Why I Think Differently About Worship

2017 was a very difficult year for me and the beginning of 2018 may have been even worse. So many Sundays, I would arrive at our church’s worship beat down and jagged and angry. But in the practice of worship and in the participation with the transcendent, I would be reminded of God’s glorious riches and his love for me. I would transport past the immediacy of my pain to sweet comfort of a Savior who hurts with me and knows my sorrow and grief.

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If you are not practicing worship then you are susceptible to “what have you done for me lately thinking.” Scripture talks about God’s glorious riches and out of those glorious riches come God’s strength. But if I am not spending time in awe and not willing to worship the God of these riches then I am just left with the immediacy of God’s action and there may not be much there to think about and be in awe of.

God is not only as good as his last action, he is vastly more great, more powerful, more loving, more dynamic, more glorious, and more beautiful than we can ever imagine in our current state of humanness. But in our fickleness and emotionally driven impulsiveness we will miss all of who God is unless we take time for worship.

I pray that you are taking time to worship and sit in awe of God and that you are constantly reminded of his good and beautiful nature. That knowledge was refreshing and healing for me, it can be for you as well.

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The Christian Response To Meditation? Do it Differently

The number of Americans who practiced meditation in 2017(14.1%) is 10% higher than the number from just five years ago(4.1%). Children are getting in on the act as well. 5.4% of children practiced meditation compared to just .6% in 2012.*

Yet, the response to this growth from Christians has been non-existent. Here in this so-called secular age, thousands and maybe millions of people are participating in a spiritual practice and embracing spirituality and Christians aren’t noticing and aren’t responding and aren’t presenting the Christian alternative to secular meditation.

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A year and a half ago, I committed to a short blog series on meditation. I asked, “Should Christians meditate?” and I talked about my own experience with Christian meditation. Since then, I have had the chance to speak to a group of leaders on my campus about meditation. In that preparation, I discovered this explanation from Tim Keller on the practice, “Meditation is taking the truth down into our hearts until it catches fire there and begins to melt and shape our reactions to God, ourselves, and the world.”

Like the cow’s process of rumination, or chewing over again, we should take the steps of embracing God’s truths, largely through scripture, and letting them be considered, turned over in our mind, sink into our hearts, and find not just the truth in them but God’s presence in them.

The Christian version of meditation is full, robust, life-giving, a “room full of marvels” and not dependent on our skill or expertise. As long as we can take the time and invite God to be with us and speak with us, He will show up and fill us with his presence. God is doing the heavy lifting, we just have to be willing to surrender to him in that moment.

As Christians, we should be experts on meditation in its proper form and should be practitioners of it. We have a chance to show the world the richness of this kind of encounter with God.

The Real Reason We Should Be Overflowing With Thankfulness

I invite you to stop what you are doing. Take a step back from your activity. Take a deep breath and think about all that you have to be thankful for. I don’t even have to mention the usual list of health, family, and a roof over your head. What I want you to be thankful for is simply the great presence, power, and promises found in life with Christ.

Do you remember that not even death can separate you from the love of God? That the life we live as Christians inside the Kingdom of God is a life full of love, now and forever. That love is not contingent on our ability to maintain some level of goodness.

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Do you remember that you are valuable and precious? As Eugene Peterson said, “we are splendid, never-to-be-duplicated stories of grace.” Christ dwells in you and delights in you and sacrificed everything to be made alive in you.

Do you remember that you are a new creation? That your life from this point on is capable of transformation and deep change. So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”

See all that we have to be thankful for? Thank God for our health and our provisions but more than that, thank God for his great love and his work in our lives. Without which, we would be aimless, tossed about by our own desires, and ever on the edge of despair and loneliness.

Being All In Is The Only Way

When was the last time you were fullhearted in anything?

Halfheartedness seems to be the default mode for the modern American person. We have our laptop out while watching TV, our phones out while watching our kids games, music in while reading a book, and screens on while we eat. Do we ever just fully devote ourselves to a task or an event or a project?

The Christian life is not a life that can be done halfheartedly. Jesus’ command to take up a cross, no our cross, and follow him is not a call for halfheartedness. It is a call for fully devoted surrender and sacrifice that starts to require our entire self – from our thoughts, to our use of our body, to the choices that we make.

Yet, we try to get by with a halfhearted faith.

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We let other people pray for us, we open God’s word just on occasion, we substitute blogs and podcasts for real Christian community, and we fill up our time with endless distractions that have zero eternal significance. Dallas Willard says, “When we are halfhearted in our faith, we are halfhearted in our thinking. And the halfheartedness defeats the whole project.”

