Tag Archives: Discipleship

Quick Review: Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands

One of the best books I’ve read this year is Paul Tripp’s Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change by Paul Tripp. I read Tripp’s How People Change earlier this year, which he co-wrote with Timothy Lane and I use their book Relationships: A Mess Worth Making in the Graduate Interpersonal Relationships Class I teach. But I had not heard of Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hand until it was recommended to me by the head of my peace studies program.

The book is a theology and philosophy of personal ministry and Biblical counseling. It unpacks the incarnational calling of the body of Christ to minister to one another at the heart level in the way the Scriptures describe and mandate. Tripp challenges secular models arguing that they reinforce blameshifting rather than go to the true source of our problems and need to change – the problem of sin.

Tripp uses Scripture really well to convey a thoroughly Biblical framework for personal change and the role that each of us needs to play in giving and receiving Biblical instruction and counsel.  While giving his personal philosophy of Biblical counseling, Tripp presents this book as a resource for all believers for their personal growth as well as for the role they can play in God’s redeeming work of change in people’s lives through Christ.

There is excellent material here, including practical resources of questions to ask, key Scriptures to use, and a general process of coming alongside other people in the change process.  One of the most valuable parts of the book was one of 5 appendices, which unpacked the dynamics of spiritual blindness.  Spiritual blindness is something we all experience personally and we all observe in others, but Tripp’s teaching from the Scriptures on the topic in addition to practical questions and approaches to help people face their spiritual blindness was really helpful I thought.

I think Tripp’s approach from Scripture is a needed one and it’s a model of personal ministry that would truly be transformational.  Few in the ministry really consistently teach and talk about the heart.  Fewer still really give people the tools and build a culture around how to keep Christ’s work in the heart at the center of ministry. Tripp offers great resources and paradigms from Scripture.

My only gripe is that it presents a view that all problems can be solved just addressing sin. I think his treatment of depression falls in this category – where there are sin and belief issues involved as well as other things.   So I still see the importance of specialized counseling in some scenarios that help someone navigate complex issues, but I believe this approach to Biblical counseling would cover most scenarios pretty well. The main point is that we need to let the gospel do its work in peoples’ lives and for that to happen, we need to get at the heart and the way in which we deceive ourselves and exchange worship of Christ for tons of other things.

But again – this is not just a counseling resource. It’s a great resource for discipleship, small groups, and mentoring. I’ve walked the guys I’m mentoring through some of the foundational aspects of this change model and it’s been quite helpful.  So I recommend it as an ongoing resource that can be pulled out when you find yourself in situations where god has you in a position to help facilitate change in someone’s life. There’s not going to be much better tools to help you think about the idolatry of the heart and how to help you and others shift from false worship to authentic worship of Christ in all things.

 

Quick Review: How People Change

A couple months ago I read  How People Change by Paul Tripp and Timothy Lane. I’ve already used some parts of the book in my mentoring and small group work and plan on integrating some of the content into one of my classes in the upcoming term.

There’s several books or models of change or growth out there. Many Christians prefer Tripp and Lane’s work because it’s firmly grounded in Scripture and is focused on personal sanctification.  That’s why I like this book and their Relationships:  A Mess Worth Making, which I use in my Interpersonal Relationships course.

The strength of the book is the model which ties personal sanctification and behavior change to the Biblical themes of eternal hope, being married to Christ, and Christian community and body life.  They provide a framework that helps people evaluate how circumstances trigger behavior – either good or bad.  But what separates the model is that they use Scripture to push people the extra step into the heart areas and idolatry that lies at the foundation of the bad behavior.  They focus on both the root and the fruit of behavior.

I found a link to a summary article of the book which is a great small group tool and not too long. The link is:  https://www.ccef.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/archive/sites/default/files/2302015_0.pdf

Sometimes I hear people compare Tripp and Lane’s worth with Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s.  I see them doing different things and so I have often been using resources from both.  Tripp and Lane present a model and foundation for personal sanctification and interpersonal and spiritual maturity.  Cloud and Townsend tend to focus on human and personal development.  Sometimes there’s a lot of overlap there, but they are different enough to where it’s important to understand what the resources are meant and not meant to do.

