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Archive for May, 2014

Taking a Break

I’m going to be taking a break from blogging for awhile – probably a couple of weeks. I hope to have some new blogs in the new month.

Thanks for your patience and understanding!

Doug

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When I started to reflect seriously on the Psalms a few months ago, one tiny little concept in Psalm 1 grabbed my attention: “sitting in the seat of mockers.” Blessed is the one who does NOT sit in that seat.

I wondered: what does that really mean?

The obvious definition of a mocker is someone who makes fun of other people. It is a response that comes when we think others are doing something wrong, foolish, or embarrassing. So we belittle them, make fun of them, and outwardly criticize them – mocking. But the intent of this passage goes deeper than that. I believe what the Psalmist is getting at is the attitude of “judging others.” At the heart of mocking others is a prideful heart condition that is bad and misguided: we judge others because we think we are better than they are.

Personally, I try not to outwardly mock people. But it’s more because of a cultural, sophistication thing (it’s in bad taste and shows “bad form”) than a conviction toward righteousness and humility. Yet, in my heart and in my mind, I secretly mock and judge people more often than I care to admit. Sometimes the thoughts in my head toward others are disgustingly haughty (“What an idiot! Where did you go to school?”) Sometimes I’ll act humbly on the outside, but on the inside I’m thinking, “I’m right, you’re wrong. You’ll see!” Sometimes the attitude is so subtle that I don’t even realizing I’m judging someone until long after the conversation (but the Holy Spirit brings it up now that I am beginning to examine the events and encounters in my life).

Like the Psalmist says: It’s time to get out of that seat! It’s ungodly, it’s wrong and it’s insidiously wicked.

Jesus said, “Judge not, or you will be judged” (Matt 7:1). There is so much wisdom in that. Here’s what I mean:

First, when we judge others, we are assuming God’s position over people. We sit in His judgment seat; whether we realize it or not. But there is only One Judge. And I’m not Him. And neither are you.

Second, I’m just too stupid and ignorant to be an informed or just judge on anything; especially when it comes to other people. It’s true that people do wrong and bad things. But do I really know why they are doing them? Have I walked in their shoes? Do I see all the circumstances in that person’s life? No. So what gives me the right to judge them?

Third, judging others poisons me. It feeds my pride and keeps me from true humility (which I believe is the absolute best frame of mind/heart to be in). Judging others turns everything I think, feel, say, and do into negativity. Judging another person makes me think that “being right” and “being justified” is more important than “being a loving person.”

Fourth, judging others actually damages my identity in Christ. The quintessential example of judging others is the “Accuser,” aka “Satan.” I am not a “son of perdition” but when I judge others I am imitating Satan. Inadvertently, in this act I am choosing to identify with darkness, rather than with Christ. I need to remember that my identity rests with the One who said to the woman caught in adultery: “I do not condemn (judge) you; go and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).

So getting out of the seat of mockers, getting off the Judgment Throne, is something I have to do – in heart, mind, attitude, and action. It’s something we all have to do if we really want to be Whole Life Worshipers of God.

I want to explore some of the ramifications of this idea further (things like, “Aren’t we supposed to help each other live righteous lives? How can we do that without judging?” and “How do I get myself out of that seat and not just accept everything as being okay?”)

But let me end with these questions: Are we sitting on the seat of mockers? Is there someone in your life that you judge or belittle in your mind or constantly have critical thoughts about? What would it take for you to bless that person instead of curse them or ignore them?

Today let’s live as children of our Father of lights and leave the company of the Accuser.

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One of my favorite sports movies is, “For the Love of the Game” (1995). It stars Kevin Costner as an aging Major League baseball pitcher who is contemplating retirement as he pitches one last game. My favorite scene (and it’s probably the main reason why I watch this movie) is when he is on the mound about ready to pitch. People in the crowd are screaming curses and expletives at him (he’s the opposing pitcher). At that time he says to himself, “Clear the mechanism!” And all of a sudden, the noise stops. All is silent and focused and he is able to throw the pitch right where he wants it.

This reminds me so much of my new found discipline of Silent Prayer. Silent Prayer is a “prayer without words” where we remain in silence in the presence of God. It is also called “Contemplative Prayer” or “Centering Prayer.” The word picture of Psalm 123:2 captures the essence of Silent Prayer, that of a servant waiting and watching the Master for the slightest movement or gesture. Silent prayer is waiting for God to move and speak, if He cares to do so. Among the benefits of Silent Prayer are the stilling of the soul and increased acuity to the voice of God. For those who practice Silent Prayer as a way of life, there is a strong sense of intimacy and occasional experiences of “union” with God.

