God Does Not Share Your Pessimism

The constant pull on the church is to drift in to secular modes of thinking. No, I am not talking about views on the latest social and culture trends that seem to cause ubiquitous fighting, name calling, and dismissive labeling. I am talking about the appalling lack of joy found among Christians and churches in general.

The sign of our times in America is to be outraged, to bemoan, to criticize, to choose doom and gloom. And Christians seem to be no different. Why is that?

Perhaps it is because we view God as a being like us – prone to eyerolls, in constant need to point out faults, a glutton for reasons to be annoyed, always ready to pass judgement. But this is not the God that we worship.

Dallas Willard says:

We should, to begin with, think that God leads a very interesting life, and that he is full of joy. Undoubtedly he is the most joyous being in the universe. The abundance of his love and generosity is inseparable from his infinite joy. All of the good and beautiful things from which we occasionally drink droplets of soul-exhilarating joy, God continuously experiences in all their breadth and richness.

God’s great pleasure is for you and me to experience his life of joy. This isn’t some by and by sentiment about the afterlife but even now, even 2019.

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Jesus says, “my peace I give to you, not as the world gives.” Jesus, himself, was a peaceful and joyous and creative person. He told his followers repeatedly that if you have seen him, you have seen the father. Jesus was not morose, frustrated and did not lose himself in pessimism; instead he comes off the pages of scripture as tender, loving, ready for a dinner with friends, joyously wanting to heal and change hearts.

We should not overlook the great problems and tragic circumstances of this world but our general state of being should not be doom and gloom but joy and peace. We have a God who is a joyous being and is awash in his good creation and desires our lives to be echoes of this reality and even bodily representations of it.

Let’s call the church and its members to a Grown Up view of God and our lives in the strong and unshakable and joyous Kingdom of God.

 

 

The Night I Learned What It Meant To Be A Dad

I wrote this a few years ago when Grace graduated from High School. I thought I would update it and share it again on her birthday.

Our first born turns 20 years old today. She is bright, hard working, mature, and brave. I am amazed at her growth and maturity. She is going to be a great adult.

My most vivid memory of Grace as a toddler involves the moment I feel I first became a Dad. Sure, I was a dad by function and circumstance but it was this incident that showed me what kids can do to you and how they can teach you profound lessons.

Grace was two years old and a pleasant kid despite the age. My wife had a weekend commitment and that meant that I was in charge of Grace for the night. I would have to feed her, get her ready for bed, and make sure nothing seriously went wrong.

I was, and still am, an incredibly self focused individual. All of this responsibility was incredibly inconvenient, hard, and was removing me from my own agenda and preferences. I was feeling sorry for myself and bitter towards my wife for leaving me alone for hours on end with this bundle of demands, irrational behavior, and diapers. As the evening progressed, my plan was to do what I had to do and then get her in bed as soon as possible so I could be free of all of this annoying responsibility.

We lived in a duplex at the time and our neighbors had a toddler size play set out front complete with a slide. They were kind enough to allow us to use the play set whenever we liked. After I fed Grace, we went outside and she started to play and slide and slide and slide. At first, I thought this was a great way to occupy her before bed and I wouldn’t have to entertain her and I would soon be on to my own agenda. But something changed in the course of a few moments.

GRace

I think I first noticed her smile. Each time she went down that little slide, she had the most joyful grin on her face. It was infectious and I started to smile along with her. I began to notice everything, I noticed her joy, her beautifully cute hands and feet as she went about play. I noticed the way she completely lived in the present. Then I noticed the incredibly perfect night that enveloped us. West Texas sunsets are the best in the world and this night’s sunset was a masterpiece. The coolness of the early spring evening was so pleasant I wanted to soak in it.

Slowly, I began to live completely in the present myself.  This moment was beyond anything I could have ever concocted. This little girl was mine and she was planted on this earth to show me a side of love, compassion, and sacrifice that is unique to parents. I became a Dad that evening because there was nothing I wanted more than to have a thousand more moments like that night. To share a bond that only a parent and a child can experience. To recognize what family means on a heart level and not just a surface level.

