“Are You Happy With The Person You Are Becoming?”

Last week had a little bit of everything. 29 people from all corners of the country converged on Wichita, Kansas for five days of study, worship, reflection, direction, fellowship, celebration, conviction, relationship developing, and encouragement.Some of us were pastors, some of us were lay people, some needed deep restoration and healing, some were working toward a degree, and some were just curious about all of this Spiritual Growth stuff.

No matter our particular situation, all of us were struck by this question that kicked off the week: Am I happy with the person I am becoming?

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There wasn’t one person out of the 29 that I think was satisfied with their answer to that question. So much of our quest through the week was to start to piece together a vision of ourselves that matched Christ’s vision for us.

For myself, God began to show me what true trust looks like. I also began to let go of past situations and decisions that have often prevented me, in the present, from listening to God. Because of these situations and decisions I had become too ashamed and disappointed in myself and lacked confidence that God truly wanted to speak to me.

What about you? Are you happy with the person you are becoming? Let me tell you that you don’t have to fly hundreds of miles or take a week off from your life to begin letting Christ transform and change you. Christ wants to help you Grow Up. He will show you what that might look like and then will give you opportunities for learning, spiritual exercises, and time with Him. It will be a process and there are no short cuts but you can live the life to match Christ’s vision for you.

image credit: pincel3D.Deviantart.com

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9/11 Gave Me A Spiritual Purpose and A Calling

I remember being at home on the Friday morning after September 11, 2001. I was watching our 2-year old daughter as she played oblivious to the images and sadness that was on display as a memorial service played on our TV. When Billy Graham got up to speak and to pray I shed a few tears for my country and the dark cloud it was now under.

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God had already been doing some pretty significant things in my life at that time but September 11 clarified and focused my calling. I didn’t want to live in a world where the evil carried out by those terrorist on that morning existed. I wanted to not just be a better person but be a part of a plan to make the world a better place and insure where that kind of evil couldn’t happen again.

First, this conviction and movement of God led my wife and I to serve in Social Ministry and then Community Ministry. Now, 15 years later, God has led me to pursue Christian maturity and discipleship, what I call Growing Up.

I believe that changed lives change the world. I know that I am just a lowly blogger who teaches classes, writes, and tries to mentor and disciple. But, if God can take these humble efforts and help someone draw closer to him, change a behavior that hurts others, or share God’s love with a broken world, then my efforts are worth it.

That is how September 11, 2001 shaped my life and where God has taken me since then. I pray that my work makes a difference and that it resonates with the right people at the right time.


Part of my continuing growth in this ministry is a 18-month training called, Apprentice Experience. This training in will teach me more about the nature of God and how he changes lives. I plan to take that knowledge to share with others, so that they can reach Christian maturity, additional wisdom, and transformed lives. But, I need your help to complete the training. Please donate now to my fund raising page and I will keep the message coming and the mission of making a better world through changed lives a reality.

A Cure For The Common Busy Life (Book Reviews)

Aside

Kevin DeYoung begins his book, Crazy Busy: A “Mercifully) Short Book on a (Really) Big Problem, with the declaration that he is 17152690“not an expert” in living an unhurried life. As you read his book, you get the sense that he hasn’t really captured what he preaches, that he is in the process of figuring out what a life less busy really looks like. In comparison, Alan Fadling begins his book, An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Ryhthym of Work and Rest, with the declaration that he is “a recovering speed addict.” By these two descriptions, the reader begins to understand that DeYoung is new to the topic while Fadling has wrestled with it for a while.

I am a sucker for lists and for some reason I decided to read the majority of the books on Christianity Today’s 2014 Book Award’s list. I could bore you with the details of how and when I choose the books from the list but by happenstance (though that could be questioned) I was reading both of these books at around the same time (I try to only read two books at a time). Yes, two books on living a life less busy at the same time. God, what are you telling me? Though there are few recurring vocabulary and ideas (acedia anyone?), the two books aren’t really that similar and that is a good thing.