There’s a lot pertaining to growth and development that Tripp and Lane do not attempt to cover.  I similarly do not see Cloud and Townsend offering a comprehensive model of sanctification or Spirit filled living.  I think there’s a lot of potential to use the strengths of both to do holistic and Biblical based training that impacts Spirit-filled living and character transformation with human growth and development that reflects the overall narrative of Scripture.

I found this book to be a great resource and a help personally and for me as I mentor individuals and small groups. I recommend it and I’ve noticed that around once a year it’s offered free or for a couple dollars on amazon as an e-book so keep a look out 🙂

 

Quick Review: The Call

           The Call by Os Guinness is meant to be to be read and digested over a period of time – like a daily devotional or reflection. It’s actually so deep and catalyzes such depth of thought and introspection that it can’t really be consumed another way.  I loved going through this book as I was challenged spiritually and intellectually.

           One of my takeaways was how the pervasiveness in which all meaning and activity in life is meant to be an experience of the Caller and an expression of worship.  Calling is not just about finding my unique purpose in the world, but it is about connecting to a comprehensive vision for how I have been created to worship the Caller in a particular context and time. Calling then is not fundamentally about me at all – it’s about the Caller.  Of specific relevance was the chapter about “The Audience of One.”  We’re called to live our lives to please God alone. I resonate deeply with Guinness’ comment that, “The trouble comes, of course, when we truly live before an Audience of one, but the audience is not God but us” (Guinness, 2003, kindle loc 2069).

One insight I reflected on more deeply that connects with the above reflections relates to how I view different aspects of work. While in general, I do not believe I tend to divorce the sacred and secular in practice, I was convicted in my attitude and motivation in different parts of my duties and responsibilities that sometimes are not as significant or praiseworthy – those things that simply take hard work and effort and that do not garner much attention or praise. Guinness uses the language of “drudgery,” which resonates with some aspects of my life and ministry experience – from things like commuting in traffic to other things like paperwork and meetings. Guinness writes, “Drudgery done for ourselves or for other human audiences will always be drudgery. But drudgery done for God is lifted and changed” (Guinness, 2003, kindle loc 3209). As I am connected to my Caller, all of my work has meaning. If the Caller would be pleased, why should I express contempt at some forms of my work?

Another insight that I reflected deeply upon was the sin of sloth. It is easy to not think about this sin because of how busy and active I am, but Guinness corrects this perspective and clarifies that sloth does not just involve physical laziness, but indifference to the Caller and the world into which the Caller has sent us. He writes, “Sloth is inner despair at the worthwhileness of the worthwhile that finally slumps into an attitude of “Who cares?” (Guinness, 2003, kindle loc 2445). I was reminded again that I do not want to have a faith that is “privately engaging but socially irrelevant” (Guinness, 2003, kindle loc 2809). I am resolved to guard against indifference in my life, relationships, and ministry so that my expression of my calling is an expression of worship to the Caller.

Another significant chapter related to the themes of reputation and image. Guinness asks if we have had our “white funeral” (Guinness, 2003, kindle loc 3646). The challenge is that we must die to ourselves in many ways, one of which involves dying to our image and reputation. There are not too many things I resist more than looking like a fool, yet if that is my highest value I reject Christ.  This was one of many challenging chapters that examine different areas of character.

This is a fantastic resource for personal development and character growth.  It is important for refining a sense of overall calling in life, but it’s relevant for discipleship in general.  I highly recommend this – this would be a great thing to go through over time with a small group or team.

 

Quick Review: After You Believe

A couple months ago I read N.T. Wright’s After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters.  This book has really got me thinking and I’ve been continuing to think about the implications of Wright’s arguments as it relates to ministry and leadership formation.

