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Archive for November, 2013

Thank You for You!

thankyougod

We’ve spent the last couple of weeks on how we can go deeper in being “thankful” to God.  The focus has been on what God has done or what God has given to us. I hope that these blogs have stirred some ideas and thoughts to help us in the all important spiritual practice of giving thanks.

Today, one day before Thanksgiving, I want to encourage us to give thanks to God … for God.

Behind all the gifts, blessings, people, and providential circumstances is the One who loves us so deeply. I don’t know why He loves us; that is perhaps the greatest mystery of the universe. But He does. And I am thankful for His love.

But God’s love is just the beginning of who God is. In a day and age where the words “Awesome” and “Amazing” are far too overused, they are apt descriptions of the One True God. Here is a list of 50 awesome and amazing qualities of our God, with their Scripture references. I encourage you to read them reflectively, stopping at those qualities that resonate in your heart, and then give Him thanks for who He is.

1. Holy – Psalm 99:5, Isaiah 6:3, Rev 4:8

2. All Powerful – Psalm 93:4

3. All Knowing – Psalm 1:3

4. Glorious – Psalm 111:3

5. All-Wise – Romans 16:27

6. Sovereign – 2 Samuel 7:22

7. The Healer – Exodus 15:26, Psalm 103:3

8. The Provider – Genesis 22:14

9. The Sustainer of Life – Psalm 55:22, Acts 17:28

10. Creator – Genesis 1:1

11. Redeemer – Psalm 19: 14, Psalm 103:4

12. Savior – Psalm 118:25

13. Forgiver of Sin – Psalm 32:2, Psalm 103, Mark 4

14. Righteous – Psalm 7:11, 17, Psalm 71:15

15. Just/Judge – Psalm 75:7, Psalm 96:13

16. Eternal/Everlasting – 1 Chronicles 16:36

17. The Great I AM – Exodus 3:14

18. Alpha and the Omega – Revelation 1:8

19. With Us (Emmanuel) – Matthew 1:23, Isaiah 7:14

20. The Lord of the Heavenly Armies – 2 Kings 6:17, Matthew 26:53

21. Jealous – Exodus 20:5

22. Never Tiring – Isaiah 40:28

23. The One who renews strength – Isaiah 40:31

24. Unfailing in love – Psalm 62:12, Psalm 108:4

25. Compassionate – Psalm 116:5

26. Merciful – Psalm 57:1

27. Gracious – Psalm 67:1

28. The One who knows all about me – Psalm 139:1

29. The Everlasting Lover – Jeremiah 31:3

30. Ever Present – Psalm 139:7ff

31. The Great Shepherd – Psalm 23:1, John 10:14, Hebrews 13:20

32. The Bread of Life – John 6:35

33. The Living Water – John 4:14

34. The Resurrection and the Life – John 11:25

35. The Way, the Truth and the Life – John 14:6

36. Everlasting Father – Isaiah 9:6

37. Wonderful Counselor – Isaiah 9:6

38. Prince of Peace – Isaiah 9:6

39. Our Righteousness – Jeremiah 23:6

40. The Ancient of Days – Daniel 7:9

41. Lord of the Wind and the Waves – Mark 4:41

42. The Word – John 1:1

43. The Spirit – John 4:24, 1 Corinthians 3:17

44. The One who works everything together for the good of those who love Him – Rom 8:28

45. My Banner/Victor – Exodus 17:15 , Psalm 60:12

46. The Confounder of Evil – Psalm 34:16

47. The Promise Giver/Keeper – Psalm 145:13, 2 Peter 1:4

48. The One who Hears my cry/prayer – Psalm 6:8-9

49. My Rock – Psalm 19:14, Psalm 28:1

50. My Refuge – Psalm 9:9, Psalm 59:10

I pray that you and your family have a blessed Thanksgiving. May it be full of giving thanks; not just turkey and trimmings (although that is good – in moderation). I’ll be taking a break from blogging the next few days, but I’ll pick it up next week!

Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! His steadfast love endures forever!

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heart-of-worship

The other day, the words to an old Matt Redman song was stuck in my head:

Jesus Christ, I think upon your sacrifice,

You became nothing, poured out to death

Many times, I’ve wondered at Your gift of life

And I’m in that place once again.

