Every Morning Is Different

I like my schedule and I am a creature of routine. I have even shared my Morning Routine here on the blog. But, I have learned to be okay with my rather varied practices and to not be so rigid that I turn every morning into a legal practice that has success/failure outcomes.

For example, on the mornings I run, I will listen to a daily entry from the Pray As You Go app. The mixture of song, scripture, and reflection hits all the marks for me – from scripture reading, prayer, and meditation. When I am not running, my mornings might start with a video meditation, or a reading of scripture, or short time of prayer. Sometimes, I just need more sleep and I unashamedly close my eyes for another 10-15 minutes. Some mornings, I just write on the blog and bang out an entry and do nothing else.


As someone who has previously mapped out an hour and a half schedule each morning full of exercise, reading, prayer, and writing, to not have these constraints and more importantly, be okay with not having these constraints has been freeing. I am not advocating less discipline or that our prayer time or scripture reading doesn’t deserve our utmost intention, what I am presenting is the permission to lighten your spiritual load, not to be lazy but to be more fruitful.

By letting your routine have a little flexibility, you create grace with yourself and you start to see the big picture of your spiritual growth rather than the minute to minute pass/fail. Growing Up in Christ is a lifelong endeavor; we won’t miss out on Christlikeness if we fail to read the Bible for a full 15 minutes today. But if we throw out the entire practice because we can’t ever seem to get our schedule or motivation to work out right, then we are not Growing Up.

So, despite what may be going on this day, I try to make the following a priority during the week: meditation, prayer, scripture reading, writing, reading a book on Christian living or Spiritual Growth, and music. I may not get to each one every day but by the end of the week, I will have read a couple of chapters in the Bible, written a blog post, reflected on scripture or a truth about God, intentionally listened to music to quiet my soul and mind, and prayed for specific needs and growth.

For your purposes, make a list of your own spiritual priorities and schedule these things out if you find it helpful and it keeps you moving toward a goal. Just make sure the doing is more important than the scheduling and be gentle with yourself.


Staying Put: Why I Remained In My Church Tradition

What am I to do?

I am an introvert in a church tradition that adores extroverts and looks with suspicion on the quiet and the silent.

I embrace the spiritual in a church tradition that has pushed more and more to the academic.

I like to listen to my life for signs of God in a church tradition that thinks faith begins and ends with the Bible.

I am fascinated by 2,000 years of the best practices of the church in a church tradition that thinks church history started with C.S. Lewis.

I want to help develop community and find ways to serve my neighbors in a church tradition that says that these things don’t count for real evangelism.

I like my politics to reflect the Jesus I read about in the gospels in a church tradition that seems to back one side, Christ’s teaching be damned.

So why have I stayed in this tradition? Why have I been in the same church for more than 10 years and the same tradition that I grew up with? I can point to three ideas that have kept me tied to my church tradition and developed my sense of calling within that tradition:

Spiritual Heritage: One of my favorite books is Dakota by Kathleen Norris. In the book, this noted writer and poet with ties to the New England literary elite discusses her heritage in the Great Plains but also her Spiritual Heritage as a Christian and protestant. I loved the way she voices the idea that to be cut off from your spiritual heritage is to be cut off from your identity and your sense of place. I first read this many years ago around the same time as my spiritual breakthrough. As I began to search for deeper and more profound religious experiences, I was intrigued by other traditions and strands of faith as the way I must go but Norris’ sense of spiritual heritage just seemed like a worthy value to hold on to and pursue. It made me appreciate the finer points of my own tradition.


Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash

Balanced Faith: Also at the time of my spiritual breakthrough, I began reading Richard Foster. His book, Streams of Living Water, establishes the idea, from a scriptural and spiritual stand point, that the church established by Christ, was not meant to be an affinity group based on doctrine and personal preference but was meant to include six “streams” that have surfaced in various traditions. Foster envisions these streams coming together in a balanced, strong, and vibrant church. What if Charismatics became a little more Word-centered, what if the Christian social activists were a little more contemplative, what if Evangelicals were a little more concerned with social causes? By combining the best of all of these traditions, the Church finds its best footing and is better equipped to do what God wants done.  This made so much sense to me. I didn’t want to abandon one affinity group for another, I wanted to be a part of bringing the best practices of Christ’s church back to my own church for the betterment of all the churches.