DeYoung’s book is like discovering that your friend just got into kayaking but was a novice and hadn’t practiced enough to really demonstrate anything to you. He is really excited and eager to become an experienced kayaker but at this point he can only share important truths and practical steps for you, who might be interested in joining him. Fadling’s book is like discovering your uncle is a really good kayaker and has years of experience and knows what is really important. You are excited about the introduction and you share your friends enthusiasm but you are so grateful for your uncle’s experience, wisdom, and instructional care. In other words, DeYoung is on the right track in ending the trouble of busyness and wants to bring others along with him, but Fadling has been there and is doing many things right and his experience makes a world of difference.

16211574The authors do touch on a few things exclusive to their own work. DeYoung has a chapter on time and parenting. He talks about studies that have been done that demonstrate the harm to kids caused by second-hand stress from overworked and overscheduled parents. Yes, one gift we could give our kids is fewer things to do.

Fadling has a chapter on suffering as a means to forced slowness. I had never thought about suffering in this way but looking back on my own life, I realized the truth in such an insight. So much of living an unhurried life is learning to trust God. It is the same with suffering, when I have suffered, I have also had to trust God the most.

So, the tendency for some readers would be to choose one book over the other depending on your preferences, reading capacity, and familiarity with the topic. I would suggest that instead you read both. DeYoung for an introduction, and Fadling for a more fleshed out approach. You will be glad you did.

 

Book Review: Renovation of the Church: What Happens When A Seeker Church Discovers Spiritual Formation – Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken

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Some of my favorite non-fiction, non-Christian books are “looks under the hood” of movements, organizations, and individuals. Books such as Moneyball by Michael Lewis and The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell take an objective look at situations and people who have changed the landscape of their particular field or context. Their formula is fairly simple – “With odds against them, how did Company X become a trend setter and revolutionize their industry.”

Unfortunately, Christian literature lacks this writing approach. Besides Philip Yancey, I can’t think of any Christian authors who approach their subjects in somewhat of a journalistic way. Instead, we have works that are originating largely from one point of view. Usually, I never really notice this aspect but in the case of Renovation of the Church, I began to scream for a different perspective.

The authors, Kent Carlson and Ken Lueken, are the co-pastors of the church, Oak Hills, that is the subject of the book. They explain and present their transition from a church that is built on a consumer model of church organization to a church designed on a spiritual formation model. As far as I know, me being from one of the hotbeds of evangelical church environments, their approach is extremely novel and even “out there.” I admire their courage and commitment to this endeavor and am envious of their experiences and church life. But as a reader who is a thousand miles away from their church, I needed more from their story than observations from the driver seat. I wanted to hear the other side of the story. What was it like for a church member to experience such a drastic change? What conversations were church members having among themselves? What were the success stories? How has a focus on spiritual formation changed individual lives? Lueken gave a few examples but they were often sparse.

This is where an outside perspective could have really made this story riveting. Instead, we get a hodge podge of commentary on the state of American churches mixed in with the authors’ personal philosophy on church leadership. In the end, we find out more about the authors’ transformation as pastors than we do the church’s transformation. This certainly serves a purpose and I am in high agreement with Carlson and Lueken’s criticism of the American church and its pastors but their was more to be told there.

Personally, I could identify more with Eugene Peterson‘s tales of church work in his memoir, The Pastor, than I could Renovation of the Church. Peterson told stories on himself as well as members of the church he pastored. His stories could speek to the transformation that can occur in church and to churches under the reality of the Gospel. Carlson and Lueken never reached this level of reflection and expression.

The Need For A Spiritual Vacation

I spent last week traveling and relaxing with my family. It was a classic summer vacation with beaches, interstate rest stop picnics, and

Lazzy Feet on a Blue Ocean Beach vacation

Lazzy Feet on a Blue Ocean Beach vacation (Photo credit: epSos.de)

peculiar road sign sightings.

Should I have used the additional down time and scenic locales for more intentional spiritual exercises and thought? What should my spiritual life do while my vocational life is on retreat? I made the decision to let my week off be a week off from my usual routine of spiritual growth and training. I slept in instead of getting up early to read my Bible, I brought along a book that I knew was heavy on story and lighter on spiritual seriousness, and I let myself soak in the moment instead of planning my every move. Am I a slacker? Did I give the Devil a foothold?

