Seasons Change and So Is Me
It’s a different season of devotion for me. It seems this is a continuing cycle, but I’m still trying to figure this “season” out… what it is and what it means to me and for me.
Self-awareness plays a big part in this figuring out. I have always been very “Type-A” the way I pursue life. I am goal and task driven. In my past, I’ve been almost fearless, sometimes a bit reckless, in the way I zealously engaged life. I’m a bit more tempered these days, but there are number of hold-over attributes that I tend to wrestle with as I navigate the life Jesus is leading me. One of those attributes is my tendency to lean into performance-based aspects of my devotional practices. Because I am goal and task driven, I like to have metrics to understand my progress. I have been taught that having real goals means they should be attainable and measurable, so I like to consider my devotional practices and spiritual exercises in this light. For the sake of clarity, when I mention spiritual exercises and devotions, I am referring to things like Bible reading, prayer, fasting, solitude, praise, worship, etc.
With my spiritual practices and my propensity to measure them, I am given pause from time to time and wonder what the basis of my measurement truly is… am I measuring my success in the discipline? Or, is the discipline drawing me closer to God, which I believe, is the desired intent. Perhaps an even greater question is, “How do I truly measure my closeness to God?” Is it a feeling or emotion that can be measured? Is my closeness and devotion to God measured by the manifestation of tangible acts? Is my devotion qualified and quantified by my confidence of relationship through faith?
I might mention that my soul “feels” good, but sometimes my measured devotional practices feel a tad abysmal. This feeling is in comparison or measured against some of my previous years “performances” or my numbered achievements in devotional acts (how much Bible I read and how often, how robust “I think” my prayer life is, how many personal retreats I’ve taken… you get the picture). Are these valid assessments? Maybe. Maybe not. I think it depends on a number of factors. What is the intent of the heat? What is the desired outcome? Who is my audience for the disciplines I pursue??? Me? Others? God alone?
“If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant…” (Gal. 1:10)
I was reading from the Letter to the Galatians while some of the aforementioned thoughts were flitting about in my mind. When I sensed the Holy Spirit ministering to me through the words I share from the Apostle Paul (above).
I felt my response rising within me that I should be careful to remember that I am “people” too (if pleasing people…), and I can easily be caught in the trap of pleasing myself or measuring myself against how I feel or measuring me alongside my expectations for me. This can become a form of narcissism and self-worship as I try to please me over pleasing my God. Lesson: Don’t please me – Please God alone.
The other side of this coin is also important for me to remember. While conviction through the internal witness and guidance of the Holy Spirit is real and necessary for my spiritual development, I can be persuaded to use this conviction and guidance in unhealthy ways. In doing this, I can become a slave to self. I want to remain a slave only to Christ. He alone is the fair and just Master and He alone can be trusted with my soul and my developing self.
“No one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law…” (Gal. 2:16)
While conviction to change and become more like Christ is one of the primary ministries of the Holy Spirit, and as a soul in development, I should be ready, surrendered, and obedient to respond rightly to Him, “Being right with God” is found through faith in Christ—and not through the measurements of my spiritual exercises and/or devotional practices. Naturally, tangible fruit (love, patience, kindness, faithfulness, self-control, etc.) is born from this relationship of rightness. The opposite is not true and has a great potential to be my spiritual undoing when I pursue the path of works-based righteousness. So… I’m changing. God is making like Jesus through the coaching of the Holy Spirit. I should not cling relentlessly to other seasons I have received great enjoyment from during the life of my Christian journey. Instead, I should be more open to trust the work God is doing today and measure my development on how faithful I am to respond to Him in each successive moment. He leads me always and never leaves me alone. God is with me. God is within me. May Christ be glorified in my every moment in my every breath.
My preaching assignment this past week was to share teaching on the text from Galatians 5:22-25, famously known as the Fruit of the Spirit. My particular focus was on the “Fruit” of patience. Let me say again: I. LOVE. TO. PREACH & TEACH. LOve It…absolutely LOVE IT!
So this weekend I shared my heart and God’s Word with my church family. I have included the audio of that sermon and teaching below. As always, I’d love to interact with your thoughts in the comments section or email me direct. God Bless!
My goodness! It’s been over 3 months since my last post on my blog. That’s a little sad, but this blog is going on fourteen years old and the continuing evolution of my soul and relationship with the Godhead has taken me on a number of twists and turns with respect to life priorities. I’ll share more about this in the coming weeks as I make reentry to the blogosphere, but I thought I’d post this audio file of a sermon I shared yesterday with a sister congregation here in Washington.
This message was timely, in my opinion, especially with regard to the tensions currently felt in our great nation, and most certainly with regard to the political season we presently find ourselves.
The message of our Great God is GOOD! We are Good News People and we should live according to the good news (Gospel) we profess and proclaim. In this message taken from the text of Acts 17, I share how we can model what we learn from the Beroeans and the great Apostle Paul.
I hope you enjoy the message and would love to interact with your thoughts in the comments section here.
It’s Been Awhile
The ether of this world is affecting…
Were it not for the flesh-God, Jesus, I would certainly be lost.