I am grateful for that little girl teaching me this lesson and for the lessons she has taught me the following 18 years. Hopefully, I have taught her a few lessons and given her a few priceless moments along the way as well.

You Are Doing The Enneagram Wrong

People can’t get enough of the Enneagram. Two of our daughters have taken multiple tests, share memes and posts related to their Enneagram type, and like to discuss their type frequently. Podcasts and books abound discussing the Enneagram and how our knowledge of the 9 types found in it can shape our work, relationships, and potential success. I am attending a conference in September and an intensive workshop on the Enneagram is already sold out.

The fadishness of The Enneagram means that we can lose sight of the true value of this particular personality marker. Unlike other personality inventories, the Enneagram numbers are not designed to be a fixed style (like Myers Briggs) but help explain why you do what you do. In other words, the best use of the Enneagram is to help a person become a more whole and integrated version of themselves, taking in some of the best aspects of the other number types to be the best version of ourselves we can be. Our Enneagram number has its positives and its negatives. In our best moments, we take on the best characteristics of our type but their is a dark side to our type that is unhealthy and can be damaging to ourselves and others.

For example, I am predominately a 5 which means that I can be perceptive and full of insight but when I am not doing well I can be stingy, greedy, and unwilling to extend myself in useful ways. What I see many people who have started dabbling in the Enneagram do when they find out their type is to over identify with it and use it to label themselves and others. They spout off about their type and treat it like a limiting, predictor of the future that everyone should take notice so that we know what to expect in all situations. I refuse to let our 11 year old take any kind of Enneagram quiz because at her age, nothing is set in stone and I don’t want her as a pre-teen already thinking that she is this kind of person or that kind of person with little hope for growth or transformation.

The best resources on the Enneagram are ones that discuss it as a tool of transformation. As a 5, I collect knowledge and observe but my best version is becoming a person that is generous with myself and my time so that my knowledge is shared and let loose for the benefit of others. I have to be more vulnerable and transparent. It is not about losing my characteristics but enhancing them and transforming them with traits that may be easier for other Enneagram types. Each Enneagram number has a shadow issue that is not intended to stay and fester but be changed so that more virtues are present.

So go take all of the Enneagram tests you can find but use the knowledge you gain to begin Growing Up. Take that awareness as a means to discover more of yourself so that you can love God and love others to the best of your ability. Remove the 21st Century tendency toward narcissism and instead find a way to become a better you for the benefit of those around you.

*Jan Johnson‘s work on the Enneagram was helpful in formulating this post. Other resources I would recommend are The Essential Enneagram by David Daniels and Virginia Price and Donald Miller’s interviews with Ian Cron on the Building a Storybrand podcast.

National Be With God Day

On July 17, you should have eaten a Hot Dog while getting a Tattoo. You should have done this because that day was both National Hot Dog Day and National Tattoo Day.

Recently, I was trying to explain Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday, Lent, and Bastille Day to one of our daughters. As I haphazardly tried to teach her I realized that humans have a penchant for marking days and finding deep meaning in anniversaries and special occasions.

I would like to declare a special day for today – National Be With God Day. We have religious holidays and national holidays and ridiculous holidays. But what if Christians set a side a day a year to be with God? Not to go to church (though some may want to), not to perform some ministry task or service project (though some may want to), and not to just pray (though some may want to). What I am talking about is just a day dedicated to be with God in all the ways that you can. Here are some ideas to fill your day with God:

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  • invite God into your day by asking him to join you in your activities
  • consider a promise from God and adopt that promise as your mantra for the day
  • spend 10 minutes in nature noticing everything you can about God’s creation
  • be with God before being with your phone. Create a habit of talking and hearing from God before talking and hearing from anyone else
  • take the slow lane and drive the speed limit, reminding yourself that Christ is with you and hurry and busyness are often ways to avoid being with God
  • examine your day – where was God present? how open were you to his presence?when did you miss the mark?
  • cut something out of your routine to allow more space and reliance on God. This could be cutting out a meal or the media you usually consume or an activity that is usually scheduled for that day. Rely on God for your fulfillment and not external things
  • set a timer on your phone so that when it goes off you can remember to thank God for all the blessings that are provided for you
  • read a Psalm, not for deep knowledge but for comfort and encouragement. Let the words soak over you to bring you inspiration

I promise you that if you commit a day to be with God, you will find an activity or practice that will impact your day and bring you closer to God. In the words of Jan Johnson, “Do what you can and not what you can’t,” and see where God takes you as you dedicate 24 hours to being with Him.