I don’t think so. I remember Richard Foster telling a story once about listening to prayer expert Agnes Sanford talk about her love of reading murder mysteries. She encouraged her listeners and readers to be serious about prayer but then take a break and do something you enjoy. The point is to find balance in your life and vacations are designed to bring balance. Spiritual vacations can have the same effect.

I don’t want to suggest that we should all become less devoted, but just as our bodies and minds need breaks from work, our spirit needs a break from its training as well. As I returned to work this week I have had a renewed energy and have been able to focus on the tasks at hand. I seem to be, for the time being at least, less easily distracted and more aware of what really matters. The same is true with my spiritual life. When I opened my Bible today, I realized how much I missed reading it and I sought out a deeper connection with God through it.

If you have been pushing hard through spiritual disciplines or intense studies, give yourself a break and let your life flow for a time. Take up your practices again soon and you will find that they have a more meaningful effect.

It may be time for a spiritual vacation.

Community Injects Spiritual Growth With Life

Yesterday, I met three other guys at a Starbucks to talk about life, God’s word,

Redesigned logo used from 2011-present.

Redesigned logo used from 2011-present. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

and anything else that popped into our heads. Two of us have had seminary training but one has only been a believer for a short time.

Refreshingly, no debates broke out. No one felt like they had cornered the market on a theological idea. We just discussed scripture, dropped some wacky pop culture references, and enjoyed each others company. There was humility and a realization that God is so much bigger than ourselves.

I was encouraged, inspired, and refreshed from the short time we had together. In the quest for doable spiritual growth, we cannot overlook the power of community.

So much of our church language fails us in this regard. Quiet time, personal devotion, daily Christian walk, etc. All of these terms have such an individualistic tone to them. We have convinced ourselves that to grow spiritually requires our own efforts in isolation and nothing else. We fail to recognize the strength of Christian community, especially small groups.

In community I find encouragement, inspiration, conviction, motivation, and correction. Christ himself had a small community of friends who no doubt shaped his ministry and message in maybe more ways than we would expect.

Finding quality Christian community isn’t always easy and you have to work at it but we need it desperately.

Is There Help With This Change Stuff?

I often have been confused by the role and responsibility of the  Holy Spirit in

Cover of "The Good and Beautiful God: Fal...

Cover via Amazon

spiritual growth. One book that helped clarify this for me was James Bryan Smith’s Good and Beautiful God. In it he presents a model of four components to life change – personal narrative (the way we think), spiritual disciplines, community, and The Holy Spirit. He describes the work of the Holy Spirit like this:

The Spirit leads us to Jesus, reveals the Father, exposes falsehood, offers correction, and gives us the needed encouragement that make growth and transformation possible. The Spirit helps us change our narratives by leading us into truth, enlightens us as we practice the disciplines, and binds us together in community. If not for the work of the Holy Spirit, transformation simply will not take place.

So it is our job to work in conjunction with the Holy Spirit to make change possible. We can do this by making ourselves available to the work of the Holy Spirit. We can invite the Holy Spirit to work in our lives. Second, we can provide avenues for the Holy Spirit to work more effectively. This is where the spiritual disciplines come in.

The Essential Need To Change Your Mind

As we pursue doable spiritual formation, one of the first places we start is with our minds.

I used to think that hard work and determination was the only path to change. I used to think that I didn’t need Jesus to be Lord of my life, just a helpful resource in times of need. I used to think that only certain aspects of life could benefit from Christ and his kingdom. But I have changed my thinking.

As much as Christians talk about their feelings and emotions, it is their thinking that is the most important element to a transformed life.

The New Living Translation takes a familiar verse about renewing our mind and phrases it this way:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Romans 12: 2

Jesus turns the world’s way of thinking upside down. Everything we think is important as feeble humans is turned on its head by Jesus’ life and teaching. Jesus presents a radical way of thinking about the world.

Here are three steps to changing your thinking:

1. Read the Gospels. This is the only way that we can understand how Christ wants us to think.

2. Memorize scripture. Pick a verse such as Galatians 2:20 and put it to memory.

3. Pray for new thinking. What area of your life do you struggle with negative or destructive thinking? Ask God to change your thinking to see this part of your life the way that he does.

