Tag Archives: Spiritual Formation

Quick Review: The Sacred Enneagram

I continued some of my exploration through the enneagram reading my third enneagram book in as many months. This one was The Sacred Enneagram by Christopher L. Heuertz. 

I’ve shared on the enneagram before with The Road Back to You and Self to Lose, Self to Find so I’ll just add a few elements of what makes this unique. This was by far the most contemplative of the three books, which for some is good and motivating, while for others that’s a more challenging feature of the book.

The book by far, from what I’ve read, goes into a lot of deeper theory on the enneagram and getting into the “science” of it. So there’s some really interesting stuff in there illuminating certain components. However, there really wasn’t as much content and insight into the enneagram as I was hoping because there were large sections of the book more dedicated to contemplative prayer and spirituality in general and as a foundation for the enneagram.  I wasn’t really looking for that in the book and it’s a large part of it. A solid spiritual base is important for any tool like this, but I was looking for more wisdom and practical insight.

The book is an authentic and solid representation of contemplative spirituality, but that’s not really the world I run in so some of the language at times didn’t resonate with me. But I appreciated the fundamental treatment of how each individual must battle certain fundamental sin patterns to find their life fully in Christ.

This book had the strongest section on the background and history and development of the enneagram so I did enjoy that . I found it very interesting. It also had some of the most accurate depictions the type I identify with so that was helpful as well.

I’m not sure I would recommend this unless someone really was into the contemplative spirituality scene given some of the other resources out there, but I did learn things that I did not in the previous two books. So – maybe it depends on your own personality and how you approach life with God.

 

Quick Review: The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting

I have recently done several reviews on Brene Brown’s books  – you can search this blog for reviews on The Gift of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and Braving the Wildnerness.  Before the end of the year here I’ll add one more since I just finished her short audio book called The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting.

This is short, but from a life and value standpoint, it might even by my favorite of her books because we’re deep into the parenting life stage of life, on the verge of having teenagers. Ten years ago I made a commitment to reading a marriage and parenting book each year.  Now, I’m ramping that up to 3-4 books each year on marriage and parenting because there’s no point in saving that learning until after our kids are out of the house.

This book provides short summaries of Brown’s work on shame and vulnerability, but there are just tons of nuggets that are awesome and life-giving for parenting and they often are directly backed up by research as well.  More importantly for me, most insights I believe reflect Biblical truths about leadership and parenting based on grace and truth.  The book is full of insights and principles that parents just need constant reminders so this is a book probably worth doing an annual review of because it’s that practical and helpful. It helps illuminate poor thinking patterns based on the surrounding culture and re-set for the sake of healthy and empowering relationships.

Some of the key sections relate to perfectionism and shame in parenting, over-functioning and control in parenting, struggle and hope, creativity and play, gratitude and joy, boundaries, and a variety of other things.

Beyond just being a general parenting book, the powerful piece still is the connection between shame and parenting which I believe also extends to leadership. Shame can be a factor in hindering play, increasing perfectionism and image management, and levels of control and comparison among others. This is important and reinforces one of her initial principles – who we are is more important than what we do.  That idea is really tough for a lot of folks, but it’s critical!

We have to deal with our own hearts. This is another reason why the question of where we get our worthiness from is crucial. People seek worthiness in all sorts of things – but I believe worthiness is ultimately only found unconditionally through a God who offers unconditional forgiveness in grace and truth. We need to be transformed first before we can be agents of transformation for others. If we have unresolved shame, that will translate to our efforts in shaping and molding those entrusted to us.

Here is a great specific summary of the audiobook that outlines principle by principle what Brown covers. This gives a real concrete picture of what is in the recording and the content.

 

Quick Review: Self to Lose – Self to Find

Last week I gave a quick review on the enneagram book The Road Back to YouHere is the second book I’ve read recently in my attempts to explore and understand the enneagram as a tool to help myself and others dig deeper into the heart issues that drive behavior.

Self to Lose Self to Find: A Biblical Approach to the 9 Enneagram Types by Marilyn Vancil was a much shorter treatment of the Enneagram types, but had much more depth to it from a spiritual standpoint. Half of the book is presenting a theology of Spirit-filled living, unpacking a framework of spiritual formation through the paradigm of dying to self and grounding one’s identity in the person and work of Christ.  This was a solid treatment and helpful for both those who jump into these things for the quick rush of finding their “type” like its a horoscope as well as those trolls out there who are quick to try to destroy anything that feels different to what they are used to.  I still am exploring how useful the enneagram is in life and ministry, but Vancil does a great job laying a solid framework for the bigger picture of how self-awareness is in service of our journey to put off the old self and put on the new self.