I am thankful that he speaks to me through written words as well as through the pages of my life. God is near, God is here, and God is within me.
I have been absent from my blog for quite some time now. The seasons of life change, moods change, desires change…I could go on, but suffice it to say there has been an unrelenting shift in my psyche and psoule over the past couple years that I have struggled to understand. In fact, I still do not. Understand. There are some things that remain constant in the shifting sands of me, my love for my Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), my longing for His Kingdom Come, my love for my wife and children, and now their children…, my love for learning, my love for God’s Church. These passions and these ever-present foundations of my being are likely the anchors that keep me from coming apart at the seams. Sounds rather dramatic, right? Perhaps it is not dramatic at all, but a reality that reveals the tension I have experienced in my soul this past couple years.
Both are in exile.
The isolation, the alienation,
Create a tension that is real.
I long for my spirit to soar,
My soul eternally set free.
The tensions of my mortality
Contort my being and warp my perspective.
O Incarnate Christ, rescue me by your
Empowering Spirit as I await your return.
As I was writing this soulful expression of my being this morning (above), I was reminded of things I had been previously taught (further affirmation of God’s Spirit in me as this reminder is a promised ministry of the Holy Spirit to “filled” believers). The reminders consisted of the following three ideas:
- God has planted eternity in my soul (Ecc. 3:11 NLT). Because of this eternity in me, I long for eternal union with Him. Consequently, nothing else satisfies me…not even the things that give me the greatest satisfaction on this side of eternity (not life, not wife, not vocation, not anything…). These life-loves can be temporary satisfactions, but the longing of my soul always returns to that which it does not fully experience—Eternal Union with the Godhead. It is good to recognize the source of discontent. It helps me to make sense of my feelings, so I don’t drift into depression and discouragement. This is why spiritual exercises like the Ignatian Examen can be helpful. The examen teaches us to factor in our feelings and emotions as we process the state of our soul as we engage God’s Spirit in us.
- This side of life is tough and might not get easier… I don’t mean for my words to sound nihilistic of fatalistic, but they can be the reality for some people. Still, the reality of a “tough life” doesn’t mean that God is not with us, nor does it mean our hope for our promised Eternal Union with God is lessened by what we experience in our day-to-day living in the here and now. It helps to have an understanding of our circumstances and perspective that keeps us looking forward while faced with opposition that reeks turmoil in all our being. The Apostle Paul writes to the Church in Corinth these following words:
8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. 11 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. 12 So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you. 13 But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” 14 We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. 15 All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.
16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. (2 Cor. 4:8-18 NLT)
- While faith and the real Presence of God through His indwelling Spirit are real and sustaining, I want more and this is okay. I was reminded of a passage that really ministered to my soul about a year and a half ago when my mind and spirit were discouraged. Like I said, this has been going on in me for awhile… The words came from the Book of Numbers (Numbers 24:17). I realize there is context that I am not including in this writing, but the relevance of the words were, I believe, a direct ministry from the Holy Spirit to the needs of my soul…both then and even now.
“I see him, but not here and now. I perceive him, but far in the distant future.” (Num. 24:17 NLT)
So I wait.
“Healthy discontent is the prelude to progress” –Mahatma Gandhi
“Discontent is the first necessity of progress…” –Thomas Edison
I endeavor with grace provided by the Spirit of God in me to endure the suffering of soul in tension awaiting its Eternal Lover. I am ever grateful for the blessings and gifts God has provided me today. I am deeply and desperately in love with my wife. I am ever blessed with the children God has provided me. I am surrounded by faithful friends who support, affirm, and encourage me always. I have the privilege of expressing my faith and the Word of God in my life’s vocation. On the one side, there is nothing more I could imagine to ask for in this life…and still, it is God himself who has ensured this life will never satisfy me. Tension. It is working through this that helps me to avoid the guilt the enemy of my soul would foist upon me. I am not ungrateful. My discontent is not born of sin. Quite the contrary. My discontent is a product of the Woo and Romance of a God who desires me far more than I’ll ever be able to comprehend during my mortal life. This, yes this, brings a smile of delight to my soul…and I feel it creeping all over my face as I end this entry. I say, “To God be the glory!” Maranatha. Amen.
And the Perfect Double Play: a Pre-Pentecost Reflection
I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my continuing maturity in the image and likeness of Christ over the past several months. A number of habits (both good and bad) have prompted these reflections and my overall sense has been that of dis-ease. A quick disclaimer is likely helpful, before I proceed with my thoughts. I am in a fruitful season of my Christian journey. There is much to celebrate and be thankful for. My gifts and experiences are being used in profitable, gratifying, and meaningful ways. Still, I am unsatisfied and unsettled. I don’t view this as a bad thing; it is uncomfortable, but not bad.
Discipline is an expression that for me, conjures quite a few word pictures and memories. On the one side, are many memories of corrective action being meted out in response and consequence to some of my poor choices. Conversely, I am reminded of times where discipline translated into practices experienced in the context of sports and military exercises.
The Testing Discipline of God
The past few days I’ve been actively reflecting on a passage of Scripture that has prompted this writing (Deuteronomy 8:1-6).
