Archives For Spirituality

June 4, 2013

You’ve heard the story before: a person set out to do something big for Jesus, comes to the height of fame, and then crumbles under the exposure of his or her private sin. Although it is continually happening, it’s not a new problem. It’s an ancient problem.

David does something very private with Bathsheba (a married woman), impregnates her, and seeks to cover it up to the point of murdering her husband. And just when David thinks he is getting away with it, here comes Nathan to put him in his place with a rebuke from the Lord:

Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel (2 Samuel 12:11-12).

David at the height of his power comes crumbling down because of a private sin. The man after God’s own heart will now be publicly humiliated before the entire nation.

And yet I wonder why many of us have it backwards: we continue to believe our private lives should come second to the glory of being in the limelight “for God.” We believe that God should bless me financially, give me a new job, multiply my family, give me greater opportunity, and yet our private lives are a mess. Our finances are out of order. We don’t take care of our kids. We aren’t content with our current job. We think we need a bigger house.

We think the small, private things don’t matter, but they do to God.

Perhaps this is why Jesus emphasized the private aspect of prayer:

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6:6).

God desires for us to have fruitful, private lives before we can handle fruitful, public lives. God desires us to be faithful with the small, private matters before he will bless us with large, public ones.

Your private life does matter. Maybe more than you even think.

May 23, 2013

Metatation: to meditate on meditation

“May my meditation be pleasing…” – Psalm 104

I. Meditation is not a means to an end, it is the substance of worship.

II. Meditation does not produce worship, it is an act of worship itself.

III. Meditation is not to please myself, it is to please God.

IV. Meditation is the renewing of one’s mind.

V. Meditation is the breaking down of the patterns of the mind and the transformation of godly thought.

VI. Meditation, if it produces no works, is dead like a faith without works.

VII. Meditation is an act of radical selflessness, to give God control.

VIII. Meditation should be a form of examination; it should not necessarily be comfortable.

IX. Meditation may not always be comfortable, but it is hopeful, and thus joyful.

X. Meditation, in its joyful examination and renewal, is an acting out of our spiritual lives before God.

I think I would also add:

XI. The more I meditate on meditation the more I realize I am totally and completely inept at it.

Please add your own maxim or anecdote on meditation!

May 9, 2013

“Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance  and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth.” – Acts 10

“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” – John in Revelation 1

 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” – Paul in Galatians 1

“The question for Evangelicals today is just this: Will God’s Word be enough?” – Tim Challies, in “The Boundaries of Evangelicalism

Peter, John and Paul. Together, tradition holds that they wrote 20 out of 27 books in the Protestant New Testament, which is basically three quarters of all Christian Scriptures. These three also happened to openly participate in and accept mystical practices (visions, contemporary revelation from God, tongues, etc.) within Christian faith and practice. Yet, for reason that is astounding to the point of being blatantly and categorically illogical, Christians throughout the centuries, particularly Protestants of an Evangelical vein, have seen mystical experience within Christianity to be profoundly disturbing. Hence, you have someone like Tim Challies saying point blank that any experience of mysticism within an Evangelicals spiritual life is anathema, or outside the boundaries of orthodox, regular and recognized practice:

“Mysticism was once regarded as an alternative to Evangelical Christianity. You were Evangelical or you were a mystic, you heeded the doctrine of the Reformation and understood it to faithfully describe the doctrine laid out in Scripture or you heeded the doctrine of mysticism. Today, though, mysticism has wormed its way inside Evangelicalism so that the two have become integrated and almost inseparable. In an age of syncretism we fail to spot the contradiction and opposition.”

So, here we have a pretentious, albeit well-meaning pastor who thinks that if anyone has an experience with God that equates to an experience that the majority of New Testament author’s have had then it is in direct conflict with the writings of said authors? That, my friends, is ludicrous.

For all the Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide doctrine Challies and other anti-mysticism teachers want to throw about, it doesn’t get any more clear cut than the actual, primary sources: the Scriptures and the authors themselves. Ironically, people like Challies are more concerned with holding up a narrow and suffocating version of Reformation theology than to actually let the definitions of terms like Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide be allowed to point toward clearly allowable and natural expressions of Christian faith and practice that are defined and practiced by the authors of these very Scriptures.

Quoting New Testament scholar Donald Whitney, Challies puts up two ways that mysticism goes against Reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura:

  1. A Christian seeks an experience with God in a way not found in Scripture.
  2. A Christian is seeking to experience God in a way not inaugurated, guided, or interpreted by Scripture.

If 75% of the New Testament was written by people who practiced Christian mysticism in some form, how does it not follow that things like seeking direct revelation from God through prayer or other spiritual disciplines is not clearly found and inaugurated in Scripture by the very authors themselves?

