The Miracle of What We Don’t Want, Part 2

When I was asked to be the Interim Director of the library I had a problem. I mentioned this at the end of the last post.

Why had God allowed me to pursue something like the Apprentice Experience, why had I gone through the effort of trying to start a ministry, why was I passing myself off as Spiritual Formation expert through blogging and mentoring if God’s plan for me was to have a management position full of paper work, budgets, staffing headaches, and limited resources? What was the point of all of my efforts to help others Grow Up if God had something unrelated in mind. This is not what I asked for.

Still, I was willing to be obedient, I was willing to fill the role and fulfill my obligations, but I couldn’t see past the drudgery and the administrative aspects that I knew I would hate. One evening after a day of work and trying to ride the wave of all that was going on, I was walking to my car and it hit me. In a revelatory way that is a Godly mixture of surprise and perfect sense, it was laid before me that, “why can’t you do both?”

Yes, I could do both. I could bring all that I have learned through the Apprentice Experience, through my years of studying and caring about issues of Spiritual Growth, and my care for other people’s spiritual life and blend it into my role in running a library.  I was at Dallas Baptist University for crying out loud, it wasn’t like I would be barred from bringing the spiritual into the workplace? I began to envision a work environment where our staff could connect and care for one another, where our student workers could grow and develop as adults, professionals, and believers, and our student patrons could be inspired, invigorated, and blessed by our work. God helped me see a library that could be a beacon of light and learning on the campus.

Just minutes before, I was dreading the next to-do item, the next crisis, the next urgent moment of overwhelm. Now, after God told me I could do both, ideas started flooding into my mind. I had inspiration after inspiration for ways to develop our staff, to enrich our spiritual lives, and to serve our students. I went from being just a person with added responsibility to a leader who had the inspiration and the Spirit-led direction to change things up, to try out new things, and to attempt to be who Christ would be if he were name Interim Library Director.

What did I have to lose? So I gave it a shot.

Find out what I have tried and how God has worked in Part 3 on Monday.

 

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The Church Has Neglected This Most Important Goal

Yesterday in my own church, a visiting retired missionary told the story of a missionary he knew that was hampered in his own efforts to disciple believers because he said that he was never discipled himself.

Discipleship is simply learning to do the things that Jesus said to do.

American church culture has created a world where discipleship is an add on. Not a bad thing to practice and work on but not essential to the life of the believer or the good of the church. So efforts at Growing Up get pushed to niche times and places and become largely ignored by the majority of the church faithful.

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How have we gotten to this state?

“What you present as the gospel, will determine what you present as discipleship.” This quote by Dallas Willard has much to say about the modern church and why there is a significant lack of discipleship.

The 3,000 people that first joined the infant church at Pentecost were presented a Gospel that was Jesus focused. Peter, in his talk that day, stressed the arrival of Jesus, the work of his ministry, his death on the cross, and his resurrection. The Gospel story was Christ centered and began with Jesus, not with us. If our Gospel starts with us, then we are in trouble. Jesus gets reduced to an instrument for our personal use rather than a King destined to rule the Earth for all of eternity and transform us into Children of God.

The baby believers at Pentecost were not making a transaction that required little of them, they were entering a new existence that quickly began to be evident as a peculiar community sprung up around them. They shared their life together (including some of their possessions), they shared meals together, they had glad and sincere hearts, and they praised God as one. Everything changed because of the Gospel.

Ruth Haley Barton says that churches oversell and under-deliver two things, transformation and community. Could it be that the gospel we are presenting is contributing to our inability to create true disciples who are radically changed and urgently busy at the work of God’s kingdom?

Start with Jesus and his story of life, death, resurrection, and future return and see if that doesn’t produce a different result. This was the gospel of Acts and this good news started a global spiritual revolution.

You Are A Student, Start Acting Like One

One of the things mentioned last week was that our primary orientation as a follower of Christ is as a student.

 

Some form of the word disciple, learner, student, or apprentice is used 264 times in the New Testament while the term Christian is only used three times. Scripture tells us that the people in Antioch were the first to call believers Christians but many people think this was a derogatory label as it meant “little Christ.” As in “look at those “little Christ” thinking they are something special.”

