New Class Available

If  you live in the DFW Metroplex and want to pursue more of the ideas that we have discussed in this blog, then plan on attending a class designed for believers ready for a doable path to Christlikeness.

More of Christ, Less of Everything Else

Inglewood Baptist Church

Starts Feb. 13, 6 p.m.

Open to anyone interested. Contact me at scott{dot}jeffries{at}gmail{dot}{com} for more information.

Directions

Eliminate to Illuminate

If I am not careful, my stack of books to be read can grow by the day. I have never met an interesting website that I didn’t want to subscribe to. If I enjoy a blog or writer I am never satisfied with reading just a few things by them, I have to read their entire body of work. If I find a workout or nutrition program interesting, I want to follow it to the letter even though half of what is being asked doesn’t apply to me or requires too much money or time. Call me obsessive compulsive, a nerd, or even crazy, but what it really comes down to is that I consistently and foolishly think that I can add infinitely more to my life and that somehow that is a good thing.

The truth is, the only effective way to change is by first eliminating all that is a distraction, a burden, or time waster. No one followed Jesus without sacrificing something, maybe even something that was good. Even if we have many Godly things in our lives or Church activities that fill our schedule, we may need to cut some of these things out of our lives so that we can make room for God in an intentional way.

Over the last few years, I have stopped following every sport that showed up on Sports Center and streamlined the teams and events that I will let myself get fanatical about. I have tried to keep the list of books that I am reading at one time down to two so that I can take notes and fully consider what I am reading. I have stopped checking email obsessively and have become okay with emails gathering in my inbox or going unanswered. I no longer feel the need to read a magazine from cover to cover. I have been known to take whole months and devote them to one area of interest or activity instead of being thinned out by trying to keep up with multiple interests.

I mention all of this to possibly help you realize that if you have visions of including more prayer in your life, or reading through entire chapters of the Bible, or being more consistent with your Spiritual Enrichment Workout, you are going to have to eliminate something that you currently do. Piling on things to your already busy schedule cannot be sustained and will only lead to frustration and guilt.

So I would like to propose an exercise to be done starting next Monday and lasting one week. For this activity, I will be going on a Sports Fast where I will not read about or watch sports for one week. I will instead, try to use any extra time or mental storage space for meditating on God, spending time with my family, or praying and reading scripture. Your biggest distraction may not be sports. It may be political talk shows, or Facebook, or reality TV, or People magazine, or iPhone apps. Whatever it is that is teetering on becoming an obsession with you and it is getting in the way of  what is truly important you must eliminate it for one week.

My posts for this week will talk more about fasting and will be designed to prepare us for our upcoming Week of Elimination.

Good Words

Scot McKnight has developed a map of spiritual development

oxforddictionary.com

 

New Book: Bob and Joel Kilpatrick  discuss The Art of Being You

Study: TV exposure causes much higher rates of eating disorders

Dallas Willard goes in depth on the VIM pattern of change

“The personal dimension of the gospel is good news about ourselves. The reality of what is within us is every bit as important as the news from the political, industrial, and scientific centers of the world. Even if world peace were an accomplished fact and the domestic economy stabilized to everyone’s satisfaction, we still must deal with ourselves.” – Eugene Peterson, Traveling Light

Why Christian Spiritual Growth Matters.

Sometimes I wonder if what I am doing on this blog and in classes I teach on discipleship is mistaken. I ask myself if I am being too focused on self and am encouraging people to abandon global pursuits for personal pursuits that potentially have little meaning. Is my emphasis on personal spiritual growth just a Christian version of the self-help obsession that has overtaken our country? But yesterday I realized something when reading some of Eugene Peterson’s book Traveling Light.

Peterson was trying to point out that the gospel, or good news, that Paul talked about in Galatians has both a global meaning and a personal meaning. In other words, when it is all said and done, we still must deal with ourselves. All of our friends and family may come to know Christ, and great political peace arrive around the world, and poverty come to an end in the third world, yet we are still left with ourselves and the status of our own heart.

David may have experienced great success as a King and military leader but he still had to deal with the condition of his heart and his tendency for distraction and lust. Moses was absolutely no good for his people if he did not have a deep connection with God.  Peter was ready to fight off Jesus’ accusers with a sword but when it really got serious he was done in by a little girl (John 18: 16-17). If we ignore the personal side of our faith then we have to ignore the majority of the New Testament. Jesus goes to great lengths in the Sermon on the Mount to paint a picture of what a disciple of his looks like. I can’t ignore this fact because it doesn’t fit the bill for an action oriented, go-go-go, Evangelical culture.

So, I am encouraged that trying to become more like Christ is an essential part of my faith and that trying to help others into Christlikeness is worth every bit of time and energy that God has given me. Have you neglected your spiritual growth for other faith pursuits? Have you downgraded pursuing Christlikeness because it seems too self-focused? Work through these issues by asking God to show you an effective balance between growth and going and between action and contemplation. Lets find this balance together “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13).”

