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Archive for May, 2014

Off-Center

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There are days when I know I’m “off-center.” Something seems to be amiss. My attitude is unstable; ranging from moody to ultra-happy. My speech is more inarticulate than normal. Everything I say seems to be just a little off from what I want to express. I find myself repeating tasks, forgetting things, making extra trips. My relational skills lack tact and sensitivity. On such days, I often want to be left alone. But at the same time, I’m lonely and restless. As a result, I am more prone to make bad choices on days like these.

While those days are (thankfully) few and far between, I’m learning that my being “off-center” is actually the default. It’s not an exception. It’s the rule. The only difference between the days when I feel like I’m totally “on” versus the days that I just described above is my ability to mask my “off-centeredness.” When I’m doing well, I’m actually compensating. It means my “false self” is doing a great job. When I have “bad days,” it’s only because my false self is losing its grip on the façade. It’s on those days that my “off-centeredness” is being revealed for what it truly is.

You see, the insidious truth is that my best “Dr. Jekyll” is really “Mr. Hyde” with a good make-up job. I’m actually “Mr. Hyde” all the time. I constantly live in a state of being “off-centered.”

The cause of “off-centeredness,” according to Scripture, is sin. Many of you probably know that the Greek word for sin, harmartia, is an archery term. It simply means, “missed the mark,” “missed the bulls-eye,” or “off-center.” In its essence, sin is more about the wrongness of “being” than the wrongness of “doing.” We do wrong things because there is not something right about us; something in us is off-center.

So it makes sense that our human nature is fallen: not just because we do bad things, but because we operate from the wrong Center. Instead of having God as our Center, our new center is our ego. Hence, sarx or “false self.”

The ego, itself, is not bad. God created our ego. It is what makes us self-aware, which enables us to be “God-aware” (making worship possible) and “other aware” (which allows the possibility for love and community). Ego is what makes each of us unique in our personality, wiring, and expression. However, the ego was never meant to be the center of our being; that place where reality is defined and decisions are made. The ego works best on the fringe, where our God-directed life emerges from our souls through the ego into the world and in relationship with others. This is our true self. (see figure #1)

But, unfortunately, as human beings we choose to be on the throne of our lives. So ego becomes the center, creating a false self that caters to the immediate environment of the world and others. Without God on the throne, our false self not only serves itself (self-centeredness, self-preservation), it also shapes itself to the ways that are acceptable to the environment (conformity to the world, codependency to other people). The false self uses and manipulates the outer world so that the ego can survive and thrive. (See figure #2)

However, this being of existence is not only fake, it is a trap. As it uses and manipulates the world around it, it can also be used and manipulated by the world’s culture and other people’s false selves. When goals of the ego are blocked, the false self resorts to deeper forms of falseness to get its way: deception, power plays (including passive aggression), and violence. When hardships and trials come, the false self has little to stand on. As Jesus taught, it is like a house built on sand; difficulties cause the false self to collapse.

The only remedy to the false, ego-centered self is the pursuit of Christ-centeredness. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ makes such a pursuit possible. This is the beginning of the salvation life. However, it is the continuation towards the true self (the Image of God restored in us) that involves the process of transformation into an abundant life of freedom, love and righteousness. So we leave behind Mr. Hyde and the fake Dr. Jekylls to the truest version of ourselves, by the power of Christ.

This is the endgame of Whole Life Worship.

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Jekyllhyde

There was a jerk in our home the other day. He came out of nowhere. He started making snide comments to members of my family. Sarcasm dripped from his attitude of superiority. He then followed us to church. Although I kept him from making a scene, I could tell that all he had in his thoughts were criticisms about the music, about the sermon, about the people, about everything. He hid the scowl behind a fake smile, but I knew he was just posing. He acted nice toward people, but it was all an act. It seemed that everything and everybody was a nuisance and a bother to him.

Eventually, I couldn’t hold him back any more. Later when one of his grandkids was goofing off and not eating his meal, this jerk burst out in anger and said some words that were blaming and shaming – certainly, not deserving for a nine year old kid who was just being a kid.

That jarred me enough to notice the “Mr. Hyde” in me.

But it wasn’t me. This was some other dude who was occupying my body and taking over my thoughts, attitudes and actions. The real me loves my grandson, my family and my church. This was someone else. This was someone who was being played by Satan like a Stradivarius violin. Only the music coming out of me was not sweet, beautiful and uplifting. It was sour, ugly, and destructive. This can’t be me. But, at the same time, it can and it was.

The Apostle Paul uses the Greek word, sarx, to define this alter ego. In English, we struggle with translation. Some translate it as “the flesh.” But that rendition causes some confusion because it connotes that our physicality and our connection to the physical world is what makes us sinful – which is not entirely true. However, the other translation, “sinful nature,” is also lacking in that it tends make the problem more ethereal; placing it outside the realm of the real and concrete.

And believe me, my version of Mr. Hyde (or “the evil Mr. Lee”) was more concrete than I care to admit!

The most helpful description I’ve heard for sarx is the “false self.” Robert Mulholland describes the false self as the “me” we create out of our brokenness as a way to compensate and, in many ways, to survive in this fallen world. It is the “me” that we create as a result of the Fall.  Whether we realize it or not, at the center of our Fallen-ness, we have pushed God off the throne of our lives. And the first order of business, is to create another “me” (the sarx) that protects our ego’s rulership.

“Let there be ME!” Ergo, ego. False self. The wonderful imago dei replaced by the meager “i am.”

It is insidious because the false self is inexorably bonded and “super glued” to our souls – that part of us that is true and genuine. No matter what we do, we can’t shake it off or rip it off. Paul’s discourse in Romans 7 is a profound description of the futility of trying rid the false self in our own power.