Be careful to obey all the commands I am giving you today. Then you will live and multiply, and you will enter and occupy the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors.2 Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. 3 Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.4 For all these forty years your clothes didn’t wear out, and your feet didn’t blister or swell.5 Think about it: Just as a parent disciplines a child, the Lord your God disciplines you for your own good. 6 So obey the commands of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and fearing him.
At first glance, there is much here that causes me unrest. For instance, I want the favor of God. I want to flourish, living in the land of promise under God’s sworn faithfulness. I am not always so eager to consider whole-hearted faithfulness and obedience to all the commands of God as my prerequisite to life in the land of favor and abundance. Yes, I want favor, but I want it on my terms and not on the terms of God. I would like favor and promise, but I would also like to negotiate the degree of obedience I must be willing to give up in order to have it. Why can’t my entry to the land of favor and promise be contingent on my desire and best efforts (determined by me)? Shouldn’t I get credit for obedience simply on the basis of “I tried” or “I want to obey”?
Likewise, I do not like the idea that my life might be a continuous trial by fire to test and purify my character. “Remember how the LORD your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands.” Forty years of testing??? Are you kidding me???!! Why must every day be a test to prove my obedience; didn’t yesterday (assuming I was obedient yesterday) count for something? Oh…what’s that you’re saying, Lord? “My character doesn’t need proving to You, the tests are for my benefit to prove and reveal my character flaws to me.” Ouch.
Discipline and Repetition
I remember a class assignment from elementary school I used to despise. I would even go to extreme efforts to devise ways to circumnavigate the assignment or cheat my way through it. The efforts I would engage in would often be more work than the assignment itself; I suppose this confession reveals a something of my nature and character. The exercise was writing spelling words…over, and over, and over again. I hated it. It seemed pointless and physically painful to me that I would have to spell out words ten or more times a piece, especially when I could prove to spell them correctly after one or two attempts. It was worse that this exercise was sometimes administered in the context of correction or punishment for minor infractions of misbehavior. I might be told to stay in from recess for talking out of turn and made to write out my spelling words while the other kids played. Discipline. Repetition. Correction. Behavior modification…
Discipline can be found and practiced in and with acts of repetition. It (discipline) is often and possibly only learned through those repeated practices. Although I rebelled against most acts of repetition during my youthful years, I have learned the value of repetitive acts especially where they are related to behavioral changes, and specifically in the area of spiritual formation. For instance, the repetition of writing out my spelling words in elementary school is not wholly unlike the repeated and disciplined acts of faith I practice now that leads to a godly life. I have learned and I continue to learn that the body and the mind are both strengthened through “healthy” acts of repetition.
Echoed in the Letter to the Hebrews (chapters five and twelve) are central themes to the disciplined life. There is even the mention that Jesus, in obedience learned through suffering, was made perfect through his discipline. How much more then, do we need to learn discipline and obedience. Likewise, as Christ, our perfection comes through discipline, testing, purging, pruning, and repetition leading to our consummate maturity where we will lack nothing reflecting the nature and character of Christ (Eph. 4:11-16, Eph. 5:1, James 1:2-4, 12). Anything less than perfected maturity in the life of the Christ-follower is not an option. Discipleship is discipline to the perfected image of Christ in me and in you.
I get by with a little help from my friends…
It needs saying that I’m not promoting a canon of self-works. I cannot make myself perfect no matter how disciplined or how hard I might try…at least not perfect as it relates to the image and nature of Christ. The discipline and spiritual exercises I refer to assume the empowerment and partnership of God, the Holy Spirit, in every life of the practicing believer. It is impossible to produce Christ-like behavior on our own, but God has given us all we need to live a godly life even sharing with us His glory and the Divine nature (Romans 8:30, John 17:22, 2 Peter 1:3-4), and with His help and partnership we are able to pursue and live a Christ-perfected life. This is Good News. We are God’s dance partner, waltzing the perichoretic two-step in time with the Triune perfection of our God to the to the tune of perfected obedience and melody of Christian maturity.
As I pondered these things, another memory was wrestled from my past. I used to play baseball at a fairly competitive level. I cannot begin to count the hours of practice that we used to joyfully endure. I think, literally, hundreds, maybe thousands of ground balls and fly balls fielded and played out. One of the main plays we would practice from a defensive posture was the double-play. Ground ball after ground ball was fielded and fumbled for the sake of preparing for the eventuality of making the double-play out in a real game. It is impossible to know when the situation might occur or where the variables might line up for your team to make the double-play. You must be ready for every possible outcome. Practice, practice, practice and repetition helped to create a deep muscle memory of how to field the ball, determine the play, and make the following throws and catches that would ensure the success of the double-play. It was rare for anyone to witness the countless fumbles and foibles committed in practice and connect those trials and errors with the beautiful dance of completion and perfection that would happen on game night.
