That time my mother-in-law demolished me at paintball

A few years ago Amber’s side of the family decided it would be a great idea to get together around Thanksgiving. And at this family get together, it was decided we would play a rousing game of paintball.

If you have ever played paintball you know it’s really is a lot of fun. Here’s the thing though: paintballs hurt! They’re being shot from a gun, usually powered by compressed gas, at a really high velocity! Well it’s not like I’m a pro paintball player or anything so I wore some grubby clothes and dutifully donned the protective eye mask from the facility. Then I went out to do battle with my inlaws. [Let me pause here. Some of you have met my mother in law right? I mean, she’s saint. If you know Kristy, you can’t imagine her hurting a fly, am I right?]

So around midway through the game I pick her as my target. Honestly, I’m thinking this going to be pretty easy. As I approach, however, I make a crucial mistake. I trip and I fall, which reveals my location to my sweet mother in law. While I am still on the ground she takes the opportunity to just unload her weapon on me at close range. I mean she shot me so many times…and since I was on the ground my neck under my mask was completely exposed. So that’s where she shot me, of course.

It hurt. It hurt bad. I learned two lessons that day:

1) Don’t underestimate your opponent.

2) Protect yourself as much as you possibly can–take care of those vulnerable spots before they are exploited by the enemy!

I think this is what Paul is getting at in his famous passage on the Armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-20. He’s helping us to realize who our real enemy is, and how to make our defense so we’re not caught off guard.

Stay tuned for more in this series on the Armor of God.

Become the righteousness of God

This is an edited manuscript of a sermon I preached at Grand Canyon University.  Watch the whole thing below, or keep scrolling to read through the content.

Has something ever happened to you that changed your reality to such extent that you became almost a different person? I can think of a few examples in my own life. When I got married, for instance, my reality changed!

I went from single, to married. From being a bachelor to being a married man. This changed so much about how I lived my life. Every decision was different and suddenly my priorities shifted. It was a very similar experience to become a parent for the the first time.

Maybe you’ve experienced something like this before, either getting married or having kids or a big move or even a new job or career shift.  Something happened, that changed your decision making process and set you on a new path. Sometimes these are positive experiences, and sometimes they are negative experiences, but they happen to all of us, and it’s what makes life interesting!

Those of you that know me a little bit know that I’m kind of a nerd. I love super hero stories. Batman, Spiderman, Avengers, all that stuff. An unassuming individual unexpectedly gains knowledge or power or some sick kung-fu skills, they take on this new identity, and then they go and fight crime in while wearing tights and throwing out witty one liners. What’s not to love, am I right? There’s this pattern that’s the same in every single comic book or superhero movie: new reality, a powerful origin story, and a mission to save the world.

superheroes-534104_1280

I want you to see that this stuff isn’t just pretend movie magic. Like we just talked about, our everyday lives are filled with change and transformation, and the Apostle Paul is tells us you and I are in fact part of the most epic story ever told! And here’s the thing: it’s a true story.

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:14-21 ESV)

The new reality

Paul set us up with a new reality.

...one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15 ESV)

This is the event that changed everything for everyone in whole world! One perfect person, Jesus Christ, died and was raised back to life for everyone so that they could be free from selfishness and find real abundant life outside of themselves. This is new reality, and implication are huge, because it means that real self-giving love and authentic community are actually possible. It changes the way we look at everything.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. (2 Corinthians 5:16 ESV)

Once you realize what Jesus has done for you and everyone else, you can’t just look at him from merely human point of view. You can’t just say he was a good teacher or prophet or healer. If you believe what Paul is saying here, that Jesus took your sin with him to the cross, conquered, and came back to life. you can’t look at him the same. He becomes your Lord and your God. And you can’t look at others the same either. You can’t look at yourself the same. This is a new reality that leads to the origin of a new identity.

planet-581239_1280

The origin 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)

What does it mean to be “in Christ?” It means to believe in him, and to obey his commandment to love one another. In John 15 Jesus said,

Abide in me, and I in you. ...As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you...Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love...This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (John 15:4-12 ESV)

When you really believe in Jesus, things change. You begin to love other people in ways you couldn’t before, and it becomes so clear that you have a new identity in him. John Wesley said that for the person that has trusted in Christ, there is

“present, visible, undeniable change! All things are become new - He has new life, new senses, new faculties, new affections, new appetites, new ideas and conceptions. His whole tenor of action and conversation is new, and he lives, as it were, in a new world.”

