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Archive for January, 2014


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A few weeks ago I spent one Sabbath day looking over journal entries from 1998.  It was eye opening to relive the events of that year from the perspective of my relationship with God. I was amazed to see how far I had come, even more so amazed at how far God brought me during the past 16 years. It gave me another opportunity to thank and praise God for His faithfulness over these years!

Journaling has been part of my Personal Worship time for nearly thirty years. Back in the “olden days” I wrote my journal entries on spiral bound notebooks (I have a whole stack of them). I now write on my digital journal (aka, my computer). But whether digital or hard copy, journaling has been one of the most powerful spiritual disciplines in my life.

Journaling is an extension of my prayer to God. I write as if I am writing a letter to God. Sometimes I share events and experiences. Sometimes I share reflections from Scripture. Other times I just muse about things ranging from the very mundane and practical (like fixing a door knob) to the very deep and theological. Most of the time, I share my heart and my dreams.

Often while journaling, God will touch my heart. Sometimes when that happens, I feel one with God. My fingers fly over the keyboard in such rapid succession that it is like I am out of my body. I can just close my eyes and type, and the passion of God is written on my computer screen.

Sometimes when I journal, there is just a blank screen. I don’t have much to say. I don’t sense God speaking to me. Sometimes the silence in my heart and my mind speak louder than if I had words to type in. I’m learning to be okay with that. There’s always something to learn from Personal Worship time with Jesus.

But the most amazing thing about journaling is that it captures a point of time in my life. It’s kind of like thousands of time capsules of my life with God. It chronicles the journey we have been on together. I can reminisce, I can review, I can reflect, I can redirect. Mostly I remember. God has been good and strong. He has been brutally honest, but loving. There are times He’s taking me to the shed and given me a well-deserved whupping. And there have been times so tender and intimate, that my heart can barely contain it. And it’s all in my journals.

Not everyone enjoys journaling, but I highly suggest the habit. I’m a writer and a communicator so it kind of fits my personality. But it’s always good for all of us to be able to look back. Even the Patriarchs set up stone memorials (“Ebenezers”) to remind them (and future generations) that “God and I were here together.” I think journaling is a great way to capture our history with God.

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” (1 Samuel 7:12)

If you journal, how has it helped you grow closer to God?

If you don’t journal, what are ways that help you to remember what God has done in your life?

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“Passionate Worship.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PackedStJoeChurch

The fourth and last movement of a symphony is usually called the Finale. It is usually the most exciting movement because it is the culmination of the opus; a closure of the composer’s singular intention, developed over the first three diverse movements, containing numerous themes and motifs. The Whole Life Worship paradigm operates in the same way: The fourth movement, Worship in the Congregation, culminates the weeklong journey of receiving from and responding to God in the contexts of solitude, marketplace, and spiritual friendship. Here, the Whole Life Worshiper joins other worshipers in the corporate expression of praise and thanksgiving to God. There is something wonderful, powerful and dynamic when God’s people gather together to praise their God for who He is and what He has done.

Almost all Christians engage in weekly congregational worship (although an alarming and increasing number of Christians do not attend a local church on a regular basis – another topic we’ll hit at a later date). What makes the Whole Life Worship paradigm different than how many Christians view congregational worship is that Worship in the Congregation is seen as the culminating movement of worshiping God. For many, the congregational gathering is their first (and perhaps only) movement of worship. As a result, the worship service is seen as the spiritual “vitamin” that one takes to help them cope with their week of non-church and non-worship. This wrongly places the onus on the worship service itself to provide what Christian consumers want for their spiritual pill: inspiring songs (in the style of their preference and at the right volume level), motivating sermons, state-of-the art videos, award winning choirs or musical soloists, ambience in lighting and staging. And many churches are happy to oblige their customers.

Even traditional and liturgical churches struggle with the “consumer-orientation” of Christian congregants. In spite of the noble effort of Matt Redman who wrote that worship is not about us but about Jesus (“The Heart of Worship”), churches and church goers find themselves in the “rat race” of trying to have their “worship experience” expectations met. It becomes all about us, and little to do with Jesus.