Once again I look upon the Cross where You died

I’m humbled by Your mercy and I’m broken inside

Once again I thank You, once again I pour out my life

(“Once Again”)

I was reminded how little I ponder on how God saved me through Jesus Christ. It’s one of those things that’s always in the back of my mind, but not in the forefront nearly enough. I think one of the reasons for this is that it’s easy to place things like my salvation and the Cross as being “elementary” to the Christian faith; as if it were like “Kindergarten Christianity.” “My salvation? That’s something that took place years ago. I’m on to more ‘mature’ things, like spiritual formation, mission and theology.”

But we never graduate from the Cross. And if we are really maturing in Christ, we begin to understand that our Salvation is not just elementary (meaning the first step in Christianity), it is foundational to everything we do as a Christ follower. It is the portal to everything: prayer, understanding the Scriptures, being filled with the Spirit, ministry, mission, Church multiplication, fellowship, theology, etc. If we do not see ourselves first as undeserving sinners who have been saved by grace through the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the Cross, then we have absolutely no basis to think of ourselves as God’s children or ministers of the Gospel or ambassadors of Christ or even servants of the Living God.

It causes me to be humbled by God’s mercy. And it breaks me in the depths of who I am.

It causes me to remember how Christ came into my life. He lavished His love through people who shared the Gospel with me throughout my life. He gently confronted me with the truth on how I was living my life through a series of many events. He broke down my pride over the course of time and patiently wooed me with His love. What trouble He went to so that I could hear, understand and respond to the message of the Gospel!

But most importantly, it causes me to reflect on what Christ did to procure our salvation. How He left His heavenly throne to become “a slug like one of us.” How He lived a perfect, sinless life (which involved turning His cheek more times than we’ll ever realize, not to mention saying “no” to shortcuts, conveniences, privileges, and rights that He certainly could have taken). How He willingly suffered excruciating physical pain and untold emotional humiliation on the way to dying the most horrendous execution, that involved the shedding of His blood and a slow asphyxiation of His breath. And then to bear the sins of the world through the unbearable separation from the Father – a connection that existed since before time began – all to pay the price of our sin!

To quote some of the great reflections of salvation and the Cross:

Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble…

Oh praise the One who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead…

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

As we draw nearer to the Thanksgiving feast, let us thank Jesus Christ for such a great salvation He provided for all of us. Let us bow down and worship. Let us kneel before the Lord, our God, our Savior.

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girl-praying-20341558

As we head into Thanksgiving week, I want to adjust the focus of our “thankful” series to those specific things that God has done for all of us. While the blessings of God are particular to our situation, God has universally done wonderful things for all of us. Our first look is that God created you and me.

In Acts 17, Paul quotes and inscription to an “unknown God.” The inscription read, “In him we live and move and have our being.”

We have our being because God created us. As David wrote, “You knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139). Everything about us – our physical qualities, the way we think and feel, our talents and abilities, and the uniqueness of our soul – is handcrafted by God Himself. As the “Precious Moments” statuette proudly states, “God made me, and He don’t make no junk!”

We all know that God created us, but do we really take time to thank Him for that? Of all the things we take for granted, our being created by God is near or at the top of the list. We “live and move and have our being” without giving God a second thought. More often, we complain about what we’re not (like “I wish I was – smarter, better looking, had different feet, shorter, taller, athletic, musical, business minded, thinner, heftier – like so and so”) than appreciating who we are.

This is a tragic oversight. By not thanking God for our being created, we are ignoring what He is most proud of! Just read Genesis 1. After creating the universe, the earth, mountains and seas, vegetation and all the non-human creatures, He pronounced them, “Good.” But when He created human beings, He said, “This is VERY good!” The creation of man and woman was the crowning event of creation. God was darn proud of creating you and me! And it is an affront to His wisdom, artistry and holiness when we fail to see the wonder of our being created by Him.

When you came into existence in this world, God jumped up and down with joy. And I smile when I think He did the same when I was born.

So how can we show our appreciation to God for creating us? Here are a couple of thoughts:

1. When you get out of bed in the morning, stretch out your body, take a couple deep breaths and say, “Good morning, Lord! Thank you for creating me.” I actually got that from a book by Chuck Swindoll. Let the first words you say be thank you to God for the life He gave you. It takes only ten seconds, but they could be the most important ten seconds of your day.

2. Write out and list the unique things about you (your talents, abilities, personality, connections, contributions) and put it in your Bible. Every once and a while, read them and thank God for how He fearfully and wonderfully made you. Add to the list as God brings them to mind. This is not a “new age” self-esteem exercise; it actually serves to humble us to realize how much God has invested in us. And if you’re stumped (some of us have a difficult time thinking about ourselves in a positive light), ask a trusted friend to share what some of these things are.

