When Your Good News Is Not Good Enough

Scot McKnight says that, “If the gospel isn’t about transformation, it isn’t the gospel of the Bible.”

The gospel I see the most in churches is a reduction to mere statements of belief. Words are important and our beliefs need to be verbalized and stated confidently and with conviction. But, what we truly believe is demonstrated by how we live. That is the true test of our belief.

How we live is the part that needs to be transformed and mere statements of belief are not enough. When Jesus encountered people in need he expected and planned on transformation occurring. Zacchaeus was so taken by Jesus’ generosity and care for him, he decided to give half of his possessions to the poor and to pay back four times the amount to the people he had swindled. The woman caught in adultery, after being rescued from execution, was told to go and sin no more. Transformation was expected not a bullet list of new beliefs.

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Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

The rich young ruler had all of his beliefs down to the letter but he didn’t have the transformation that comes from making Jesus his Lord. He wanted to have Jesus without the transformation. It doesn’t work that way.

What is your life saying about your beliefs? Are you satisfied with your beliefs and patting yourself on the back for them but go on living with bitterness, lazy thinking, anger, worry, and longing? Let Christ transform you from the inside out, let him take residence in your self from top to bottom and change your mind and heart. That is the gospel, the good news of a life transformed by the power of Christ.

 

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Despite Unlikely Circumstances, Here I Am

Nearly one year ago, God began revealing in me what the next few years might look like.

What started out as a simple interest and desire of mine began to take shape as an opportunity that was tangible and the promised next steps in my faith journey. As I have said in a previous post, the pattern has been God asks me to do something and I just go about doing it. There hasn’t been too many road blocks or hang ups, at least from me personally. God just keeps presenting himself and his will to me and I just move forward despite some hard circumstances that have been largely out of my control.

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That has led to this point. On Sunday, I will be traveling to Wichita, Kansas to spend the next five days in Community 3 of the Apprentice Experience. This week will be one of four that we will spend as a group of 27 people from around the country. We all have been doing readings but up until now, we have not met as a community. The week will be filled with study under the teaching of James Bryan Smith, Scot McKnight, Jan Johnson, and others. We will also be participating in spiritual practices, discussion, and community worship. It promises to be a deeply rich and rewarding experience and one that I am highly looking forward to.

As a reader of this blog, you know my heart is to help others Grow Up in their Christian Spiritual Life. You know that I am not just about personal spiritual experiences or Christian thrill seeking. I truly want this experience to change me so that I can help demonstrate to others how Christ wants to change them also. The Apprentice Experience is just another step in God’s work in my life and in the growth of my ministry efforts through Grow Up Ministries, where I plan to help people live the life that Christ intends for them to live.

I will be taking good notes and will be chronicling my experiences but will wait until I get back to share with you the particulars.

Please pray for me. Pray that nothing will get in the way of me experiencing the fullness of God’s blessing during the week. Pray for the entire group that we will quickly draw close together as a group of believers. Pray for my family, who is gracious enough to let me be away for this long. Finally, pray that I can take what I have learned and it will make a difference moving forward in the lives of those that I am around and try to minister to.

Also, I am still in need of some support so that I can complete the program. Please donate so that what God has started to grow in me and my humble efforts will result in something that has a real impact on many people’s lives.

The Difference Between Self-Help And Growing Up

In this space, I have intentionally tried to use less religious words to help communicate what we are trying to accomplish in our spiritual life. I have avoided using phrases such as “spiritual formation” and “discipleship” because I fear that these terms have become lost in church-speak and hold little meaning. Or they have been treated as add-ons within churches and most church members just ignore them like they might just ignore the children’s ministry or the homeless ministry or the singles ministry.

Instead, I use some form of Grow Up or Growing Up to express a movement towards Christian maturity. In my attempt to make things more understandable, I hope that I haven’t given you the impression that what we are doing here is just some kind of glorified self-help agenda. Growing Up is so much more than self improvement.

