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Archive for September, 2013

build-community

In previous blogs I’ve written about the power of “spiritual friendships” in fostering Whole Life Worship. It is very encouraging and empowering when you can meet regularly with a spiritual friend and check in on your Whole Life Worship experiences. Like it says in Ecclesiastes 4:11-12:

If two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.

Having a spiritual partner in Whole Life Worship keeps the spiritual fire going and gives strength to overcome spiritual attack. But having a Whole Life Worship Community is even more powerful. Think about what happens when you put logs together that have a few embers going: the spiritual fire becomes a burning blaze!

Over the past two years, we have been trying to foster Whole Life Community into our worship and tech ministry. We have about 40 people in our ministry who are scheduled to be on the team once a month. Most of them subscribe to the wholelifeworship.com blog; and they understand Whole Life Worship concepts.

On any given weekend, we have 7-10 people serving on the team. We have a “team time” (about 20-25 minutes long) where go around the table and every person gets to share what God has been teaching or showing them recently. We then take a few minutes to silently pray for the person on our right and on our left.

When we first introduced this concept, the sharing was guarded and somewhat superficial. But over the course of time, the sharing has become deeper and more meaningful; confidentiality, openness and trust have become a part of our culture. The team members know that whatever is shared during our time, stays with the group.

We’ve also seen greater traction in spiritual growth as we encourage each other. In the last gathering, several shared about what God impressed on their hearts during their Personal Worship Times (a year ago, many of our team members were not even engaged in this spiritual practice on a regular basis). Even more inspiring is to see how areas of brokenness, sin, and character deficiencies are being transformed by God’s power over the course of time. People who used to be caustic are becoming more sensitive and loving. Team members now quickly resolve their differences with others by speaking truth to one another in love, rather than hold onto resentments. And the “drama” that used to be prevalent in the ministry (very common in Worship Ministries, as some of you can attest) is simply not around anymore!

And I’m really thankful for that! We are not simply a “ministry” that does a task. We are not a bunch of musicians and technicians who perform “worship gigs.” Through our intentional connection to Christ as the Head (Eph 4:15-16), we are becoming a family and a community of Whole Life Worshipers. The musical task then becomes more of an “overflow” of our community and our hearts, rather than the focus of all our attention.

Now, I want to state that we are far from being perfect. And I think that awareness is one of the reasons for our success as a community. We all understand that we are sinners in need of grace. We are all broken people who are in the process of transformation by our loving Savior and Lord. And we all know that we have a long ways to go. But the joy is that we are on this journey together; and we’re having a blast!

I think any ministry can become an excellent place to develop Whole Life Worship community. But too often the focus in ministry is on accomplishing the task, rather than the spiritual development of the people. And while that “gets things done,” I believe it goes against the Kingdom mindset that the Bible teaches.

I often share with my worship leaders that when we come before the Throne of God in heaven, our Lord will not say to us things like, “You led an awesome worship service on July 14, 2012” or “Wow, you nailed that song on the worship CD you made.” Rather, He will say to us, “What did you do with the precious people I entrusted you with? Did you help them to respond to My voice? Did you bear with them in their trials and believe in them when they struggled? Did you develop them to their potential as Christ-followers?”

I believe ministry is best accomplished through an environment that nurtures spiritual growth in community. It’s the Whole Life Worship approach.

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The Power of Mentors

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Have you noticed how much the Bible talks about the “one another’s”? We are called to love one another unconditionally, to bear one another’s burdens, to encourage one another in following Christ and to teach one another the ways of the Lord. The “one another’s” are not just “ideals” we should think about; they are commands that are central to the Kingdom of God. If we are not living out the “one another’s” (regardless of the reason), we are disobeying the Lord’s desires and wishes.

One of the reasons why our Lord Jesus stresses the “one another’s” is because it is the best way for us to grow spiritually. We can never grow in the faith by being a “Lone Ranger Christian”; we grow only when we are in intimate community with one another. This does not mean that we are intimate with every one in the Body of Christ. This does mean that we should have significant relationships with other Christians that empower our spiritual lives. Unfortunately, most Christians try to find their spiritual empowerment at a distance – by listening to a weekly sermon; one-way communication that is “hit or miss” in its approach to meeting spiritual needs.