A Sense of Calling: Dallas Willard says that spiritual formation is becoming who Jesus would be if he were I, with my same background, context, and giftings. If this is true, then I am not called to be another Jesus, as we know him, but one that he would be if he had lived my life and participated in my history. This has brought out a deep sense of place and time for me. Instead of chasing some ideal of Christlikeness that “must” include starting my own church, or attending a certain type of church, or running off to an exotic location as the only real way of living out my faith, I began to realize that perhaps I was called to my church and my tradition to bring more balance to the faith, to bring more heart than head, to introduce practices that may be foreign to some, and present a different approach to the Christian Life that just might help others grow closer to Christ. I felt called to minister to my own church using the tools that I had learned from my readings and trainings in Spiritual Formation and Discipleship. This hasn’t always been easy, but time and time again, I have felt the tug of this call.

I’ll Take The Blame

I have spent so much time in the last few months reflecting on the teachings and miracles of Jesus that I felt like I was ill prepared for Easter week. I wanted to feel connected to the reality of Jesus’ last days, his crucifixion, and resurrection. I immediately thought of a book I read several years back called Unapologetic by Francis Spufford. His chapter on Jesus is one of the most powerful things I have ever read. His description of Jesus’ crucifiction is the kind of raw, stark, and beautiful thing I needed this week. So, I thought I would share a few of Spufford’s words and offer a little meditation for us to get in line with the level of love and sacrifice present in Easter week. More to come this week.spufford

Daylight finds him in a procession again, but this time no one could mistake him for a king. He’s stumbling along under the weight of his own instrument of execution, a great big wooden thing he can hardly lift, with an escort of the empire’s soldiers, and the bystanders who’ve come blinking out of the lodgings where they spent the festival night don’t see their hopes, or even the possibility of their hopes, parading by. They see their disappointment, they see their frustration…

Place yourself in the crowd that morning. What is going through your head as Jesus stumbles by? Are you saddened? Angry? Ashamed? Disappointed? Relieved? Glad? Are you being swept away by the jeers and cat calls from those around you? Do you want to spit at him like the person beside you? Or are tears rolling down your face? The pure humiliation of Jesus’ parade through the streets is shocking compared to the promise of just a few days before. Isn’t that just like us humans. We will turn on a person for no good reason other than our personal preferences weren’t met that day and we might as well take it out on something or someone.

…he’s turning his bruised face toward the whole human crowd, past and present and to come, and accepting everything we have to throw at him, everything we fear we deserve ourselves. The doors of his heart are wedged open wide, and in rushes the whole pestilential flood, the vile and roiling tide of cruelties and failures and secrets. Let me take that from you, he is saying. Give that to me instead. Let me carry it. Let me be to blame instead. I am big enough. I am wide enough. I am not what you were told… I am the father who longs for every last one of his children. I am the friend who will never leave you. I am the light behind the darkness…

What do you fear you deserve? What has my sin done? What should be in store for me? Jesus takes the blame. He embraces our faults and takes them in on himself. That is the picture of Jesus as he heads to the cross.



What Brought Me To Tears in California

If you were present the last full day of our Gathering in California and looked over at me that afternoon, you would have seen tears flowing down my face. It was the only time that week that I had reached that level of emotion.

I stood in the middle of the room. I turned to my friend Kris and said something like, “what did we do to deserve this?” Both of us had our life changed and turned upside down and wouldn’t have even been in the same room with one another if it wasn’t for the writings, thoughts, and example that was on display in front of us.

Jane Willard, the widow of Dallas Willard, had just spent the last 30 minutes speaking to our Apprentice Experience Community about what it was like living with Dallas, how he came to write his books, and some of the challenges he and she faced over the years. This was all so fascinating, but then she brought out her personal collection of items from her home – things like Dallas’ personal Bible, letters from Richard Foster encouraging Dallas to write his Christian books, a copy of Mere Christianity, complete with Dallas’ notes, that reads like a conversation between Willard and C.S. Lewis. She had pictures of their wedding and their family through the years as well.

Dallas Willard’s Bible

Of course, when I picked up his Bible, like many of us, I turned to Matthew 5 and 6, the Sermon on the Mount, to see the notes and highlights on the passage of scripture that inspired the book, The Divine Conspiracy. This book was Dallas’ most profound and influential work and the piece of writing that I found 18 years ago that turned me from a devotee of Christ with little direction and purpose to a disciple of Jesus, willing to be led by him to be the Christ I have been called to be.

When I had my spiritual breakthrough many years ago, I began to seek out voices that could feed my desire for continued growth and stoke the inspiration that I had received from a life-giving God. The primary voice that I found was Dallas Willard. I really can’t put into words (though I have tried) what his writings and example has meant for me. His was a life that showed and taught the grand possibility of Christ’s transformation in an individual’s life. Without this message, I would have still had faith but it would be lacking in hopefulness, in vitality, in real examples of growth and transformation. Willard inspires and awakens the reality of Christ and the potential of the Kingdom of God like no other writer, speaker, or pastor I have ever come across. I owe so much of my Christian experience over the last 18 years to the influence of Dallas Willard and in that moment in California, God let me behind the curtain to be with that legacy in an intimate and unique way.  I felt unworthy.