3. Think about the people in your life who have been a blessing, and thank God for creating them. You are shaped by the people God brings into your life. And you have helped shape them, as well. In creating the first humans, God’s pronouncement of “very good” was not just for each individual, but especially for the sense of community that resulted. Loving, synergistic community reflects the glory of the Trinity.

Thanking God for creating “me” is a powerful spiritual practice. It reminds us of the proper dynamics of our relationship with God: 1) that He is God (and we are not) and 2) that we are deeply loved by Him – He loved the “idea” of us so much that He took the risk of then creating us. Knowing that we are lovingly created by God becomes the foundation of all the other loving acts that God expresses toward us. And we’ll look at some of those in the next few days.

Take time right now to thank God for creating you. It’s part of what it means to be a Whole Life Worshiper.

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raise-a-brat

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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A friend shared with me an experience he had on a remodeling job. On the surface it looked like one big hassle: he would have to travel a couple hundred miles, live on the job site for a week, and do some difficult remodeling work. But because he had done work with this family before, he felt somewhat obligated to take the job.

This house was the owners’ vacation home, located in the hills that overlook the central coast of California. The home had a huge bay window that sported a breathtaking view of the ocean. And he was alone in the house.

The first morning, he got some coffee and looked out the bay window. As he was taking in the view, God met him in that moment. “This is for you,” were the Divine words he heard in his soul. His heart was flooded with the realization of God’s love and goodness for specifically him. And even though he didn’t own the home and though he was just a worker in the home, my friend realized he was given this opportunity from the hand of God. It wasn’t a job. It wasn’t an obligation. He realized that it was an “invitation” and a “gift.”

The great hymn (and popular song from the musical, “Godspell”) resounds with the chorus:

All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above.

Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord, for all His love.

God’s gifts are all around us. Christ’s work on the Cross and the Spirit’s work in our hearts gives us the opportunity to “see” them with spiritual eyes (Eph 1:18). But we still need to “open” our spiritual eyes to see the gifts and the opportunities that are hidden in our everyday ordinary surrounding.

I haven’t mentioned the Whole Life Worship concept lately. It’s been on the back burner as we’ve been focusing on the topic of “thankfulness.” (You can read about the WLW concept here). But living out Whole Life Worship is what opened my friend’s eyes to God’s invitations and gifts. He would be the first to tell you that before he started living out his worship of God, these types of epiphany moments would have been totally missed and lost.

Before, he could have looked out of the same bay window and said, “Nice view,” but then gone on with his work. He would have dwelt on how lucky some people are to have such nice homes, and that he wasn’t one of them. He might have focused on how hard the work was or how crummy it was to be away from his wife and his own home. He may have become resentful over having to feel the sense of obligation to take on this job.

But he didn’t. Instead, he was grateful to God. He saw “the riches of God’s inheritance” specifically for him in this moment. His eyes were opened.

Do you see the gifts of God that surround you all the time? Do you experience the greatness or the holiness of God in the everyday ordinary things of life?

May God give you the sight of the wonder around you. And may it move you to give Him thanks.

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th (1)

I love the stories of the patriarchs in Genesis (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph). To me, they are real life redemption stories. Yes, they go through a lot of drama and they make a lot of stupid mistakes (although not that much different from some of the stupid things we do nowadays). But they hang in there with God (more importantly, God hangs in there with them) and we see God’s amazing redemption in each of their lives.

One of the most compelling stories is about Joseph and his brothers (Gen 39-50). You know the story: Joseph brags about his grandiose dreams, the brothers get jealous and sell him into slavery.  Joseph ends up in Egypt and goes through a series of highs and lows. He ends up being Pharaoh’s right hand man, and wisely manages them through a world-wide famine. And finally his brothers come up to Egypt and beg him for food – but they don’t know that he is their brother.

When Joseph tearfully reveals who he is, the brothers tremble in fear. They are afraid that Joseph, the second most powerful man in the known world, will kill them because they betrayed him and sold him into slavery.

But Joseph had a different perspective. He summarized the hardship in which they placed him as this: “You meant it for harm, but God used it for good to accomplish what is now being done: the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50:20)

It took him a while, but Joseph understood the workings of God through hardship. In many ways, he was thankful for the hard times of the journey; because it was only through them that the greater redemptive plan could take place.