I feel that the most effective way to grow spiritually is to have a good Christian mentor. A mentor is someone who is a little more mature in their faith. A mentor is a person who meets with you regularly to help you grow in your faith. A mentor is someone who helps you with life and spiritual issues; someone you can call on when you need some advice.

I attribute most of my spiritual growth to a myriad of mentors who have helped me, trained me, encouraged me, and sponsored me throughout my life as a Christian. I don’t see how I could have survived without them! I am equally amazed at how many Christians I run into who have never had a spiritual mentor!

Mentoring is seen throughout the Scriptures: Elijah and Elisha, Samuel and David, Jesus and Peter, Barnabas and Paul, Paul and Timothy, Timothy and Epaphras. Mentoring is the primary way that faith gets passed on. Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:2 –

“What you have heard from me, in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable men who can teach others.

In that verse we see the multiplication of mentoring. Not only are we to be mentored, we need to be mentoring others. Bobby Clinton (no relation to Bill), one of the world’s experts on Christian leadership, says that effective Christians (the ones who finish well) are those who have three types of mentoring relationships:

  1. Upper Mentors – those who are a few steps ahead of me, who help me
  2. Mentorees – those who are a few steps behind me, whom I help
  3. Lateral Mentors – those who are where I am; we mutually encourage each other

Do you have a mentor? Are you mentoring someone? Do you have a lateral mentor? Start with where you are, the people you know, the people who are part of your church community. The best way to get a mentor is simply to … ask. Tap into the power of the “one anothers” and find an “other” in the Body of Christ to partner with you on the journey of Whole Life Worship.

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Girl lying in grass laughing

Yesterday was my mom’s birthday (I won’t tell you how old she is; she has insisted that she’s 29 as long as I can remember). My mom’s name is Gracie. Not Grace or Graciola or any other derivative; just Gracie. And it is so appropriate. My mom is, and has always been, an “understated grace.” She’s hardly ever in the forefront, always more comfortable in the background, but her presence is always felt. It’s that kindness, that goodness, that aura of support you feel when she is around – but she doesn’t have to say a single word to make you feel that way.

Her middle name is “Mae,” but if you ask anyone who knows her well, “Encourager” or “Empathizer” seems to fit her better. She’s the type of person who will listen to your stories, nod or show concern at just the right time, and then give you a hug or an affirming smile; and that’s all you’ll need for the rest of the day.

And she will give Jesus all the credit. She’s been a “whole life worshiper” of Jesus a lot longer than I ever was inspired with the term or the concept. (It’s good to know that some nuts don’t fall too far from the tree!)

I share this with you, not only to honor a great, godly woman, but also to coin a phrase. The life of a whole life worshiper is characterized by the receiving and giving of “gracies.” Yes, there are those Graces: those huge, momentous epiphanies and miracles that part the seas and shake the mountains of our soul. But “gracies” are the small favors of God that constantly bombard our lives like electrons from the sunlight; they happen all the time and all around us. The non-spiritual person doesn’t notice them. Even the average Christian in our culture, though perhaps somewhat aware of them, takes gracies for granted; like the air we breathe and the water we drink.

But the Whole Life Worshiper sees them, recognizes them, and revels in them. Like Jesus, we believe the Father is at work around us all the time (John 5:17). Part of that work is the dispensing of “gracies” to our world, so that we would know He is indeed “with us.” So we are on the alert each day, looking and receiving “gracies” from the hand of our Father that empower and encourage us to do His will in the world. “Gracies” take many different forms:

– An insight from reading Scripture

– A gentle breeze on a warm day

– A smile from a friendly person

– An unexpected string of “green lights” during rush hour

– A boost of energy while working on a project (that doesn’t come from an energy drink)

– A helping hand

– An encouraging word

Gracies can come directly from God, but many of them come from people who let His love flow from them. When I experience gracies, I’m learning to respond by saying “thank you” both to God and to His wonderful vessels of His small gifts.

But that’s only half of the story. As we receive, Whole Life Worshipers give out gracies to others. As we are filled with grace (through the accumulation of gracies), we pour ourselves out. We reach out, we help, we encourage, we come alongside, we love, we give, we smile, and we sacrifice. The funny thing is that if we are in the flow of God, as long as we give them away, we never run out of gracies. As Jesus declared, “Whoever drinks the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14) and as He taught, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matt 10:8).

