Monday, October 31, 2011

Go And Sin No More...Starting RIGHT NOW!

This weekend we examined the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. Last week, I wrote about what it DOESN'T mean, and Saturday night I tried to talk about what it does mean (although I went much longer than I wanted to and skipped a part I didn't want to skip). You can listen to the sermon here.

This morning I came across this blog that dovetails nicely with the idea of "Go and sin no more!" You can read the entire post here (there are some good illustrations as well as some helpful thoughts), but I've excerpted out some of the really good stuff below:
...I spend a fair amount of time talking to people who are simultaneously feeling convicted of their sins and yet not quite ready to give them up, either. Come to think of it, most of us probably fit into this category in one way or another, even if our sinful indulgences may outwardly appear to be "lesser" somehow than those of, say, a prostitute or a heroin addict.

On the one hand, sinful behavior has brought tremendous suffering into our lives, typically in multiple categories: spiritual, emotional, financial, physical and relational. And yet, it is more often true than not that we are actively maintaining "differing kingdom allegiances" and will try - against all reason and sanity - to maintain a "bridge" of sorts to our destructive, sometimes deadly "pleasures" while keeping one foot in God's kingdom...or so we think

Any willingness on our part to maintain roads, bridges or other safe passages to a preferred lifestyle of sin, folly and rebellion against the living God is the clearest-possible outward sign that we have not (as of yet) fully surrendered our lives to the lordship of Christ.

Battling back against longterm sin does not normally take place in moments of high drama and riveting action. True repentance, it turns out, most often shows up in those unremarkable moments when we choose to take a different route home from work, decline an invitation from an old friend or give up control of our Saturday evening to an accountability partner.
These are really good thoughts, particularly, I like the idea that our battle against sin happens in more in the moment to moment battles of daily life, rather than the emotional/spiritual highs of church camps and worship services. I need to regularly be reminded that Jesus has already purchased my freedom, but He still calls on me to live that freedom out. That happens as I make the right decisions from day to day!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Who's Up For a Good Old Fashioned Stoning?

John 8:1-11 is the story of Jesus, the religious leaders, and the woman caught in adultery. This passage is often considered one of the more "controversial" passages in the New Testament. It's controversial because of the content of the story, as well as because of the questionable nature of it's place in the gospel of John. It's one of those passages about which the footnotes say, "The earliest and manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53-8:11".

I'm not going to go into detail regarding the textual controversy. If you want to learn more about it, here are some sources:

The other aspect of controversy regarding this passage is the way it is often misinterpreted(some think the reason it wasn't included in the original manuscripts was because some church leaders were concerned about the possibility it might be used to excuse sin). This morning, I'm just jotting down a few thoughts about what this passage DOES NOT teach:
1. It does not teach that sin is okay. Jesus never excused or condoned the woman's sin.

2. It does not teach that the law is obsolete. Jesus never said the law didn't apply to this situation.

3. It does not teach that we should not point out sin. Jesus never condemned the Pharisees for accusing the woman of adultery.

4. It does not teach that sin does not have consequences. Jesus' mercy did not eliminate the relational and familial consequences of the woman's sin.

5. It does not teach that organized religion is bad. I wish I didn't even have to point that one out.
So... what does it teach? I suppose I'll address that another time...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Is It Okay for God to Punish People for Sin?

I'm listening to an old sermon by Dr. Jim Grier (the most intelligent man I've ever known). He began by reading from Revelation 21:3:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people."
Then he said this: "the earth was created to be the dwelling place of God."

You need to take just a minute and let that sink in. Think it through. Consider the ramifications.

Immediately, I began to think about how this informs the way we think about so many things. It should affect our view of ecology, it should affect our view of sustainability, and it should affect our view of sin.

Let me illustrate with a story.
There was a man who constructed his dream house. He poured all his resources into the house, and in the end it was a beautiful creation. The house was designed perfectly for the man and his family. Then he went away on a journey.

Before he left, he hired a caretaker for his house. "You are to represent me in this house," he said, "and when I return, there will be a room for you to live with us."

However, when the man returned, he found his house destroyed. The caretaker had abused the house, using it for his own pleasure and desires. He had ignored the instructions of the owner, and he and his friends had rendered the house uninhabitable for the owner and his family.

So the man destroyed the house, and re-created it. He lived there with his family. But he threw the caretaker out, and had him arrested, and prosecuted him to the full extent the law would allow.
Was the owner justified?

Is God justified?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How To Be the Perfect Parent

I don't think there is one "secret formula" for parenting. Every child is different and so every child should be parented differently. However, there are probably some good pieces of wisdom that every parent should consider. I found a list recently at the "Zen Habits" blog (I don't agree with everything I read there, but they do have good stuff about living more simply).

I would place varying degrees of importance on each of these items, but I do think all of them represent positive parenting practices:
1. Teach kids to be self-sufficient.

2. Teach older kids to help with the younger kids.

3. Teach them to solve problems.

4. Show them how to be passionate.

5. Play with them outside, and be active.

6. Don’t overschedule.

7. Don’t dote.

8. Dance.

9. Read with them, and read in front of them.

10. Be inquisitive.

So, what do you think? Which of these is the best idea? Are there any with which you disagree? What would you add as a "universal" piece of wisdom for parents?

He Is a Fool Who Knows Not How to Respond to Criticism

Marianne and I were talking today about how easy it is for a person who is “simple” (read about the wise, simple, fool, and mocker in Proverbs) to become a fool if influenced by the wrong people. While thinking about our discussion I sketched out this chart, and was reminded midway through of how often Proverbs stresses our response to correction. If you want to become wise, learn how to respond appropriately to correction.