So there I was, feeling the impact of Christ’s work through one man to help point me to Christ as Savior, Christ as teacher, Christ as friend, and Christ as an indwelling presence in my life. God’s abundance and generosity and foolishness overwhelmed me in that moment. What did I do to deserve this?

How To Handle Irritating Church People

Some people just can’t handle it.

An irritating person is in their Bible Study. A socially awkward man likes to speak up at all of the church meetings and eyes roll all over the room. A mentally disabled person makes weird noises at weird times and that is all people can think about as the sermon is being delivered.

My father in law, who is a pastor, says that because the church is supposed to be light, the light will attract bugs, in the form of strange, kooky, and difficult people. And he can tell you many stories of these bugs he has had in his churches.

I once heard a pastor speak with pride about asking a notoriously difficult and church hopping couple that they were not welcome at his church. He didn’t want their drama and peculiarities junking up his congregation.


It can be too easy to play Monday Morning Quarterback with some of these situations but I was struck recently by a phrase found in David Augsburger’s book, Dissident Discipleship.  Augsburger says that Christian community is, “a web of stubbornly loyal relationships knotted together into a living network of persons.” I love that phrase “stubbornly loyal.” When was the last time we were stubbornly loyal to anything much less our church?

Augsburger expands on the stubbornly loyal idea and describes what this might look like in a church setting.

Recognizing that community is a place where both good friends and predictable frustrators are present, needed, valued, respected, incorporated, and indeed learned from in genuine dialogue, stubbornly inclusive participants do not give up on the irritating or withdraw into the conforming, but rather welcome both.

Augsburger thinks that we should welcome the irritating and even learn from them. Jesus’ disciples were always trying to shield Jesus from the irritating people around them but Jesus seemed to seek them out. He asked that the children come to him instead of pushing them to the margins. When random people touched him in a huge crowd, Jesus sought out some of those people much to the annoyance of the disciples.

What does it say about us when our instant intolerance overwhelms our willingness to welcome and include? What might God be asking us to learn from this situation? Do we think we are so good that we can’t humble ourselves to be a little uncomfortable?

Christ has been stubbornly loyal to his church, despite all of its division, brokenness, corruptions, and scandal. Maybe it is time for us to practice a little stubborn loyalty ourselves.


What I Deserve

In a type of closing ceremony, on the final day of the final gathering of the Apprentice Experience in Sierra Madre, California, each of the participants got to say a few words about their experience in the program and then received a certificate. Here is what I said:

I don’t deserve the gift that AE has brought me. I don’t deserve the strong spiritual friendships that I received through our small groups and connections that I have made. I don’t deserve the chance to wrestle with such important issues and ideas that were taught by such strong teachers. But, God isn’t interested in what we deserve, he is interested in what He can provide. Thank God for his abundant and generous provision.


What I Take Away From A Life-Changing Experience

Random observations from 18 months of the Apprentice Experience:

  • I have become a fan of Wichita, Kansas. I have the shirt to prove it. Not a bad smaller big city.
  • I have always liked Scot McKnight. His blog is one of the best things on the internet. Getting to hear him speak on theology, Christology, and soteriology sounds really dry when I write it but he always makes these topics accessible. The best part, though, was finding a library with a TV in a Catholic retreat center so that Scot and the rest of us could watch his beloved Cubs in the World Series.
  • My small group, made up of five individuals – a California pastor, a Kansas youth pastor, a California matriarch, and a Kansas graduate student – has been consistently one of the highlights of our gatherings. We have bonded over meals, over texts, and in our scheduled time together. They are loving, interesting, and authentic people.
  • Just about everyone in our Community would be someone who I could sit down with right now and have a conversation that weaves elements of Spiritual Formation and discipleship without any hesitation. I have lived most of my Christian life having to pick and choose the ways I talk about these things because people look at me like I am speaking a foreign language. It is nice to find my tribe.