One of the main labors of Silent Prayer is “clearing the mechanism.” It’s settling my heart and silencing the voices in my mind. Without this, one cannot be present and focused on God.

And it’s also one of the hardest things in the world to do!

Silencing my mouth is easy. It’s the silencing of my mind that is extremely difficult. The moment I start Silent Prayer it’s as if a marching band suddenly starts playing in my head. The thoughts flood in. The distractions come all at once. It seems that once I clear my mind of one thought, another distraction starts coming on the scene.

Even when I can settle down the distractions and the thoughts, my mind kicks into another gear: setting up “on ramps” to encounter God. These are ways I try to replicate an experience with God through some sort of striving. For instance, I start thinking of God’s attributes to praise Him. There’s nothing wrong with doing that (in fact, it’s usually a good thing to do). But in Silent Prayer it defeats the purpose. Rather than really hearing from God, my mind is putting thoughts about God; albeit good and godly thoughts.

Sometimes, my mind will also try to fabricate experiences with God, like “hearing from God.” My mind will come up with something that God “might” say to me, an impression or an idea. But my soul is not fooled. It’s not God. It’s just my restless mind that feels out of place when told to “be quiet and still.” It really believes Descartes’ theory: “I think, therefore, I am.” Actually the truth is “God is, therefore, I am.” My thinking has nothing to do with my existence or identity, and Silent Prayer has helped me to see that.

Here are three things that have helped me “clear the mechanism” in the discipline of Silent Prayer:

1. Graciously recognize thoughts and distractions and let them go. The helpful word picture is that of a boat that passes by on the river. The thought or distraction is the “boat.” Sometimes I notice the boat. Sometimes I get on the boat. Sometimes I get on the boat and I stay there for quite a while! But in Silent Prayer, I’m learning to get off the boat and to let it pass on by.

2. Have a key “word” or phrase that re-centers my prayer. This word serves as a trigger to clear the mechanism and wait upon the Lord. Sometimes the word is a name of God (“Jesus,” “Abba,” “Spirit”). Other times it is a command (“Be still,” “Wait,” “Listen,” “Look”). One phrase that helps me re-center is Psalm 62:1, “For God alone my soul in silence waits.” Another helpful re-centering phrase is some part of the Jesus Prayer (like “Lord, have mercy”).

3. Look for the “hand” of God. In my mind’s eye I focus on the “hand” of God. This is taking Psalm 123:2 literally, that I am a servant looking to the hand of my Master. This is not a thought or a mental on-ramp, but a gaze, a focal point. It actually serves to keep my mind from thinking thoughts or entertaining distractions.

To be honest with you, when I pray Silent Prayer (usually in 15 minute sessions) I might get 2 or 3 minutes of totally undistracted, focused time – in 20-30 second increments. It is that hard for me. I don’t think I’ve experienced “union with Christ,” but I have reached some significant levels of intimacy with the Lord.

Most of the advantage I’ve experienced with Silent Prayer is what happens afterwards: the refreshment of my soul, the ability to sense God’s leading in my day, and empowerment for the tasks ahead. I try to use shorter sessions of Silent Prayer (3-5 minutes) before I start on major tasks. I have found it to be very useful as I practice Whole Life Worship throughout my day. “Clearing the mechanism” paves the way for God to have His Way in and through me.

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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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Jesus made a remarkable statement, one that stunned his disciples in Matt 18:3, when He said:

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.”

You can picture their minds racing: What does that mean? How should we become like little children? And how does that relate with entrance to the Kingdom of heaven?

Two millennia later, we are still baffled by this statement and, by the way many live their lives, pretty much ignore it due to our lack of understanding.

Author George MacDonald, who greatly influenced Christian authors, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, saw this concept of “becoming like a child” as central to the Christian faith. I want to draw from MacDonald’s helpful observation which categorizes the two types of attitudes children have:

“Childlike” and “Childish.”

Childlike are those attitudes and actions which exhibit positive and faith promoting behaviors. They include: innocence, trust, wonder, not over-analyzing, seeing things for what they are, approachability, believing and hoping for the best, not being influenced by the opinions of others, and the like (you might know of some other childlike qualities; please share them with us).

Sometimes we adults act too sophisticated or get too cynical or are too concerned with social protocol, that the things of God get blocked from our lives. We take ourselves too seriously and God not seriously enough. So when Jesus calls us to become like little children, I believe He is calling us to be “childlike” and to not let our adult tendencies block us from the simple aspects of faith and trust.