All We Are Saying... Is Give Tim Tebow a Chance!

Tim Tebow started his fourth NFL game yesterday. He’s won two of the four starts. There are some NFL fans who would give an arm and a leg for a starting quarterback who wins 50% of his games (ahem: I’m looking at us, Lion’s fans).

Tim Tebow needs to be given a chance!By any measurement, his game yesterday was dismal. He was bad in every aspect of the game. For 55 minutes, he very effectively kept his team from winning. But then, as the clock ran down, he put it together. He rallied his team, and in overtime, they were victorious.

By the only measurement that matters, his game yesterday was 100% effective. As Herman Edwards said, “You play to win the game.” The opponent was bad, the game was certainly not pretty, the defense really deserves a lot of credit; but Denver got the win, and Tebow was their leader!


I’ve never heard so many “experts” pile on a player for being “terrible”, than I have heard talking about Tebow last night and this morning.

(Disclaimer: I AM a Broncos fan. I do want Tebow to succeed because I want Denver to succeed; however, I really never cared for him in college)

The talking heads on ESPN have spent most of last night and this morning pontificating on what a terrible game he played, and how this is definitive proof that Tebow will never make it in the NFL. Why?

Why are these guys so quick to denounce a guy who has only played 4 games? Have they forgotten Steve Young’s career in Tampa Bay? Have they forgotten Payton Manning’s first season in Indianapolis? Have they forgotten Doug Flutie and Warren Moon who had to start their careers in Canada? Why is Tim Tebow being written off after four games?

The answer is simple… These guys spent so much time decrying Tebow before he ever entered the league, that if he does succeed they will all be shown to be foolish. No one ever entered the league under more criticism, and so the media experts have never had so much at stake in seeing someone fail.

So what? Why am I writing about this today?

Because I see people make this same mistake in life ALL THE TIME. They make a judgment about another person (often times an unfounded judgment) and then they spend the rest of their lives justifying that judgment. They are absolutely unreasonable in the conclusions they draw, in the way they massage the truth, and in their interpretation of what they observe. Sadly, the result is a steep descent into bitterness, hatred, and eventually depression.

Be careful. Whatever conclusion you reached yesterday may need to be reconsidered today. Remember 1 Corinthians 13. Love hopes all things. Don’t stick people in a box, don’t stick yourself in a box. Give the people who have offended you a chance to surprise you. You may find yourself on the receiving end of a beautiful friendship.

The King Who Brings Freedom Deserves the Throne

(if you know nothing about Lord of the Rings, this post will likely not make any sense to you. Come back tomorrow. If you know a little about it, or have seen the movies, you’ll be okay.)

The Coronation of the King

The final movie of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy is The Return of the King. The movie has about four endings (more if you get the DVD with extras). One of the moments that feels like it is the end of the movie is the coronation of Aragorn as King of Gondor. After three movies of seeing him lead the Men of the West in countless battles and skirmishes, it’s almost a relief to see him finally receive his crown.

Imagine, though, that the movie ended differently. How would you feel about the movie if after he led Rohan to victory at Helm’s Deep, and after he repulsed Sauron’s invading horde, and after he inspired the victory at the gates of Mordor; imagine if after all this, the people of Gondor just asked him to leave.

“Thanks for the work, Aragorn. We’ve decided to just continue being ruled by the house of Denethor.”

Aragorn was the rightful king of Gondor. He was the delivering king who had long been prophesied. He suffered mightily on their behalf, both in battle and in love. How disappointing would it have been, after all he endured to have been denied the throne of the people he had just saved?

That is what we do to Jesus every time we seize control of our lives.

He suffered and died to purchase our freedom. How can we not let him sit on the throne of our lives? How can we not submit our lives to His rule?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Resolving Conflict: Squashing Rumors 2

One thing I've learned over the past several years is that when someone comes to me and says, "I heard...", it almost always ends poorly.

See, if they've heard a rumor about me (assuming it's false), I can tell them the truth; but that will only last until they go back to the original source of the rumor. Then, they find themselves in the awkward situation of having to believe one person and therefore decide the other is a liar.

There is a better way.

I've made it a personal policy to NOT answer those who ask me about rumors. I simply ask them to come back with the person from whom they heard this. That way, we can work together to find out where the truth lies, and no one gets stuck in the middle. (my assumption is that anyone who says something about me to someone else will be happy to say it to me, right?)

I would recommend everyone make this their policy.
1. Don't defend yourself against a rumor unless the originator of the rumor is there.
2. Don't ask someone else about a rumor unless you have the originator of the rumor with you.
3. BY ALL MEANS, don't pass along a rumor... under ANY circumstances.

All the Posts in This Series:
5 Ways to Let Go of a Grudge
3 Steps to Being a Peacemaker
5 Questions to Help Evaluate Yourself
6 Roadblocks That Shut Down Communication
Squashing Rumors

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Resolving Conflict: Squashing Rumors

We all hear rumors every day. Sometimes we think of them as gossip (which we sadly consider to be harmless), but often we hear a rumor and consider it to be at worst partly true.

You already know this principle from Proverbs, but it bears repeating.

The first person from whom you hear a story will rarely give you the full story.

Almost always, you need to hear things from multiple perspectives if you are going to have a truly robust understanding of the truth.

