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Archive for December, 2013

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(This week I’m sharing the top 5 Whole Life Worship posts of 2013. This is #4. I appreciate being able to share things from my our life journey with you, and this was a really tough chapter during this year. Thanks so much for your support! I’ll be starting brand new posts on Jan 6th.)

Today my mom and sister called with some hard news: my Grandma (my Mom’s mom) had a stroke and she will most likely not be alive a week from now. She is 95 and is in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s. Her quality of life these past few years have not been good. She’s ready to go home to Jesus.

But as you can imagine, I am so very, very sad. I’m sad because I really, really love my Grandma. And even though I’ve been preparing for this day, I’m still not ready. It’s like when the “it” person in hide ‘n seek yells out, “Ready or not, here I come!” and I’m still looking for a place to hide. I’m not ready for this!

I was very tempted to re-blog something for today. I really didn’t feel up to writing. But as I prayed for my grandma, something (actually, Someone) reminded me about the nature of thanksgiving: it’s not just for the good times; it’s also for the hard times. We are to give thanks in every situation.

What makes my Grandma’s impending passing hard is also what makes giving thanks in this situation possible: the great memories we had together. We’ve had five decades of wonderful, beautiful, amazing life together.

And so I just want to take a brief stroll down memory lane. This will be one of those blogs that is more for me than it is for you, dear Reader. But here is where the power of fellowship can be felt through the Internet: your presence in reading this with me helps me to get through this hard passage of life. And maybe it will bless you, too, with some sort of insight, practice or inspiration. God is amazing in how He works, isn’t He?

I just want to share three little snippets from my life with Grandma, three memories that I’m really thankful for:

1. My grandma always made my favorite dessert for my birthday every year: strawberry cheesecake. That’s like almost 50 cheesecakes! Grandma’s cheesecake was the best; heads above anything that the Cheesecake Factory could produce. She made it with such skill. She was an amazing baker (she made something different for each of us 5 grandkids for our birthdays). Her strawberry topping was made from homemade strawberry jam. That strawberry cheesecake was her way of saying to me, “I love you, Dougie.” (only Grandma can call me that!)

2. My Grandma made me an afghan when I was twelve years old. At the time I was a big UCLA basketball fan because of John Wooden’s teams (it was the ONLY time I was a UCLA fan!) So the color of the afghan was: Blue and Gold (hopefully Rob Acker is not reading this – it will give him more leverage over our school rivalry). It’s still on my bed – right next to Letty’s afghan that Grandma made for her as a wedding present 32 years ago. The afghans remind us of God’s “covering” over us as we sleep each night: “Guard us as we sleep … that we might rest in Your peace.”

3. My Dad had a heart attack during the summer of my fourth grade year. My Dad’s dad (Papa) had just died from a heart attack a year earlier. I was so fearful. But my Dad survived. While he convalesced, Grandma and Grandpa took us four kids on a mini-vacation, because nothing can give you a relapse faster than four little kids screaming around the house. We went all over California. We fished for red snapper off the Carpenteria pier. We went clamming at Pismo Beach. We climbed up Morro Rock in Sequoia National Park. We explored the Crystal Caves in Kings Canyon National Park. We saw the oldest tree in the world. We had a blast! Grandpa told us his stories. Grandma would cook our favorites (Prime Rib, baby!). They just loved on us … and it healed us from our sense of loss, fear, and uncertainty.

I learned through that time what “Grandparenting” means. Little did I know how that memory – as well as the rest – would guide and prepare me in my own relationship with my grandsons. Grandma, as well as Grandpa, set the “gold” standard for us. And I hope we are doing them proud.

So I say, “Thank you, Grandma, for all the ways you loved us and shared your life with us. You shaped my life in ways that have made me a better person, a good-hearted person, a God-pursuing person. And I say, “Thank you, God, for my Grandma. I see Your love through her. Please guide her safely into Your arms.”

Thank you, dear Reader, for walking with me down this path. Your presence gives me comfort.

Thanks for the memories.

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altar and candles

(I thought it would be fun this week to share the top 5 posts of Whole Life Worship 2013 – based on readership hits. This is the 5th top post. I’ll be starting new WLW posts next Monday, Jan 6th. Enjoy!)

