only thing we might know about our Truest Desire is that it exists. We might feel a dull ache in our soul or a sense of longing. We might hear a song and, out of the blue, we start weeping. We read a passage of Scripture and, for a split second, we see a part of it. There are so many intangible things that point to a True Desire, but not enough pieces for us to know what it is.

3. Our attempts to pursue our Truest Desire without God lead to sin. Our problem with “desire” is how we pursue it – without God. Dr. Neil Anderson (Talbot Seminary) gave a profound definition of sin: “Sin is meeting a legitimate need in an illegitimate way.” Having needs is not a sin; it’s a reality. However, if we try to meet our needs in a wrong or ungodly way, it’s a sin. Likewise, “Sin is pursuing a true desire in an illegitimate way.” To satisfy the ache or the longing, we fill our lives with the pursuit of lesser desires (wealth, beauty, fame, security, adventure, artificial states of happiness, knowledge, goals, dreams, experiences, bucket lists – anything else? – feel free to chime in!) And this is where we see the sinister cycle of James 1:15 take over: illegitimate desires, sin, and death.

So what we have here is a “sticky wicket.” We have a true desire in our heart of hearts that was planted by God when He created us. But our sinful condition shrouds what this desire is and our attempts to pursue it – without God – lead us down a dark path. Yet to not pursue our deepest truest desire is like taking the life out of life; we resign ourselves to a murky state of a joyless existence, just going through the motions until we die or Jesus comes again.

That’s not living. And that is certainly not Whole Life Worship.

In fact, tomorrow we will look at how our pursuit of God in Whole Life Worship unlocks our Truest Desire in amazing ways. Until then, reflect on the following questions:

– What do you believe about desires and God and life?

– Do you believe in a True Desire planted in your heart by God?

– If so, how have you experienced the existence of your True Desire?

– What are some of the counterfeit desires that attempt to fill the void of the True Desire in our hearts?

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Yesterday’s topic was about contentment: worshiping God’s goodness and sovereignty which leads to contentment in any and every situation. Today I want to explore the converse idea of:  “What if we got what we wanted?”

The other day I met with Felix, my good friend of over twenty years. Felix is a very, very talented musician – God has blessed him with an amazing gift. He is also a very skilled contractor – one of the best in the business. When I first met Felix he had just moved to California to “make it as a professional musician.” His goal and dream was to become a studio and recording artist, go on tour with top notch bands, and to play music all the time. He saw his skills and role as a contractor as only a way to keep him afloat until he made it in the music industry. Meanwhile, he got involved at our church, played on the worship team (which was awesome for me), and we met regularly for spiritual mentoring, especially discussing what it meant to live out Whole Life Worship.

In the years that followed, Felix’s spiritual growth took off. The Lord did an amazing work of transformation in his life as He helped Felix overcome and be healed from painful memories of the past. Felix learned how to walk in faith and truth. The Lord also opened up doors in both music and in construction. He started his own remodeling business and it flourished; God blessed him with steady jobs, even during times of economic recession. He also became well-known in the “worship” circles and God gave him opportunities to serve at different churches – on a professional level (i.e. “paid gigs”). He was also part of several recording projects for some pretty high level worship CD’s. God also blessed him with amazing connections in the LA jazz scene and had the opportunity play and tour with some amazing jazz groups.

But Felix never got what he originally wanted: that of being a full-time professional musician. The music work was always just a little extra, on top of the daily grind of remodeling homes, installing counter tops, fixing bathrooms, and the like.

Recently, God gave him kind of a “George Bailey” moment (I’m referring to the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” where George gets to see what the world would have been like if he had not been born). Felix got a glimpse of what his life would have been like if he got what he wanted.

While working on a home, he had a conversation with the owner, a well-to-do woman who works for a non-profit organization. She shared with Felix that she used to be a high-level record executive in Nashville for a prominent studio. She described the professional music industry as being hard, cut-throat, two-faced, immoral and unethical. She told him stories of how musicians who sabotaged other musicians or talked cruelly behind each other’s backs. She told Felix how glad she was to be out of the professional music world.