Furthermore, maybe sensing that this appeal to Sola Scriptura is one of the flimsiest and most ridiculous prescriptions of doctrine, Challies says that the Reformation doctrine of Sola Fide necessitates that Evangelicals not learn spiritual disciplines that are mystical in nature because “There are few mystics who hold to a robust doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone.” In other words, those people are just too Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and non-Evangelical that the very thought of learning from them should make us squirm and shake in our boots. Seriously, run, hide, and bury your head in Evangelical books devoid of any allusion, illustration or quotation from a non-Evangelical author is the antidote to mysticism that Challies gives. If you take this logic to its natural end, you would then have to trace this back to those mystical authors of Scripture themselves, and, in cutting out 75% of the New Testament books, do a hatchet job to the Protestant canon that even Martin Luther, in his vigor over Sola Fide, would have never dreamed of!

Simply put, in the words of Ed Cyzewski:

“I frankly don’t care that this blogger thinks I’m a meditating heretic who will one day teach his sleeping son the disciplines of silence before God, Lectio Divina, and waiting on the Holy Spirit. I just hope that others won’t let his condemnation keep them from experiencing God….It is possible to study the scriptures diligently in search of life and to still miss out on the one who gives life.”

What I do care about though is the close-minded view of influential pastors like Challies who will disregard the very authors of our Scriptures if necessary in order to hold on to their narrow theological positions. That is not a good way to lead, to say the least. If the Word of God really is enough for Challies, he wouldn’t have to supersede the words written plainly by John, Peter and Paul with his distorted views of what being an Evangelical means.

 

May 7, 2013

I hate dying to self. I am a fairly extroverted person, and a constant learner, which means that my go to conversation is an unending chain of facts interlinked together. Want to move a conversation from the Florida everglades to Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations to the history of Protestant denominations and I probably could link them all together. It’s what I enjoy. But the propensity for me to insert myself into conversations, while I often do it unintentionally, can smack of hubris. So, I have been learning to die to self, which for me often means not talking about something I’ve done or experienced and just letting the conversation keep going without my interjections.

Just yesterday my wife and I helped lead communion at our new church for the first time. The person who helps run the communion team was kind enough to pull us over for a quick training on what to do when serving communion. Everything was great, yet I felt this nudge to interject.

“This is great. You know, I was the facilitator of communion at our old church for four years. I wrote an original prayer and presided over the elements each week. I know what I’m doing. I….”

Something made me hold my tongue, and I’m glad I did, because truthfully, that doesn’t really matter now. We’re part of a new community, and we’re learning how this community does things, so I had to be honest with myself and consider that relating how awesome I am at communion would not serve any purpose other than a subtle acknowledgement of how good I am at this, to a kind person who is instructing me. Dying to self, and humbling submitting to someone’s helpful words, was what I needed to do, no matter how much prior experience I thought I had. And letting someone cheerfully explain to me all the details of communion in this community easily took the place of what little gain it would have brought me to talk about myself.

We all have areas in our life that we may be blind to that we need to open our eyes up to and die to self, joyfully. There are hard and fast stipulations about what kinds of character flaws we need to eliminate from our lives, but what makes dying to self so hard is that we need to reflect on our own lives to see where pride, contempt, anger, malice, deceit and the like thrive in our own lives, because pride pops up in your life differently than it does in mine.

Pushing further, a big part of growing in self-control, I have found, is identifying the areas where you don’t see a need to die to self, but others do. When I talk about what I have done or my past experiences, I really don’t intend to show off or broadcast how awesome I think I am. I just love how stories connect and intersect―but the way I say it sometimes, and how often I may share, can appear like pride to others. So even thought I don’t feel like I am being prideful, I need to continue to grow in self-control to stomp out the ways that I am appearing prideful before other people. If we begin to exercise the gifts that God has given us, the joy of dying to self will far outweigh the fringe benefits we can receive by going our own way and refusing to die to self when it is not convenient.

What areas of your life do you need to die to self in, even if you don’t feel the spiritual need to do so?

May 1, 2013

I recently decided to get back into running, so I borrowed the book Born to Run from a coworker’s bookshelf. The book offers a fascinating and winding journey through marginalized human cultures that still value long distance running, the rapid expansion of ultramarathon races throughout the US, the barefoot running craze and the building consensus of sciences that says running doesn’t hurt you, but running in high-tech Nike running shoes does. What ties all of this together is the author’s profoundly simple thesis: humans were born to run.

While that seems simple enough on the surface, Christopher McDougall’s thesis cuts right at the heart of Western culture. What this negates is running to get faster, running to get stronger, running to supplement weight loss, running to get a beach body or running to impress. It means that us humans are simply born with the innate desire to run, and if we amend or distort running to fit some other need, we lose running’s chief benefit: to enjoy running.