That said, what do you do when you hear a rumor which you KNOW is false? Unfortunately, we are often to cowardly to do anything in these situations, but can I suggest six steps you can take which will shut down the rumor quickly?
  • Correct the error immediately
  • Tell the truth to the person telling the rumor
  • Determine the source of the rumor (where did it come from?)
  • Determine the spread of the rumor (who else has heard it?)
  • Go to the source and stop it (by correcting the error and telling the truth)
  • Go to the spread and confront it (by correcting the error and telling the truth)
I know this approach is inconvenient, difficult, awkward, and likely time-consuming. But if we are to be MINISTERS OF RECONCILIATION who are concerned with seeing others experience the life Christ has called us to, then we MUST be about this business. Our willingness to deal with false rumors can mean the resolution of conflict, the abatement of pain, and potentially life-saving peace for those around us.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Resolving Conflict: 6 Roadblocks That Shut Down Communication

I spend a lot of time thinking about communication because I am, at my core, a communicator. Granted, there is a difference between interpersonal communication, lecture-type communication, and organizational communication; but I’ve kind of been letting all of them roll around in my mind.

So i’ve been thinking alot about communication…

And even though i’m in the “church business” (boy, does that sound wrong), I think communication is pretty much the same in most venues. whether you are in a “real business”, a partnership, a relationship, a marriage, a team, etc… some basic principles of communication apply to you.

I’m starting with the assumption that good communication places significant responsibilities on both the sender and the receiver. If both aren’t working together, communication will never happen. but for now, i’m focusing on the sender.


Insecurity — some people withhold information because doing so places them in a position of power. if you are not willing to give information away it is because you are either trying to manipulate or assert power over someone or you are trying to hide something. some things do need to be hidden, but it is almost always better to give information away rather than holding on to it.

Individuality — communication cannot be successful if it is used to advance a personal agenda. good communication is dependent on teamwork and shared investment. those who are unwilling to “play together” will never communicate successfully.

Lack of Clarity — I could say, “perhaps you should consider the ramifications of the impending impact based upon your current longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates and the certain eventuality of sharing those precise coordinates with a rapidly forthcoming jalopy.” or I could say, “LOOK OUT, HERE COMES A CAR!” Both statements send the same information, the first statement would likely be comprehended…but too late.

Competition — every time I send information to someone, they must evaluate it in light of everything else I have sent them over time. If my present information conflicts with previous information, my audience must determine which of my “competing” messages they will believe… even if the messages aren’t a direct contradiction, they can still create competition if they are not aligned with each other.

Vagueness — the RIGHT details are more important than LOTS of details.

Wrong Methods — a song is a great way to convey love to someone. It’s not a great way to communicate you are upset with your child’s behavior. If you don’t consider the medium through which you are communicating, you will significantly detract from your audiences comprehension.

that’s all i have to say about that…

try it out on your spouse.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Resolving Conflict: Five Questions to Help Evaluate Yourself

Perhaps I am overly optimistic, or have a “pie-in-the-sky” outlook when it comes to the degree of authority the Bible should have in our lives.

However, I do believe the Bible should be the primary authority for all believers in matters of life and faith. Whatever we are doing or not doing, the Bible should be governing us.

I realize this approach makes me appear a bit simple and naive, but in the words of someone, “it is what it is.”


Here are five questions I think everyone should answer when attempting to resolve conflict or when discussing concerns they might have about someone or something (family, friends, job, church, etc.):
  • Is this about Christ?
  • Does the Bible speak clearly and specifically about this?
  • Does a clear and specific Biblical principle apply to this?
  • Do any Biblical passages or principles apply here?
  • Do you believe you are acting in clear obedience to God on this issue?
Honestly, if you find yourself in conflict with someone, and you can’t answer “yes” (and immediately articulate why) to any of these questions, I would suggest you may be in the wrong for this conflict. The other person may also be wrong, but your inability to answer “yes” to any of these questions probably indicates you are holding on to something you shouldn’t be holding on to.

Before you pursue that conflict any further, take a minute and evaluate yourself. Maybe you are the one who needs to change!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Resolving Conflict: 3 Steps To Being a Peacemaker

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a conflict between two other people? These situations are always awkward, especially when everyone is friends, and deep relationships are at stake.

Previously in This Series:
5 Ways to Let Go of a Grudge

2 Samuel tells an interesting story from the life of David that provides us with three great principles to remember when you find yourself trying to help resolve conflict.

David and his followers are on the run from Jerusalem. His son, Absalom, has led a rebellion and seized control of the capitol city. As they leave, they are approached by a man named Ziba who brings them many gifts of food, drinks, and animals. David knew that Ziba was the servant of Mephibosheth (a crippled descendant of Saul to whom David had shown great kindness). David asked Ziba where Mephibosheth was, and Ziba answered that his master had stayed in Jerusalem to welcome Absalom.

After the rebellion was squelched, David returned to Jerusalem and began to deal with all those who had been loyal to Absalom. Mephibosheth came to greet him, claiming that he had wanted to go with David, but Ziba had not assisted him (he couldn’t leave on his own because he was lame). Mephibosheth claimed that Ziba had seized the opportunity to ovethrow his master and ingratiate himself with David.

Faced with two completely opposite stories, David makes a wise decision (the outcome of which ultimately demonstrates Mephibosheth’s loyalty).

Read the whole story in 2 Samuel 16 and 2 Samuel 19.

Out of this story come THREE IMPORTANT PRINCIPLES to remember when you find yourself trying to negotiate conflict:

1. The first story you hear is almost never completely right.

I find this to be true so often. Someone will come to me with a story about another person, and when I talk to the other person, I hear a completely different tale. Usually, you need to talk to both parties several times, and ultimately bring them both together in order to get close to the truth. (I’m not saying the truth always lies in the middle, but it is often somewhere in-between)

The one who states his case first seems right,
until the other comes and examines him.