Then at another home, Felix had a conversation with one of the top jazz bass players in the world (his connections in the music world often provided him some good work as a contractor). This musician bemoaned the fact that studio work was drastically declining, that he was getting tired of touring, and that he needed to downsize his lifestyle because of lower income levels. Such is the common case for many a professional musician.

Finally, Felix shared with me that, when fixing people’s homes, he had many opportunities (too numerous to recount) to have amazing conversations with the home owners. His warm personality engaged them and they opened up to him, even sharing some of the deepest, darkest secrets of their lives. As a result, Felix got to encourage them, to pray for them, and to share Jesus Christ with them. To them, he was more than a “Fix-It Felix.” He was their confidant, their spiritual mentor, and messenger of God’s grace.

The conclusion that Felix came to was he was glad God didn’t give him what he wanted. God had something better in mind for Felix than being a full-time, professional musician. God wanted Felix to become a full-time man of God. God had something better for Felix than just making music on his bass. God wanted Felix to make music with his life.

God wants so much more for us than what we think we want. But we cannot see beyond what we can ask or imagine. It is only through the process of surrendering our hopes and dreams to God in Whole Life Worship, that we begin to see how much more is beyond “what we want.”

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived the things that the Lord has prepared for those who love Him. (1 Cor 2:9, Jer 9:24)

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As many of you know, my wife, Letty, teaches Kindergarteners. With these “young-uns” one has to come up with quick, memorable statements to help them adjust their thinking (what the Bible calls “renewal of the mind”). When a 5 year old has difficulty when getting a blue balloon instead of a red one or has to play with Legos instead of a Hot Wheels car, Letty says, “You get what you get, so be thankful for it!”

The phrase used to be, “You get what you get, so don’t have a fit!” But this new phrase is much better. Instead of “managing” their disappointment (“don’t have a fit”), these Kinders learn how to adjust their expectations. It’s “Transformation 101.”

It’s funny how us older folks still struggle with this basic lesson of contentment. Some of us are no different than 5 year olds. Our “balloons” and “toys” might be more sophisticated, but the end result is likely the same. When we encounter difficulties, unmet expectations, inconveniences, and disruptions, do we have a fit? Or do we look deeper than our circumstances and get to the place of acceptance, insight, even, thanksgiving?

Paul’s life is an example of Whole Life Worship when he shares to the Philippians, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Phil 4:12b). Contentment is what results when we truly of worship God’s goodness and sovereignty with our lives (not just our theology).

At the heart of contentment is the firm belief that God’s intentions for us are always GOOD. Doubting God’s goodness is what led to the “original sin” in the Garden. Likewise, believing in God’s good intentions is what empowered Jesus to say “no” to Satan’s temptations in the desert.

But sometimes the onus of doubt is not on God’s intentions, but in God’s power. That is why trusting in God’s sovereignty is the other lynchpin to contentment. God carries out His good intentions through all the situations that come our way because He is Sovereign. Even when our circumstances might seem like bad – or even evil, God can and will work it for good, for our best interests (Rom 8:28).

With the dual foundations of God’s goodness and sovereignty in place, contentment in any and every situation can be gained. Then, like the Apostle Paul, we can find strength and grace in difficulty. Over time, comes transformation and, with reflection and prayer, comes perspective and thanksgiving.

In college, I went on a four week Leadership Training course with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. We were housed in different homes near UC Berkeley. I was hoping that I would be paired with one of my buddies. Instead, I was assigned to room with a guy from UC Irvine named Randy. Randy had cerebral palsy, had to be transported by wheel chair, and was difficult to understand when he spoke.

Outwardly, I acted graciously (as Christians are supposed to do), but inwardly I “had a fit.” My soul was filled with inner protests like: “Why did I get paired up with Randy?” and “I paid good money to go on this retreat and have meaningful conversations with people, and now this?”