Do we ever practice loving one another or being generous or sharing the impact God has made on our life? If you are like me, generosity and love and sacrifice doesn’t come easily and it won’t come at all if I remain halfhearted in my commitment to Christ. My life of following Christ requires all of me.

This world needs halfhearted followers of Christ like I need a hole in my head. You can be distracted while watching TV or brushing your teeth but when it is time to live this Christian life, commit your everything to it. This is why I write this blog, so that readers can Grow Up to a fullhearted faith and leave their halfhearted ways behind them.

Looking For Something Holy

Shortly before I graduated from high school, a friend and I traveled 40 miles to see Rich Mullins in concert. It was unlike any Christian experience I had witnessed in my short life. I still remember some of the things he said and the spirit present in that small town church.

As I began to recently research his life, I found out that Mullins’ concerts were legendary as spiritual, holy experiences. Mullins’ manager, Gay Quinsenberry, said of his concerts late in his career, “God spoke through Rich in ways I had never seen before or since.”

Mullins didn’t see his role as performer there to entertain and garner applause. For him, playing music and creating was a calling. He believed that his shows should have a message: “You know what? The world is full of musicians. What the world is starving for is Christ. If I wanna just go to a concert, I’ll go see the Chieftains, or a symphony, or a jazz concert, or a rock concert. But if I go to a Christian concert, I want to be reminded that He is a loving God, and that He has forgiven me, and there is hope.”

I hope there are places that you go where you are reminded that God is a “loving God” and that there is hope. Mullins, in his abbreviated life, ruthlessly pursued God and found Him in unlikely venues and scenarios. I want to follow his example of heeding God’s call on my life, wherever it may lead.

 

How To Recharge Your Spiritual Life

I woke up this morning and listened to a two-minute devotional, then I prayed for a few minutes, then I read the same Psalm for 10-minutes and then I sat down to write about Christian Spiritual Formation. None of this is strenuous, none of this required large spiritual muscles. I simply found a few things that I knew were important for me to do and started to do them. The hardest part was simply carving out time in my day for 20 minutes of Growing Up activity.

If you have reached a dry patch in your spiritual life I would suggest that you do two things. One, find the 10 minutes that you are going to devote Growing Up. I do mornings because no one else is up and I am not mentally drained from the day. You may choose a different time and that is fine but stick to that time for at least a week.

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Secondly, start experimenting. Use that first week as a laboratory for finding a set of practices that bring you closer to God. Do not try to fit some ideal found in a book or what your Pastor has outlined for you, the point is to make it work and be sustainable. If you stick to it long enough, God will show you what activities and practices need to be added and which ones need to be dropped. Be flexible. There are many aspects to your spiritual self (your non-physical self) and growth in all of these areas will not happen over night. But, if you remain consistent and are open to the working of God, you will see change.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Read one Psalm everyday for a week

Pray the Lord’s Prayer

Memorize the 23rd Psalm

Sing your favorite worship song or hymn

Write a spiritual note of encouragement to a friend

Take a walk without your headphones or looking at your phone

Pray for God’s will to manifest itself in your life

Thank God for 3 things

 

We Lost A Momentous Christian Voice

I just heard that Eugene Peterson died. What a giant loss this is.

I cannot put into words what it is like to read and listen to Peterson talk about God. Only Frederick Buechner, Dallas Willard, and Peterson make me feel like a different person after reading them. I feel more hopeful and more full of faith. But, most of all I find myself more in love with Jesus. I walk away from a reading session of Peterson and I feel like the wisest, most profound, person I could talk to has just held a conversation with me.

What is so attractive for me is that Peterson is interested in Spiritual Theology? In his mind, there is no point in discussing God unless you expect God to actually do something in your life, to change your countenance, and begin making you whole. Peterson had a brilliant mind and a poets sense of words but a pastor’s heart. He used his words, through writing and sermons, as a means of loving his readers and wanting them to grasp the beauty and truth of scripture. I have seen many pastors but not any that viewed their sermons as letters of love to their congregation. Peterson did.

I find it interesting that I have been on such a big Peterson kick the last month or two. I have been listening to his collection of sermons and last week I downloaded his latest, a 90-day devotional called Every Step An Arrival. Also, I listened to a 2015 podcast interview with Krista Tippitt. I would highly recommend any of these options but be aware that he isn’t flashy and that his voice is sometimes hard to listen to. You have to take your time with Peterson and wait for him to draw you in to show you the life that is possible with Christ. His memoir, The Pastor, is required reading for any person in ministry and for most congregants who need to know that a pastor is not just a leader with good hair but should be the person most desiring growth in all life’s good areas.

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For an entry point in Peterson, I would recommend a piece called, “Confessions of a Former Sabbath Breaker.” It captures his mirth, his wisdom, his sincerity, and his pastor’s heart. When you read it you will know what I have been trying to say in this blog.