And that is what separates all the people out slogging, pushing themselves, and getting injured in a desire to be fit or lose weight from those lunatic runners featured on Runner’s World magazine who are just smiling with sheer enjoyment. I used to think those were just models. Now, after reading Born to Run, I realized those are what real runners are, they enjoy running, and anything else that comes along with running is icing on the cake. And as I take up running again, I am doing it with no other reason but joy: I have no weight loss or minutes per mile goals. I just want to have fun and get outside, to enjoy running for what it is.

All of this running talk hits at two of St. Paul’s most oft-quoted passages. When St. Paul writes “consider it all joy brothers and sisters” and “run the race,” what does that mean for our church today, especially for those of us who don’t always enjoy small groups, church meetings sucking all our free time away or the burdens church leaders sometimes place on us to carry? I know, I’ve been there: six months in you’re enjoying being a small group leader, going to church meetings every week, volunteering at every service. Then around nine months you hit a wall and say, I’m tired, this is no fun and I need a serious break. But breaks don’t happen in church life, so someone just gives you some “encouragement” and you keep on pushing until you simply throw in the towel.

As much as this is a symptom of the 20/80 dilemma that plagues so many churches (20% of the church members do 80% of the work), I think the root of these symptoms run deeper. The first thing we teach new disciples is doctrine, beliefs and practices. Then we move into spiritual and communal disciplines. Then we teach leadership and how to mentor and how to multiply small groups. We never start with how to enjoy being a Christian. How on earth anyone can make it through the rigorous (and absolutely vital) tracks many churches now have set up to disciple their congregations if the whole process becomes a burdensome and draining experience for the discipled, their friends and their families? If we don’t start with how to enjoy being a Christian the whole discipleship experience becomes unmoored, plagued by incorrect measurements of growth and fixated on churning out disciples capable of leadership without any measurement of how this ultimately affects the core of their spiritual health and the health of their spiritual relationships with fellow faith community members, friends, spouses and children.

Thankfully, there is a mode of discipleship that starts correctly, with enjoyment. The first tenet of the Shorter Westminster Catechism says this:

“What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”

I am thankful that so much has changed in terms of discipleship. Even for someone in their twenties―having grown up in the church and being part of many church contexts―the American church, as a whole, is doing a far better job of making disciples than they did before. We have the glorify God thing down pretty pat. But what is really missing is training in enjoyment and delight. We need to not only build disciples, we need to build disciples who enjoy what they are doing within the church and the world. If we can do both, we will unleash upon the world a force of humanity that fulfills the Great Commission and does it with gladness and a great joy, and that is a powerful force indeed.

March 19, 2013

One of the most pervasive grassroots movements of recent years has been the Slow Food movement. This movement pushes back against fast food, and encourages people to simply slow down and enjoy freshly prepared food. This movement has deeply influenced the organic food movement and the local food movement, as well as the resurgence in home brewing, canning, preserving and brewing. There is even a Slow Church discussion now. The ethic that touches all of these movements and discussions is simply slow down and enjoy.

As I was reading through a prayer a few days ago I realized I knew it so well that I was just speeding along, not really paying attention. I needed to slow down and enjoy. So, taking the rhythm of lectio divina, I slowed down and enjoyed the prayer line by line, meditating on each phrase and ruminating over that one word that spoke to me. When I read “Almighty and Everlasting God” I did not just continue on into the body of the prayer, I focused on the word Almighty and spent some time meditating on what it actually means to say God is almighty. Taking from the spiritual practice of lectio divina, this to me is a form of Slow Prayer: taking time to slow down and enjoy prayer itself.

What does Slow Prayer look like for you?

How do you slow down and enjoy best?

What other forms of worship should we slow down and enjoy? How?

March 15, 2013

I am an ENTJ. If you don’t know what it is, don’t worry. I didn’t know until a week ago either, when my organization had us go through a test and see what type of personality we have. I was happy with what I found, and it was a tad creepy to read a characterization from a book about my personality type and have that feeling that someone has been watching me my entire life.

I love being an ENTJ and doing ENTJ like things. I feel this description matches me: “[ENTJs] tend to be self-driven, motivating, energetic, assertive, confident, and competitive. They generally take a big-picture view and build a long-term strategy. They typically know what they want and may mobilize others to help them attain their goals. ENTJs are often sought out as leaders due to an innate ability to direct groups of people. Unusually influential and organized, they may sometimes judge others by their own tough standards, failing to take personal needs into account” (from Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type).

Another portrait: “Inefficiency is especially rejected by ENTJs, and repetition of error causes them to become impatient. For the ENTJ, there must always be a reason for doing anything, and people’s feelings usually are not sufficient reason” (from Please Understand Me).

At this point, after reading over these portraits again, I feel like I am known. There is an understanding about who I am and how I operate. My next inclination is that this somehow justifies how I have acted or worked for years and years. It’s just who I am.