Discovering Spiritual Activities That Work Best For You

In the last post, I explained that cookie-cutter advice  for growing spiritually was ineffective. Today, I want to give some examples of activities that fit individual personalities. Perhaps you can relate to one or more of the following types of people.

If you are the type of person who gets more out of the worship portion of the service rather than the sermon, then why don’t you look up the scripture verses where many of the praise and worship songs get their lyrics. A simple Google search for some of the lyrics should provide the scripture reference.

If you are the type of person who prefers working with your hands and creating things, then why don’t you create a cross of some kind. As you work on the cross, think about Jesus’ sacrifice and what it means to you. Think about how Jesus turned an ugly and torturous piece of wood and turned into something beautiful.

If you are the type of person who would rather watch someone read rather than read yourself, then find an audio version of the Bible to listen to in your car or on your mp3 player.

If you are the type of person who would rather play sports than watch sports, then take a Psalm and as you read it, act it out. You may have to do this one when no one else is around.

If you are the type of person who is energized by times of solitude, then take your lunch hour and find a park and just sit thinking about God’s creation and provision.

If you are the type of person who likes writing encouraging notes to people, then why don’t you write a prayer of praise to God.

If you are the type of person who enjoys talking with friends about serious matters, then find two or three who will join you regularly to talk about what Christ is doing in your life.

If you are the type of person who gets more out of the sermon than the worship portion of the service, then take notes during the sermon and review your notes during the next week.

If you are the type of person who learns more about yourself when you are helping someone else, then volunteer with a ministry who serves the poor and envision each person you help as Christ himself.

These are just a few suggestions among thousands. The point is to be creative and be willing to try out new things. Do any of these resonate with you? What suggestions would you add to the list?

Why Most Prescriptions For Spiritual Growth Fail

In this short clip from John Ortberg, the case is made that God never works on two people the same way. Ortberg says that our growth in Christ will never look the same as someone else’s. Then why are the prescriptions for spiritual growth so standard?

Let’s say that I am trying to become more generous with my giving. The most common recommendation is to find the scriptures related to giving and generosity followed behind by prayer and then maybe a book recommendation on the topic. But what if I don’t like to read, or what if my prayer life stinks more than my generosity or what if I don’t have a concordance or know what scriptures to read on the topic?

Again we return to the similarities found in exercise. No good personal trainer is going to prescribe the same recommendations for a 23-year-old female with slight build as he would a 57-year-old man who is overweight. Then why do well-intentioned mentors, pastors, and friends make such generic recommendations with little consideration for personality, learning styles, context, time constraints, and so on? No wonder so many good-hearted Christians feel frustrated with their spiritual growth. They have come to the conclusion that there really isn’t much they can do because they do not respond to the most common methods of discipleship.

I know of two assessment tools (Monvee and Christian Life Profile) that attempt to customize spiritual growth plans for an individual but I would suggest that anyone wanting to follow Christ needs to be willing to experiment with what works for them. Ten years ago, when God broke through in my life I went on a search to find what resonated the most for me. It took me several months of slogging through materials and exercises that weren’t really effective for me until I discovered some of the activities, mentalities, and practices that really helped me grow. If you are serious about becoming more Christlike then turn your wishful thinking into a journey of growth. Ask the Holy Spirit  to help you discover anything that builds your relationship with God. Have an open mind to what works. Don’t assume that what works for your pastor will work for you. Find fellow sojourners who will walk beside you and not dictate your choices but help you find the most effective ones.

In the next post, I will list a few activities that might help kick start your thinking along these lines.

The Reliable VIM

From 2002-2006, my wife and I did intense work at an inner city ministry. Leah ran the kitchen and I volunteered with various ministries and efforts. One thing that I tried to do was meet with some of the men who had recently become followers of Christ. We tried to meet a couple of times a month to read scripture and learn more about what it means to follow Jesus. As so often happens, our meetings kind of fizzled out and we were not meeting regularly. A few months later, one of the guys, who I had not seen in several months, came back around and reminded me of some of the things that he learned from our small group. This guy was barely literate but the one thing that he remembered was the VIM pattern of change.

VIM is an acronym created by Dallas Willard in his book, Renovation of the Heart. V stands for Vision, I stands for Intention, and M stands for Means. Willard calls this a “reliable pattern of change” that can be found in virtually all successful programs working on changing patterns of behavior such as AA or Weight Watchers. I have used VIM in changes involving fitness, career, and spiritual matters.

In order for individuals to change they must have a Vision for what their life will look like when the change becomes a reality. You must see yourself a an ex-smoker or a Spanish speaker or a 5K runner. Next, the individual must Intentionally decide that this change is so important to them that they will do everything they can to make it become a reality. This isn’t a wish for change but a conscious decision to make it happen. Finally, the individual finds the Means to turn their vision into reality. These means can include books, classes, support groups, exercises, journaling, etc. Whatever is used to cultivate the vision is considered a means.