In the Old Testament times, the great saints marked their encounters with God by constructing an altar to Him. Abraham did this several times, as did Isaac and Jacob. Moses built God a tabernacle and David desired to build God a temple. These structures’ sole role was to be a place where the Presence of God intersected with the presence of people.

In the New Testament, Paul writes that because of Christ, our bodies are now a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19) and our hearts are the Holy of Holies – the place where the presence of Christ dwells (Eph. 3:17). So the expression that a church building is “God’s house” is a misnomer: God doesn’t live in a building, but He does choose to dwell in the hearts of men and women who have been redeemed by Christ our Savior.

This is a great truth. However, it is a truth that is ignored by and large by most Christians today. We  live in a day and age where the presence of God resides in our own being, yet we are hard pressed to find the time to meet Him there.  We would rather seek Him in a church service or a Bible Study (which are not bad), but we forget the most profound place where we can find Him; the “Temple” that He paid for with His very life so that we can encounter Him anytime, all the time – the altar of our hearts

You might ask: how do I meet God in the altar of my heart? Jesus answers this question in Matthew 6:6

When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Jesus models this in Mark 1:35

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

The way we meet God in the altar of our hearts is to find a quiet place where we can spend time alone with Him. I call this “Personal Worship Time.”

During my Personal Worship Time, I spend about an hour or so in prayer, Bible reading and journaling … all by myself with God. Now some of you might be thinking: isn’t that a “devotional” or “quiet time”? My answer is “it depends.” It depends on whether one’s focus is on being with Jesus or on accomplishing a task. One can read the Bible, journal and even pray but not be focused on the Lord at all. Many Christians view their devotional time as something to check off their “to do” list.

A Personal Worship Time is when praying is really talking with God, not just mumbling off a bunch of prayer requests. Personal Worship Time is when Bible reading is intent on listening to God’s voice, not  an intellectual analysis of Scripture construct or digging up some profound theological ideas. Personal Worship Time is when journaling is the seeking of God’s will in the midst of my experiences, readings and encounters, not just a recantation of yesterday’s activities.

Personal Worship Time is where I really, tangibly offer up my body as a living sacrifice to the Lord. I find that I have to offer myself at least daily to God, because it is amazingly easy for “living sacrifices” to crawl off the altar!

Personal Worship Time is transforming because it plugs me back into the flow of God’s will. I find that the days where I spend Personal Worship Time with God are much more powerful and fruitful than those days when I neglect this time. If you find that your life is listless, purposeless and fruitless, it is probably because you have not spent time alone with God with any kind of regularity.

Every follower of Christ needs to have Personal Worship Time, just as every human being needs to eat, drink and sleep each day. You can go without those things for a little while, but pretty soon you will get sick and eventually, die. In the same way, neglecting our Personal Worship Time with God literally takes away spiritual life from our souls.

I encourage you to set apart 30 minutes to an hour each day to spend alone with Jesus. You will soon see that this is the best 30-60 minutes you can invest in. However, expect your commitment to this to be challenged by the fury of hell. The last thing Satan wants you to do is to spend time with Jesus. So be firm in your resolve. Have a friend hold you accountable and pray for your Personal Worship Time. Ask God to protect your time with Him from distractions and interruptions. Your whole life worship begins by regularly spending time in the Holy of Holies of your heart.

This is the air I breathe: Your holy presence living in me. This is my daily bread: Your very word spoken to me. And I’m desperate for You, I’m lost without You.

 

(“Breathe” by Marie Barnett)

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A Merry Christmas Break

Tomorrow I’ll be leading worship for five Christmas Eve services, and after that I will be celebrating Christmas on the road with my in-laws. So the Whole Life Worship blog will be taking a break for the rest of this week. Hopefully, I’ll get it going next week.

I want to take this time to thank you for reading my blog. I have felt your support throughout the year. I appreciate the many comments that I receive from you; it reminds me that we are all on this wonderful, but hard journey of whole life worship of God together. I pray for a great Christmas to you and to your family. If we are truly worshiping Christ with our whole being, how could it not be a great Christ-mas?

With all my heart, mind, soul and strength,

Doug

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Beyond the First Verse

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I often play this game at Christmas parties when I led singing of holiday songs. I’d have us sing a familiar song like, “Here Comes Santa Claus” or “Home for the Holidays, have the people sing as many words as they know and sing “la, la, la” on the rest of the words. Everyone would sing out strong on the first line, and then it’s amazing how many people drop out and sing “la, la, la” for the rest of the song! We’d laugh it off and then go off on the next song, only to hear the same thing happen again and again and again.