2. Don’t be beholden to the one who comes “bearing gifts.”

Often those who NEED to convince you they are right will “sweeten the deal” by bearing gifts. These gifts may not be tangible, but may come in the form of flattery. Not too long ago, I was in a meeting with a person who has typically not been my biggest fan. However, in this context he realized that he could benefit from my support; and surprisingly, he began to extol my many virtues in ways I’ve never heard before. While it feels good to receive gifts (and we need to avoid being overly cynical), we should also be careful of having our judgment swayed because of gifts we’ve been given. Proverbs says:

A man who flatters his neighbor
spreads a net for his feet.

3. Beware of the one who quickly slanders others.

Ziba sought to gain David’s favor by tearing down Mephibosheth. In any conflict, it is very easy to be distracted by “ad hominem” attacks rather than dealing with the actual issues. It is easier to simply say bad things about another person and call their character into question, rather than try to determine the truth behind specific events that have happened.

A few years ago a group of people in our church became very irate with some of my co-workers. I spent hundreds of hours sitting down with many of them to try to resolve the conflict. In the end, though, it was fruitless because we could never consistently identify exactly what was causing the problem. Sadly, all I ever heard was attacks against the character of other people.

Someone who tries to win an argument by slandering, likely doesn’t truly have a case to make. Proverbs says:

He who conceals hatred has lying lips,
And he who spreads slander is a fool.

Hopefully, you’ll not often be in a situation like this. Hopefully, you’ll spend much of your life in the midst of healthy relationships and people who love one another. However, if you do find yourself caught between two friends…

Remember David, Ziba, and Mephibosheth.

All the Posts in This Series:
5 Ways to Let Go of a Grudge
5 Questions to Help Evaluate Yourself
6 Roadblocks That Shut Down Communication
Squashing Rumors
Squashing Rumors 2

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Resolving Conflict: 5 Ways to Let Go of a Grudge

Holding a grudge can destroy a person.

But letting go of a grudge can seem impossible.

In 2 Samuel 1, David learns that Saul has died in battle. This was the man who drove David away from his best friend, who tried to kill him on several occasions, whose mad pursuit forced David to live in the wilderness for years. However, upon learning of Saul’s death, David pens a tribute song extolling the greatness of the former king.

In 2 Samuel 3, a war is raging between the house of David and the house of Saul. Abner, the general for Saul’s son realizes that the war is going to be won by David and so he decides to throw his loyalty behind David. However, rather than follow the example set by David (regarding Saul), David’s general, Joab, is unwilling to release his grudge against Abner (in the course of battle, Abner had killed Joab’s brother). He lures him into a meeting where he kills him. Within this story, we see Joab do some things that might remind us of ourselves:
  • He thinks the worst, and therefore reaches a wrong conclusion about Abner (vs.25)
  • In an effort to justify himself, he slanders and misrepresents Abner to David (vs.25)
  • He plots and carries out violence against Abner (vs.27)
  • In the process of destroying Abner, he rallies the support of others thereby including them in his sin (vs.30)
To understand the full impact of this story, we must remind ourselves that Saul had wronged David far more profoundly than Abner had wronged Joab. Yet David was able to release his hatred of Saul so effectively that he was capable of honoring his former enemy.

What principles can we glean from David’s handling of a grudge?:
  • Always hope for the best. David continued to hope and believe the best about Saul right til the end. The best way to feed a grudge is to remind yourself how you’ve been wronged. The best way to starve a grudge is to tell yourself the good things another person has done. 1 Corinthians 13 says, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” If we want to release a grudge we must be willing to believe the best and to hope for the best.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions. One of the most common reasons feuds between people grow out of control is that people reach wrong conclusions about one another. It is very easy to conclude that once someone has wronged you, they are going to continue to do so. Therefore, people often find themselves assuming wrong motivations in others regardless of what the truth may be. If we granted others the same amount of grace we give ourselves, we would rarely arrive at wrong conclusions about them.
  • Don’t build your case to others. The harder you work to convince your friends that someone is evil, the more likely it is that you will have to slander and assault their character in ways that go beyond what is right and appropriate. Through everything Saul did, David continued to refer to him as the “Lord’s anointed.” He refused to build a case against Saul, even to his closest friends. Once you have built a case against someone, you will have a very difficult time dropping that grudge.
  • Be slow to act. Very little good comes out of acting hastily, especially when you are responding to hurt or insult. Breathe. Pray. Count. Do whatever you need to do in order to slow down the flesh and empower the Spirit. James said we should be SLOW TO ANGER. Once you act quickly on a grudge, you have irrevocably changed a relationship that may not have needed the change. Take your time.
  • If you must, suffer silently. David retreated into the wilderness rather than fighting Saul. Jesus offered up no defense in his trial. When you choose to suffer silently, you are in good company. And if you are willing to embrace Christ in the depth of your hurt, He will provide you with all you need so that you can release the anger and hatred that drags you down.
A grudge is hatred percolating.

You can destroy it, or it will destroy you.

All the Posts in This Series:
3 Steps to Being a Peacemaker
5 Questions to Help Evaluate Yourself
6 Roadblocks That Shut Down Communication
Squashing Rumors
Squashing Rumors 2

Understanding Spiritual Formation Conclusion: More You and Less of Me

One of my favorite bands is a group of guys I met at a musical festival several years ago. They gave me one of their CDs out of the back of their trailer as they rolled out of time. I probably play that CD more than any other CD I own. I don’t even know if they’re still together, but Telecast’s song “More of You” is always a powerful reminder to me of the secret of life. The words of the chorus are simple:
More of You and less of me
Jesus come and be a light in me
Burn like the sun for the world to see
Be glorified

This is the secret of the fruitful life. The more Jesus shines through us, the more He will be glorified. The more Jesus is glorified, the more fruitful our lives will be.