It is also smarter and craftier than we are. Every time we try to live in truth, authenticity and goodness, it somehow twists it into something self-centered and self-serving.

Over the next several weeks, I want to devote a few blogs to exploring various aspects of false self and the true self (the restored Image of God in us through Christ) as it relates to the Whole Life Worship journey.

What broke me out of the evil Mr. Lee were the spiritual practices of welcoming prayer and confession. After my outburst with my grandson, I filled with shame and guilt. While no one likes feeling ashamed or guilty, I welcomed these emotions and the presence of the Holy Spirit – which is harder than you think in times like these! I began to notice what was underneath: a soul that was tired, worn, restless and weak. I surrendered my need to control and be affirmed. I then confessed my sin and my brokenness to the Lord, asked Jesus for mercy, and made amends to my grandson.

That cleared enough space to hear the Holy Spirit say to me: “You are forgiven. Play with your grandkids! Be free to love them the way you truly desire! Be the Doug Lee I created and redeemed you to be – and sin no more!”

In what ways does the sarx/false-self rear its ugly head in your life?

What helps you to get re-calibrated to Christ when that happens?

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Memo to Self

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One of the great things I love about praying the Morning Office as part of my Personal Worship Time, is that it gives me a helpful reminder:

There is a God. And I’m not Him.

The “Call to Prayer,” “Request for Presence,” and “Greeting” always gets me realigned with this basic, but very profound truth of who God is and my constant need and dependency on Him for everything.

This morning’s “Call to Prayer” was from Psalm 100:

Know this:  The LORD himself is God, he himself made us, and we are the sheep of his pasture.

Wow!

I say “wow,” not because this is a new concept for me. After all, knowing that Yahweh is God is the fundamental principle of Judeo-Christian belief. I say “wow,” because I saw – perhaps, for the first time – how diabolically easy it is for me to get off-course from that truth.

I think many, if not all, of us operate from the false assumption that because we are Christians, our hearts and minds are automatically defaulted to the “the LORD is God” mode. We assume that, when we wake up in the morning, we are centered on Jesus. Or as we go through our day, we have this natural awareness of God being with us. Or we will automatically do the right, godly thing in every situation because the Holy Spirit indwells us.

I think that is a very dangerous assumption and it plays right into the enemy’s hands. We get prideful, overconfident, and think that we’re going to be fine today. It becomes easy to by-pass the essential work of centering our lives on Christ and to tune our lives to his “perfect pitch.” We set ourselves up for getting tripped up when those bumps in life come at us. And we miss opportunities to be transformed or to be God’s vessels of light and love.

And it’s all because the wrong “god” is on the throne.

I’m learning that I need to displace myself off that throne. I’m learning that I need to officially “coronate” Christ as the King of my life every morning of every day – which is the essence of Personal Worship. Because when I don’t, guess who’s sitting on that throne?

Memo to Self: “Know that the LORD is God. It is He who has made YOU, and not we ourselves.”

Do you notice a difference in those days that you proactively recognize Christ’s Lordship and those days where you don’t?

Who is sitting on the throne of your life at this moment?

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Jesus and Me

Have you ever wondered what Paul meant when he said, “Pray without ceasing” (Ephesians 6:18)? If you’re like me, it’s hard enough time being focused for 5 minutes, much less a ceaseless prayer that is mentioned here!

But I think what Paul meant is for us to have a prayerful attitude throughout our day. The old gospel melody talks about “walkin’ and a talkin’ with my mind stayed on Jesus!” This is a powerful concept: what if we could have Jesus on our mind all day long? It would affect everything we say, and do, and even think – to the betterment for us and those around us! This is a possibility, for we know that Christ’s Spirit dwells within us and wants to empower and guide our lives throughout the day.

However, we also know that our flesh is weak and easily distracted. Plus, we have an enemy who works 24/7 to keep us feeling defeated. Our desire is to have Jesus on our minds all the time, but how can we do that?

Here are a couple of suggestions to help the staying power of Jesus to stay with us:

1. Don’t try for perfection; try for “better than yesterday.” If you thought about Jesus three times yesterday, shoot for four times today. Pretty soon you’ll be up to thirty times a day – an improvement of 10X’s! This was the plan of missionary Donald Baillie, who was eventually able to keep Jesus on his mind just about every waking moment.

2. Start off your day by giving it to Jesus. It can be as easy as one statement when you get out of bed. Ask Jesus to be at the center of your life. Ask Him to remind you to meet with Him in prayer throughout the day.

3. Set your watch to go off every two or three hours as a reminder to pray. When you hear the beep, let that remind you to lift up a quick prayer to get centered on Jesus. Ask Him to enter your life and sit on the throne of your heart.

4. Many short, direct prayers are better than fewer long ones. There is a place for extended prayer, but not during the course of a busy day. The object is to get “stayed” on Jesus. The short, direct prayers help us to allow Jesus to get into our ordinary, everyday lives. Those are the places where Jesus’ life transformation can take place the best.

5. At the end of each day, evaluate your encounters with Jesus. The important thing to realize is that this is not a “numbers” game (the more times you meet with Jesus, the more “brownie” points you get). Getting “stayed on Jesus” is a way of getting plugged into the life of Jesus. What lessons did I learn? How were people affected by my meeting with Jesus? What graces and blessings did I see today? Who are the hurting and the lost around me?

Being “stayed with Jesus” is not the extraordinary Christian life; it is the normal Christian life that God wants us to have. It’s living out Whole Life Worship in the Everyday Ordinary. It is something we can have, and something God wants for us. It’s up to us seize it. Get “stayed.”

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