We think we know these songs, but we really don’t.

On the Christmas hymns, most people know the first verse. But I find that the second, third and subsequent verses have the most meaning. Take, for instance, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” The second verse has one of the best theological statements on the incarnation and the divine-human nature of Jesus Christ:

Christ by highest heaven adored, Christ the ever-lasting Lord

Late in time behold him come, offspring of the Virgin’s womb

Veiled in flesh the God-head see! Hail the incarnate Deity!

Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel

The third verse is a tremendous doxology to the work of God through the Incarnation:

Hail the Heaven-born Prince of Peace, Hail the Son of Righteousness

Light and life to all He brings, Risen with healing in His wings

Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die

Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give us second birth.

Hark! The herald angels sing: “Glory to the newborn King!”

I encourage you to take some time over the next couple of days and look at the verses beyond the familiar first verses of our most beloved Christmas hymns (“Joy to the World,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Silent Night,” “We Three Kings,” “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” “O Holy Night” etc.) Read them slowly, thoughtfully and devotionally. Allow the meaning of Christ’s coming to seep into your soul. And worship Him with more of your heart, mind and soul.

What is your favorite Christmas hymn?

Do you know the “other verses” besides the first?

What strikes you most deeply about the lyrics of that hymn?

What do you praise God the most about the coming of Jesus to our world?

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The Longest Night

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It’s 4am and I can’t sleep. I’ve been up for about an hour, thinking, pondering, reflecting and praying. That’s not unusual, as there have been many nights where I am awakened in the wee hours for some reason. I see it as God’s way of getting my attention when I am too distracted during the day to notice.

This time God had me pay attention to my soul. My soul was disturbed tonight because it was lamenting.

I am lamenting.

I lament over the loss of my dear, sweet Grandma. Though she lived to be 95, she (and we) suffered the slow death of her mind to Alzheimer’s. Tomorrow, I’ve been given the honor and responsibility to officiate over her funeral and burial.

I lament over my son’s failed marriage. The past several months have been difficult and tearful as we face the storm that engulfs our son, our daughter-in-law, and our grandsons.

I lament over Vivienne, my sister-in-law’s, sudden loss of her father to a stroke earlier this month. She is also weakened in health due to several bouts of cancer, involving many chemo and radiation treatments.

I lament for my cousin, Mark, who is suffering from kidney failure. He was to have had a transplant operation today, but the potential donor fell through.

I lament for a dear blog colleague, Les, who lives in the long shadow and memory of his wife and disabled son. Two years ago, they were both brutally murdered by a man in the church that he pastored.

As much as I am a positive, optimistic person, on the eve of the “Longest Night” (Dec. 21st, the Winter Solstice), I lament and weep. It is not well in the world. It is not well with my soul.

I think of the words in the famous Christmas hymn, “O Holy Night”:

Long lay the world in sin and error pining.

Yes, Lord, the world has long pined, and is still pining, over the effects of sin and the Fall: darkness, illness, tragedy, death, fear, suffering and loss.

I find it interesting that one of the most joyful holidays, the celebration of Christ’s coming to our world, falls during the darkest days of the year; the days with the Longest Nights. It’s interesting because Jesus Christ was probably not born on December 25th. Most Bible scholars place his birth during the Spring or early Summer.

But the Early Church Fathers intentionally chose the darkest time of the year to celebrate the coming of the Light of the world. For Light shines the brightest when things are at its darkest.

The hymn continues: Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

To a people that walked in great darkness, Christ came. In the darkest of nights, Christ comes. In the dark lament of our soul, Christ will come.

It happened 2,000 years ago. It happens today. It will happen tomorrow. Christ appears because He so loves our souls. And His appearing changes everything.

We weep today, not because we have no hope, but because as we await our certain hope, we hurt and struggle. Though Christ has appeared, He is yet to appear in some of those hard things in life that we face.

So let your soul lament. Join with the Psalmists and cry out, “How long, O Lord?!” Mourn and weep in these long, dark nights. Pour out your heart to the One who loves you and has the power to redeem.