Every time I hear this song, I think of a story about Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist. Many of John’s followers were leaving him to follow Jesus and some felt that maybe John should do something to keep his followers with him. John responded by reminding the people that he had only come to point the way to Jesus. He said, “He must become greater; I must become less.”

Disciplining ourselves spiritually is necessary if we are going to allow our lives to be a channel for more of Jesus and less of us. Spiritual disciplines are regular activities which help us refocus our eyes on Christ and help enable the formative work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Virtually any activity (that isn’t inherently sinful) can serve as a spiritual discipline, if it is done to assist you in the process of focusing more on Jesus and less on yourself. As you consider how you can engage in spiritual disciplines, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, consider beginning with some of the disciplines which have been exercised throughout the history of the church.

One category of spiritual disciplines is disciplines for provision. These are additions to your lifestyle in order to promote more of Jesus in your life. Following are a few disciplines of provision:
  • Disciplines of Scripture. God’s Word is to be a light to our path. It should illuminate the direction of our life. Adding Scripture to our daily routine is a powerful way to provide more of Jesus in our life. Ideas for engaging the Bible include reading, studying, meditating, memorizing, or even listening on CD or MP3. Whichever method or methods you choose, the key is consistency.
  • Disciplines of Prayer. We never pray enough. Paul encouraged the early Christians to pray continuously. We always have room to pray more. Remembering the purpose of these disciplines is to bring more of Jesus into our lives, we should design our times of prayer to be more focused on Jesus’ agenda than on our own desires and requests.
  • Disciplines of Service. When Jesus wanted to demonstrate to his disciples how to truly love one another, he washed their feet. He found a very practical need they had, a need most people wouldn’t have been willing to address; and he took action to meet the need. All around you are people with significant needs just waiting to be met. Being more like Jesus means learning to see others with Jesus’ eyes. Setting aside time on a daily basis to look for and meet other’s needs is a powerful way to have more of Jesus in your life.
A second category of disciplines is disciplines of denial. The first categories of disciplines addressed the need to have more of Jesus. These disciplines are designed to help you have less of yourself.
  • Disciplines of Abstinence. The most common type of abstinence for Christians is fasting. Often we equate fasting with going hungry. Certainly, the majority of contexts for fasting are food related. Even hospitals use the term “fast” when they tell you not to eat before a procedure. However, abstaining for a Christian can entail much more than just food. Giving up something of value causes an emptiness and a longing. Sometimes the emptiness is momentary, other times it may be on-going. During these times when we are most acutely aware of the thing we have given up, we are reminded to turn our attention to God, remembering that He desires to have complete control over our lives and that He can fill the emptiness in our lives. Sometimes denying ourselves the pleasures of life can be a powerful reminder of our need for God.
  • Disciplines of Silence. Some very devout Christians have taken long term vows of silence as a sign of their devotion to Christ. While their self-denial is certainly admirable, nowhere in the Bible are their suggestions we should never talk. However, I once saw on the side of a Starbucks cup the words, “It is impossible to listen while your mouth is open to talk”. Sometimes less of us means fewer words and more listening. Setting aside a time to simply be quiet and listen for God can be a great time of spiritual growth. These times can be five minutes or five hours, depending on who you are and what your life options provide.
  • Disciplines of Sacrifice. Giving away something you love or need is never easy. However, when someone is willing to give away something they love or need for your sake, you are usually moved by their care for you. When we are willing to regularly give our things away so we can make ourselves less, we are opening ourselves to be filled by God. Sacrifice can be financial, material, and emotional. Sacrifice may even be the giving away of our time or our energy.
The fruitful life belongs to those who hear and understand Jesus’ teaching. Jesus taught that those who truly desire to follow him must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow.

Spiritual disciplines provide the opportunity to do just that, to make yourself less so that Jesus can be made more in your life. Remember, don’t discipline yourself for the sake of discipline. Such activity is meaningless repetition. Discover one, two, or three of the disciplines above and go for it with all your energy. Make a new habit which will help you be the new creation!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Understanding Spiritual Formation 7: A Parable About Disciplines

Steve, Barry, and Ann had been friends since grade school. Their relationship was uniquely close even though they were all intensely competitive. So, when Ann suggested they all enter an upcoming 5K race together, it wasn’t long until the competitive juices kicked in and they began talking regularly about which of the three would be fastest or even win the race.

Ann and Steve immediately began intensive training. They signed up with a personal trainer who helped them set up a daily regiment of exercise and running to prepare them for the race. Ann followed the trainer’s directions every day. As a result she could sense her preparedness growing as the race day approached. Steve worked even harder than Ann. He also followed the trainer’s directions, but inspired by how his workout made him feel, he went above and beyond the suggested exercise. His hard work evidenced itself as he lost weight, became more fit, and greatly increased the time he could run on the treadmill.

Barry took different approach. He had been an all-state wide receiver in high school, so he knew he was fast. He remembered the difficult training camps he had endured in high school football, and didn’t really want to return to that level of physical exertion. Instead, Barry spent hours on the internet, researching strategies for running a 5K race. Over time, he assembled an impressive collection of helpful hints for running such a race. The night before the race, he reviewed his notes thoroughly and went to bed early, feeling well-prepared to defeat his two friends.

As she approached the second kilometer mark, Ann overtook Barry. He had built a commanding lead in the first kilometer because most of the “experts” he consulted said it was important to get out in front early. Barry had successfully avoided getting hung up in the crowd at the start. When Ann blew by him less than half way through the race, though, he wondered if he had made a tactical error. By the third kilometer mark, Barry knew he wasn’t going to finish the race. One hundred yards later, he pulled off the road and began looking for bushes into which he needed to
deposit his breakfast. He was done.