Think about the thousands following Jesus through the Galilean countryside. Time and time again, Jesus took the opportunity to teach them and they listened. You hear some of their questions and comments in scripture because they were learning and letting Jesus teach them.

Don’t you think there will be a learning curve when we reach heaven? Paul says that right now we know in part and we prophesy in part. There is still so much for us to learn about life, God, love, and the Kingdom of God. We might as well start now.

Do you need an exercise to help kickstart your studies in the School of Christ? Take the disciples cue when they point blank asked Jesus to “teach us to pray.” Look at Luke 11:1-13 and begin your lesson on prayer. You are an apprentice of Christ, start learning from him now.

photo credit: public domain

Book Review: Greater Expectations: Succeed (and Stay Sane) in an On-Demand, All-Access, Always-On Age – Claire Diaz-Ortiz

framesIn Greater Expectations: Succeed (and Stay Sane) in an On-Demand, All-Access, Always-On Age , Claire Diaz-Ortiz discusses a particular problem and one that constantly tempts me. Diaz-Ortiz laments the time and soul sucking nature of constant information and social media. She honestly admits that her responsible and vocational intentions often fly out the window due to the appeal of one more tweet to read or one more video to watch or one more comment to write. She wisely realized that if she didn’t develop a plan to intentionally bring prayer, personal enrichment, exercise and planning to her day, the technology tidal wave would take over and she would be at its mercy. So she developed the PRESENT method, which stands for Prayer – Read – Express – Schedule – Exercise – Nurture – Track.

Being a person who loves a plan to follow, I dove into the PRESENT tasks with gusto. Here are some of my observations:

– The express component has already paid dividends. This is where you write in a journal or send an encouraging note

– Diaz-Ortiz is clearly working out of a work from home, freelancer environment that may not apply to many people’s working existence

– Scheduling before I even step foot into work has given me direction and focus

– Diaz-Ortiz seems to want to emphasize doing these things before turning on any electronic device. So obviously, the preferred time would be in the morning. If you were to take her suggested allotment for each section it would take you around 85 minutes to complete. Who has that kind of time during the morning routine?

– Here is how I organized my PRESENT plan :

    – Prayer – 10 minutes (usually over a cup of tea)

– Read – 15 minutes (I have been reading books on the Spiritual Life. I don’t read the Bible  because I usually listen to scripture while I run.)

– Express – 10 minutes (I have written notes to family members, worked on these reviews, or gone through spiritual exercises in one of the books I am reading)

– Schedule – 15 minutes (I use Donald Miller’s Productivity Plan to map out my day)

– Exercise – 20-30 minutes (I run or lift weights or both)

– Nurture – 20 minutes (During my lunch break, I will read a non-fiction book or magazine)

– Track (I haven’t been doing this much as it is simply a review on how your PRESENT plan is going)

As I consider what needs to be part of my devotional life – prayer, reflection, study, and silence – this plan helps make this possible. Again, all of this is designed to be done with our devices turned off. It has been enriching to me, though challenging, to focus on truly meaningful things as my day begins instead of gorging myself on the latest news, sports, and social media firestorms. Diaz-Ortiz maps out a solid path to take back our own personal growth. Though plans are often too involved to truly be followed, any intentional person could take some of Diaz-Ortiz’ ideas and bring benefit to their personal and spiritual life.

Spiritual Mentors: Dallas Willard

Dallas Willard giving a Ministry in Contempora...

Dallas Willard giving a Ministry in Contemporary Culture Seminar at the George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland, Oregon in 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In memory of Dallas Willard, who died today at the age of 77, I am posting some of my favorite Dallas themed posts. For more on his death and his legacy, see my Storify here.

This week, I am profiling people who have had the most influence on my Christian spiritual life. Today’s profile is of a thinker who made me fall in love with Jesus.

Dallas Willard

His Influence: As a young evangelical pastor, Dallas Willard was troubled by how much he had to “grind it out” to get visitors to the church and get them to come to salvation. He felt that much of his efforts were a form of manipulation and didn’t reflect what he thought he remembered from Jesus’ ministry. He began to study the Gospels more closely and discovered that people were incredibly drawn to Jesus. Willard began to ask himself, “What was it about Jesus that drew so much attention and what was it that made others want to be close to him and follow him?” Willard saw Jesus as gentle, relaxed, purposeful, unhurried, loving, compassionate, and understanding. Willard began to wonder if Jesus knew something about what made up the good life and how to live in the Kingdom of God? These questions led Willard to pursue graduate degrees in philosophy  and he would eventually become an accomplished professor at the University of Southern California. For thoughtful Christians and pastors, he would be known as the author of books such as The Spirit of the Disciplines, Renovation of the Heart, and his master tome, The Divine Conspiracy.