And wait. Wait patiently for His appearing. Light will come; it will dawn upon us. And we will then know how much He really loves us. Our souls will know our worth in His eyes. And we will be utterly amazed – again.

Why so downcast my soul? Why so disquieted within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (Ps. 42:11)

1. Is your soul lamenting over something today? Give it some space to weep in the presence of the Gentle One who does not snuff out smoldering wicks.

2. Do you know someone who is lamenting today? How can you minister to them and pray for them? Uphold them into the loving arms of the Shepherd.

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Lights are up everywhere. Homes, stores, street decorations. If there is a trademark to the Christmas season, it’s lights. In fact, one of the nicknames of Christmas is “The Feast of Lights.” No, it wasn’t the slick invention of Madison Avenue! It goes back to the core of the meaning of Christmas that we see in John 1.

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… In Him was life and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it… The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.”

Jesus called himself the “Light of the World.” His coming to earth, from heaven’s throne, was the coming of God’s light into our darkness.

When we think about Christmas lights, we think about pleasant things: it helps us to see in the dark, it provides a sense of warmth and direction. And those things are true. But as we look at Jesus’ light it also exposes what is hidden in the dark; and not only the darkness in the world, “out there”, but the darkness in our own lives. And it makes people squirm.

In my readings through the Gospel of John, I notice that one of two things always happens when Jesus interacts with people: they either get well or they get offended!

Likewise, if Jesus is truly in our lives, we’re either going to get well or we’re going to be offended. Jesus did not come into the world to make it “nice” for us. He came into the world to SAVE us: from the judgment of sin to come AND from the effects of sin within. But it’s up to us to embrace the Light, so he can expose the sin within, redeem us from it, and heal us from its affects.

Some of us have bitterness or anger or pride or self-righteousness or secret addiction or (name your poison) in our lives. Others of us have stuff we aren’t even aware of! But we all have death and darkness in our lives that Jesus wants to transform into life and light.

If you really want this “Christ Mass” to be more meaningful, don’t just put up more Christmas lights on the outside. Rather, let the Christmas Light shine on the inside! Let us allow Christ expose the darkness within us so we can be set free.

For “whoever the Son sets free is free indeed!” (John 8:36)

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Living Out Christ-mas

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There is an imposter out there posing itself as “Christmas.” I call it “X-mas.” X-mas has a lot of people believing that it is the genuine article. X-mas wants people to buy into (literally) the notion that Christmas is all about gift exchange, holiday songs, cards, parties, decorations, red and green M&M’s, programs and cramming in a year’s worth of activities in 24 days.

Funny, but I thought Christmas was about … well, Christ!

Most of the world believes that Xmas is Christmas. That should be expected. The world has an uncanny way to leave Jesus out of just about everything. But the tragedy is that many followers of Jesus miss out on the true meaning of Christmas like everyone else. You and I are just as absorbed by the trappings of Xmas, as the world is. Just observe how we quickly we lose our spirituality while trying to find a parking space at the mall on a weekend in December!

So how do we live out the true meaning of Christ-mas in an X-mas oriented world? Here are some ideas:

1. Make the next week a spiritual pilgrimage to the Lord.  Devote yourself to Him during this time. Make it your goal to go “deeper” with the Lord. As you have allowed Jesus to be “born in you”, seek for Jesus to “grow in you.” Make time for prayer and Scripture reading each day.

2. Worship Jesus as much as possible. I’m not talking about going to “worship services”, but worshiping Jesus throughout your day. Learn and memorize the 2nd and 3rd verses to “O Come All Ye Faithful”, “Hark The Herald Angels”, “O Holy Night” and other Christmas hymns. Ponder on what they are trying to say and allow that to thrust you into “worship of the heart.” Thank and praise Jesus for all things that the Spirit brings to mind

3. Cut out one Xmas activity and substitute it with something Christ-focused and personal.  To me that would be cutting out a party or an evening of shopping to spend a nice quiet evening at home, listening to Christmas worship music with my family. What would be your idea?

4. Give less to people who don’t need it; give more to people who do. Billions of dollars are spent on people who really don’t need (or necessarily want) what we give them. In the spirit of the true St. Nicholas, give generously to those in need.

It’s hard to stem the tide of cultural Xmas, but it is something that we must do … beginning with our own lives. “O come let us adore HIM” … truly, fully, passionately and totally.

 

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