However, if Christians had a Whole Life Worship mentality, I believe things would be different. Whole Life Worship says, “Instead of improving the worship service, why not improve the worshiper?” When a person encounters God throughout the week (in personal worship, in the everyday ordinary, and in spiritual friendship), they come to the congregational gathering ready to “give” to God, instead of hungry to “get” something out of the service. Congregational worship would not be the “bread and butter” of their worship, but the “frosting on the cake.” It is an opportunity for overflow, where the life of God oozes out of one life and into another.

I’ve taught Whole Life Worship to several people at my church and their attitude toward congregational worship is markedly different than others. They come with hearts full of praise and thanksgiving to God. They engage with the songs as opportunities to honor the God who has revealed Himself throughout their week (even if they don’t care for the song!) They seem to be more full of joy and exuberance in their worship. They listen to the message with a sense of expectation because they know God will speak to them, as He did on the weekdays. They are more alert and sensitive to the needs of people around them; often ministering to others who are downtrodden or discouraged. The reason for the difference is that they come to Congregational worship already “full” of Jesus, the love of the Father, and the empowerment of the Spirit.

Can you imagine what a worship service filled with Whole Life Worshipers could be like? Where God could actually receive the praise that is due His name? Where peoples’ hearts would so be in tune with Christ’s heart that the response to mission, outreach, compassion, and evangelism would be a “no-brainer”? Where people would be so in tune with each other and so filled with the love of God that there would be no need among them? Where the personal transformation of individuals and corporate transformation of the church would be so remarkable that the world around them would say, “What is up with these guys?”

I dream about it all the time. Maybe you’re dreaming the same thing. It can happen. As I read in Acts, it has happened before. And as I read in Revelation, it will happen again; in fact, it is the destiny of the Church of Jesus Christ. But I don’t want to wait until “Kingdom come” to start worshiping God the way He wants me to worship – with my whole life. We can start today, right now. How about it?

I’m coming back to the heart of worship and it’s all about you, Jesus. I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it, when it’s all about you, Jesus. (Matt Redman, “The Heart of Worship”)

1. How do you prepare for congregational worship?

2. What are some ways you can encourage others in the congregation as you worship together?

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Spiritual Friendship

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The third movement in a symphony is usually a dance (minuet, waltz, scherzo, trio). In the Whole Life Worship paradigm, the third movement is also a “dance” – it is where we leverage the power of small community into the act of offering ourselves to God for transformation together. It is here where we bring the themes and motifs of our previous movements of Personal Worship and Everyday Ordinary into the safe company of like-minded Whole Life Worshipers, where we can encourage, pray and strengthen each other in our common journey of worship. I call this movement, “Spiritual Friendship.” It can be a partner or a small group (Jesus used the phrase “two or more gathered in my name”). It is a “friendship” in that it needs to be a safe place of honesty, openness and trust. It is “spiritual” in the intention of meeting is to move forward in the spiritual integration of worship into our daily lives.

We live in an exciting day and age where partnership and small communities are common in most churches. There are small groups, care groups, Bible study groups, discipleship groups, recovery groups, and fellowship groups. There are prayer partners, accountability partners, mentoring partners and coaching partnerships. Whole Life Worship spiritual friendships operate in the same way: it is where two or more (usually not more than 8-10) people gather together on a regular basis to share Whole Life Worship experiences and pray for each other.

Any small group or partnership can become a Whole Life Worship Spiritual Friendship. Only two things are needed. The first is a basic understanding of the Whole Life Worship paradigm. Members need to understand that Biblical worship is the offering of ourselves to God in response to His mercies, and that one of the main outcomes of worship is transformation (Romans 12:1-2). As well as there needs to be an understanding of how to approach devotionals/quiet time as Personal Worship with God (see blog entry on 2/12/13) and how to view life through the Worship in the Everyday Ordinary (see blog entry on 2/13/13). The second needed component is a sufficient amount of time to interact with each other about their Whole Life Worship experiences and to pray for one another. It is important to keep the sharing of Whole Life Worship experiences as the priority activity of the group. It is through the discussion of how God is at work in our personal lives that brings greater encouragement and inspiration to the group’s collective worship.