And we come back to where we began… This is the desert experience I think we might understand from the Deuteronomy Eight passage. It’s repetition. It’s testing. It’s faithfully showing up and trusting the outcome to participating with the persons of the Godhead. It’s all there. It’s not always fun. Discipline requires work and sacrifice, but there is a harvest of benefit and glory. Sometimes you jam a finger…sometimes a hard grounder to the chin, but those always seem worth it when you turn the perfect double-play with Jesus as your teammate.
This is something I think might be helpful for me to remember… Discipline often is, but should not always be associated with punitive correction. I think the better understanding of discipline could be associated with proactive conditioning, the kind that leads to healthy behavior and habits producing a fruitful and abundant lifestyle, the kind of life that Jesus came to offer us. Healthy spiritual practices + repetition = Abundant Life.
Revisiting The “I’m better than I was card”
I originally wrote and posted this a few years back. As I was reading some of my past writing, I thought this an appropriate reflection as I head into a new year. What is it that God is calling me to? What is it that he desires of me? He desires whole-hearted devotion and complete transformation to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ… How often do I drag my feet? How often do I think of myself better than I should?
10 “Son of man, give the people of Israel this message: You are saying, ‘Our sins are heavy upon us; we are wasting away! How can we survive?’ 11 As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die?
12 “Son of man, give your people this message: The righteous behavior of righteous people will not save them if they turn to sin, nor will the wicked behavior of wicked people destroy them if they repent and turn from their sins. 13 When I tell righteous people that they will live, but then they sin, expecting their past righteousness to save them, then none of their righteous acts will be remembered. I will destroy them for their sins. 14 And suppose I tell some wicked people that they will surely die, but then they turn from their sins and do what is just and right. 15 For instance, they might give back a debtor’s security, return what they have stolen, and obey my life-giving laws, no longer doing what is evil. If they do this, then they will surely live and not die. 16 None of their past sins will be brought up again, for they have done what is just and right, and they will surely live.
17 “Your people are saying, ‘The Lord isn’t doing what’s right,’ but it is they who are not doing what’s right. 18 For again I say, when righteous people turn away from their righteous behavior and turn to evil, they will die. 19 But if wicked people turn from their wickedness and do what is just and right, they will live. 20 O people of Israel, you are saying, ‘The Lord isn’t doing what’s right.’ But I judge each of you according to your deeds.”
I’m still pretty hung up on this passage of Scripture from Ezekiel that I was also considering in yesterday’s meditation and post. While this passage speaks pretty loudly in its entirety, I keep being drawn back to the words shared in verses twelve through sixteen. In these verses, the LORD God Almighty is giving instruction to the prophet Ezekiel to send a wake-up call to a people who have grown complacent in their faith, even taking for granted the mercy and salvation of their God. It seems the people didn’t take seriously the nature of their sin against God. The nation of Israel was rife with idolatry, sexual immorality, greed, oppression of people, and a host of other abominations that were counter character to the nature of God. The end result was that the people were not reflecting the nature of the God who had called them out and made them His own.
Interestingly, it seems as though the people may have had the attitude that they were entitled to God’s goodness in spite of how they behaved. In fact, in verse seventeen, the people actually hold God responsible for their treatment. It doesn’t seem as though they are taking personal responsibility for their sin. Even more interesting, paying attention to the verses twelve through sixteen, it appears there may have been some assumption on the part of Israel that because they were “righteous” at one time in their history (as a nation or group) that God should show them favor in spite of what their hearts revealed in the way of rebellion and disobedience in the present. And, it seems as if the people are completely blinded by their own self-righteousness and pride, because they do not turn from their sin…
“The righteous behavior of righteous people will not save them if they turn to sin, nor will the wicked behavior of wicked people destroy them if they repent and turn from their sins. 13 When I tell righteous people that they will live, but then they sin, expecting their past righteousness to save them, then none of their righteous acts will be remembered. I will destroy them for their sins.”
Here is where it gets interesting to me. How often do we, as a people, do something similar with our actions and attitudes? I will confess that when I first examine my own heart concerning issues of sin, I am always prone to compare myself to “my best days.” I will think, “Oh, but I’m much better than I was… and God sees how much I have grown since I was the despicable me.” And, I will do this with little intention of changing the things that I still know are unpleasing to God. I will consider those “still to be corrected abominations” something that God forgives because of my “past righteousness.” Wrong. Let’s read that verse thirteen once again. “When I tell righteous people that they will live, but then they sin, expecting their past righteousness to save them, then none of their righteous acts will be remembered. I will destroy them for their sins.” We can see this same theme carried over under the dispensation of grace under the blood of Jesus too. Hear the words of James the brother of Jesus as he writes; “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” (James 4:17).
Funny (in a sad way) how we are so easily ensnared in this twisted deception that the false self would tempt us to believe. We want to place blame on God too. We want to say He isn’t fair… just like the people of Israel. We will lie to ourselves and say it is too hard to change and God’s expectations for us are too difficult, but He tells us otherwise “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach” (Deut. 30:11). I think the truth is that we just need to be honest with ourselves… either we want to walk after Jesus or we do not. If we do choose to walk after Jesus there is the way of repentance, dying to self, and the life of service to humanity (Phil. 2:5-7). If we choose otherwise, we have no one to blame for the mess we make for ourselves…but ourselves.