I wish I could say that during the four weeks with Randy I learned all the lessons about my selfish entitlement, prejudice, and lack of faith. Mostly, I faked my way through this “trial,” while thinking I was some sort of “martyr” for taking this on. But toward the end of the time, something in me “cracked” a little. A seed thought came to me: “Maybe this is for my own good.” It was the first baby step of a long journey in transformation.

Nearly 35 years later, I still have a ways to go. Thankfully, God is so patient with me. I look back on that moment now thinking that Randy was the real martyr to put up with a jerk like me. Most of all, I now see my pairing with Randy as a true blessing. Because of him, the first crack in my prison walls of self-centeredness, phoniness, entitlement, and religiosity was inflicted by the goodness and sovereignty of God. I’m glad I got what I got … and I’m truly thankful for it!

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Jesus Icon'

A couple of months ago I blogged about the “Jesus Prayer” (May 15, 2013). After posting that blog, someone requested to be removed from my blog (ouch!). There wasn’t any reason stated for this request, but I think it might have to do with the subject of the Jesus Prayer. After getting over the initial “blow” of feeling rejected (hey, I’m a “feeler” with thin skin, but the Lord’s been working on my co-dependency issues), I realized there might be some misunderstandings about the Jesus Prayer and how I use it.

First, the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”) is simply a way to humble myself in the sight of the Lord (James 4:10). In recent days, I’ve become more aware of the state of my soul. I’m beginning to sense when I am getting “too high on my horse” or too overconfident in my abilities. The Jesus Prayer is a check to remind me that I am always in need of God’s mercy, and that my spiritual state without His grace and mercy is that of a sinner.

Some react to this idea because it sounds like I’m condemning myself – calling myself a “sinner” all the time. “Doug, you’re not a sinner; you’re a saint!” Yes, I am a saint. And I am a sinner. I’m both. Theologically, I am not under the judgment of sin because of Christ’s mercy. But I am still functionally a sinner in the original sense of the word. The Greek word for “sinner” is harmartolos. It is actually an archery term for “one who misses the mark” (in other words, misses the bulls-eye). In the context of spirituality it constitutes those choices that cause me to live “less than” the righteousness of God. As a Christ-follower, I seek to live God’s righteousness under grace wholeheartedly (Matt  6:33), but I still “miss the mark sometimes. “Sinner” is not my identity in Christ, but it is an honest description of where I am when I start living for myself. The intention the Jesus Prayer is to get back to my true identity as a humble child of God through Christ.

 

I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but I sense tremendous freedom when I am humbled. I am in the better place where I can learn from others and hear what they are really saying. It keeps me from having to justify myself or defend myself (what I call “going sideways”). It also keeps me on the firm rock of my identity in Christ, rather than floundering in the quicksand of the “Doug Lee ego.”

I also pray the Jesus prayer when I get overwhelmed. My former tendency in facing challenges was to “react and work it out as expediently (and painlessly) as possible.” But the Jesus Prayer reminds me that even though I am not in control, Jesus is in control. Always. That’s why the first part of the Jesus Prayer is so important: Jesus is the Lord, the Christ, and the Son of God. It also calms my soul to wait on His solutions and to ready myself in knowing that He wants me to work through life’s challenges, not around them. But He is always there with me and my job is simply to follow Him. Again, freeing and transforming.

Some might have some objection over the word, “mercy,” as if it is too specific to pray for this all the time. Many of us have been taught that mercy means “not getting the punishment we do deserve” while grace means “receiving the favor we don’t deserve.” And while those simple definitions are great as pithy sermon points, they really short-change the meaning of those powerful words – especially “mercy.”