I have spiritual friendships with two men who are very committed to Whole Life Worship. I meet with them every other week (so I have a Spiritual Friendship meeting every week). We spend most of the time sharing about our lives; how we see God working, what we’ve been experiencing in Personal Worship, insights into the Everyday Ordinary, things that we’ve been wrestling with, frustrations and struggles, joys and victories, family, work, ministry – just about anything that has to do with Jesus and us. And then we pray for each other, asking for God to empower us and to reveal His greatness to us as we seek to live for Him. I have to say that these spiritual friendships have been one of the main catalysts for experiencing God’s transformation of my life and character over the years.

Several years back, my spiritual friendships were my “house church” (I was a church planter of house churches from 1998-2006). We intentionally made our house church a Whole Life Worship Community. During our gatherings, we listened and looked for God’s “fingerprints and handprints” in each others’ lives as our members share their Whole Life Worship experiences together. It is amazing how what was shared encouraged the group members to new ways of seeing God at work in their everyday life. There were also countless times when the group could see God at work in places where the “sharer” could not. Every time it gave us more reason to praise and worship God for the myriad of ways we saw the Divine work in, through, and around our lives.

Whole Life Spiritual Friendship is a powerful dance that utilizes the experiences and prayers of “two or more” for greater worship of God and transformational growth. It takes Whole Life Worship out of the realm of the private and into the realm of the community where the presence of Christ is manifested more fully. For as we dance this Whole Life Movement together, the reverberations extend far beyond us and into our world.

We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand. And together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land. And they’ll know we are Christians by our love (“They’ll Know We Are Christians” – Peter Scholtes)

Who are your “spiritual friends”?

How have they encouraged you in your walk with Christ?

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A busy street in Sydney, Australia

Many Christians find it difficult to integrate their spirituality into daily life. Exercising spirituality in the interior world of Personal Worship Time is safe and comfortable. It is relatively easy to worship the Lord in the protective confines of solitude. However, it amazes me how quickly meaningful spiritual focus is lost once I encounter the “real world” of freeway traffic, overbearing bosses, dysfunctional family members, economic stresses, project deadlines, and rude people. It is hard to maintain attitudes of humility and surrender in the “dog-eat-dog” mentality that pervades our workplaces, schools, and marketplaces. It is difficult to sense the love and peace of Christ when the daily circumstances we face are filled with spite, uncertainty, or tension. Even in the positive environments that some are fortunate enough to enjoy, the day to day routine and grind can lull us far away from the thoughts of God and the fact that we belong to him.

The authentic integration of Christian spirituality into everyday life is one of the main issues the Whole Life Worship paradigm addresses. We bring the “stuff of life” into our spirituality in the movement of Whole Life Worship I call the Everyday Ordinary. I want to make clear that the Everyday Ordinary is not about “singing songs to Jesus throughout the day” or “praising my Savior all the day long,” although music and an attitude of praise can contribute to this way of worship. Nor is it a “hermit mentality” where people try to disengage themselves from the world (physically or psychologically) in order to maintain connection with God. Nor is it a discipleship model that tries to exercise Christian standards and practices through will power alone.

Worship in the Everyday Ordinary integrates Romans 12:1-2, into daily life, whereby typical “everyday, ordinary” daily decisions, interactions, and events become acts of worship consciously surrendered to God. Worship in the Everyday Ordinary proactively invites the Holy Spirit’s power and wisdom into these life events to transform both the worshipers and the situations they face. This is where the “rubber” of faith meets the “road” of life. It brings the motivational power of worship into our discipleship, and our following of Jesus into actual daily life experiences.

There are three main ways we enter into Everyday Ordinary worship of God. One way is through practicing the presence of God in our daily tasks. This is a mindset (which comes from Brother Lawrence, a monk who lived 500 years ago) where we look at everything we do to the glory of God – whether that be filing paper work, attending school, driving our cars (ouch!), buying groceries, supervising people, or watching our kids play soccer. Every act is an act of worship. Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”

A second way of entering into this movement is making proactive connections with God throughout the day. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “Pray without ceasing.” While this is a daunting expectation, it serves as a vision statement for how we can connect with God. We can connect with God more frequently – especially if we plan on it. One method I’ve used is to set my watch on “chime” mode. Every hour, my watch would beep, reminding me to make a conscious connection with God – even if it was just a one sentence breath prayer like “Thank you, Lord, for being with me now.” A new way I proactively connect with God is praying the daily office at various times of the day. Or you can put a penny in your shoe and every time you feel it, lift up a prayer to God.