Self-awareness is something we all need and most people in leadership and ministry are trying to help other people develop in as well.  But often, the foundation of why we should pursue self-awareness is shaky or fuzzy. I like the beginning of this book as a primer of self-reflection and the Enneagram stuff aside, the rest of the book unpacks a helpful framework or process for cultivating Spirit-facilitated self-awareness. Vancil entitles that process with the acronym OWNUP, which links the process of reflection with the fundamental taking of responsibility inherent to what it means to “die to self.”

The descriptions themselves of the 9 types are helpful and framed more from a Biblical perspective with some helpful categories to give insight to the types such as core sins, core fears, and several other areas helpful as a road map for personal reflection.

While the strength of the book is framing everything through a clear Biblical framework for following Jesus through putting off the old self and picking up our cross daily and embracing the new self, the cost is at more contextual content related to the specific types. I find that I need more context and content on each type to really get a handle on them, but having already read The Road Back to You and listened to some other content really helped. I am not sure this is the first book I would recommend to someone on the Enneagram for that reason. I benefitted because I already had some context.

Another disappointment was the section on wings was practically non-existent. That’s something still confusing to me and Vancil really doesn’t try to tackle that outside of making a small argument that each type is affected to some degree by each wing to the number’s left or right. That seems like a different take than some of what I’ve heard so far.

There are two unique contributions to the Enneagram as a spiritual encouragement. First, there’s a section where the author includes an “invitation” through God’s perspective to each type through a more Biblical lens and vision for what God may want for each person based on Scripture. Second, there’s a section of prayers from the perspective of each type that walk through a process of confessing core sin patterns and inviting God into the core needs and desires.  Both the invitations and the prayers were great and I think provide a helpful roadmap for people how to approach God authentically and in full surrender to His purposes and power.

So if you are into the Enneagram or are exploring it, I think this is a great resource – but its strength is in providing Biblical foundations and a framework to understand how this can be in service to God’s work of sanctifying a person. It is not the comprehensive resource for descriptions of the types themselves or other nuances, though the material that was included was helpful in what it tried to do.

I still plan to read a couple more, but will take a bit of a break from the Enneagram for a couple of months but hope to come back to it around the holidays when I have more time.

 

Quick Review: The Road Back to You

About 15 years I was first exposed to the spiritual tool/diagnostic known as the “enneagram” and found it somewhat interesting, but the exposure was so minimal that I did not really do anything with it. But it introduced or reinforced the notion of core sin patterns that different profiles of people live out.

This summer I listened to a seminar on the enneagram and interacted with a couple people that had been exploring it as well so I’ve been exploring it further and learning about what it is, where it came from, what it entails, and the scope and limits of its application.

The Road Back To You: An Enneagram Journey To Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile was a recommended book to get an overview. From what it sounds like it’s a good overview and more humor involved than most of the overviews and books that are emerging out there.

I am not going to unpack what it is – only that I know there’s plenty of watchdogs that look to shred the use of anything that remotely facilitates contemplation in the spiritual life and assert it’s all new age or the demonic. For years I actually thought the enneagram was the scientology tool so didn’t rush to learn more about it. That is something else.

I am interested in it because I’m always looking for things that help surface self-awareness and guide people into root heart idolatry or heart sin that drives a lot of behavior but that goes unnoticed without intentional reflection or courageous community.  From what I’ve explored thus far, this is a really helpful tool toward that end – rooting out the false self in its many different expressions and guiding to a deeper surrender to Jesus at the innermost level that can result in an authentic and free worship of God as an image bearer of God.

I have an idea of where I fall in this, but it’s not crystal clear yet.  Two of the nine profiles look pretty familiar to me and resonate fairly deeply to my core.  But I have been impressed as a basic knowledge of the profiles has already helped me re-assess how I approach certain relationships of mine and how to handle tricky leadership development moments.

Like all tools, it’s not something that should be used to label or take an expert position. It should result in humility and compassion and I think this really helps facilitate greater orientation to truth and increased grace towards others.  There are other books that unpack things with more spiritual depth, but this was a comfortable and easy read for an overview and introduction.

It’s worth saying that not all uses of the enneagram are grounded and integrated in Biblical truth and foundations. It’s origins are quite ancient and it’s been appropriated in different ways, but in its raw origins from what I understand, it was the source of what became known as the seven deadly sins.

Anyway – I’ll be reading a few more books on this because as one who is invested daily and weekly in Biblically rooted spiritual and leadership development and formation, there’s a lot of insight and wisdom to be gained here.

 

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.