Do you realize that old you, the one that was a slave to selfish desires, was nailed to the cross with Jesus and is even now dying away? “Behold!” Paul says. Open your eyes and see what Jesus as done and see the freedom that you have been given, and realize that you have been remade on the inside.

Paul keeps going in verse 18, “All this is from God.” This means that this new origin and identity that you have is a gift. There’s nothing you could do earn it or deserve it, because the kind of shift in reality that is required for it can only come from God. Who else can bring someone back from the dead, except the God that created life?

iron-man-704086_1280To go back to superheroes for a minute: You’re not like Ironman in this story. He gets his powers from this suit that he built with his own money and and his own intelligence. You’re more like Spiderman or Superman, who through no effort of their own, are given a gifts of power, and with it responsibility.

The mission

If you wake up to the reality of the love of Christ and what he accomplished for you by dying on the Cross and being raised back to life, if you accept this new identity as a new creation, living for Jesus instead of yourself, then you have a mission. If you’ve ever wondered about your purpose in life, this is it:

...Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation...Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us... (2 Corinthians 5:18-20 ESV)

God wants to get his message out through you and through me. An ambassador speaks on behalf of and with the authority of the person they represent. Can you believe God has given all of us such an important role? To speak for him, in his name, to the world? This is the message we’re to proclaim and to live out:

...on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:20-21 ESV)

jesus-673074_1280Look, I don’t presume to know where you are in your relationship with God today, so let me try to live this out right now.

If you only hear one thing from me to today, hear this:

Jesus is speaking to you. Right here, right now. And he is saying “be reconciled to God.”

Be reconciled to God, because he made you and loves you. Be reconciled so that you can begin to make sense of both the deep brokenness and the profound beauty of this world.

Be reconciled because what I am saying about Jesus is not only a beautiful story, it is the truth.

Be reconciled to God so that you can receive forgiveness for your sins.

The whole needing forgiveness thing is hang up for a lot of people, and I get it.

Why you need forgiveness from God, and especially why do you need to ask for it, if God is so great? And after all you’re probably a pretty good person.

You know according to your standards and my standards you probably are a pretty good person, but you know you’ve done things that are wrong. You know that your own selfishness has sometimes hurt others, caused you to move farther away from God instead of closer to him. We all know that in relationships, lots of little things add up after awhile.

Every time you have lied or cheated or passed by someone in need or allowed selfish thoughts to run free in your head you have damaged your relationship with God who is perfect, because he made you for more than that. He made you to perfectly reflect his character to the world. You haven’t done that; the truth is  you aren’t able to do that on your own.

And this isn’t just theories and rules: God is relational. You can’t forgive yourself for stuff you’ve done to someone else. You can’t rescue yourself if you’re the one drowning. You have to ask for forgiveness. Someone has to pull you from the water. Here’s the good news, though:

Jesus knows and you and loves you and because of that he has made a way for you to be forgiven for your sins, and to be in relationship with him, and with your Father in heaven, and he wants to be with you always through the Holy Spirit.

Jesus took the eternal consequence of your sin on himself on the cross. Even though he was perfect he took on so much for so many people that Paul says he was made sin. There has never been anyone so innocent, so undeserving to die as Jesus. But he did it anyway. He was humiliated and tortured and killed. And he did this so that you could become the righteousness of God.

“The righteousness of God” means God’s perfect character, and especially his faithfulness to keep his promises. God doesn’t just want to make you a better person for your own sake. He wants to use you to keep his promises to bless the world:

To help the poor. To heal the sick. To come alongside the lonely and hurting and all those that are in the margins of society. To reveal beauty and truth. To draw others into a reconciled relationship with one who made them. This is the life he is offering.

Don’t get me wrong, he’s not asking you to be perfect in this moment. He simply says “come, receive forgiveness. I’ll give you everything you need.” So, receive it. Don’t wait. On behalf of Christ, for the love of Jesus, be reconciled to God, so that you can become the righteousness of God.

If you are someone that has received this forgiveness, if you already see the fruit of new creation in your life, don’t forget the reality that God has initiated for you to be made new, and don’t forget the mission. You are an ambassador for Christ, a minister of reconciliation, and this shapes everything about you. It should be shaping your family, your career, your church, your free time.

Your origin story is just the beginning. It’s the first episode in a long series of sequels…each presenting a new challenge and a new expression of God’s goodness in and through you.

You have already been reconciled to God, so open your mind and your heart to the power of Spirit so that you also may become the righteousness of God to a world that desperately needs it. Don’t shy away from sharing forgiveness, hope, and truth as often as you can to anyone and everyone as often you can and in every way you can.