Christian Life Hacker – 23 Things

Here is the entire list of the 23 Things. I hope you discovered some new practices and ideas that you hadn’t been exposed to before. Feel free to share the 23 Things with your small groups and disciple groups. Congratulations to Cary Jester who commented on the most items and wins the free book. Thanks to others for reading and commenting.

Week 1: Introduction

1Listen: Podcast on 23 Things and Spiritual Disciplines

2.  Read: A primer on Disciplines, the Holy Spirit, and  Spiritual Growth.

Week 2: Solitude and Silence

3. Read: this article on solitude and silence.

4. Embrace pockets of solitude and silence today. Here are some ideas. Choose what works for you. Every time you find a pocket of solitude and silence, ask God to be with you in a special way.

  • Leave the car radio off while you drive
  • Take a walk around your work place during lunch
  • Limit TV watching to no more than one hour
  • Start a meal with everyone silent. Then have someone read a chapter from Mark before beginning speaking.
  • Park farther away from your intended location to give yourself more time to reflect while you walk.
  • Replay before falling asleep the day’s  events  and notice where God has been present.

Week 3: Prayer and Meditation

5. Explore what Henri Nouwen has to say about prayer

6. Have some fun with your prayers and Pray in Color

7. Learn what makes Christian Meditation different from Eastern Meditation

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.

Week 5: Study

10. Watch Paula Gooder talk about “what the Bible is?”

11. Not everyone is bent towards reading and study. Still, you can immerse yourself in scripture through Psalms set to music by Sons of Korah (Click on Listen)

12. Who are your teachers and what are they teaching you? Make a list of your chief influencers, past and present. What aspects of God do you need to study more deeply? Develop a plan to pursue this study of God.

Week 6: Service

13. Read Philippians 2:3-11. What is one way that you could humble yourself today in a tangible way?

14. Make a list of ways that your church is reaching out to its community? Are there areas in the community that are not being reached?

15. Read this excerpt from a commencement address by Dallas Willard:

Remember to live sacrificially.

On January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as the thirty-fifth president of the United States. During his inaugural address, this, the youngest man ever elected president said that “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.” In this context, President Kennedy issued the following challenge: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

This simple statement, delivered with great fervor, drew forth an amazing current of sacrificial giving from people. This is built into our hearts. We know it’s right. And as Christians we’re the ones who really know what it means and how it can be done.

Don’t strive to advance yourself. Let God advance you. This is a deep psychological and sociological truth as well as a profound theological teaching. If you try to save your life, you’ll lose it. Give it away. God will give it back to you. Don’t make it your aim to get what you want. Serve others. Remember, God gives grace to the humble. He calls us to submit ourselves to the mighty hand of God that, when the time is right, He will lift us up.

I need to add that it’s not safe to be a servant unless you know who you are and unless you stand before God. On the night of His betrayal, just before He shared the Passover with His disciples, …

Jesus knew that the Father had given everything into His hands, that He had come from God, and that He was going back to God. So He got up from supper, laid aside His robe, took a towel, and tied it around Himself. Next, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel tied around Him (Jn 13:3-5).

Because Jesus knew who He was, because He was secure in His relationship with His Father, He was able to do the work of the most menial slave.

Remember who you are. Keep God before you. Then serve sacrificially. When you serve others, you’re really serving God. Because you are serving God, you give the best of service to other human beings.

Week 7: Simplicity

16. Learn about simplicity from this video

17. Read Matt. 5: 33-37. This is Jesus’ instructions to avoid manipulating and misleading people through the words that we say. The goal is to be the type of person who can simply say “yes” or simply say “no.” Additional information and explanation is usually only used to make sure that others continue to think good of us.

For the next week, attempt to answer questions with a simple “yes” or a simple “no.” Avoid the urge to explain yourself constantly. Make every effort to remove verbal manipulation from your day. Work toward honest and appropriately simple language. Talk about your experiences in the comments below.