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One of our readings in the Apprentice Experience training comes from Scot McKnight, a professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary. McKnight, in a chapter called “A Community Called Atonement,” discusses what it means to be made in the image of God. Using the phrase Eikons to represent those made in the image of God, McKnight states, “the goal (of atonement) is for our sinful selves to be set free to be new creations in true divine and human Koinonia.” He later states that “Eikons are made for union with God, communion with others, love of self, and care for the world.”

In other words, God’s plan involves a restoration of his created beings, his Eikons, to be new creations so we can be unified with Him and bonded to each other. This is done through the sending of the perfect Eikon, Jesus.

Spiritual formation, discipleship, Growing Up, maturity are all words used to describe God’s ongoing restoration process that starts with a commitment to Christ but ends with a transformed person in every way.

Don’t let my humble attempts at communication keep you from seeing the seriousness of this transformation process.


I am learning and growing through this training so that I can help you reach your faith goals and achieve your own maturity in Christ. But I can’t help you unless I have the resources to finish the Apprentice Experience training. Donate now and help me finish the program and continue helping others grow to fullness in Christ.

One Method of Praying The Scriptures

Long time readers will remember the theme of this year has been the Word of God. I have sought insight and guidance in the reading of scripture and worked to gain a greater appreciation and love for the Bible. Several books have helped me in this process, George Guthrie’s Reading the Bible For Life and Scot McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet to name a few. But the book that I would recommend for a more spiritual approach to the Bible is Chris Webb’s book The Fire of the Word. 

In the book, Webb introduced me to the Exercises of St. Ignatius and provided guidance on conducting my own exercises with scripture. The beauty of the Ignatius approach is it immerses you in the story of scripture. After spending 15-20 minutes meditating on a passage, you then begin to pray and seek out a response from Jesus.

At the end of the exercise, you begin to talk with Christ and most importantly – listen. I don’t always hear a response but I feel closer to Christ and feel like our relationship has a more honest element to it. Also, because of this exercise, I spend the rest of the day thinking about the passage and reflecting on the parts of the story that meant the most to me.

I would highly recommend Webb’s book and encourage you to give the Ignatius meditative approach to scripture a try. Here are the steps to follow as you read a designated passage:

Step One – Imagine the scene as clearly as you can. Use your imagination to take in smells, sounds, and sights.

Step Two – Place yourself in the shoes of one of the characters

Step Three – Continue to run the events of the story to run through your mind. Pay close attention to what people say and do.

Step Four – Ask yourself what emotions does this passage create in you? How do you want to respond to the questions asked or statements made.

Step Five – Use your emotions and questions from the previous step to spark a conversation with Christ. Listen for his response.

If all of this seems strange to you then maybe it is time for you to try something new. The Bible is too important for us to not do everything we can to engage it and the method above has worked very well for me.

23 Things – Week 4: Fasting

Week 4: Fasting

8. Read this interview with Scot McKnight on Fasting

9. Participate in a Week of Elimination. In the past, I have eliminated sports from my weekly schedule. If sports is not a distraction for you choose your most attractive guilty pleasure (TV shows, YouTube clips, blogs, Facebook, etc.) and eliminate it from your daily life for one week.

This is week three of 23 Things. See previous posts here and here for the first seven things and an introduction to 23 Things. If you want to be eligible to win a free book, post a comment under each week’s session. Those who complete all 23 Things will be placed in a drawing for a free book.

Discovering A Love For the Bible

Early 15th-century Latin Bible, handwritten in...

Image via Wikipedia

What keeps me from reading my Bible more? Fear. I am afraid that I will not understand what I read. I am afraid that I will get a couple of verses in and lose focus and be distracted. I am afraid that I am not smart enough to catch all of the theological messages and emphasis. I am afraid that I will be in a hurry and not truly consider what I am reading. I am afraid that I will find the passages irrelevant and meaningless to my life. I am afraid to venture too far from the Gospels.

What does all of this fear lead to? Guilt. What kind of Christian am I if I don’t read my Bible consistently? How can I call myself a teacher of the Word and an expert in spiritual formation if I have such limited experience with scripture? Guilt then adds to my fear and it starts a cycle all over again.