  • My biggest takeaways have involved intense personal conviction. One gathering included me coming to grips with my overly critical nature. One forced me to evaluate what it means to forgive and how to do it. I became more vulnerable by intentionally seeking out social opportunities with my fellow AErs instead of slinking to my own personal space.
  • There is always a two-hour stretch sometime during the Gathering weeks that we spend in complete silence. I spent one of these times walking through the Stations of the Cross. I would just sit on a bench in front of each station and take in the station. When I got to the station where Jesus is taken down from the cross I couldn’t see the image on the stone because the sun was shining so brightly in my eyes. The exact angle that I was sitting mixed with the timing of the day made it to where even the darkness of Christ’s temporary death was not visible.
  • All of our readings have influenced the blog. My posts on lament, the times I tried to tell my story, my discussion of vulnerability, and others have been directly inspired by something I read from our assigned readings. I so enjoyed the excuse to reread Dallas Willard‘s classics The Divine Conspiracy and Renovation of the Heart.
  • This final gathering will be a little different as we will be in Southern California at a retreat center in Sierra Madre. This will be an interesting change of scenery from Kansas. Our guest teacher will be Shane Claiborne and the overall theme will be community. I so need this time away in rest, contemplation, and community.
  • I want to say a special thank you to many of you who have contributed to my fund-raising efforts to make this all possible. Some of you contributed graciously and generously. You may not realize it but your contribution paved the way for the learning and transformation that has shaped the best parts of this blog and the best parts of my efforts at doing kingdom work in my job and in my church. Your contribution has not gone to waste, I can assure you.

The Experience Is Wrapping Up But the Blessings Will Continue

The re-launch of this blog started in May of 2016.

It was rebranded Grow Up and I began to talk about issues of Christian maturity and Christlikeness. Also, I wanted to raise some funding to complete the Apprentice Experience (I should be in the picture from the link but I had left the day before the picture was taken) and chronicle my journey through this intense 18-month discipleship program. March 5-9 will be the last of our four gatherings and the end of the program.

Image result for apprentice experience

Since the Apprentice Experience began, a good friend died, my oldest graduated from high school, my Dad died, I became a director of a library, my wife started a brand new career, and I relied on God more than I ever have before.

I want to use this space for the next few weeks to discuss some of my observations from the Apprentice Experience and to mention some of the highlights. I can’t recommend the Apprentice Experience highly enough and I hope to express the value of it in the next several posts.

An Ash Wednesday Challenge For Those Who Didn’t Know It Was Ash Wednesday

You may not care a lick about Ash Wednesday and think people that would put ashes on their forehead or go without chocolate for 6 weeks are strange but let me challenge you anyway.

There are six weeks until Easter. There are six weeks to get to know Christ, to understand who he is, why he came, and what the cross means. Open up the Gospels and consume the information and the good news of Christ.

There are six weeks until Easter. Six weeks to bury your wrongs and mishaps and high propensity to mess things up. Bury these things with Christ in that tomb so you can fully understand the power of his resurrection and your own.


There are six weeks until Easter. Six weeks to share in Christ’s suffering. Because he suffered for you, what would it look like for you to suffer with Christ? Why would that be important? This sharing in suffering will cleanse you and refine you for obtaining resurrection.

There are six weeks until Easter. Six week to become like Christ in his death. We need to die to self and crucify our old self so our new self can emerge.

For when that day comes, when Easter arrives, we can celebrate the resurrection that puts death to death. That turns the world upside down. This resurrection that we can obtain and will obtain.


We Are All Imitators of Something

My daughters like to watch the TV show, “America’s Next Top Model.” This is a reality show where aspiring models compete to be the top pick and get a modeling contract. Throughout the show they are coached and guided by experts, other models, and people who are experienced in the industry. My daughters have started to pick up on tricks and tips that the models try to implement to create great photographs. We joke around the house about the way to walk, hold your lips, “smile with your eyes,” etc. My daughters are imitating what they are seeing, even playfully, on the screen and letting it inhabit what they do.

I can’t stress enough how much we imitate what we see around us. There are many ministry majors that I have seen at colleges I have worked whose only aspiration was to be a youth minister like the one they had in high school or to be a worship leader like their favorite traveling worship band. The gist of what they are doing is simple imitation. We are hardly capable of our next move without turning it into a form of imitation.

America's Next Top Model Is Already Coming Back—Without ...

Who are we imitating to Grow Up in our spiritual life? Do we have models of Christlikeness around us? Or, do we have models but not very good ones. I have been in church my entire life and many of the models of Growing Up I have seen around me are rather weak and less than inspiring.

So, if you are a veteran follower of Christ, how are you modeling that reality? Does it reflect the Christ of scripture or the watered-down, culturized Christ American church people have settled on? What Growing Up do you still need to do before you can be a model for others?

And if you are a new Christian, who are you trying to imitate? I would warn you to understand everything you can about Christ from scripture. Then, when you start to see that version of Christ reflected in individuals, then they are worthy of imitation but if not, keep looking.

Our goal is to echo the words of Paul and say, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”