What I have learned from Willard. Around ten years ago, God broke me down in order for him to become the center of my life and for me to no longer rely on my own strength. I began frantically looking for writers and preachers who could guide me into the next phase of my spiritual life. I wasn’t interested in superficial religiosity and greeting card theology. I needed something meaty and hearty that would demand something of me and challenge me to pursue Christ at all costs. I picked up The Divine Conspiracy and discovered the power of the Sermon on the Mount and that led to grand passages that I barely paid attention to in the past such as the 10 Commandments, Fruits of the Spirit, Colossians 3, and 1 Corinthians 13. But most of all, Willard taught me about the nature of Jesus and what it means to follow him. The concept of the Kingdom of God was foreign to me before but Willard showed me that this was Jesus’ major theme in all of his preaching and teaching. From Renovation of the Heart, I learned what makes up the human spiritual self and how each part can be changed into Christlikeness. Willard, for all of his intellect and philosophical skill, is also very practical and is very thoughtful in finding ways to phrase things in a way that anyone can understand and remember it. Thus, I can quote Dallas Willard in my sleep: love – to will the good of another, peace – the absence of will, faith – confidence based on reality, hope – anticipation of good not yet seen, discipleship – learning to live the kind of life that Jesus would live if he were I.

If I had not discovered Willard, my spiritual life would have been earnest but lacking intention and focus. I would not have discovered my mission in life, which is to become more like Christ in order to spread the work of his kingdom. I would not have started these ministry efforts to help ordinary Christians find growth in their spiritual life. I am eternally indebted to Willard and his writings.

What Dallas Willard can teach you: “The greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples – students, apprentices, practitioners – of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.”

Willard recommendations: If you want to experience Dallas Willard for yourself, check out these recommendations.

The Divine Conspiracy – This book will set the foundation for the need for discipleship and how life with Jesus is the only way to live.

Renovation of the Heart – Once you have the foundation, you will need a guide to become more Christlike. This book shows how each part of ourselves can be transformed into Christlikeness.

How We Can Learn To Pray For Our Enemies And Other Lessons

Because I am becoming increasingly concerned with the inability of American Christians to live out their faith in a practical and realistic way that does not require fanaticism about issues and politics, I thought it would be good to move through some teachings of Jesus  and discuss how these teachings actually live out in daily life.

I am no expert but I hope to bring a thoughtful and reasoned approach. Plus, I am a disciple of Jesus and he has taught me a few things over the years. The main focus will be Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount.

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. Matthew 5:1-2

This happened right after scripture tells us that Jesus traveled the countryside healing the sick and demon possessed. The pattern of Jesus ministry is healing then teaching. The two go hand in hand. He rarely taught without also healing and rarely healed without also teaching.

Do we only want Jesus’ healing and dismiss his teaching? Do we come to him so that he can make us whole but when he then has something to tell us that may be more important than our healing we turn our back on him? How selfish can we be? The crowds that followed Jesus weren’t satisfied with the healing. They followed him because he was unique, powerful, and wise. What would happen if you sought only Jesus’ teaching? Would the healing disappear or be unimportant? I don’t think so, but I do think our lives would begin a well-ordered transformation.

Action: Ask yourself what you want to learn from Jesus? What aspect of Jesus’ life and teaching would benefit your life? Pray that you will learn from Jesus how to make this change in your life.

Becoming A Student of Jesus

Considering the last post, I wanted to move forward in paths toward growth in Christlikeness. The first step is becoming a student of Jesus.

We are students of many things and many people but are we a student of Jesus? Do we read scripture and learn from Jesus how to live? Do we pray and ask for his direction in a certain situation?

The people close to Jesus and not so close to Jesus had many questions for him. They longed for him to teach them how to pray, how to forgive, how to think about the future, how to live a good life, and how to handle their money.