There is a weird juxtaposition in our Christian faith that has the doctrine of sin on one side—we are all born in darkness and sin—and a comfort in God’s image on the other—we are known by God and each of us is his handiwork. One is our starting place, a horrible place, and the other is our comforting, victorious place where we finally feel known and accepted by God. We can all say God made me this way.

There is something categorically wrong with saying God made me this way. We should be saying God is making me this way. The present view, the one we see flushed out in so many spiritual gifts tests or disciple-making relationships, is a static view. It identifies your strengths, your personality and then spins an optimistic view of “this is how God made you.” I would be happy to just know I am this way always and forever, but that is neglecting the role of sanctification and discipleship in the Christian life. I am an ENTJ and always will be, but there are some parts of being an ENTJ that are not how God wants me to be. We cannot take for granted that the way we are inclined to operate—in my case, being judgmental, keeping a record of wrongs, being indifferent to feelings—might not be the way that God wants us to operate.

It is wonderful to take stock of our strengths, our personality and our character. But if we do so without reflection and just blindly accept who we are right now, we are refusing to enter into the tough, hard slog of sanctification and discipleship. I am an ENTJ, and I love it. But I am also in desperate need for discipleship to learn to curb my less than gracious ENTJ tendencies. What about you? What kind of personality do you have and what are characteristics of your personality in need of discipleship?

January 23, 2013

The house we currently live in has no garage. No basement. Just a storage shed where we keep our strollers, outdoor gear and stuff too big to fit in our pantry (like 30 qt. canning pots). Many other people where I live have apartments or townhouses, and even single family homes around here don’t have a ton of space to store things, when it comes down to it.

But from my days working on a farm I remember that nothing can store things like a barn. The amount of stuff that can fit in a barn is mind boggling, and shames any person with a basement that is stacked to the gills. A barn can house the miscellanies of a whole life, like what Wendell Berry describes in his short story “Sold“:

All the rest had to be sold, all the farm machinery, all the tools, all the old bolts and nuts and washers and metal pieces that my dad and then Grover had saved in case of need, all the furniture and other household plunder. The cattle that Coulter had been taking care of on the halves, they had already gone off to the sale barn. Everything else, everything that would come loose, was auctioned off the day of the sale. The farm too, it had to go.

When a farm goes, everything goes: from tractors down to the tiniest screw in a toolbox. Farms, by their nature, are made to provide security, so it’s only natural that their barns are made to store things up for a rainy day (or more aptly, for several dry ones). Only in this context does the often quoted Luke 12 passage make any sense:

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”‘”

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

The part that always fixates people is the storing up part. If we read the passage though, we notice that there is more going on than just a hard and fast rule against storing stuff up. The whole moral of the parable does not rest on storing stuff up, it rests on “but is not rich toward God.”

Railing against people for building up storehouses is easy, because it is measurable. It’s the same reason that we insist on 15 minute devotionals: we want to measure the minutes, not the devotion. We can all see a storehouse for what it is, but it’s a lot harder to measure whether a person is being rich toward God. In the end, the only person that can really measure that is that person, their intimate friends and family, and God.

What do I think being rich toward God means? Stay tuned for a future post. For now, I wonder what do you think being rich toward God means?

January 22, 2013

I have a very busy day today. Thankfully, Ed Cyzewski wrote about being busy (“the B-word”) on his blog In a Mirror Dimly. It rings true of me. I hope it rings true of you as well:

Ah, but that B-word, it pokes and prods me every day, especially for my noon and evening prayer times. I’m tempted to fly through the scripture passages, content to count “reading my assignment” as good enough for God. How quickly the B-word turns a freeing spiritual practice into an obligatory time card. How tragic it is when the B-word empties the joy out of my pause to pray.

Sometimes our lives fill up. There’s no doubt that we have to turn some things down.

However, when I use the B-word as an excuse to avoid prayer or love of neighbor, I’m lying. Unbalanced or mistaken priorities? Yes.

The pursuit of God takes an act of the will. Some days it’s as simple as flipping open a book. Other days I need to move mountains. Either way, it is my choice, and the lie behind the word “busy” is that I have none.

Busyness is a spiritual issue that we need to face. When our lives are busy, how we respond tells others a lot about our spiritual maturity.

 Do you take your busyness into account and how it affects your ability to pursue God, work and family?

Do you agree with Ed that “the pursuit of God takes an act of the will”?

What kind of lies do you tell yourself about your busyness?

December 12, 2012

Holiness is:

being set apart for radical love,

a rootedness in Christ and his bride,

an adventure in kingdom living,

an acceptance of the call to live an eternal life in the present,

an offering of oneself in prayer and spiritual disciplines,

and a working toward the renewal of all creation, the building of Christ’s kingdom, and the salvation of all humankind from sin, evil and darkness.