Wright considers this to be the third book of a trilogy of sorts after his books Simply Christian and Surprised by Hope.  The first of those is his type of “Mere Christianity” and the second his a treatment of Heaven and eschatology.  After You Believe is a treatment of what discipleship and sanctification looks like post conversion – it’s about how true transformation of character develops.

The real focus of the book is the process and development of character which doesn’t get produced naturally – character which is only produced through struggle and intentionality and perseverance.  This type of character refined by fire, in which behaviors become second nature, is what Wright discusses as “Virtue.”

Virtue, besides being my last name, is a concept growing more popular today especially in business and leadership development discussions.  “Virtue-based leadership” as a philosophy has been gaining steam in leadership circles and Virtue seems to be making a comeback since the days when Bennett’s “Book of Virtues” was popular.

Wright discusses the two extremes of character development – what he describes roughly as “following the rules” on one hand and “following your heart” on the other.  He describes this as a spectrum in which most philosophies of personal change will fall on one side or the other.  He discusses how either philosophy of change – legalism or emotionalism/feeling driven change are inadequate for the kind of character development that equates to the New Testament mandate of “putting on” the new self.

Wright addresses some of the history of virtue development and highlights some of the Catholic / Protestant tensions of the Reformation related to the concept of virtue based character formation.  His discussion on these themes related to Shakespeare’s Hamlet has me pursuing that play to see some of how those themes are reflected in the art of the time.

Wright fundamentally calls for a grace based approach to intentional character development that invests in developing new habits while getting rid of old habits.  Some get nervous when talking about habits and intentional character development because they believe all transformation is a product of the Spirit. Wright supports that as well, but argues that there is an embodied expression of faith in the believer as he makes choices and struggles to die to him or herself and put on the behavior consistent with the new identity in Christ.

Sanctification is produced by the grace of God as his children die to themselves by faith in the power of the Holy Spirit and put on the new self – even when the behavior isn’t “natural” or second nature yet.  Wright argues that over time, such Spirit driven behavior and struggle in faith produces that character refined by fire that is described by virtue.

We live in an age when many believers are trapped in legalism and performance on one hand and cheap grace on the other.  There is a need for an integrated view of sanctification that calls believers to a more holy integration of faith and works, all grounded in the grace of God.  Wright makes compelling arguments from Scripture and challenges all believers to reject cheap grace or regulations and embrace an authentic journey of denying themselves and putting on the character of Christ – even if it feels uncomfortable or not natural at first.

 

 

 

Quick Review: Schaeffer’s Art and the Bible

I recently read Francis Schaeffer’s Art and the Bible and I really appreciated it.  It was short and awesome – I love books like that!

The book was written a few decades ago, but it serves as an apologetic of sorts for the importance of art and creation for the Church and for Christians. Various faith communities over the years have either drifted to either rejecting the role of art in giving glory to God or they have gone to the other extreme of worshipping art itself.  Schaeffer aims to lay out a simple theology of art and creation for giving glory to God and bearing witness to the world.

I think in the last couple of decades, the Church has made pretty significant strides as it relates to how it stewards art and values its role in community and mission.  I still hear from a lot of churchgoers a lot of fear about “those postmoderns,” but one of the blessings of the shift in worldview culturally over the past few decades has been the rediscovery in some ways of the power and importance of art and creative efforts. It makes me thankful for Schaeffer and others like him who were speaking into this area in the church 40 years ago.

The book covers the above, but also makes the connections to one’s own discipleship to Christ as a form of art. I loved this quote…

“No work of art is more important than the Christian’s own life, and every Christian is cared upon to be an artist in this sense. He may have no gift of writing, no gift of composing or singing, but each man has the gift of creativity in terms of the way he lives his life. In this sense the Christian’s life is to be an art work. The Christian’s life is to be a thing of truth and also a thing of beauty in the midst of a lost and despairing world.”   (Kindle loc 598-602)

My next post will be primarily related to Schaeffer’s thoughts about art, meaning, and context.  It was fascinating how relevant many of his thoughts are to contemporary discussions of mission and culture and specifically the task of contextualization.