It might be one of your favorite days of the year.

 

Try This Meditative Exercise

I posted this three years ago. It was part of a series of posts on the practice of Christian meditation. Back then, mindfulness wasn’t even the buzzword it is now.

The lack of response from Christians regarding their own historical practice of meditation and mindfulness is concerning. Grown Up Christians have so much to bring to the table on this topic but we are largely silent. Maybe republishing these posts will help spark some thought and discussion.

You have read this post and this post and you think you want to try this meditation thing. Let me give you a simple exercise for you to do.

Right off the top of my head, I can think of some meditative verses that we can use.

“Be still and know that I am God”

“Speak for your servant is listening”

“My peace I give to you”

“Abide in me and I will abide in you”

“Be Holy, as I am Holy”

“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”

First, take a verse and repeat it once. Next, pause and imagine your life reflecting the truth of the verse. That is all there is to it. Try this for 10 minutes and then do another verse tomorrow.

Let me give you an example of what I am talking about.

Say we choose to do “My peace I give to you.”After repeating the verse a few times, I am going to imagine what Christ’s peace is all about and what it would look like in my life if I was inhabited with the peace of Christ. What would be different about my life? What habits or behaviors would no longer have a hold on me? How might my relationships be impacted? Be grateful for Christ and his outpouring of gifts.

Pretty simple and intuitive, right? Try it now and tell me what God is teaching you through this exercise.

My Experience With Meditation

 

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I posted this three years ago. It was part of a series of posts on the practice of Christian meditation. Back then, mindfulness wasn’t even the buzzword it is now.

The lack of response from Christians regarding their own historical practice of meditation and mindfulness is concerning. Grown Up Christians have so much to bring to the table on this topic but we are largely silent. Maybe republishing these posts will help spark some thought and discussion.

So I started meditating regularly at the beginning of this year. As I mentioned in the last post, the podcasts I was listening to kept bringing it up. I knew that if these atheistic practitioners were getting benefit out of their version of meditation, then what kind of benefit could I get from not just slowing my breathing and focusing my mind but actually inviting God to be present, to speak, to work in me in a powerful way.

I knew I needed help with where to get started, so I picked up Richard Foster’s book, Sanctuary of the Soul.  I wrote down all of the methods and practices that surfaced in Foster’s book, from praying a Psalm to beholding nature, and committed to try one of these practices for 10 minutes a day.

The practices are not as important as the fact that I am intentional every morning at encountering God. I spend much of my time beholding God’s glory and greatness. Sometimes that leads to confession on my part, sometimes that leads to an inspired task to do later in the day, and sometimes I just try to savor who God is and am in awe that he cares anything about me.

I am not really that good at it. It takes much of my time just to be able to get my mind from going in a million different directions. I have extended past 10 minutes many times, not because I am having a wonderfully rich experience, but because I wasted so much time on getting my mind to slow down in order to focus on God.

Something has changed since I started practicing meditation.

I can’t really explain it. What I can say is that it has given me a place to return to during my day. I take the calmness and the assuredness I get from God during my meditation to the rest of my day. I am not swayed as much by the swivel of good and bad that an ordinary day brings, because I know, from my time with God, that I am loved and that God is a great God. That knowledge alone consistently teaches me to trust God in all circumstances.

I can say with confidence that I wouldn’t be relaunching this blog and writing consistently if it wasn’t for this intentional practice of meditation. I can say with confidence that some of the successes I have had professionally and personally have come from this practice.

It is not a magic exercise, but it has given me such a sense of God moving and working in my life that my faith has grown and I have learned to listen and trust God in a way that hasn’t happened in years.

Meditation has been a game changer for me. It can be for you as well.

Next time, I will provide a brief method of meditation that you can try.