“Today if you hear his voice, harden not your heart…” (Hebrews 3:15)
Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; knit my heart to you that I may fear your Name. The LORD has pleasure in those who fear him, in those who await his gracious favor. For God alone my soul in silence waits; from him comes my salvation. Happy are they who trust in the LORD. (Psalm 86:11; Psalm 147:12; Psalm 62:1; Psalm 40:4)
This past fall, I was taking some CEU classes that entailed lively discussions about the history and challenges of the modern church in North America. My pastoral role and calling to the vocation of pastor as spiritual director puts me headlong into some of the challenges we discussed, especially those challenges that affect the process of discipleship and whole life transformation in the image of Jesus Christ. This is, after all, the primary mandate Jesus commissioned his followers to pursue before his ascension back to the Father. Jesus said; “Go and make disciples of all the nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.” We, the Church of the 21st Century, specifically in the United States of America, face unique and difficult challenges… not insurmountable, but challenges nonetheless, if we are to fulfill the commission we have received by Jesus. The following is a presentation I shared following the the completion my my CEU course.
When asked to prepare a thesis and presentation for what I might consider one of the greatest challenges of the church for the twenty-first century, I immediately thought discipleship…that is, making true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Specifically, I believe consumerism is one of the greatest challenges to the mandate of the Great Commission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ” the Church faces today.
The very nature of making disciples in the image of Jesus is difficult by definition of Jesus himself. It is he who qualifies the disciple as one who “denies himself daily” and/or one who “takes up a cross” to follow Jesus. Likewise, Jesus proclaims his disciples are people who are “kingdom people,” yet he also says the number is “few” who find and follow the path to this kingdom (Matthew 7:13-14).
While I believe the Teacher and writer of Ecclesiastes speaks truthful words saying, “There is nothing new under the sun,” I think our first-world western culture offers unique challenges making discipleship as difficult as or more difficult than any time in the history of the church.
I pastor and worship in the context of the United States of America and my statements are reflective of this context and not a generalization of the global church. This is important because, while I believe discipleship is difficult in any culture; my statements are uniquely applicable to our setting.
It doesn’t take a deep reading of Scripture to realize there is something strikingly different about the message that Jesus taught his followers. A quick reading of the gospels reveals the message of Christ as very counter-cultural, especially when that culture is centered around the economic system of capitalism and the “American Dream.” We, the church in North America, are in direct competition with our culture; this detail alone makes creating disciples incredibly difficult.
Reading from the Sermon on the Mount and Sermon on the Plain, quickly reveals the American Dream as the antithesis ideal to following Jesus.
Before I proceed, I think it necessary to say that I love my country and I love the Church of the Living God. I also believe in large part the motive of the Evangelical Church has been born of honorable intentions, but I also believe despite her intentions, she has been deceived by destructive intent disguised as an “angel of light.” Our good intentions and attempts to be culturally relevant have largely defused the dunamis of the Gospel of Christ. Many of our efforts to acculturate the gospel for shifts and changes in our society has resulted in blurred understanding of the gospel at best and a complete reduction of the gospel at worst. The result of this blurry reduction of Jesus’ message is a lack of discipleship and a patchwork of shallow theology that often borders on heretical teaching.
In the monumental Reveal study commissioned by the Willow Creek Association, one thousand churches and two hundred fifty thousand congregants were surveyed. It was discovered that our contemporary church growth model was largely ineffective in making true disciples of Jesus and producing measurable spiritual growth. Our programs and formulas can build self-sustaining organizations, but these organizations are rarely consistent fulfilling the primary mission given to us by Jesus Christ to make disciples.
Recently, I have been reading from the book Thinking | Listening | Being by district superintendent of the Kansas City District Church of the Nazarene, Jeren Rowell. In this book, particularly found in chapters titled “thinking identity” and “thinking leadership,” he gives voice to the dangers presented to our churches as our models for organizational leadership have shifted from the pastoral and prophetic to business and the boardroom. Superintendent Rowell identifies the jugular of this challenge quoting from Eugene Peterson’s book Working the Angles; he writes:
“The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns—how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money.”
One of the greatest challenges we face with making disciples in our society is the economic engine of capitalism. The very success of a capitalistic economy hinges on consumers; therefore, all that our society does from top to bottom and side-to-side is built to nurture and develop consumers. The result of this nurture and development is most everything in our society becoming commodified and/or commoditized. Capitalism and consumerism has trickled and seeped into the church at a slow and steady pace over the years until it has become utterly saturated until it bears little difference from any other marketplace in our society. In practice, the western church has simply become another marketplace for many consumers seeking “christianized” commodities. Sadly, the Gospel has become another commodity to sell on Sunday and one wonders if there might not be tables and lattes overturned were Jesus to join the services on any given weekend.
In many churches across America, congregants come to the marketplace on Sunday to have felt needs met and to get their soul entertained…rarely is the intent to enter into deeper transformational relationship with Creator God by becoming a more dedicated disciple of Jesus Christ.