I am sad today but oh so grateful for his work, his ministry, his heart, and his words. Do yourself a favor and read or listen to something by Peterson and ask yourself if your life, in any way, resembles his. If not, you are missing so much.

What Happens When You Make Yourself Available to God

This past week, I met with a brand new believer and talked about what to focus on in the days ahead.

I went to church and me and two other guys worked through some scripture and I led in prayer.

The following day, I attended a small group with faculty members at the university where I work. We spent time in devotion and then listened to each other’s stories and worked on discerning God’s work in and around those stories.

On Sundays, I taught a college bible study class where we learned what makes a good Christlike community.

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All of that plus a symposium on campus where colleagues and I spoke about being a Christian librarian and the unique role we play in the academic environment of our students.

All of these things, I have prayed for and desired to have happened. I want to be in the midst of other’s spiritual journey, guiding them and passing along some things that I have learned and expressing the reality of Christ’s transforming power.

Quite significantly, not one of these opportunities I had to push or pull to make happen. I didn’t have to twist arms to get people to do this with me or to show up. It just happened and that is a testament to God working. I simply made myself available and am in tune enough to know when God is guiding circumstances and people’s hearts.

Are you making yourself available? Have you asked God to use you in whatever way he sees fit? And are you faithful to move whenever he says move?

I don’t consider myself special because of these opportunities that I have, just thankful that God sees enough in me to want to use me. He wants to use you and will gladly provide you chances to minister to others and to serve. Just make yourself available.

The Story of Joy, Part 3

One part of my spiritual and personal story that I haven’t discussed much is the pregnancy, birth, and early life stages of our daughter, Joy. My wife recently wrote about this and I thought I would share it on the blog with a series of posts. God has moved in profound ways concerning Joy and her life has taught me many things:

Enter my wife, Leah.

After Joy’s amazing cleft lip repair, we continued to walk daily in faith that she would improve and heal. It was a whirlwind of doctor visits from her Craniofacial surgeon, to GI specialist, a nephrologist, a urologist, a geneticist, a pulmonologist, an opthalmologist, ENT specialist, cardiologist, and later an orthopedic specialist. I had to carry around a little notebook to keep everything up to date for the appointments.

In the mean time, we still needed her cleft palate repaired and would wait until she was around 9 months old to get that done. During that time, she had pneumonia and so many ear infections due to the cleft. I even surprised one of her doctors when I told him baby food was coming out of her ear when she ate!! That sounds crazy, but all of that was connected and open before her first surgery. So many things were causing issues that seemed overwhelming at the time.

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Along with doctor visits, we had awesome ECI therapists (PT, OT, Speech/feeding) come into our home to help with Joy’s progress. They made a huge difference and listened to my concerns. Her PT was an integral part of helping us discover Joy’s scoliosis at such a young age. This was another God moment!

Joy has had 4 cleft palate repairs. Several had to happen because she did not heal properly after surgery. So many times we were sent to the geneticist because her doctors just knew she had a syndrome that would explain all of the things going wrong. Nothing was pinpointed, but we still had to move forward with her care.

Her first cleft surgery was extremely hard. It makes me sick thinking about it. The recovery room for Joy has always been the hardest. She does not respond well to anesthesia and has an extremely hard time waking up and calming down. After each surgery comes weeks of liquid diets, restrictions, and sometimes slow healing.

People prayed each time for her surgeries and God provided His strength and peace during those tough times. I cannot imagine walking this journey without my brothers and sisters in Christ. The body of Christ has held us and walked with us every step of the way. We are continually grateful for this blessing.

Try Growing Up

Instead of chasing every new teaching, try a little scripture reading.

Instead of seething with anger, try forgiveness.

Instead of cunning and scheming, try speaking the truth in love.

Instead of finding ways to divide, try finding unity in the faith.

Instead of seeking only individual health, try seeking the health of the group or community.

Instead of making yourself head over your spiritual life, try letting Jesus be CEO.

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Instead of just working on one aspect of life with God, the same one you have focused on for years, try letting Jesus transform all of you.

Instead of embracing futile thinking, try renewing your mind by discovering first the Kingdom of God.

Instead of hardening your heart, try humbling your sensitivities for the sake of Christ.

Instead of money, sex, and power, try fasting, simplicity, and silence.

Instead of considering the validity of every falsehood, try embracing the truth with equal intention.

Instead of complaining, try service for God.

Instead of tearing something down, try finding a need and fix it.

Instead of finding what is in it for you, try finding the benefit for others.

Instead of giving the devil a foothold, try repenting of your former way of doing things and accept your new life in Christ.

Note: inspired by Ephesians 4.