If you’re an artist and want a good short and sound theology of art I highly recommend this book!

MOTO Theology: Deny Thyself

Has it ever struck you that there are key points of truth in the Scriptures that at the core are quite obvious to the honest reader, yet somehow they get lost in the day to day practice of faith amidst the minutiae of life and the overwhelming scope of information and content offered?

Today it is all too easy to get lost.  When we recognize that we are lost, one of the practical and wise courses to take is a return to simplicity or as many like to say, “return to the basics.”

I don’t plan on offering new or profound insight in what I’m calling “Master Of The Obvious (MOTO) Theology” though I hope over time to work out some of those key things that are fairly simple and obvious, yet ignored or dismissed far too casually for a variety of reasons.   As I write I’m mindful that it is part of the spiritual warfare of the enemies of God to hide most obvious and central things behind a veil of other information and ideas, good though they might often be, to undermine our consistent reflection on that which is central and vital to living faithful and holy lives.  I don’t know how often I’ll post along these lines, but here’s the first post.

In my reading last week I was struck by the simplicity and obvious central commands in this teaching of Jesus to his followers in Luke 9:23,

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

The more I reflect on this passage in the context of contemporary culture (in the west especially) and Christian culture in the west, the more I’m blown away by just how peripheral this truth and command has become,  routinely resting in the shadows of much religious activity or simple day to day living.

Whether it be in the area of finances, exercising influence from  position of power, relationships including marriage, cross-cultural tensions, or even personal habits – so much of the advice out there given in the name of Jesus doesn’t seem to call people to the kind of commitment of faith and sacrifice that rests at the foundation of a life of obedience.

We’re in a personal rights culture and that seems to be the case in the Church today as well – yet such an ethos is in direct conflict with the call of Jesus – “If anyone would come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Denying all of our “rights” and embracing the suffering that comes with serving others in love, faith, and obedience is not an attractive message to many – yet it is the path to true beauty.

After reflecting on this theme I came across a poem called “The Cross” by John Donne (early 17th century) in Ben Witherington III and Christopher Mead Armitage’s The Poetry of Piety and this is what they offer in their reflection on “The Cross”:

“…Christians are called to be cross bearers, not merely cross wearers, and we must cross out the selfish and self indulgent tendencies that are antithetical to following Christ’s example.

…there is no gospel of self-indulgence or health and wealth or conspicuous consumption, despite what is being preached from some pulpits today.

Yet it is possible for us to willingly make sacrifices so that we see ourselves in true perspective and also imitate the one to whom all lesser cross patterns point. Paradoxically, only a self-confident person is able to step down as Christ did and make sacrifices for others, however humiliating the act may be.”

Denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily in faith is an obvious and central truth to what discipleship to Christ means.  It’s simple in some ways. Yet denial of self and cross-bearing are anything but simple. Willful suffering for the sake of Christ and others is not simple. Pain never is.  Yet nonetheless, that is the path of discipleship and fortunately we have a Savior who has shown us the way, lived this life in perfection, and given us a great power to live this life despite the calling of the world to make sure we get what we’re “owed.”

There’s so much I and so many others feel entitled to in this life.  It’s a hard truth indeed to digest as I try to put myself in the crowd when Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

Have we forgotten that this is part of the core DNA of following Christ?

I know I forget this all too often and am so thankful for God’s mercy and grace as we persevere in the journey.

 

 

Are You Better Off Being Cross-Culturally Clueless?

