How to Think About God When You Are Bored

Dallas Willard says that the first freedom that humans possess is where “they will place their mind.” In other words, no matter our situation or circumstance our minds can still dwell on good, positive things. I am not concerned with the power of

Thinking

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positive thinking but the power of God thinking. Willard goes on to say that where we choose to place our mind is the first step to spiritual transformation.

Have you ever been in a meeting, class, or even a church service that barely held your attention? This should be a situation where it should be easy to think about God but in my experience it is not. Our mind primarily likes to think about “when will this be over?”, “how much more can this person talk?” and other petty complaints. I like to turn these times into a game to see how often I can think about God.

I take a pen and clear off a space on my paper to make “tick” marks. Every time I have a thought about God, I make a mark on my paper. Whenever I do this it always turns what I thought was a boring meeting or gathering into a time bursting with life, discovery, and opportunity. I begin to think about the subject of the meeting in light of God’s purposes and will and nothing seems boring anymore. This is similar to Frank Laubach‘s Game With Minutes.

Give it a shot today. Anytime you find yourself in what would normally be considered an unexciting or boring setting, start marking how often you can think about God. You might even keep your results so that you can compare your performance to the last time you tried this experiment.

Christian Life Hacker 101: What You Need To Know About Grace and Discipleship

Today, I continue explaining the terms that get used the most on this blog.

Discipleship –  This is one of my favorite words in the Christian lexicon. It makes it sound like those of us who live 2,000 years after Christ can still join him just like Peter, James, John and all the rest did. I also love this word because of the definition that Dallas Willard uses. Discipleship is the act of “learning to live one’s life as Jesus would if he were they.” Let that stir in your head for a moment. This definition is much more than “What would Jesus do?” but “Who would Jesus be if he were in my family, in my job, and handling my problems?” This is the ideal we seek as we draw closer and closer to Jesus in order to learn from him.

Grace – Another term that Dallas Willard helped me understand. According to Willard, grace is more than the common definition of “unmerited favor”. Grace is “God’s action in our lives to accomplish what we cannot accomplish on our own.” Of course, this is “unmerited favor” but a simple look through scripture shows us that the word grace is used  differently than what we normally expect.

“Grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ,” 2 Peter 3:17.

In John 1: 14, we are told that Jesus “came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

These are just two examples that show how limited our definition of grace has become. We do not grow in “unmerited favor” or forgiveness but we can grow in God’s action (grace) in our lives. One last quote from Willard. “It is not the sinner who burns a lot of grace but the saint. A saint burns grace (God’s action) like a 747 burns fuel on takeoff.”

Next time, we will look at the terms spiritual disciplines and Holy Spirit.

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

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.

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.

3 Myths of Spiritual Growth

Have you made a New Year’s Resolution?

According to George Barna, only 19% of Americans are definitely planning on making resolutions  in 2011 despite the fact that 61% have made resolutions sometime in the past. Barna’s report also states that 49% of those who have made resolutions in the past have seen no lasting change.

One of my goals in publishing this blog is to help ordinary Christians, like myself, make progress in their Christian living. When I look at some of the numbers from Barna’s study I realize that the way that we go about making changes in our life is all wrong. Here are three myths regarding change that apply to the spiritual life and other areas as well.

1. All it takes is more will-power. Go try to live out 1 Corinthians 13 today on will-power alone. See how long that lasts. You can’t white knuckle your way to patience and kindness and overcoming envy.  You can provide ways that God can transform your heart so that these virtues become a reality. Change in our pursuit of Christlikeness is an inside out process.

2. I have to do it alone. One of the most dangerous mentalities of American Christianity is its unwieldy emphasis on the individual. Everything from our “quiet time” to personal witnessing to Bible reading has to be done on an “on your own” basis. Yet, the most effective method of change that we have seen in the last 100 years, Alcoholics Annonymous, succeeds because of the emphasis on a support group, accountability, and mutual encouragement. Why can’t we apply this to our spiritual life?

3.  It is only up to God to change me. Paul, no doubt, had many rich encounters with God in his life but only one Damascus Road moment. His “thorn in his flesh”, whatever that may have been, was not immediately removed by God. We cannot sit around waiting for God to zap us into change. God most certainly could create instant change but he usually chooses not to. Jesus says that “Without me you can do nothing,” (John 15:5) but as Dallas Willard points out “it is also true that if we do nothing it will be without him.” Real change is a partnership with God in which we have a role to play to help in the process. This is where the spiritual disciplines come in such as scripture memorization, worship, silence, fasting, etc.

So go ahead and make a New Year’s Resolution but if you want to see it make an impact in your life you better be aware of the myths above.