This consumeristic relationship between the church organization and the congregant develops codependency. While codependency may be good for the capitalistic model, it is critically unhealthy for the Bride of Christ.
The dangers of codependency become realized when the organization becomes the focus of the church rather than Jesus Christ, making disciples, and living as kingdom people.
Ultimately, the codependency becomes the “driver” behind every vision and mission statement. If the “mission and message” is not new and fresh to compete with the latest “flavor of the day,” consumer-members may seek out a more popular and momentary gratifying mission and message… In essence, churchgoers may seek out a more charismatic teacher (claiming they are not being fed), they may seek out a different music, children’s program, affinity group, or more robust programming. While there may be some validity and good in all these aforementioned programming elements, it can easily be recognized how quickly they become commoditized and consumed. When this becomes the model and churchgoers become dissatisfied consumers, they leave in search of a better product to consume. When churchgoers leave, finances wane. When the organizational structure (building, grounds, staff, and capital resources) get large, the organization cannot afford to suffer serious and unsustainable loss of income. When this happens in a capitalistic model, bankruptcy can occur and the business dissolves. Churches have largely copied the business model of western society and tried to balance the reality of their message with the wants and perceived needs of the churchgoers and have effectually compromised the message and call to “deny self” and follow Christ. Simply put, the consumer discipleship model hinges on serving the self, which illustrates the fundamental flaw when compared to a Christocentric discipleship model.
The call of the Church is to make disciples and teach them all the commandments of Jesus Christ. We are not called to make “McChurches” looking to franchise or assembly line church growth methods. We are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ, not consumers of church products hoping to make a better self… a better self is not necessarily a denied self.
The nature of this thesis is to identify the challenge of the Church and not to necessarily identify a definitive correction; however, there are some suggestions we might consider as we ponder our next steps.
We might remember that systems and processes are needful, but discipleship is intimate and organic at its core. People and souls are unique, mysterious, and wonderfully made, and as such, disciples cannot be cookie-cutter created or assembly line manufactured.
It is likely we will not be able to change the current and flow of our economy and society. Personally, I’m not sure that is part of our mandate; there are a number of Scripture passages that teach us to not conform to the world and we are “in the world, but not of the world.” The point is that we are all consumers of some degree and it is all too easy for consumerism to creep into all we have done and all we do. It will be important for us to remain vigilant, always on guard that we do not allow consumerism to contaminate our mandate to make disciples of Jesus.
The Church can learn much from the ancient traditions and not fear the streams of Christendom that are not our own. God has been working from the earliest days of the Church to refine His bride and make true sons and daughters in the likeness of Christ. We might choose to walk on the shoulders of those who have gone before us and embrace the revelations that God shares with us today.
by Jeff Borden–The Greatest Challenge for the Church of the 21st Century ©12/27/2014
16DEC2014—3rd Tuesday ADVENT Year B
Advent: Our Joy—Anchored Deeply in Christ
Scripture Reading: Year One Readings from the Book of Common Prayer
Psalm 45, 47, 48 ◊ Isaiah 9:1-7 ◊ 2 Peter 1:12-21 ◊ Luke 22:54-69
The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen! (Isaiah 9:2, 6-7)
We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” We ourselves heard that voice from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain. (2 Peter 1:16-18)
Day and night we walk in the graying dusk, the between time of the then, now, and yet to come.
The Promise of Him coming, anchored in the ancient faith stories.
By faith, I believe and by faith, He anchors me.
Momentary light afflictions remind us of our frailty; spiritual blessing and promise-filled joys buoy our tired hearts, providing hope-sustenance for eternal tomorrow.
We wait for the coming Christ, the One who changes our earthly mourning story…into eternal morning glory.
To Him we praise while we wait.
Jeff Borden ©18DEC2010
The promises of God and the historical record of their unfolding are what produce joy in His followers. My thoughts, based on this premise, follow:
- Joy is not about what happens to us.
- Joy is the meaning we give to what we do that determines the nature—the quality—of the lives we live.
- Joy is not about self-centeredness (John 5:30)
- Happiness (true happiness) is not about self-satisfaction; it is about the joy that comes with a sense of purpose.
- Joy comes from living our lives immersed in the will of God and not self-aggrandizement.
- Joy is not in “things,” if we are found in Christ, joy is in us.
A Psalm and a Prayer
Come, everyone! Clap your hands! Shout to God with joyful praise! For the Lord Most High is awesome. He is the great King of all the earth. (Psalm 47:1-2)
Incline a merciful ear to our cry, we pray, O LORD, and casting light on the darkness of our hearts, visit us with the grace of your Son. Stifle the empty clamor of this too-often secularized Christmas season, and set us free to reject the greed and waste so prevalent around us. Let us confirm our convictions without speech, praising you with our actions and our lives as dazzling witness to Christ who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Things that go plop (polyp) in the night… or silent, debilitating, cumulative scariness.
Anyone that follows my blog knows that my posting has been sporadic (at the very best) for the past year or so. I have had occasional bursts of regularity, especially posting around the high seasons of the Church Calendar during Advent and Lent in particular, but outside of those special times, my writing has been very sparse.
What’s been up?