Originally posted on July 19th, 2008 as “Is Ignorance Bliss?”I’ll be re-posting a few posts from a few years back as I adapt to life with three kids! Been thinking about cross-cultural development a lot the last few weeks so I though it was  a good time to bring this one out again.—————————————–I heard an interesting result from some research this past week that I thought I’d share. Research from a Professor at Bethel that’s been researching formation issues in grad students over the past decade has shown a correlation between greater cultural (and not just ethnic) self-awareness and flexibility with higher anxiety. Similarly, those who reflect greater rigidity and lack of awareness reflect lower levels of anxiety.This really has been on my mind lately. From a systems standpoint, high differentiation (more or less having a distinct sense of self while also staying connected in relationship) is often connected to lower anxiety because the emotional undercurrents are less confusing and people are free enough to live with greater clarity than when they are bound up anxiously with others. I think this is still true. Yet, research is also showing that a more complex consciousness or capacity to see things from other perspectives and cultures is linked with increased anxiety.On some level I’m not surprised. I once heard an evangelical professor and apologist say “Ignorance isn’t bliss. Ignorance is ignorance!” Yet the research shows on some level ignorance is indeed bliss, or at least comes with less anxiety. People who have more rigid personal systems or wordlviews and who have not yet encountered levels of pain and difficulty that provide the necessary catalyst for a “crisis of faith” (or worldview) in ways are able to live with a greater contentment about their own lives. The down side is that this means that many of us are content in our own worlds, but almost precisely because we’re more clueless about or unaware of the legitimacy of very different or competing points of view or perspectives.The research shows that the more we truly “know” those who are different from us, the greater our anxiety will be. Maybe this is because we care more and have to keep in tension competing or challenging values outside of what we hold most naturally. We all know that “loving our neighbor” is hard, but this shows that those who have the capacity to see things from a different perspective (in the way they see it, and not in the way you would see it if you were in their shoes), will find that seeking to love others well will carry with it at times a fair measure of anxiety and internal tension. Loving others incarnationally (on their terms) is a much more anxious process than loving others myopically (on our terms).This is interesting to me because I’ve often struggled with why I seem to see the “relatively more clueless” experience more happiness and euphoria in life at times than those who are “relatively more discerning” or who have more a more complex capacity for vision. The question I have to ask my self is this: Would I rather be in bliss, but intellectually and emotionally cut off from other people’s worlds or would I rather be able to be more intimately connected with other people’s cares and concerns from their perspective and experience for myself more angst, tension, and emotional turmoil?Seems like one of those options falls in line with discipleship to Christ and one doesn’t. This reality has some real developmental implications which maybe I can write about as I think through them.Updated thoughts 11/12/10: As I reread this one thing is jumping out at me right now.  A lot of people encourage cross-cultural action and behavior.  But this research would suggest that unless you have a plan to help people deal with what is generated internally and emotionally through that process there likely will be limited long-term change.What do you think?

A Take on Motivation, From Someone Who’s Growing (Guest Post)

