Tag Archives: Spiritual Formation

Quick Review: The Rest of God

Over the past month I’ve been going through The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul By Restoring Sabbath by Mark Buchanan. If there’s been any theme or need in my life over the past year, it’s been the concept of rest and abiding in the Lord – but the last month has been when I’ve really been able to take steps towards that rest as most of the year became the antithesis of abiding.

Reading this book in a spirit of reflection and contemplation – taking each of the 14 chapters every two or three days to really focus and think about has helped me move closer to what title of the book promises – experiencing the restoration of my soul.  Coming into this summer I was probably closer to burnout that I wanted to admit, fresh off an inhuman pace of life and work. This was one of the best books that could have helped me enter the truth – the truth of God’s rest available to me and the truth of how and why I avoid or fail to enter that rest all too often. This is the book I recommend regarding burnout and rest as opposed to what I reviewed last week.

The book is not just about Sabbath as Sunday, but as living life in the Gospel – experiencing life in God as a gift to be received, not as something to be mastered or conquered.  There are excellent chapters on rest, Sunday Sabbath, play, freedom, and identity among others.  In fact, all 14 chapters had significant insight and reflection on God’s gift to us of Himself through Sabbath rest.

If you are on the verge of burnout or if you just need to have a helpful catalyst to resting in the Lord, I highly recommend The Rest of God.  I really enjoy Buchanan’s writing style and I think there are several chapters I plan on coming back to on a regular basis because they are so helpful for me in light of my typical struggles to find rest and abide in the Lord.

This will be something I recommend a lot moving forward, so I’ll start here with you 🙂

 

Quick Review: Zeal Without Burnout

I read last week Zeal without Burnout: Seven keys to a lifelong ministry of sustainable sacrifice by Christopher Ash as I’m in a season of reflection and evaluation of my own capacity. I’m reading a few different things relating to Sabbath and rest.  This was a book I added to the mix because it fits some of my current challenges and I picked it up for 99 cents on the Kindle.

First, the book is fine. As an introduction to pacing yourself as a minister and not getting sucked into demands and ministry tasks that end up taking over your life.  It can serve as a helpful intro to rest and well-being as a minister.

But…

I saw that it was being offered for 9$ on Kindle and I do not believe it is worth that.  I had assumed this was a 3 or 4 dollar kindle book as it’s only 130 pages and there’s a lot of space between chapters so I would say it’s closer to 100 pages of actual content.

The book is a good encouragement, but if you have money I would suggest going elsewhere like Mark Buchanan’s The Rest of God, which I am reading right now as well.  Zeal without Burnout does not really go deep enough into all of what’s involved in these areas of struggle for ministers to justify the high cost and in general only offers limited insight beyond a basic exhortation to avoid legalism and other components.

For what it was for me – I appreciated it.  But it served as a 99 cent Kindle e-book that lightly encouraged well-being, spiritual health, and healthy limits in ministry.   I don’t mean to be negative about the book because it had some good qualities – especially some firsthand stories from people who have struggled mightily with burnout.  But when I saw the normal cost, it just didn’t feel anywhere near worth it.  If you want a book on rest or Sabbath, keep an eye out for some of my upcoming thoughts on The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan.

 

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: 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.

 

 

 

Family Hug!

SAMSUNG

Had a fun moment last week.  As our family was leaving my parent’s place and our kids were saying good-bye to their cousins (close in age to our youngest – in the 2 year old range), they were starting to give each other hugs.  That is cute in and of itself – watching 2 year olds hug each other.  But then my little one (2 yrs 3 months) was clearly feeling the moment and yelled “Family Hug!” and initiated a big family hug with all family members who were in sight.

It was amazing to me that at her age, our little one already has a paradigm, a construct of what “Family” is.  It’s been nurtured for sure by her context – the environment she has lived in and who her world consists of.  Even though recently turning two, she associates family with closeness, togetherness, hugs, and touch.  It’s part of how she understands the world, it’s even part of how she sees herself. She sees herself as part of something – even at a young two.

We’re thankful that she has had such an experience where she has such a view of what Family is.  But it’s sobering too that as Kaelyn is internalizing certain truths about what Family is or should be, many her age are forming very different constructs about family that do not include closeness, connection, or healthy loving touch – like hugs.

Family is part of our identity. It informs so much about how we see the world and ourselves.  We are forever marked by our origins. Yet if those origins are painful or dark, we need not be enslaved by them.  I’m thankful that in God’s grace he aims to provide children tangible expressions of his love and grace through the family.  I’m also thankful that through his Spirit and through His people, His body that our incomplete or broken constructs of love and family can be redeemed and built up.

As I watch my little girl, one thing is crystal clear – she was created for family, just as we all are.  God wants all His human creations to know and experience family. It’s the language of the New Testament. He’s constantly inviting people to a promise of family where all of our limited and earthly notions of what family is or is not can be transformed and re-ordered so that holy love is the foundation of how we come to see and relate to one another.

Gatherings of the body ought to be in many ways, “Family Hugs.” That’s very touchy feely language I’m not typically associated with, but gatherings of the body ought to be expressions and celebrations of our common identity as the family of God as well as our uniquenesses as individuals within that family.

So maybe “Family Hugs” need to become part of your tradition!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.