Gracies. Understated grace that speaks volumes to our souls. I should know; I’ve had one with me all my life. (Happy birthday, Mom!)

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thinker

Foundational to the process of transformation and whole life worship is KNOWING God’s love. Now there is a difference between knowing God’s love and KNOWING God’s love. Another way to put it is that many people know about God’s love, but not as many know God’s love in an experiential way.

Most of us, who have been involved with the church for any length of time, know something about God’s love. We read in the Scriptures that God is love (1 John 4:8). We hear about the Passion of Jesus and are told that God so loves us that He gave his Son to die for us on the Cross. We understand that God demonstrates His love for us through providing for our needs, answering our prayers, and protecting us from harm.

But if this is the extent of our knowledge of God’s love, our worship of Him will be “distant” because our knowing His love is from a distance. It becomes extremely difficult to live out Whole Life Worship because there is no experiential love to “fuel” it. And without Whole Life Worship – the trusting surrender of God in loving response – there is no possibility for transformation (Rom 12:1-2).

Author David Benner, in his book “Surrender to Love,” calls this knowing about God’s love, “objective knowing” in contrast to “experiential knowing” (p. 27). Objective knowing is a belief in God’s love based on Scripture. And while we can trust that the Scripture to be true about God’s love, this aspect of having objective knowledge of God’s love is insufficient for transformation.

Objective knowing God’s love is “safe.” We don’t have to go out on a limb, we don’t have to be vulnerable, and we certainly don’t have to surrender anything – at least those possessions, desires and fears that are nearest and dearest to our hearts. We can bask in the belief that “God is loving” without ever having to test it or rely upon it. But when trials or devastating circumstances come, will such belief save us? Or will we discover that our house was built on theological sand disguised as the Rock of His unfailing love?

A.W. Tozer wrote, “We have substituted theological ideas for an arresting encounter (with Christ); we are full of religious notions but our greatest weakness is that for our hearts there is no one there” (The Divine Conquest, p. 26).

Thankfully, it is precisely in those moments of despair and hardship that God invites us to experience His love. I have had several of those moments: a time of emptiness when I lost a prestigious scholarship competition in High School, despair over a leadership failure in college, hopelessness over an addictive pattern in my life, and the loss of two children to miscarriage within a five month period. Those were the worst times of my life, but they ended up being the best times of my life because I surrendered to God and experienced His love. And it’s because of this “experiential love” that I surrender daily to Christ – not because I am in a desperate situation, but simply because I understand my constant desperate condition without Him. As well, I understand – even more so – my constant condition of shalom and wellness when I am with Him.

Sometimes I lose sight of this amazing love of God. And so one of my favorite Breath prayers is, “Lord, reveal Your love for me to me.” It seems kind of selfish or insecure. But, let’s face it, without God’s love, I am selfish and insecure! All of us are. And just as I never tire of telling my wife that I love her, I understand that, even more, God does not tire in demonstrating His love for us. Not just in an academic or intellectual way, but also in a very experiential manner.

If I am to become love, I need to experience the truest Love of them all. I am thankful that the Lover of my soul does not hesitate to show me His love, in its many forms.

It makes me want to worship Him with my whole life.

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Becoming Love

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It was such a small gesture that I would have missed it if I weren’t paying attention. She had her own things to do. There were errands to run. There was work to get done. There were a million excuses that would have legitimized her not getting involved with this situation.

There was something that needed to get done at the church. It was not her area of responsibility. It was not in her “job description.” If she had said “no,” no one would have though ill of her. But without hesitation, she volunteered herself to do it. It meant putting all the other things she had going on hold. It meant hopping into her car and driving across town to accomplish the task. But she did it – willingly.

What struck me was how joyfully she did this. There was no complaint, no deep sigh, no rolling of the eyes. She just jumped into it – with both feet – as if she really wanted to do this. But I knew better; this was a huge inconvenience to her. She was making a sacrifice. And this was not “I’m doing this so you like me” codependency or an “I’m a doormat, walk over me” victim response. This was a genuine sacrificial response to a need.

I would not have responded so graciously.

If I was available to do the task, I might have considered doing it. But I would have let the person on the other end of the phone how much this was costing me. I would have hemmed and hawed and gone through a list of other people they could ask to do it – and use me as a last resort. And I would have made sure they knew that they “owed me” for this one.