After Ann finished the race, winning her age division, she cooled down and began looking for her friends. She found a white-faced Barry sitting in his car, but Steve was nowhere to be found. “I assumed he was with you”, she told Barry.

“Nope. I haven’t seen him all morning” he gasped.

Ann grabbed her cell-phone and called Steve. “Hey, we can’t find you anywhere? How did you finish?”

“Well, actually, I decided to just go to the gym this morning. I’ve been enjoying my workouts so much I thought I’d just come and work up a great sweat, instead of running the race.”

Ridiculous? Maybe. Three different people took threedifferent approaches, but only one finished the race.

Consider for a moment the methods you employ to open your life to the work of the Holy Spirit. Do you intentionally engage in activities to help you be more open to the work of the Holy Spirit in your life? What is your plan for allowing the Holy Spirit to make you look more like Jesus? Most people take one of three different approaches concerning their spiritual development.

Some people, like Barry, spend a lot of time thinking about spiritual things or maybe relying on the things they learned when they were children. They don’t really do anything specifically, though, to develop themselves. When life’s problems or distractions come along, like Barry, they wipe out.
Some people, like Steve, engage in a massive amount of activity for spiritual growth. They spend amazing amounts of time reading the Bible, listening to sermons, and attending Bible studies. However, all their work never really leads to anything. They simply develop massive spiritual
muscles, but never use thee muscles to impact the world around them.

The third approach is Anne’s approach. The best way to allow the Holy Spirit to mold you to the image of Christ is to regularly spend time disciplining yourself so that when you have the opportunity to represent Jesus in the world, you’ll be ready.

Spiritual disciplines are regular activities which help us refocus our eyes on Christ and help enable the formative work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Bible reading and study, Scripture memorization, prayer, giving, serving, meditation, and many other activities can be effective spiritual disciplines. Like any exercise program, they are only effective if they are regularly repeated and if they become habitual over time. However, as Steve discovered, sometimes these types of activities can become an end to themselves. We must always remember that we engage in disciplines so that we will be more like Jesus, so that we can present Jesus to the world!

Whatever disciplines you determine to develop in your life, the most important step is to start. If you never take the first step, you’ll never develop the habit.

Ann won the race because she committed herself to training, and because she never lost sight of the purpose for her training. You can open yourself to the work of the Holy Spirit in your life if you are willing to commit to disciplining yourself, and if you’ll regularly remind yourself of the
purpose for your disciplines.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Understanding Spiritual Formation 6: Introduction to Spiritual Disciplines

Spiritual disciplines are important. However, before i talk about them, let me say:
the Christian life is not to be lived in solitude. it is to be lived in community. therefore, any individual activity must find its significance within the community, not simply as a "boost" for someone's "personal walk".
Dallas Willard says about spiritual disciplines,
"What is a discipline? A discipline is an activity within our power, something we can do, which brings us to a point where we can do what we at present cannot do by direct effort. Discipline is in fact a natural part of the structure of the human soul, and almost nothing of any significance in education, culture, or other attainments is achieved without it."
In other words, disciplines are like the drills we do at soccer practice. They aren't the actual game, but they help us play better when we get in the game. If we want to live appropriately, we need to discipline ourselves ahead of time.

There are many approaches to spiritual discipline. Some of the leading authors in the field are Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Donald Whitney, and Mel Lawrenz. The following is my approach.

Through living in community, we become aware of our areas for growth because our brothers and sisters lovingly point them out to us. Aware that we cannot simply change those things, we must engage the formative work of the Spirit to bring growth. In order to open ourselves to the work of the Spirit, we undertake disciplines related to the area in which we aspire to grow.

Foster identifies the following disciplines:
  • meditation
  • prayer
  • fasting
  • study
  • simplicity
  • solitude
  • submission
  • service
  • confession
  • worship
  • guidance
  • celebration
Willard would identify among others, the following key disciplines:
  • solitude and silence
  • fasting
  • scripture meditation
I would add:
  • service and sacrifice to the community
  • witness to the world.
If you are looking for a starter project for engaging in these disciplines with a community, check out "A Spiritual Formation Workbook". It will guide you through eight weeks of meeting together and help you create habits for your community that can last a lifetime.

Understanding Spiritual Formation 5: The Discipline of Community (continued)

As I continue with the theme of community as a spiritual discipline, here are some more thoughts to unpack this idea.

Bonhoeffer writes:
"one who wants more than what Christ has established does not want Christian brotherhood. He is looking for some extraordinary social experience which he has not found elsewherel he is bringing muddled and impure desires into Christian brotherhood. Just at this point Christian brotherhood i threatened most often at the very start by the greatest danger of being poisoned at its root, the danger of confusing Christian brotherhood with some wishful idea of religious fellowship."
Community is more than touchy-feely togetherness, or a group of Christian men sitting at a pub discussing theology, or a group of young mom's crying together.

Community at its heart must be interested in seeing its members formed by the Spirit through each other. This will take the form of mentoring sometimes, and sometimes it will just be people speaking truth in love to one another. Again, Bonhoeffer writes, "God has put this Word into the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men...Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God's Word to him." We need each other if we are to be formed.

Emma's former gym was a great picture of this. Her coach had over 30 years experience. Over the years, many of his former gymnasts came back to the gym to be teachers and coaches. On any given night, he could be seen working with a group of team girls while all around the gym his former students (of many different ages) are working with other girls (and boys), teaching them the the basics of gymnastics. His methodology touched many more girls than he ever could, because he indoctrinated his students with a love of gymnastics that they wanted to pass on.