But we can also simply observe Jesus and how he responded to various situations. How he was more than willing to touch a leper and how he was so relaxed and had so much trust in his Father that he could sleep in the middle of a raging storm.

Call it weird, but here is what I do when I am more in tuned with Christ. Because the Bible tells us that Christ lives inside of us, I actually take that to heart and try to focus myself on Christ within me. Like right now, as I write this, I am trying to stay in tuned to what Christ wants said and not what will sound cool or get me a lot of praise. This refocus of my thoughts allows me to learn from Jesus, who is within me, how to respond to a given situation.

According to Matthew 7:24-27, the only way to survive the storms of life is to learn from Jesus and put his words into action. Jesus is the greatest teacher who ever lived. He is so much more, of course, but why learn how to live from a second rate source when you can learn from the son of God.

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.

Next Action: Read from the Gospels daily – Notice how many people asked questions of Jesus to learn from him – What questions do you have for Jesus? – Listen for a response.

One Thing

What is your one thing?

I have thought a lot about what this blog’s one thing should be. What is one message that I would like to get across to whoever happens to find my blog?

I am not a theologian so I would fail if I tried to argue doctrine and the like. I am not a social activist so I would be misguided if I blogged about social issues. And I am not a counselor so I could be dangerous if I constantly spouted advice.

What I am is a normal guy with a normal life who happened to have his life turned upside down by Jesus Christ. I don’t possess any unique skills or have any huge insight but I do long for other normal people who are yearning for a deeper relationship with Jesus to experience what I have experienced. You don’t have to be super spiritual, weird, or withdrawn to transform your life, you just have to be willing to let Christ transform you from the insight out.

My one thing is making growth in Christian spirituality a doable thing for people who think that it is beyond them. You do not have to be constantly frustrated in your spiritual life. Progress is feasible and incredibly rewarding. Christ wants to work on you where you are and what you are dealing with. Your faith does not have to look like your pastor’s, your parent’s, or your Bible Study teacher’s. If it did, you would not be the person you truly need to be.

Join me in discovering a new life that you have always thought was possible but considered out of reach. I can show you a few small things that I have learned that make a huge difference.

This is my one thing.

Introducing 23 Things

23 Things is a learning phenomenon within the circles in which I work. To keep up with trending technologies and to train those that are somewhat leery of new web movements, a librarian developed 23 Things to introduce these technologies and to give participants the opportunity to develop new skills and apply internet based tools to their work activities. I would like to modify 23 Things so that it can be used in Spiritual Formation and Discipleship. Instead of introducing Web 2.0 tools, I will introduce Spiritual Disciplines and exercises to all of those who want to participate. Then, participants can do a small exercise related to that discipline.

This project takes a little more effort and time than usual blog posts so I will be a bit sporadic and link driven over the next week or two. I think you will enjoy the finished product though. I have been developing some of these ideas for over 10 years now and in true Christian Life Hacker style will attempt to make it accessible and doable.

More to come…

Power Outage – Why Relying On Will Power Is Not Working

Aside

According to researchers, will power is not so powerful and those that possess the ability to avoid temptation are not mentally stronger than everyone else, they just know how to redirect their attention away from the temptation so that their weak will power will not be tested.

Thankfully, Christians are not left with just the limited nature of their will power. Jesus’ emphasis in his teachings, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, was on the heart. He says to first, “clean the inside of the cup, so the outside will become clean also.” The problem with change that relies so heavily on will power is that it is focused on the surface of the person and not the inner character.

If I am going to become a kinder person, I have to first become the type of person who would naturally be kind. If I am going to be of service to others, I have to first become the type of person who would serve naturally. Gritting teeth and tapping into will power will fail 80% of the time and always has its limits.

Real power comes from taking Jesus into our hearts and letting him start to change us from the inside out. The change has to come in the heart before it will manifest itself into action. This is a much better strategy for change than will power. Easier too.

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30

What can you do today to change from the inside out?

  • Acknowledge that your will power is weak and not very helpful.
  • Read 1 Corinthians 13 with the knowledge that it is not asking you to do anything but become something
  • Ask Christ to change your heart
  • Focus on Christ’s work inside you and not on the outside results, those will come.
  • Tell others that you are no longer trusting your own strength but in the power of Christ inside you