As I watched her do this, I realized I was witnessing a person who was being transformed; someone “becoming love.” She was a person learning to subject her own interests to the interests of others, under Christ’s leadership.

I believe the secret to her transformation is that she is a whole life worshiper. She experiences God’s love daily. She hears the voice of the Holy Spirit and is learning how to say “yes” to Him every time. At times it is hard. At times she fails. And sometimes she has her selfish moments. But this wasn’t one of them.

Her response to this need was like watching a major league ball player hitting a 100mph fastball over the center field fence. Her response to deny herself and place someone else’s interests above her own was like a “lightning fast reflex.” No thinking, no inner argument. Just, “Yes, Lord!”

People who really surrender to Christ’s love become love. It takes time. It takes intentionality. It takes an ongoing thirst for God. It takes a thousand bad experiences of saying “no” to Jesus; and slowing down enough to examine and weep over each one. It takes a few risky “yes” responses where the Lord then takes you on an “E ticket ride” (that’s a really fast roller coaster ride – for those of you too young to know how Disneyland used to operate) and you see how He always comes through in the end. It takes a ruthless, desperate honesty to confess to God that you don’t have what it takes to live for Him; so much so that you beg for His mercy. And how wonderful and glorious it is when His mercy indeed comes!

I believe I’m on the same road as her, but much farther behind. I’m beginning to notice the “real deal acts of love” when it comes by me, though. I know it’s real because my heart glows whenever I witness it. I get a little choked up over it. It gives me a longing and inspiration to be like that myself. Those real deal acts of love don’t have to be great or significant in the eyes of the world (and most of them aren’t). But they do have to be “God.” They are the things that Jesus would do.

Blessed are they that do them, for they become love.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus. (Phil 2:3-4)

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self-improvement

Last week we touched on the difference between “deliverance” and “transformation.” Deliverances are those profound graces that God gives to us at a deep time of need to overcome sin, provide victory over darkness and bring forward progress in our walk with Christ. These miracles and epiphanies show to us that God does indeed exist, that Christ does indeed reign, and that the Holy Spirit does indeed empower. However, they are not the mainstay of the Christian life. Neither are they the final destination point for a Christ follower. God delivers us as part of the ongoing work of transformation; a work that requires the grace and power of God, as well as our own cooperation and effort. The endgame of transformation is not just momentary freedom, but Christ-likeness and becoming who we were meant to be in Christ.

In the same way, transformation is different than “self-improvement.” In an earlier blog, I discussed how the word “transformation” is so overused in our world’s culture that it is cheapened to mean anything from a “make-over” to losing a few pounds. However, I find this is also true in our church culture where we easily mistake transformation to mean something that is only a cosmetic spiritual improvement.

So many sermons we hear and books we read in our Christian circles boast of “transformation,” but they are, in actuality, just Christianized self-helps. For example, we discover how to be a better Christian parent in four easy steps, or become an expert on spirituality by following a particular Bible study method, or overcome our anger by following a simple management pattern. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with self-help improvement methods or ideas, but let’s not mistake it for transformation.

The Greek word for transformation is metamorphe, where we get the English word, “metamorphosis.” The remarkable inside-out change that caterpillar goes through in becoming a butterfly, is the classic example of transformation. This process is not a side venture or a “hobby” for the caterpillar; rather it involves a total life surrender. Mr. Caterpillar does not devote just a few minutes a day spinning the chrysalis, while the rest of the time he continues his normal “caterpillaring.” No, metamorphosis requires a total devotion to the task – as if his very life was at stake (and it is).

Likewise, our transformation requires such abandon and sacrifice. This cost and commitment was not lost to those living in Jesus’ time. In fact, whenever Jesus offered the invitation to transformation to people, most of them walked away sadly (think of the Rich Young Ruler or the “many disciples” who left Jesus in John 6:60-66). Jesus described the way of transformation as the “narrow road” that only a few find (Matt 7:13-14), and that it involves denying self, taking up one’s cross and following Him no matter what (Luke 9:23).