Should Christians Meditate?

Cross, Symbol, Religious, Christianity, Jesus, Catholic

I posted this three years ago. It was part of a series of posts on the practice of Christian meditation. Back then, mindfulness wasn’t even the buzzword it is now.

The lack of response from Christians regarding their own historical practice of meditation and mindfulness is concerning. Grown Up Christians have so much to bring to the table on this topic but we are largely silent. Maybe republishing these posts will help spark some thought and discussion.

Yes. I am going to talk about meditation.

No. I haven’t tipped over into a woo-woo land full of rocks, colors, reincarnation, and chants.

I want to introduce/reintroduce meditation as an important practice among Christians. Before you get nervous and confirm all of your fears regarding me and all of this spiritual life talk, let me explain why I think this is important:

  • Meditation is a mainstream phenomenon that is extremely popular among secular creatives, productivity gurus, business types, and blog heroes. Tim Ferriss, Seth Godin, Brian Koppelman, and Chase Jarvis are using meditation and are spreading the message of this practice on their popular web platforms and podcasts. These people have thousands of followers who are hardwired to practice any tactics that are brought up in blogs, podcasts, or books. There needs to be a Christian response to this.
  • Meditation app, Headspace, has 3 million subscribers and celebrities like Emma Watson, a favorite of my daughters, calls it “genius.” A third of these subscribers are under the age of 30. Other meditation apps, such as Calm, are also very popular.
  • Christian meditation is so different and counter to the type of meditation found among the people and apps above that the message embedded in its practice needs to be spread more widely and with enthusiasm.

While the type of meditation practiced by the secularists and the New Age dabblers is primarily an exercise to empty your mind, Christian meditation is an exercise to fill your mind with God.

One practice seeks nothingness, the Christian practice seeks abundance, one practice seeks suppression of thoughts and feelings, the Christian practice seeks redemption of thoughts and feelings.

You may be asking, “Isn’t my scripture reading and my prayer life my way of filling my mind with God?” It helps but our approach to these tasks often fail us. We can’t help turning scripture reading into an academic study that begins to remove the chance to encounter God. Having a “prayer list” makes this exercise more of a task to complete rather than a chance to commune with God.

So, we need an intentional practice that is solely for the purpose of providing space for God to speak and for us to listen, for God to reveal himself and for us to behold his Glory, for God to forgive and for us to savor his mercy.

Secular meditation leaves everything up to the individual to achieve some kind of peace or fulfillment. Christian meditation is an opening for God to touch every aspect of our self. Which option sounds more appealing?

Next time, I will discuss ways that meditation has helped me over the past few months.

 

Perseverance Is Not A Dirty Word

This year has been a time of perseverance for me.

What is interesting about perseverance is that most of the time it is a choice. The desire to quit and give up and stop toiling is right there and much more attractive than persevering through hardship, suffering, and uncertainty.

Really, what is there to gain from perseverance?

On the surface, nothing. At the moment, pain is most likely still present, deep challenges and obstacles appear stacked up and never ending. There doesn’t seem to be any way for this pain and these challenges to dissipate or to improve. This is why perseverance is a choice, because circumstances often present a clear path to immediate ease of pain and relief from suffering. Yet, many of us choose perseverance! Why should we? What prompts us to think that being long sufferers or steadfast is going to get us anything? Shouldn’t we just cut our losses and find a new path?

The Bible doesn’t see perseverance as something to avoid but to embrace. In fact, perseverance seems to be an essential part of our Growing Up. Paul, in a letter to the Christians in Rome, says that we should “glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” James uses even more elaborate language. He says, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”

man standing near mountain

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If we are to believe these great men of God and writers of his holy scriptures, then character, hope, blessing, and some kind of great honor known as the crown of life is promised to those who persevere under suffering. Truth be told, if you began to analyze characters from the Bible you would find story after story of perseverance and endurance in their faith. From Abraham to John, one of the great themes of the Bible is how true faith in God is tested and strengthened through perseverance.

These reminders illustrate to me that I hinder my growth and maturity in my Christian life when I refuse to persevere. If I choose not to persevere, then I could be choosing to miss out on all that Christ has in store for me.