Finally, a third pathway is to invite God into an everyday ordinary moment and watch Him transform it into a holy moment. This is called the Sacrament of the present moment (from Jean-Pierre DeCassaude). This is particularly effective when you face a trial or obstacle in your daily life. When I’ve faced unpleasant tasks that are hard, I’ve found that when I invite the Lord into those moments that the task becomes easier and actually fun. He does make our yoke easy and our burden light – if we let him. Sometimes a really bad scenario becomes redemptive and amazing because we invite Jesus into it. We see the power of God in our circumstances because we are giving Him the space and the opportunity to do it. But more importantly, worship in the everyday ordinary transforms me. Those one second moments to pause in prayer and surrender often make the difference on whether I am following Christ or the world’s mold.

While it is possible to experience transformation in corporate worship and in personal worship, many of our significant transformational moments can only happen in the crucible of our everyday, ordinary lives. It is within the context of home, work, school, relationships, marketplace, leisure, and transit that we find the raw material for becoming Christ-like. Sometimes God miraculously works quickly; at other times, more slowly. The common denominator is a will wholly submitted to God. The attitude of Whole Life Worship (offering our lives to God as living sacrifices) within the events of the everyday ordinary, invites the presence of God to transform powerfully, both ourselves and our situations. This leads to more authentic worship of God, for we celebrate and praise God when we experience the Divine at work in and through our everyday lives. Worship in the everyday ordinary simply makes these transforming moments more available and possible.

Father, may everything we do begin with your inspiration and continue with your saving help. Let our work always find its origin in you and through you reach completion. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. (taken from the “Divine Office – Morning Prayer for Feb 11, 2013”)

What helps you to re-connect with God in the midst of daily activities?

When have you experienced transformation as a result of turning to God in an everyday ordinary event?

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Personal Worship

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 The first movement of the Whole Life Worship paradigm is at the most foundational, simplest place where worship can begin: the human heart or spirit – the innermost part of a person. In John 4:24, Jesus said that God’s true worshipers “must worship in spirit and in truth.” While people can worship God with their hearts anywhere and anytime, including a corporate worship service, one of the best contexts of this simple worship is the quiet place of solitude: alone with God. In some ways, the credibility of our worship of God is best verified not when we attend our public worship services, but when we “go into our room, close the door and pray to our Father who is unseen” (Matthew 6:6). For the Whole Life Worshiper, worship begins with regular, one-on-one time with God. This personal encounter and connection with God is the first step for the powerful and transforming integration of worship with daily life. I call this “Personal Worship.”

Most Christ-followers understand the importance of spending time (apart from people) in prayer, Bible study, and other spiritual disciplines. Some of the names we give to this time are: Quiet Time, Daily Devotionals, Solitude, Bible Reading and Prayer Time. But if you look at these names, it is inherent that the focus is on a task. They imply that the goal is doing something, to accomplish something, to check something off a spiritual “to-do” list. But in Whole Life Worship the focus is not to do something, but to meet with Someone. That’s why I call this time, “Personal Worship.” It’s all about meeting with Jesus, the Lover of my Soul, the Redeemer of my Life. It’s “personal” because there is no one else around; it’s just Him and me. It’s “worship” because the basis of our relationship is His initiation of mercy and his invitation to come to Him. I am simply responding to Him, which is what Biblical worship is (see Romans 12:1 and yesterday’s blog).

I still engage in spiritual disciplines in Personal Worship, but they have a relational focus to them. My prayers in Personal Worship are not “grocery lists” of requests but a pouring out of my heart to the One who loves me. It is also two-way conversation: my times of prayer are times of waiting and listening to the “small, still voice” of Jesus. And many times (not always) I hear Him speaking to my heart. Sometimes it’s an affirmation, other times a conviction or a direction, and other times an enlightened or inspirational thought.