“Childish” is a description of the darker and more negative qualities of a child’s behavior. These include: demanding our own way, being spoiled, feeling entitled, thinking that the world revolves around us, having tantrums when we don’t get our own way, pouting, going sideways, taking unfavorable things personally, and the like. (Any other ways that describes “childish” to you?)

I think that too many of us never grow out of being childish. Obviously, we sophisticate it and put all kinds of adult window dressing around it (rhetoric, “spin,” secondary justifications) so that it sounds reasonable, but underneath it all is simply a spoiled brat trying to get his/her own way. Even though I am 55 years old, I still catch myself (way too often) responding to situations and people in a childish manner.

So Christ patiently calls us to maturity, to “grow up.” In becoming complete in Christ (Col 1:28), we are to die to childish ways and, as Paul says, we are to put “childish ways” behind us (1 Cor 13:11). Do not go sideways. Do not have tantrums. Do not insist on your own way. But at the same time, we are to nurture childlike qualities (faith, trust, dreams, hope) as we approach our Father. Even within that pursuit, Jesus invites us to approach God as “Abba” (aka “Daddy”).

Interestingly enough, the best way we can put off the “childish” and put on the “childlike” is through Whole Life Worship. As much as we’d like to believe we can stop being childish, if we’re honest we realize we can’t – at least, not in our own strength. That inner, selfish child is incredibly strong. The only power to overcome this comes from God, and it only comes as we offer our “childish” self to our Lord as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1).

Likewise, the ability to recognize, relearn and embrace childlike qualities also comes as we offer ourselves to God as a living sacrifice. We’ve been “adulterated.” We’ve lost our innocence. We’re drowning in our sophistication. We’re addicted to our own abilities to achieve, build, and accomplish. It takes a total work of grace to “renew our minds” to believe like a child, to dream as a child, and to trust as a child. In order to become like a child, as Jesus stated, requires major transformation (enough to shrink our “camel-sized egos” to go through the Kingdom “eye of a needle sized” gate). Again, this is the process of Whole Life Worship (Rom 12:2).

So let’s throw off our childish, adulterated, cynical, spoiled, sophisticated ways. And as Jesus commanded and George MacDonald expounded, let us become maturely “child-like” through our Whole Life Worship of God. As we do, the Kingdom of God will magically open up before us, and we will see it as so much greater than the “Emerald City,” more amazing than “Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory,” and beyond the fantasy of any child’s most wonder-filled dream.

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mommy

With Mother’s Day coming up, I thought it would be good to blog about moms – in particular, my mom. I’m indebted to her for many, many things and I thank God for her influence and support in my life, as well as my siblings, our spouses and our children. We are blessed to have such a godly, Christ-following woman who has touched our lives profoundly.

My mom, Gracie, was born during the Great Depression. Her early life was marked with hardships and tragedies. She had a little sister who died soon after birth. She was in a terrible auto accident, which took the life of her uncle and shattered her legs – she still feels the coldness of the steel rods every time the weather changes. As a Japanese-American, she was sent to Internment Camp when she was a child. Soon after, her parents split up (my grandmother, who was Chinese, faced tremendous persecution from her husband’s family and other Japanese in the camp – which proves the adage that “hurting people hurt people”).

In spite of the great challenges my mom had growing up, she was never bitter. Rather, she used these experiences to make her “better.” She has a quiet tenacity that allows her to see trials as opportunities, instead of roadblocks. She became a follower of Jesus as a child (a friend reached out to her and brought her to church). She flourished in High School where she was an accomplished musician and a student body leader (I think I got some of those genes).

She met my dad as they worked summer jobs packing peaches in their farming town of Reedley, CA. My mom was a student at UCLA; my dad was at USC Pharmacy School. Thankfully, their love for each other surpassed any cross-town rivalry; and they got married a few years later.

Although my dad was initially resistant to going to church (he grew up as a Preacher’s Kid, and his dad spent more time with church people than his own family), my mom kept her faith and tried to instill it in her children – all five of us (which undoubtedly kept her on her knees in prayer!) Mom’s persistence got me going to church on a regular basis as a young teenager. In spite of my whining, complaining, and wanting to sleep in on Sundays and watch football games, Mom eventually won. And not long after that, Jesus also won … my heart. In fact, all five of us have a vibrant relationship with Christ. God answered her many prayers for us.

Over the course of time, my dad also gave his life to Jesus. I’m convinced that my mom had a lot to do with that. Her prayers and quiet influence set the stage for my dad to overcome his bitter past experiences with religion and to step into the amazing life that comes with a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ. They served God and His Church faithfully over the decades, until my dad’s sudden passing in 2003.