So, I need to sacrifice my current comfort, my near pleasures, and my quick fixes for the promise of abiding joy, strength of character, and anticipated good outcome sometime in the future. This is hard work, and some days I don’t think I have it in me, but I feel called to persevere to obtain the best that God has to offer.

What are you being called to persevere in?

Jesus Is Personal and Ordinary And That Is Extraordinary

I can probably name all of the appearances Jesus made after his resurrection. What I haven’t done is analyze the context of his appearances. He didn’t come busting through walls like the Kool Aid man, he never wowed anyone first with a fancy trick, he refrained from personal confrontation. Instead, he did the following:

  • He visited his friends. Jesus’ resurrected body was not a apparition or a ghost, he wasn’t around to haunt his enemies or confront those that sent him to death. He preferred to reassure Thomas, reconcile with Peter, and comfort Mary.
  • He preferred to be barely noticed. Mary mistook him for a gardener, the friends on the road to Emmaus spent miles with him and didn’t notice who he was, and he tarried in the distance cooking breakfast while the disciples fished.
  • The context of his appearances were rather ordinary. Appearing in a garden, walking along a road, preparing breakfast in the early morning, stopping by in an upper room. These were just normal locations in normal settings. There was nothing sensational or amazing about the context of the conversation or the encounter.

Frederick Buechner, our great theologian of the midst of life, states:

In other words, it is precisely at such times as these that Jesus is apt to come, into the very midst of life at its most real and inescapable. Not in a blaze of unearthly light, not in the midst of a sermon, not in the throes of some kind of religious daydream, but…supper time, or walking along a road. This is the element that all the stories about Christ’s return to life have in common….

The sacred moments, the moments of miracle, are often the everyday moments, the moments which, if we do not look with more than our eyes or listen with more than our ears reveal only… the gardener, a stranger coming down the road behind us, a meal like any other meal. But if we look with our hearts…what we may see is Jesus himself, what we may hear is the first faint sound of a voice somewhere deep within us saying that there is a purpose in this life, in our lives…

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I find it reassuring that I am more likely to encounter Jesus as I drive and walk into my workplace than I am in some burst of knowledge or words written in the sky. Also, that Jesus is concerned about the ordinary and even seems to prefer it. He certainly can use the miraculous and the profound but he isn’t above using a meal or some kids running around or an ordinary argument among friends.

We could be missing God’s voice and purposes and direction because we expect something grander and amazing. Perhaps Jesus wants us to recognize “the miracle of one instance of our precious life to the miracle of the next.”

A Simple Go To Prayer To Do Right Now

My go to prayer the past few weeks is incredibly simple. It only has three lines but in those three lines, I am able to express faith in God’s power, intercession for others, and a hope for a glorious future.

I discovered the prayer from listening to an audio version of James Bryan Smith’s book, The Magnificent Journey. I have now adapted the prayer to include myself, activities, and difficult situations. The prayer goes like this:

Father, may your will be done in ___________’s life today.

May _________ be well today.

May _________ find Joy and Peace today.

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First, I am praying that what God wants done is done in this person’s life. That they have nothing happen to them that is not what God intends. Sometimes, I will drop the use of the word “today” and include a time more specific or open ended.

Second, I am praying for their body and spirit to be protected and whole. I am praying that their thinking not be distorted or misguided and that God provides fullness and fulfillment in their life.

Third, I pray that what becomes a reality in their life is a sense of ultimate well being and a contentment in their circumstances. I am praying that what truly satisfies is present and that God’s presence reminds them of all that is good and possible in this life for today and for all their days.

Perhaps the true effectiveness of this prayer is not in the words but in the simplicity and ease of it. I quickly memorized it and began saying it throughout my day. Almost once an hour, I will say the prayer for a person, then myself, and then a situation I find myself in. Even if I am horribly distracted, burdened, or upset, I am usually able to slow down and voice this prayer for those three things.

If you need a recharge to your prayer life or struggle to know what to pray for, I would encourage you to try this prayer. It has been a profound part of my spiritual life over the last month.