Don’t get me wrong, I read the Bible regularly but I haven’t ever grown to love the process and the scriptures the way that some do. But I am determined to change this in 2012. I want to discover the scriptures in a fresh way. God is found in his book and the best place for me to discover him and learn from him is within his word. I know this and I need to put my fear and guilt aside and embrace the wonderful treasure that is God’s word.

To help me along, I plan to read several recent books that have come along to address the need for thoughtful and spiritual reading of the Bible. The books include – The Fire of the Word by Chris Webb, The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight, Eat this Book by Eugene Peterson, Scripture And The Authority of God by N.T. Wright.

I will post some of my discoveries and experiences on the blog. I invite you to join me in discovering the joy of Bible reading.

Christian Life Hacker Guide To Christmas

Christmas 2005 Candles

Image via Wikipedia

Christmas may be my favorite religious holiday. Why? Because it seems to be the only time when Evangelical Christians allow themselves to be spiritual. Most evangelical church services contain so much activity and noise that it is a wonder anyone can muster a spiritual thought. But at Christmas, no one seems to be freaked out by low light, candles, singing about silence at night, and accepting the mystery that is the incarnation of God himself. If you have discovered this blog, you have some interest in the growth of your Christian spiritual life so I have created a short guide to enjoying Christmas and getting the most out of it.

Discover Advent – Think about all of the time you spend preparing for Christmas. Is any of your preparations of the spiritual nature? Advent, which means “coming”, is a great way for you to prepare your heart for the coming of Christmas.
You may have seen the display at your church – the green reef with the white candle in the middle and the four candles surrounding it. Starting four Sundays away, a candle is lit each week until you get to Christmas day. Each of the candles represents an important idea surrounding Christmas such as hope, peace, and joy. In more liturgical churches, specific scriptures are read on specific weeks. I am not focused enough to organize my thoughts around the miracle of a virgin, a baby, stars, shepherds, etc., I need something that will guide my thoughts and scripture reading. Some of the resources that I have used to participate in Advent are: Watch For the Light: Readings For Advent and Christmas (book), Following the Star (online daily devotional), and Advent writings from Jesus Creed (blog from Scot McKnight)

Attend a Candlelight Service– If you have ever attended a candlelight service at Christmas Eve you may not have noticed things happening that never happen during the rest of the year. First, there is always a level of reverence that is not often found on a normal Sunday morning. Maybe, having the service at night has something to do with it. Second, silence is welcomed. In most of the Christmas Eve services that I have been to, everyone has a candle and at the end of singing “Silent Night” we all raise our candle in the air. Almost every time, the preciousness of the moment and the beautiful stillness of it lingers into a holy moment of silence that everyone is willing to hold on to. Even when we do start talking and making our way to the exits, it is in reverent hushed tones. Even the hardest soul seems touched by the mystery of the eve of Christ’s birth. We need more of these kinds of experiences in our spiritual life.

Serve Someone – Being someone who spent four years working in a benevolence ministry, I used to scoff at the Thanksgiving and Christmas “do-gooders” who suddenly want to give and volunteer but would never think of contributing the rest of the year. But, my cynicism is not very productive and may limit those who feel led, during these holiday times, to help out someone less fortunate. I don’t want to rob anyone of the joy of giving and serving another person.

The best moment along these lines, was after a Christmas Eve service at the benevolence ministry I mentioned. We had put together some small gift bags that we passed out to some of the people in attendance, mostly homeless and poor. I was taking some of the homeless people “home” to their camp site when I heard one  talk about how this was a good Christmas. This guy was often belligerent, mean, conniving, and a downright troublemaker. To hear him speak in positive terms was already shocking but then he said,”This is a good Christmas because I got some socks, I really needed these.” We never know how far our small gifts of service will go. We might be surprised.

Embrace the Immanuel Life – This word, Immanuel, means “God with us.” This is a word that you need an entire season to meditate and reflect on. God with us in the form of a baby in a manger, born of a virgin, visited by shepherd and kings alike, pointed to by a star. God with us in the ordinary to provide to us the extraordinary. Immanuel. God with us. That is worth celebrating each year.

Good Words

Scot McKnight has developed a map of spiritual development

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“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