Week 8: Worship

18. Watch John Ortberg and Dallas Willard discuss worship. Watch from the 6:00 mark to the 13:00 mark

19. How often do we prepare for worship? One thing we can do is expect to meet God during worship. Next, we can pray for the worship leaders, that they may feel God’s presence and can speak and lead effectively. Third, focus on singing the songs directly to God and listening to God in scripture and preaching. Commit yourself to worship with your heart this week.*

*The idea for this week’s exercise came from the book, A Year With God, by Richard Foster and Julia Roller.

Week 9: Sabbath

20. Read this interview with Pastor and author of The Message, Eugene Peterson.

21. Sabbath accomplishes many things but the most beneficial to our use of time are the following:

1. Cultivates trust in God – Dallas Willard elaborates on this point, “When we come to the place where we can joyously “do no work” (Leviticus 23:3), it will be because God is so exalted in our mind and body that we trust him with our life and our world, and we can take our hands off them.”

2. Reshapes our week – So much of our time is shaped by our responsibilities at work and at home while other parts of our time are shaped by the technologies that we are so attached to. By receiving the Sabbath and its time of rest and worship our entire week can be shaped in a sacred direction rather than a worldly direction. We still have our responsibilities but these duties no longer carry the weight that we had previously assigned to them.

3. Eliminates Hurry – Even if the Sabbath is the only day of the week that we intentionally attempt to rest and not extend ourselves we learn to appreciate what an existence might be like minus hurry and urgency. We can learn that the world can carry on just fine without our input and activity. One hurry free day demonstrates to us that a hurry free existence is possible.

22. Read these guidelines for practicing the Sabbath:

1. Sabbath can be practiced on any day of the week. Sunday is a natural choice because it is the day that we commonly worship and despite recent developments in our culture, it is often a day that includes the fewest responsibilities. If Sunday does not work for you, choose any day that provides you with the most freedom.

2. Start small. Remember that we are not subscribed to the philosophy of more. Try spending two hours after Sunday lunch in quiet reflection, in rest, or recreation. As God enables you over time, try to extend the Sabbath to the entire day.

3. Include your family. Spend your Sabbath with family playing games, cooking meals at home, or outdoor activities.

4. Protect The Sabbath. The first thing that will happen when you decide to receive the Sabbath is that something will occur forcing you to make a choice between your commitment to Sabbath keeping and something else. Though we want to avoid turning this practice into a legalism, we do want to demonstrate conviction regarding the Sabbath. For example, I attempt to complete Weekend errands, housework, and yard work on Saturday in order to free up Sundays for Sabbath keeping.

23. Summarize your thoughts on 23 Things in the comments below.

Why I Blog

I blog because I like to write and the regiment of a blog is good practice.

I blog because I get tired of reading “look at me I can write about hermeneutics” theological pieces that are more about impressing people or starting debates than it is about helping people or God’s kingdom.

I blog because I know that there are thousands of Christians out there who think their status quo spiritual life is all there is and they don’t realize how accessible God can be with just a little bit of intentionality and effort.

I blog because I wish there was another blog out there doing what I am trying to do.

I blog because there a few people who actually read it and find it meaningful and beneficial.

I blog because the church needs committed believers who know God on a deep and experiential level. The church needs people who have been transformed by Christ to live like, for, and through Christ. If just small pockets of believers would begin to live transformed lives and produce the fruits of the spirit then they would have such a more deeper impact than programs, campaigns, and theological debates.

I blog because I have seen the transforming nature of Jesus and I want others to experience it.

I blog because I need to hold myself accountable. Being a spiritual formation blogger is an identity that carries with it standards, challenges, and devotions that I probably would have abandoned if I didn’t envision a reader out there actually caring if I lived out what I professed.

I blog because it is sometimes hard to find an audience for spiritual formation and discipleship within the church. Angels, end times, and who the real Antichrist will be would be easy draws for church people but a class on how to bless your neighbor who curses you just seems silly to some people. Much to the church’s detriment. Still, the web and blogs provide avenues for like-minded people to find each other.

I blog because the words written by Dallas Willard, Henri Nouwen, Frederick Buechner, and Scot Mcknight changed my life. Maybe, just maybe, through God’s grace, my words written could change someone’s life.