In our discussion on being thankful, we come to that awkward place of our hardships: they may be tragedies or missed opportunities, mistakes or betrayals, besetting sins or being “sinned on.” Sometimes when reflect on these things, James’ words about “considering trials pure joy” or Paul’s comments on how “God works everything together for the good” seem a bit too altruistic or even ludicrous.

But they aren’t. James is not a masochist and Paul is not a wishful thinker. Like Joseph, they understood that God’s grace is just as real as the harsh reality of our trial or trauma. In fact, I would venture to say that the “point of grace” is precisely at the “point of trial.” It is in our moment of deepest desperation and hopelessness that our cry to God is the purest act of faith we can express.

God hears. God responds. God acts.

But not always in the way we want or expect, or when we want it or expect it.

That is why giving thanks to God in the midst of our trials is so important. It helps us to keep perspective. It helps us to sustain faith. It helps us to persevere. And it helps us to “wait on the Lord.”

I have learned through my Christian friends and mentors the importance to give thanks in every circumstance. Some of them have gone through horrendous trials and horrific trauma. Some have lost children, spouses and loved ones. Some have had huge health setbacks and have gone through arduous treatment. Some have been unjustly maligned or betrayed by others. Some have been unemployed for extended periods of time – in spite of constant efforts to find employment.

In their trials, they have held onto their faith in Christ. Actually, they have all grown in the Spirit. And how they shine! Each of them would say that one of the keys to their thriving in hardship is giving thanks to God. Giving thanks is a “lifeline” to God.

We are personally going through several hard situations at this moment. We have loved ones in peril, in hardship, and in darkness. As Letty and I pray for them, we look for ways we can give thanks to God. It’s hard and it’s arduous, but when we find that “wisp of grace” in the midst of all that crud it brings us to our knees in worship. And we begin to understand what Joseph realized:

Darkness meant it for harm, but God is using it for good!

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Giving God an opening

Light-Through-Door

We’ve been talking about thanksgiving as a lifestyle, not just a November holiday, over the past couple of weeks. Having an attitude of gratitude is central to Whole Life Worship. Without it, we lose sight of the grace of God. Without it, we cannot worship God from our hearts. Without it, our minds cannot be renewed. Without it, transformation cannot take place.

But the act of giving thanks is hard. Sometimes we don’t feel thankful. Sometimes we can’t think of anything to be thankful for. Sometimes we get so preoccupied with whatever we are facing in the present, that giving thanks for something in the past is the last thing on our minds.

I want to share a comment on a blog I wrote a couple of days ago. It comes from one of our Whole Life Worship readers, Larry Short (don’t worry, I asked permission him to do this):

Doug, I’ve been telling people about the “giving thanks at red lights” idea, and trying to practice it myself, ever since reading your first blog about it. I got my first test this week when I was having lower back problems and it was almost too painful to sit behind the wheel.

The only prayer I could think of was, “Thank you, God, that my back doesn’t normally hurt like this!”

Sounds trite, maybe, but it was sincere. So, I then began to think of all the other things that could be unpleasant, which God has in his grace and mercy withheld from me. I can share my thoughts with others in a reasonably cogent manner. I have a good appetite. My job is secure (so far) despite layoffs at work. Etc., etc.

I was also reading Screwtape Letters today (I think it was letter #21) where Screwtape advises Wormwood to by all means prevent his client (a young Christian) from thinking of his time as anything but his own. When we think we “own” our time we are then indignant at the effrontery of disruptions (like red lights). But the truth is that none of us “owns” our time, and Lewis demonstrate how laughable it is to even seriously entertain this idea.

This put sitting at red lights in a different perspective for me. Lewis makes the point that if God somehow manifested Himself physically to us today and said, “I want you to spend an hour today sitting at red lights” we would certainly do so with great joy and willingness. Yet how is our situation any different than that?

Anyway, just wanted to say “thanks” for helping us to see things in a clearer, more Christ-centric perspective!

What Larry shared helped me to see a profound truth about giving thanks:

It gives God an opening into our lives.

That opening doesn’t have to be big. But it does need to be true. And as we see in Larry’s example, if we give God a little opening, He does the rest. He begins to open our eyes to other things He is doing in our lives. He opens our memory to the blessings He gave us in the past. He opens our hearts to receive more grace in the present. He opens our souls to His everlasting and enduring presence.

Saying even the littlest “thank you” to God is like saying “Welcome, Lord! Come into my life!” It’s not just an acknowledgment; it’s an invitation.

So let’s give God an opening. Give Him an honest, “Thank you!” and see what He does.

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