I’ve been reluctant to write about myself these past months, mostly because I didn’t understand what was happening with me…and well, I just didn’t feel like it.
I first started to notice I was having some problems a little over three years ago. I think I really pinned it down to the time of my first visit to the Pecos Monastery in June of 2011. It was at that time I remember having a sinus infection that never really went away. Having a sinus infection is no new thing for me, I’ve been subject to sinus issues, infections, allergies, and the like for most of my life, but they’ve always cleared up and I’ve had seasons of respite. Like I said, this 2011 infection/allergy was a bit different. It never went away; of course, I didn’t and wouldn’t have known that at the time, but I digress.
So, 2011 turned to 2012 and I returned to the monastery again. This time I recognized that I could no longer sleep turned on my right side as my sinus passages would become completely blocked. My fix to this problem was learning to sleep on my left side, which was no small feat, but learn I did and my sleeping habits returned to a version of normal where I’d get a somewhat cumulative amount of nightly sleep, but interrupted over the course of the night with frequent wake ups.
2012 turned to 2013 and new health problems emerging in my life. Most of these I attributed to genetics and the aging process and a predominantly sedentary lifestyle. My sinus issues continued right alongside my new health headaches and my sleep patterns continued to worsen with time. At some point, I was asked by one of my physicians how my sleep was. I said with a nervous chuckle; “I don’t sleep, I nap throughout the night and during the day.” He asked me why that was and I responded, “I can’t breathe.” This was the first time I really opened a conversation about my sinus problems. I always thought it was just something one had to deal with… “Allergies were normal” and antihistamines never really did much for me, so I just learned to deal with it. My Doc took a scope of sorts and looked into my nose and said, “You have nasal polyps” very matter-of-factly. I asked what that meant and didn’t get much of an answer other than “it’s no big deal…”
This brings us up to the current year (2014) and my continued struggle with breathing, sleep, and a host of maladies that joined the party. I started doing some reading about my newly acquired health problems and found many (maybe most or all) were related to “Sleep deprivation, which has been shown to alter the balance of hormones such as leptin and ghrelin that regulate appetite, leading to overeating, higher glucose levels and insulin resistance, all of which are risk factors for type II diabetes. It is thought that, without enough sleep, our bodies may get ‘stuck’ in a state of alertness, leading to an increase in the production of stress hormones, which increases blood pressure.” I was experiencing these very problems along with lack of energy, loss of focus, and generally feeling tired most of the time. This brings us up to present day. It was about four months ago that things started to get so bad that I was unable to sleep much more than an hour at a stretch during the night. This progressed until a few weeks ago when my “sinus infection” hit new heights and my “nasal polyps” started commanding front stage attention. No longer was just my evening life affected, my daytime life was becoming intruded upon in a major way. My face and eyes were swelling with sinus congestion and infection, I couldn’t talk well at all, and my personal health seemed to be causing people to be noticeably uncomfortable when I would be in their presence. I had to do something.
In the span of two short weeks, I made the rounds from PCP to Specialist to Surgery. I’m still in recovery mode as my surgery was less than a week ago, but so far my outcome is nothing less than spectacular. The post-op discomfort is certainly present, but the ability to breathe again outweighs those irritations by far. I’m hoping for a big (if not full) comeback. I want to see my overall health rebound with the expectation that my sleep patterns will also return to something resembling normal. I don’t know if it’s just adrenaline or giddy hope, but I think I feel an increase in energy already…time will tell.
I’ve noticed something else during this frustrating chapter of life, this season of declining health and all that it has brought with it has been deceptive and patient in its attack on my physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual state of being. I think there is a deeper and much more sobering spiritual truth with this revelation and awareness. This temporal, physical, and broken existence we live in subjects each of us to the insidious onslaught of wave after wave of attacks upon our very being. Nothing that happens to us affects us in a void. Every action, every experience, every bite and breath of life contain inertia and energy that reverberates in us and through us, tickling and tumbling internal latches and locks that release doorways of life and/or windows of death. No one escapes, and everyone is subject. This is the nature of the world we inherited post-Adam. The scarier aspect of this reality is the stealthy and relentlessly cumulative nature of this attack upon us. Left unawares of how we are being affected, we wake up one day and realize something or many things are broken, some irreparably.
We are multi-faceted creatures, fearfully and wonderfully made…incredibly resilient, but dangerously fragile too. We are told to love our God with “all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength.” This should be a clue to us that we are inextricably linked through all these aspects of our being. One doesn’t come under attack without the others becoming influenced or affected. Many times, because we are so wonderfully made, we don’t notice the auto compensating nature that our bodies function under. Something begins to fail or falter and another organ or aspect of our being jumps up to get “its back.” Amazing stuff we humans are. The wonderful nature I point to though, doesn’t come free, there is always a cumulative effect and left alone and unattended, it can be our demise. The spiritual truth here is rich and shouldn’t be glossed over. Paying attention to our souls is an important task and much more complex than what many of us might give deep thought to—there might be risks far greater than some of us are willing or capable of paying for this kind of neglect.