David Benner, in his amazing book entitled, “Surrender to Love,” writes this:

In spite of how central the cross is to the Christian story, Christians are always tempted to minimize its importance in their own journey. We want a spirituality of success ad ascent, not a spirituality of failure and descent. We want a spirituality of improvement, not a spirituality of transformation. But the way of the cross is the way of descent, abandon and death. This is the foolishness of the gospel. (p. 91)

Those who view the Christian life as a “self-improvement course” also tend to believe that they are doing pretty well in their spiritual lives. They aren’t perfect, but they are not bad. With a few improvements in a few areas, they would be in pretty good shape. However, those who view the Christian life as “transformation” know that their lives are in total ruin without God’s merciful and constant intervention.

It’s extremely difficult for those who think they are doing pretty well spiritually to deny self and take up the cross and follow Jesus with reckless abandon. But for those who know that their lives are “crap” without Christ (pardon the crudeness, but I’m just translating Paul literally from Phil 3:8), to surrender all to Jesus is a necessity. Like Mr. Caterpillar, our lives depend on it.

With a little help from Benner’s book, I want us to go deeper on the topic of transformation as it relates to honesty, brokenness, experiencing God’s unconditional love, and surrender. Hopefully, it will open our eyes to the power of transformation in Whole Life Worship, and how it is so much more than spiritual “self-improvement.”

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Whole Life Worship is living the “large life.” God has called us to live a “large” life for Him. He wants to give us His blessings, His power, His love, His forgiveness, His joy, His hope, His peace, and His transformation. These are all LARGE things. They, if we will receive them, enable us to live ABUNDANT lives (see John 10:10, and John 15); more than that, we will also be able to live INFLUENCING lives – where others look and take notice (see Matt. 5:14-16).

But there are parasites ingrained in our fallen nature that want to kill the seeds of God’s largeness from bearing fruit. I call them “life-shrinkers”: they are the thoughts, attitudes and actions that make our lives small, puny and petty. These life-shrinkers are in direct opposition to living out Whole Life Worship to God. I am reminded of when Jesus could not do any miracles in a particular Galilean village because of their lack of faith – they were living lives dominated by life-shrinkers!

Although life-shinkers are common to all, everyone has their own customized set of life-shrinkers that specialize in short circuiting the life of Christ in their particular life. Mine are: impatience with others, critical spirit, greed, envy, guilt and fear. These life-shrinkers are constantly at work to steal away God’s largeness of life. Here’s how they work in some not-so-hypothetical situations:

I notice that someone else is flourishing (ministry, financial, relational). I have a choice of rejoicing in their blessing or becoming envious. If I choose the envy route it leads me down a life-shrinking path: discrediting them, becoming resentful, joining others who are also envious, passing on juicy gossip, etc. In the process I become a much smaller, limited person.

A supervisor at work has the gall to reprimand me about something that he/she is always guilty of doing. What nerve! I have the choice to either look at the reprimand objectively and prayerfully or to harbor bitter feelings toward my supervisor. If I choose to harbor bitterness and its “life shrinking” powers go immediately into effect. I spend my hours at work watching for their every mistake, stacking up my case against them, and looking for the opportunity to get even.

The world likes to call Christians “a bunch of hypocrites.” That’s because many Christians suffer a credibility gap – what we say about ourselves does not match how we live. I believe this is due to the fact that, although we have the BIGNESS of God in our lives, our day to day decisions are more influenced by the “life-shrinkers” within us. The Apostle Paul tells us to put to death those things that “shrink” our lives (see Galatians 5:16-21, Ephesians 4:17-5:21).

What has helped me put these life-shinkers to death is to recognize them for what they are when they come to me. When a thought or attitude wants me to take action or to react in speech, I’ll say to myself, “That is such a small way to think. C’mon, Doug, you were called to bigger things than to react in that way.” Then I will pray, “God, I die to this way of thinking. Please lead me in Your path of right thought, speech and action.” And EVERY TIME I do this, the thought or attitude dies. Every time! I must say that it is a lot easier to do this when you nip these things at the bud (it’s a lot harder, but not impossible, to overcome the “life-shinkers” when we always yield to the desires of our fallen nature).

So live large in Whole Life Worship by getting rid of the “life-shrinkers” with the help of Christ’s grace and power. Then you’ll have another reason to sing His praises!

Purify my heart, cleanse me from within and make me holy. Purify my heart, cleanse me from my sin, deep within.

(“Refiner’s Fire” by Brian Doerksen)

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