As we live in community with one another, we should be indoctrinating each other with a love for Jesus that needs to be passed on. This is true community!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Understanding Spiritual Formation 4: The Discipline of Community

Just before Jesus left his disciples, he promised that he would send another “counselor” to take his place. The Spirit he was sending was the same Spirit that had been in Him, the samd Spirit that had been enabling his earthly ministry.

The Spirit would indwell Jesus’ followers, and continue his ministry in their lives, forming them to be like Jesus. Everyone who takes up the call to follow Jesus receives the Spirit. If you follow Jesus, you have the Spirit.

Jesus’ Spirit is in you…forming you to be like Him. You need to open yourself to the formative work of the Spirit. Praying, meditating, reading the Bible, memorization, fasting, contemplation, and many other methods can open you to the Spirit. He works through all these activities to make you more like Christ.

But Jesus was/is most interested in seeing the Spirit form you through your relationships with others. Before he promised the Spirit, Jesus commanded his disciples to “Love one another.”

This was a new command to them. They picked it up and ran with it. It became the foundational teaching of the church in its earliest days. When the apostles wrote letters to other churches, they often included ideas on how to love one another. They wrote “be devoted to one another” , “serve one another” , “accept one another” , “build one another up” and many, many more.

Loving one another is the conduit for the Holy Spirit’s formative work in our life.

After Jesus promised the coming of the Spirit, he prayed for everyone who would ever believe his message (that means that if you believe in him, he was praying for you). His prayer was very simple.

He prayed that we would be unified.

When the people of God are united to each other in love, the Holy Spirit can perform his formative work in a powerful and effective way. It’s really kind of simple. The Holy Spirit makes us look like Christ by using those around us to influence us in positive ways.

This is “Community”.

It’s a collection of people sharing their lives with one another for the glory of God.

God is glorified when we look like him.
We look like him when we look like Jesus.
We look like Jesus when the Spirit forms us.
The Spirit forms us when we place ourselves into community.

God’s new creation is a community.

And it is very, very good.

Understanding Spiritual Formation 3: Celebration as a Spiritual Discipline

S.D.Gaede writes in Belonging, "The Christian community derives its being from the fact that certain things are true. If they are not true, we have no reason for community."

We gather weekly to celebrate those truths. A list of the truths we celebrate when we gather might include: grace, redemption, creation, re-creation, etc...

In our celebrations we should be spiritually formed, because we leave as different people then when we arrived. We may be more convinced of those truths, we may be questioning the application of the truths, we may be anticipating our next gathering, we may feel more connected to the truths, we may have a greater sense of identification with the community because of the truths...

What should these kinds of truth-oriented celebrations look like? In no particular order, I would suggest:
  • They should be triumphant -- The greatest truth of all is that good has/will triumph over evil. In the Matrix trilogy, the scene of celebration at Zion gives us a feel for anticipatory triumph. Our celebrations should awaken in us a moving sense of the transcendence of God, and of our anticipation of His ultimate victory.
  • They should be meaningful -- The truths which bind us together should be proclaimed in a relevant way so that our celebration is informed. Some churches are so taken with the celebration itself that it has become disconnected from any meaning... this almost feels like idolatry.
  • They should be participatory -- We are all celebrating, we are all the community. I think of a pep rally for my MSU Spartans. Even though we may all be sitting in rows, we will be extraordinarily participatory. Why don't our celebrations look like pep rallys?
  • They should be reflective -- The truths we celebrate have particular meaning for us. We should constantly be weaving our story into the fabric of the communities truths. This requires honest reflection. We do a great disservice to ourselves when we celebrate without reflection.
So there you have it. Celebration as formative activity. I'd love some feedback, this is still a little heuristic.

Understanding Spiritual Formation 2: The Image of God

The term "spiritual formation" is not always understood. This is the second in a series of posts seeking to explain what I mean when I talk about "spiritual formation".

The concept "image of God" has had many different interpretations over the centuries. Some great, some horrific. I have at least two interpretations of that phrase which resonate with me.

The first is that humanity was created to be God's representatives to creation. God's command to be the caretakers of the earth is a part of being image of God. We were created to be the co-regents of God. In the fall (Genesis 3), we see Eve allowing the serpent to misrepresent God; then with her response she also misrepresents Him. This activity is the first time we see a person acting out of concert with their identity as image bearers.

The second is that the image of God consisted of both Adam and Eve. The genders are an equality with a distinction (similar to the Trinity). Again at the fall, it appears that both Adam and Eve acted selfishly instead of lovingly toward each other. The result was that the intimacy of Genesis 2 was lost, and their relationship became adversarial (God pointed that out to them in Genesis 3), and again the image of God was placed on the back burner as the image of man was elevated.

John 1 says that no one has seen God (implying then that it is impossible to know what he looks like unless it is revealed), thus no one can correctly image him. BUT, Jesus (the One and Only) has made him known to us.

Jesus incarnate is the perfect representation of God the Father.

The incarnation happened through the Holy, the same Spirit that formed Jesus in the womb of Mary, is the same Spirit that now forms us as we are "in Christ".

Christ represented the Father perfectly. He did this through the empowerment of the Spirit.

Therefore, when we look like Christ, we image God.

The Spirit empowers us to look like Christ, because the Spirit speaks for Christ and represents Christ and is a counselor like Christ (John 14-16)

Spiritual Formation, then, happens when we open ourselves to the formative work of the Spirit. My thoughts later on how we do that.

For now, though:

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Understanding Spiritual Formation 1: The Work of the Trinity

The term "spiritual formation" is not always understood. This is the first in a series of posts seeking to explain what I mean when I talk about "spiritual formation".

For me, the jumping off point of any discussion of spiritual formation begins with creation.