In Personal Worship, the Scripture becomes a mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit. My practice of Scripture reading is called “Lectio Divina” (which is Latin for “Divine reading” #lectiodivina). I read a short passage of Scripture (5-7 verses) four times, with a pause for listening and reflection in between each reading. The idea is to let the Holy Spirit teach me. Sometimes the Spirit will lead me into deeper “digging in” to the Scripture passage (what we pastors call “exegesis”) but more often than not, the Spirit will point to something within my life that needs some adjusting.

There are other disciplines I engage in during Personal Worship and I will explore these and some other thoughts about this first movement of Whole Life Worship in the weeks to come. But you get the idea: it’s not about doing the disciplines for their own sake; it’s using the disciplines to encounter Jesus.

I realize that this approach might sound too “touchy-feely” for some (and for others, it’s not touchy-feely enough!) I just want to say that Personal Worship is not about emotions or feelings. I confess that it probably comes off that way because I am more of a feeler type. But Personal Worship is really about relationship with the One who really desires relationship with you. And Christ will engage in relationship with you in the way He wired you – whether you are a thinker or a feeler, an introvert or an extravert. He will relate with you through both intimate experiences and transcendent thoughts. He will speak to you through the instantaneous moment of epiphany and over the long haul of faithful habit. But in any case our eyes need to be focused on Him, not on just accomplishing a task.

In the secret, in the quiet place, in the stillness You are there. In the secret, in the quiet moment I wait only for You, because I want to know You more. (Andy Park, “In the Secret”)

What helps you to encounter Christ in your times of personal worship?

How can you keep this time “relational” as opposed to doing tasks?

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Whole Life Worship is markedly different from our current cultural understanding of worship. Our culture limits the worship of God to things like singing, music, and the corporate worship service. But here is the Apostle Paul’s definition of worship:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.” (Romans 12:1)

As we see, worship is the simple offering of our lives to God as a response to His mercies. That’s why I call it “Whole Life Worship.” If our worship has nothing to do with the offering of our lives to God in some way, shape or form, then it really is not Biblical worship. God does not want our songs or church attendance or our offerings, unless it is part of the giving of our lives. As David writes,

“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, you will not despise.” (Ps. 51:16-17)

And the most wonderful thing about Whole Life Worship is that it is transformative. As we offer God our lives in worship, He transforms us into the image of Christ – our attitudes, mindset, passions and actions change for the better. That is why Paul goes onto write in Romans 12:2,

“Do not be conformed to the world’s mold, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to discern and prove what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Yet, it seems like an elusive task. It is one thing to say that we offer God our lives in worship, but it is entirely another thing to actually do it. After years of personally seeking God and researching the ways godly people over the centuries (both in Scripture and Church history) have practiced Whole Life Worship, I have come to a practical paradigm (approach) to how we can actually offer our whole lives to God and see His transformation at work.

The way this is “fleshed out” is through four intentional “movements” within the various spheres of our lives. I use the word “movement” in a musical sense. Like a beautiful Beethoven Symphony, Whole Life Worship is the opus of God in our lives that transforms us into new creations. And like a symphony, four interrelated, but dynamically different movements are required to fulfill the opus.

I call the first movement: “Personal Worship.” This is our time with God in solitude. Many Christians have established devotionals or quiet times as part of their personal discipline. However, Whole Life Worship brings a dimension of vitality and expectation to this time.

The second movement is called: “Everyday Ordinary.” These are the moments of our day when we are coming, going, working, schooling, buying, interacting – all those “ings” we do. Whole Life Worship helps turn these moments into holy encounters that are transforming.

The third movement is called: “Spiritual Friendship.” This is where we meet with a partner or a small group of like-minded worshipers to share, encourage, warn, discern and pray. Whole Life Worship utilizes spiritual friendship to leverage empowerment and perspective to the transformative process.

The fourth movement is called: “Congregation.” This movement affirms our identity, not only with God, but with the people of God as well. While most Christians have experienced transforming moments in a worship service, Whole Life Worship takes this movement one step further: to be an agent of God’s transforming power to others.

This week I will unpack these movements: what they are, how Whole Life Worship is expressed through them, and how they posture us for transformation.

What ways help you to offer your “whole life” to God in worship?

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