Anthony Bloom, writer (“Beginning to Pray”) and Orthodox Bishop, gives some insight on the word “mercy.” The Greek word we translate as “mercy” is eleison. This is actually an agricultural term that has to do with “olives” (the branch, the fruit, and the oil). In Middle Eastern culture, the olive is powerfully symbolic for divine blessing. If you remember the story of Noah, the sign of peace/shalom was the dove bringing the olive branch. If you recall the story of David, he became King (the representative of God to lead people) with the anointing with olive oil. Or think about the story of the Good Samaritan, who brought healing to the victim on the road by pouring … olive oil on his wounds. These are all examples of “mercy.” So it stands that we need God’s mercies all the time, not just when we first come to Christ. And it’s so much more than “not receiving just punishment.”

So I hope that clarifies a few things about the Jesus Prayer. I love it because it is so simple and “portable.” In those moments when I quickly need to change my attitude and focus, I can pray those few words in a breath, and it really makes a difference. I find it as a powerful tool to help us live out our Whole Life Worship of God.

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passion_worship

Over this past week, I’ve looked at Six Spiritual Habits that help us get bearings on our movement toward spiritual maturity. As I mentioned, this is neither an exhaustive list nor is it “Gospel truth.” It is just another way of staying intentional in following Christ. I like the “Habits” because they represent a pretty balanced approach to spiritual growth.

I’ve saved the best for last. My church calls this last habit, “Passionate Worship.”

Now that phrase probably drums up certain images in your mind, perhaps like the photo you see above. We think of a worship service. We think of singing a worship song with great intensity and focus. Perhaps there is lifting of hands. Perhaps there are tears streaming down your face. Perhaps there is a sense of intimate communion with God. And you are thinking, “Now, that is passionate worship!”

I used to think that way. In fact, as a worship leader that was my goal – both for myself and for the congregations I led. I wanted all of us to get to that place. I thought that is what passionate worship is supposed to look like. But now I think differently.

Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoy those deeply emotional experiences of connecting with God through music and devotion, both corporately and in my personal times. I still think they are a part of passionate worship. But if we think that is all of what passionate worship is supposed to be, we’re seriously missing the boat.

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know that I’ll always go back to Romans 12:1-2 as the starting point of Biblical worship:

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, I beseech you, in view of God’s mercies, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

“Worship” is responding to the mercies of God through the offering of whole lives to Him. It involves the process of renewing our minds, being transformed and doing the will of God.

“Passionate worship” is simply doing the above, passionately – with all our hearts.

It is more about surrender than song. It is more about doing God’s will than lifting my hands. It is more about the transformation of my soul than the shedding of my tears. It is more about how I live my life outside of the worship service than how I perform inside the worship service.

Now here’s the interesting dynamic of true passionate worship: the more we live out our passionate worship by communing with and obeying Christ during the week (through the other 5 Spiritual Habits), the more we can authentically worship God during the worship service. However, the more we confine worship to the activities that we perform during the worship service, the less we are able to authentically worship God in real life.

The sad part is that we see more of the latter in many churches. We see emotional worship in our services. We experience passion for an hour. We are assisted by fine music and great sermons.  But it’s not “passionate worship” in the truest sense. We know that because something seems to lift off of us the moment we walk outside of the sanctuary, and we go back to life “as usual.”  And I think that is one of the reasons why our churches lack credible witness to our broken, fallen world.

Passionate worship begins with understanding the mercies of God – God’s passion for you and me as evidenced by Creation, Incarnation, and Redemption. Passionate worship continues as we respond, not with lip-service, but with life-service. Passionate worship is stoked when we trust God and see God in real life situations. Passionate worship culminates with the genuine praise and thanksgiving for what He has done in our lives because we walked with Him every day. Passionate worship is Whole Life Worship lived passionately.

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child-holding-candle

One of my favorite nursery worship songs is “This Little Light of Mine.” The little kids love to sing the verses, “Hide it under a bushel? No!!” and “Won’t let Satan blow it out, I’m gonna let it shine!”

It’s a great song. But it’s really hard to do in real life.