Excited to introduce the next guest post of 2010.  This is I believe #6 out of the 10 in ’10 guest posts that I am hosting on this blog this year.  Enjoy engaging Eunice’s thoughts on motivation!————–(Disclaimer: I don’t have it all figured out, but these are fragmented pieces of my thought process.)Recently, I’ve wondered how I will interact with my own children that will be different from the way I was raised. I never seemed to understand my parent’s reasoning. My mom’s excuse (I mean, reason) for anything I don’t agree with is simply “When you’re a mom, you’ll understand.” Which makes me think that when I have my children, I’ll have a lot to apologize for. Regardless, I hope I’ll take a different approach to motivating my kids. I still remember how my parents motivated my sister and I into action: by comparing us. “Look, you’re falling behind!” they’d exclaim when one of us would falter. I still wonder if that’s why one of my strengthfinders is “competition.”I began to realize how clueless I was about how to be motivated when meeting with a friend in May. As we shared our stories and commiserated at how difficult adulthood could be, we happened onto a subject that I would struggle to answer for the rest of the summer:“What is supposed to motivate us?”We’re aware enough to recognize that being motivated by guilt or shame (such as the comparison method) wasn’t healthy. But, when guilt and shame is gone, what’s supposed to fill you with a desire to take action?Years ago, as a student leader in Epic, I would have told the questioner to submit their doubts to God because of Christ’s sacrifice.  But my post-college dive into adulthood was  more of a bellyflop in that it was painful and ill-prepared. When I left college, the lines went from black and white to a blurred ocean of gray areas, and with that, the purpose behind being motivated wasn’t simply to be faithful, but really, what does faithfulness mean?Recently, I felt a relief to hear that the answer to all my problems was“just give it to the Lord.” But I began wondering if all it took was daily submission, why I had been spending the last few years sorting out the junk of my emotions and trying to become more aware of myself. Yet, the last two years of having my emotions and experiences validated helped extract the motivation of shame that lay deep in my life. It was a wrestling match to decide which I should follow: blind obedience and submission or seeking to reconcile my emotions and experiences.The clouds of confusion parted, just a little, when I read this passage in My Utmost for His Highest:”The level of my growth in grace is revealed by the way I look at obedience…The Son was obedient as our Redeemer, because He was the Son, not in order to become God’s Son.” (My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers)I began to understand, that motivation is a marriage of obedience and emotional awareness. If we look at submission in the right way, we can see that we submit without the threat of losing who we are if we fail to do so. It’s a combination of recognizing sin by knowing our own hearts. Once we do that, we’re free to be motivated by joy and real true love and not guilt or shame.It’s not a fear of falling behind, but knowing that I am not unloved by God when I fail. To understand that we are free to be motivated by joy takes away the stigma of failure and the expectation of perfection.What do you think about motivation being a marriage between obedience and emotional awareness?What have you discovered on your journey to an authentic and free source of motivation for action in life?————-Eunice Lee is part-time staff with Campus Crusade’s Epic Movement and a graduate of George Mason University in 2008 with a degree in Psychology.  She currently resides in Southern California.  You can check out her blog at http://www.epicvision.wordpress.com or you can follow her on twitter @eunicejean.

My Thoughts on The Great Omission (Review)

I’ve posted a few excerpts in the last week from this book that really struck me so you’ve gotten a feel for some of the book by now.  Here’s a couple thoughts so you can get a feel for whether this would be a motivating book for you to add to your reading list soon.First, I recommend not reading this whole book in one sitting during an 11-hour unplanned layover just before taking a red-eye flight cross-country.  It didn’t work for me and it probably won’t work well for you.  This book will be best taken in during shorter segments spread out over time.Part of what that is is because this book is a compilation of lectures and presentations Willard has done pertaining to the arena of spiritual formation and discipleship.  As such, there are times where there is repetition of themes and anecdotes.  The chapters cover a lot of ground from discipleship to spiritual formation to spiritual disciplines to how Jesus taught.  My favorite chapter in the whole book is entitled “Jesus the Logician” and Willard describes well Jesus’ incredible skill in out thinking his opposition.  It fits well within Willard’s thesis that Jesus was in fact the smartest man in the world – a thought that often doesn’t occur to many of us in how we perceive the person of Jesus.This book is a great book for some of my evangelical friends who might develop tight sphincter syndrome when they hear the word “spiritual formation.” Willard provides a great apologetic for what spiritual formation is and it’s role in discipleship to Christ.  I’m not going to summarize it because that’s what the book does.There’s good stuff as always pertaining to the spiritual disciplines.  It can’t help but motivate you to consider what kind of steps you need to take to actively create the space in your life for God to bring transformation in the areas we need it.  I was surprised to see how much Willard emphasized memorization of the Scriptures and this is his #1 prioritized discipline.  I’m thinking about that a lot in terms of what disciplines I often emphasize and what ones I might want to consider making more a part of my life.I like Willard’s thinking.  I wasn’t has enthralled by this book as The Divine Conspiracy, but it was very thought provoking on the above issues and the questions of what discipleship to Christ really is and what the Church might want to consider to avoid oversimplified or imbalanced presentations of what life in God’s Kingdom truly means.