Maybe you have started a Spiritual Enrichment Workout or a New Year’s resolution involving scripture reading or prayer. Perhaps you would like to start a new ministry or small group at your church. By implementing the VIM pattern, you will have the best pathway to achieving your goals.

One last note of warning, the most important aspect of the pattern may be the Intention. We all can see ourselves changed and are well aware of the means that are out there for achieving the change but until you have made a firm decision that your changed self is worth pursuing then the means will do you no good. I can think back in my own life when efforts to change failed and point to a lack of intention as the culprit.

Try out the VIM pattern and see if it helps you move your vague notions of change into improved patterns of behavior.

Good Words

oxforddictionary.com

Stephen A.  Macchia overcomes the Philosophy of More (that more is always better even in spiritual things) to simplify his spiritual life for the better.

Billy Graham lists regrets and advices young pastors to guard their time so they can spend more time with family.

Donald Miller turns off his cell phone and gets more productive.

Christianity in China is increasing rapidly. What effect will that have on the Chinese government?

Really looking forward to Eugene Peterson’s Memoir, The Pastor.

How Christ Made Me A Better Person Pt. 2

Here are three more examples in my own life of personal changes coming as a result of the work of Christ in my life. Let me note that Christ taught me these things through his Word, through prayer and meditation on scripture, and through great teaching from the likes of Dallas Willard, James Bryan Smith, Brennan Manning, and Henri Nouwen, just to name a few.

See anger for what it is and what it is not – In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spends six verses driving home the point against anger and its partner in crime, contempt. I have learned that anything that can be done with anger can be done much better without it. This has helped me in disciplining my kids and points of contention with my wife. Sure I get angry and sometimes respond to things poorly but more and more I am able to remove anger from these situations so that I can try to help the situation instead of making it worse.

To avoid second looks– Lust has got to be the biggest problem that men face and I am as guilty as any man but Christ has taught me that the real problem is not with the first look but the second, third, and fourth looks. That is when simple awareness of attractiveness turns into lust and objectification of an individual. I work on a college campus where there are young attractive females but I have learned that there is nothing good that can come if I continue glancing their way. And best of all, Christ has taught me to value more those that aren’t on the surface attractive and beautiful.

Accept who I am – One statement that has probably meant more to me than any single teaching from one of my heroes, Dallas Willard, is this, “Discipleship is becoming the person Christ would be if he were I .” In other words, I am not called to be Christ because he has already been on this earth, I am not called to be my pastor, or Mother Theresa, or whoever else we consider to be a spiritual hero. I am called to be me, who has been transformed by the work of Christ.

In the past, I have felt that there is something wrong with me because I don’t have the enthusiastic outgoing personality you often see in churches. But Christ is not calling me to be someone I am not, he is calling me to be me but with a heart change. So that means that my personality, my gifts, my background, my context are perfectly acceptable to God and not just acceptable but needed in the work that God is doing on Earth. I was made the way I am because God needed me to accomplish a specific thing and that thing could not be accomplished if I had a different personality or different characteristics.

How Christ Made Me A Better Person Pt. 1

In the last post, I expressed that the best path to personal change is first through Christian spiritual transformation and development. Here are some examples in my own life of personal changes coming as a result of the work of Christ in my life.

Become a nicer, friendlier person – Initially, I come across to people as an aloof, kind of grumpy person and I think, as a younger person, I drew some of my identity from that but as Christ began to show me how he views his created people I began to demonstrate more outward love and acceptance of others.

Enjoying reading scripture – I used to have the mentality that I had to approach the Bible as I would a regular book. In other words, the only way to get anything out of it was to read whole books  and try to get through the thing cover to cover. But, my intense study of the Sermon on The Mount opened up a desire to study the Ten Commandments and that led to a desire to study 1 Corinthians 13 and that led to a desire to study Colossians 3 and on and on. Before I knew it, I wasn’t just reading scripture but I was memorizing scripture and was letting scripture tell me what to read next. All of scripture opened up to me in a brand new way.

Made me appreciate church more – I used to be very critical of church and romanticized the stories of people who I had heard about who left the church out of “devotion.” But it is hard to read the New Testament and not see the effort that Christ went through to establish his church and it is hard to ignore the terminology of the church being the Bride of Christ. To reject the church is  to reject one of Christ’s greatest achievements and 2000 years of God’s work on Earth. My church, your church, everyone’s church has problems and is incredibly limited and distracted but our individual church is the work of God and his will and we need to be sensitive to that.  Christ showed me this and I have become much more willing to serve the church rather than just criticize it.

In Part 2, I will discuss what Christ has done in my life regarding anger, sex, and personality.