My mom is a shining example of “faith over the long haul.” Someone once said that, “the ‘race’ of the Christ-follower is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.” For nearly 80 years, Mom’s life is marked as one that has “always protected, always trusted, always hoped, and always persevered” (cf. 1 Cor 13:7). In so many ways, she brought our whole family to Jesus. And she continues to invest in her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, too.

Now that’s a legacy.

Thank God for Mommies, like mine, who pray persistently and live out their faith!

How has God used your mom or other “mother figures” in your life to bless you?

What helps to pass on a living faith to the next generation?

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Some time ago our worship team led the congregation in a very powerful song called “Your Grace Still Amazes Me”. It was one of those songs that stays in your mind long after you sing it. That’s what happened to my wife, Letty. She just couldn’t get the song out of her mind.

On Monday, Letty (a Kindergarten teacher) arrived at her classroom filled with anxiety and apprehension. She had reluctantly (and regretfully) agreed to do a project with her students that would take most of her available time that week to prepare for. She was not looking forward to doing this, but braced herself for the grind anyway.

Before starting into the day, Letty prayed a simple prayer that she always does at the beginning of a school day: “Lord, bless this classroom today with Your grace and power. And let me be a blessing to the students.” Little did she know how God was going to answer that prayer!

As the children marched into the classroom, Letty had some unexpected visitors: three parents. Each of them came up to Letty and said, “Mrs. Lee, I’m here to help you. What do you need done?” She put them to work on the project that she had been dreading. What would have taken her all week to accomplish, they finished in a couple of hours. As Letty thanked them for their help, they replied, “Mrs. Lee, you are such a blessing to our children; this was the least we can do!” And they had absolutely no idea how they were part of a God-led conspiracy.

Letty’s heart was filled joy and awe toward God’s orchestration of these events. And that song that she couldn’t get out of her mind became her personal “magnificat”*: “Your grace still amazes me, Your love is still a mystery. Each day, I fall on my knees because Your grace still amazes me.”

The Lover of her soul “ambushed” her with kisses from heaven! He even provided the perfect song for her to sing back to Him.

Grace invading our everyday ordinary. Blessings poured out through a cell phone call. Holy epiphanies taking place in rush hour traffic. God-led conspiracies in Kindergarten classrooms. These are commonplace occurrences for Whole Life Worshipers. If you worship Jesus with your life, you won’t be so surprised when He shows up.

Let’s look at Letty’s scenario through a different lens, now: “That song I heard at church keeps going through my mind – that’s annoying! It’s like trying not to think about pink elephants. I’ll try to focus on something else.”

“Why did I volunteer for that stupid project? I resent it when people expect me to do more than I can accomplish. Don’t they realize my time is limited?”

“Pray? I don’t have time to pray. I’ve got to get started on that stupid project. I wish I had a job that would give me more time so I can pray.”

“Oh, great! Not only do I have to take care of all these kids, I’ve got these three parents to watch out for; they’re probably spying on me.”

“Help? No, I don’t need help. Do I look like I need help? I’ve got it all under control! (under my breath) It would take me too long to explain it to you anyway.”

“What a rotten day it has been! What a rotten week it’s going to be. I wonder if God even likes me anymore because He’s got me stuck in this dead end job. Four more long days before the weekend and going to church – I love the music at the church, but I hope they are not singing that song again; I still can’t get it out of my head!”

I know those were silly overstatements, but they illustrate how the difference between Whole Life Worship and non-whole life worship is simply a matter of attitude and openness to the reality of Christ in our everyday ordinary lives. Jesus loves you – deeply! Why wouldn’t He want to invade your life with His grace, power and mercy?

God has some wonderful conspiracies laid out to bless your socks off. Kisses from heaven await you. All you need are eyes to see, ears to hear, hearts to embrace and faith that anticipates the Presence of the Lover of your Soul in your everyday life.

Perfect submission, all is at rest. I in my Savior am happy and blest.

Watching and waiting, looking above, filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

This is my story, this is my song: praising my Savior all the day long!

 (“Blessed Assurance” by Fannie Crosby)

 * The “Magnificat” is the song Mary sang in Luke 1:46-55 taken from the first verse (“My soul doth magnify the Lord”). This song was Mary’s worshipful response to Elizabeth’s Holy Spirit-inspired comments that confirmed that the unborn child in Mary was indeed the Son of God. I use this word as a way to identify those songs that particularly describe the moments of God’s greatness we personally experience.

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