Archive for August, 2013

Thank God Friday!


(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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(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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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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