Jesus and the Church have left us a great legacy and means of taking good care of ourselves so we might be ready and “healthy” for the Bridal Feast of our Lord. None of us should be so foolish that a “sinus allergy” would be our eternal undoing.
Leaven, Stability, Patience, and Humility [Pt.1]
Readings: Psalm 119:105-112 ◊ Hebrews 12:25 ◊ Romans 8:1-11 ◊ Matt. 13:11-12
“I have sworn and am determined to keep your righteous judgments.” Psalm 119:106 NRsV
Leaven, stability, patience, and humility…these are big and deep words—packed with meaning—and they just keep bouncing around my thoughts and digging into my heart.
I actually started this journal entry about three days ago thinking I might be able to work through some of what God could be trying to speak to me through these words that have a long and storied history with me. I think I’m beginning to get something of a clearer picture of where they may be taking me, but I’m sure that I’m only beginning to mine the very surface tip of this iceberg of wisdom.
Leaven : to mingle or permeate with some modifying, alleviating, or vivifying element; An agency or influence that produces a gradual change; to pervade, causing a gradual change, esp with some moderating or enlivening influence. [from Latin levare to raise – via Old French ultimately from Latin levāmen relief (hence, raising agent, leaven) from levāre to raise. (see also lever)]
What does it take to be human leaven or a human leavening agent among people? Considering the definitions I found for leaven, especially in the context I think it applies, I believe it takes heavy portions and exercise of the other words I’m considering these days: Leaven requires—stability, patience, and humility. One of the definitions sounds as if it includes these action words in its description; “An agency of influence that produces a gradual change; to pervade…” I distinctly hear patience and stability in that definition. Whether it is obvious or not, I consider humility assumed when talking about interaction and change among people… where diversity, differing opinions, and competing worldviews are part of the mix.
I further think about leaven and its characteristics and it occurs to me that leaven itself is indifferent. Leaven is leaven and does what leaven does. It has no agenda and suffers no failure if its surrounding ingredients fail to rise. As I consider this very simple thought, a light turns on in my own brain and I remember the teachings of Ignatius in his exercises with the meditation of Principle and Foundation. Basically, the sum of the teaching of Principle and Foundation is this; “Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.”
Naturally, this ideology or spiritual philosophy may be expressed according to the uniqueness of each individual. My expression of praise, reverence, and service to God may not be the template that is right for another person, but when each person, specific to their uniquely created order, lives out their God-ordained vocation, joyful fulfillment can be the expected outcome. The underlying foundational attitude to live out this principle and foundation is known as holy indifference. In the Ignatian context we are using this word it does not mean lack of feeling or concern… or apathy. Instead, what we mean is that we hold with sacred trust that God is in control, guiding and gifting us as needed to bring us fully to the maturity of our created place in the image, likeness, and Body of Christ. Indifference in this context can be described as true spiritual freedom. We stand before God with a posture of humility, openness, and trust. We look to welcome Christ in each person we meet with Christ Himself guiding us in every situation we encounter. We are ultimately free to respond, serve, persevere, and love as God desires. We are free to be the person God has created us to be, exactly where we are, in the very present moment. Holy Indifference. “Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening life in me” (SE 23).
I think, as an agent of human leaven, this shall be my attitude. Leaven is leaven; it is 100% as God created it to be and does 100% what God created it to do. In whatever environment I am in and whatever my surroundings I want to be all that God created me to be and do all the God has created me to do.
It is clear, then, that to love others well we must first love the truth. And since love is a matter of practical and concrete human relations, the truth we must love when we love our brothers is not mere abstract speculation: it is the moral truth that is to be embodied and given life in our own destiny and theirs. This truth is more than the cold perception of an obligation, flowing from moral precepts. The truth we must love in loving our brothers is the concrete destiny and sanctity that are willed for them by the love of God. One who really loves another is not merely moved by the desire to see him contented and healthy and prosperous in this world. Love cannot be satisfied with anything so incomplete. If I am to love my brother, I must somehow enter deep into the mystery of God’s love for him. I must be moved not only by human sympathy but by that divine sympathy which is revealed to us in Jesus and which enriches our own lives by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
The truth I love in loving my brother cannot be something merely philosophical and abstract. It must be at the same time supernatural and concrete, practical and alive…and not in a metaphorical sense. The truth I must love in my brother is God Himself, living in him. I must seek the life of the Spirit of God breathing in him. And I can only discern and follow that mysterious life by the action of the same Holy Spirit living and acting in the depths of my own heart. –No Man is an Island, Thomas Merton (pp4-5)
I feel like there is so much more to say about this posture of heart, but I fear I’ve run out of time and energy for this reflection. I plan to explore the meditation and reflection upon these words. I want to ponder them individually and ponder their interactions with one another. I will share these thoughts as time provides me the opportunity to record them.
Your Word is a lantern to my feet and a light upon my path. I have sworn and am determined to keep your righteous judgments. Accept, O LORD, the willing tribute of my lips, and teach me your judgments. Your decrees are my inheritance forever; truly, they are the joy of my heart. I have applied my heart to fulfill your statutes for ever and to the end. -Psalm 119:105-112