I have to confess that shining the light of Jesus has always been the “weakest link” in my nearly 40 year spiritual journey as a Christ-follower. Although I have the privilege to have led dozens of people to Christ and planted lots of seed, I still feel like I am fall short in this area of my life. I’m afraid to get to the end of my life and I’ll be like Oskar Schindler (from the movie “Schindler’s List”) who, at the end of saving over 1,000 Jews from death, weeps regretfully over the fact  that he could have saved a lot more if he wasn’t so self-absorbed. I fear there are people who might not know Christ if I keep “hiding my light under a bushel” or “allow Satan to blow it out.”

My church calls this shining of Christ’s light, “Compassionate Outreach.” It’s the Spirit inspired and Biblically mandated activity of going outside of ourselves to help others know the life and love of God in Jesus Christ. Other groups call it “evangelism” – which means “sharing the Good News.” But we also include the “actions” of the Good News (showing compassionate love to others through meeting needs), as well as the message (that God invites us into His eternal life as we receive forgiveness of sins through Christ and following His Lordship).

But as I said earlier, it’s easier said than done. The reason for the difficulty is that there are tremendous spiritual, cultural and pragmatic forces working against Christ-followers to share the Gospel with others. Our culture frowns on people who act spiritual and are too “outward” with their faith. We sense the fear of being labeled a “Bible thumper” or “weird religious fanatic” by others. Spiritually, there is an enemy who knows that if we effectively help others become Christ followers, his dark work is severely threatened. So Satan and darkness furiously work at keeping our faith “inward” and keeping the Kingdom of God contained.

The pragmatic obstacles are varied. One pragmatic obstacle is confusion over the “how” of evangelism. Many have this complex scenario in their minds that involves memorizing scripture, giving a “spiel”, and personally leading a person to pray the “sinner’s prayer.” Or we think that evangelism means we need to manipulate people into believing something they don’t really want to believe in. Maybe we got these ideas from our well-meaning churches or leaders. But I don’t think that’s what Christ had in mind when He told us to “let our light shine.”

Another pragmatic obstacle is that some of us are never “present” for unbelievers. We spend all our time relating with people who are already Christ-followers. It is so easy to stay in the “safe” confines of church activities and fellowship. Sometimes we don’t see our work or neighborhoods or community as places to build significant relationships with others. Sometimes we just don’t have the “time.” This is a very big challenge for those who are in ministry.

So what do we do?

As I confessed, this is my weakest area, but I have found these things to be helpful in growing in the habit of Compassionate Outreach:

1. Pray for God to open our eyes to see the “harvest.” The “harvest” is a word-picture of the lost people in the world whose hearts God is moving. In John 4:35, Jesus tells his disciples to “open their eyes to see the fields ripe for ‘harvest.’” There are people around you and me who need Jesus. We just need to see them (and not pass by on the other side). So we pray for God to open our eyes.

2. Meet with a fellow Christ-follower to pray for people who need Christ. When I pastored organic house churches, I met with other members one-on-one to share the names of people we know who need Christ (usually 3-4 people) and then we’d pray for them. We had a prayer guide that listed several short Scripture-based prayers that were focused on helping these people hunger for God, realize their need, and want to respond to Christ. We saw amazing and incredible results and opportunities when we prayed weekly through this prayer guide. (Email me at wholelifeworship@gmail.com if you would a copy of this prayer guide)

3. Just start conversations with people who are not (yet) Christians. As you see people at work, doing yardwork in your neighborhood, or watching your kid’s soccer game, go over and start a conversation. You don’t have to go deep and you don’t have to share anything spiritual (unless God opens a door). Just be a friend and pay attention.

I think Compassionate Outreach might be easier than what we make of it. In fact, I think we are probably doing it more than we realize. But I also think we need to have it on our mind, in our hearts and in our prayers so that we can recognize when God is at work on the hearts of those who don’t yet know Him. And then we can shine a “little light” so they can see Him.

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