According to Genesis 1, God spoke everything into being. According to John 1, God the Son was there. According to Colossians 1, God the Son was the actor in creation. Genesis 1:2 tells us that the Holy Spirit was hovering over creation.

God the Father spoke
God the Son acted
God the Spirit enabled

Jesus' baptism provides a similar picture. The Father speaks, the Son acts, and the Spirit is again hovering. John 3 tells us that the Son only speaks the words of the Father, because the Father has given him the Spirit without limit.

God the Father spoke
God the Son acted
God the Spirit enabled

The new creation (us) is not different. You can use whichever theological words you like (calling, election, predestination, adoption, etc...), the Father initiates the new creation. The Son does the redemptive work. The Spirit (sanctifies) brings it to completion.

God the Father spoke
God the Son acted
God the Spirit enables.

God the Spirit enables us to be the new creation.

Thus Spiritual Formation is the activity of the Spirit as He forms us into the image of Jesus Christ who is the perfect representation of God.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Spiritual Formation: Your Body as a Living Sacrifice

In his commentary on Romans, Leon Morris writes:
"Does any other religion put such an emphasis on the body? The Christian view of the body as sacred and as the servant of the soul is unique among religions of the world, Judaism excepted. Certainly the Greeks of the first century stressed the importance of the soul and regarded the body lightly. We see something of the same attitude in modern times when the excuse is offered for someone who has sinned with his body: 'But his heart is in the right place!'"
So it isn't "the thought that counts"? Nope. Your actions matter. What you do with your body "counts".

The body is the concrete manifestation of our lives. It is our instrument for righteousness. Is it any wonder then, that the world's strongest attacks on our "Christianly thinking" (see 1 John 2:15-17) happens in the realm of our body use?

Chrysostom said:
"How is the body to become a sacrifice? Let the eye look on no evil thing, and it has already become a sacrifice. Let the tongue say nothing filthy, and it has become an offering. Let your hand do nothing evil, and it has become a whole burnt offering. But even this is not enough, for we must have good works also. The hand must do alms, the mouth must bless those who curse it, and the ears must find time to listen to the reading of Scriptures. Sacrifice allows of no unclean thing. It is the first fruits of all other actions”
In the forward of "A Spiritual Formation Workbook"is the following paragraph:
"I like the nurturing character. The rule for our weekly gatherings is a good one: give encouragement as often as possible; advice, once in a great while; reproof, only when absolutely necessary; and judgment never."
What a great rule for a community. It requires everyone to sacrifice themselves for the good of others. Sounds like a poster that will soon find the wall in my office. I envision it saying:

Encourage Always
Advise When Asked
Correct When Necessary
Judge Never

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Manipulation is Not Leadership.

Proverbs says alot about flattery. One of my favorite proverbs reminds us that the wounds of a friend are preferable to the kisses of an enemy. Often people who don’t really have your best interest in mind will use flattery to manipulate you. I get frustrated with myself when I slip into manipulation by flattery mode.

But flattery isn’t the only way we manipulate people. Some people are master manipulators. They spend their time evaluating a person, figure out that person’s “buttons”, and then press all the right ones to get what they desire from that person. Some people are “passive-aggressive” manipulators; they’ll bully a person by withdrawing and being silent.

Is there anything wrong with manipulation?

Many leadership “gurus” talk about the concept of “influence”, as being one of, if not the core competencies of leaders.

One author says “leadership is influence - nothing more, nothing less”.

I read another book recently that said, “to lead others, an individual or group must be able to sway people to follow a proposed direction.”

The same book tells the story of a pastor who believes God has given him a vision to buy a vacant lot next to his church in order to create a parking lot (check the end of this post to see why this in itself is problematic). In order to accomplish this “vision”, he takes each of his church’s deacons out to eat individually. He has them meet him at the church so he can drive, and with each deacon, as they arrive back at the church he subtly points to the vacant lot and says, “Do you think God would ever allow us to buy that property?”

Over time, the deacons begin to talk about the property, and eventually decide to buy it, believing they have come to a Spirit led decision because they all had it on their mind.

So I wonder… is this Leadership? or is this manipulation?

Here’s why I think manipulation is wrong. Manipulation is me making an effort to do something in someone else that I believe the Spirit has done in me, but won’t do in them.

When I choose to manipulate someone, I’m choosing to use deceit and subversion rather than straightforward honesty and authenticity. Which approach do you think the Holy Spirit is more likely to work through?

Manipulation in church often stems from the idea that
God gives a vision to one person, not a group.

I’ve heard many of the young, hip, evangelical church leaders make this argument.
I’ve read it in the aforementioned books. It goes like this:

“God reveals his vision to one person. It has been my observation from the Bible and in personal ministry that teams do not develop vision.”


“In the Bible, God never gave the vision to a committee.”

The result of this kind of thinking is leaders who believe that once God has given them a vision it is up to them to convince everyone else (by hook or crook) of the rightness of their vision. The implication of this theory is that the Holy Spirit cannot work through anyone other than “the leader”. So much for the priesthood of the believer.

note this comment from one of the above sources:
“If you’re not the senior pastor, you have to trust that he’s hearing from God.”

The biggest problem with this idea is that it is just flat wrong. The greatest vision God ever gave to men was given to a group, not an individual. That vision statement looked a little like this:
"It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
Which brings me back to my starting point… Manipulation.

There is a very fine line between true leadership through influence and deceitful leadership through subversive manipulation.

I speak of the church, because that is my life; but these principles are true everywhere: marriage, friendship, occupation, parenting, etc.

Anytime we use manipulation to influence people, we’ve asserted that the Holy Spirit cannot work through simple honesty and straightforwardness… and that is not a great place to be.

I’m not trying to throw stones here, I’m just sayin’