An epic story

So, St. Paul has given us the setup for an epic story. A new reality, initiated by God and inaugurated by the resurrection of Jesus. A powerful origin–a new identity and relationship with the God of the universe–for any that will receive it. And a mission to save the world.

So I have to ask…why wouldn’t you want to be part of that story?

Have you been filled with the Holy Spirit?

"...be filled with the Spirit..."

(Ephesians 5:18 ESV)

The celebration of Pentecost is nearly upon us. As we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit in power on that day 2000 years ago, let’s talk about what it means to be filled with the Spirit.

Baptism vs. Filling

To be clear, I’m not talking about what many in the Pentecostal tradition would call “baptism of the Spirit.” What is usually meant by this is a second experience post-conversion, with the required “evidence” of speaking in tongues and the result of a “higher” sort of Christian life.

I think this is problematic on a couple of fronts. First, it implies that one is not baptized in the Spirit at the time of conversion. 1 Corinthians 12:13 clearly links the baptism of the Spirit with incorporation in to Christ and his Body on Earth.  So, if you are not baptized in the Spirit at the moment of conversion/baptism, you probably aren’t really part of the Church.

This line of thought is contrary to the general thrust of the relevant passages (which celebrate many gifts over and above the so-called “sign-gifts”), and it leads to an easily abused “class system” within the Body of Christ, where you have those have “gotten the Spirit” and those haven’t.

No, one is baptized (cleaned, washed, immersed) in the Spirit by Jesus (Luke 3:16) at the moment of conversion. Conversion is “signed and sealed,” confirmed and expressed, in the gift of water baptism. I agree with Pentecostal theologian Simon Chan who said in his book Liturgical Theology: The Church as Worshiping Community,

"...the water ritual can be understood only in relation to the gift of the Spirit...the gift of the Spirit is an essential component of the rite of initiation. Theologically, this means that in cannot be understood as a "second work of grace" distinct from initiation, but must be understood as part of conversion-initiation." (p. 119)

The normal Christian life

Of course, the work the Spirit in your life isn’t finished at this moment of conversion and baptism. Far from it! It’s because this work is ongoing that we speak of being continually filled with the Spirit.

The filling of the Holy Spirit is a normal part of the Christian life. For most, it is an ongoing process of yielding more and more of your heart to him over time.

Many Christians also experience definitive “breakthrough” moments (sometimes more than one of the course of their lifetime). Everyone responds differently–some weep, some laugh, some fall down or faint, some become very quiet, some burst out in ecstatic speech, some make no outward indication of what has just occurred in their hearts. No matter what it looks like, the point is that God wants to be continually at work in your life and in your heart in powerful ways.

Here’s the thing: while subjective responses to being filled with the Spirit vary widely from person to person, the objective fruit is always the same:  ”…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…“(Galatians 5:22-23 ESV).

How to be filled with the Holy Spirit

Do you see the fruit of the Spirit in your life? If you have truly accepted Jesus as the lord of your life, it’s inevitable that you will, because you will be open to his gifts. But do you want to see more? There’s always room to grow, room to be filled even more, even to overflowing. A. W. Tozer suggests a four step framework for cultivating a deeper relationship with God the Holy Spirit and receiving him more fully into your life.

  1. Present your body (that is, be willing to give up your whole self)
  2. Ask (God doesn't force you into relationship with him)
  3. Obey (live according to Scriptures--"simple, but revolutionary,"  Tozer says)
  4. Have faith (Jesus has promised us his Spirit. We can have confidence we will receive him fully).

Brothers and sisters, do not quench the Spirit (1 Thes. 5:19). Be filled!

What I learned about the Holy Spirit from my wife's life-threatening blood clot

About two weeks ago now, my wife Amber noticed some swelling in her left leg. She was experiencing some pain and discomfort, but (being the strong woman that she is) wasn’t sure about getting it checked out. After a call with our midwife, however, she decided to go in for an ultrasound.

Now, when you go in for an ultrasound, they usually send whatever results you get to your primary care physician. The ultrasound technicians themselves aren’t doctors, so they’re really not supposed to give you any information, because they very well could be wrong.

Nevertheless, Amber knew something was up when the tech kept looking at her mid-ultrasound and asking, “do you still feel okay?” and then about 10 seconds later “how about now? You okay?”

And then a little later, “you really need to see your doctor, like…right now.”

Hospital! Here we are in the hospital. Amber remains cheerful while I furiously text our family updates :)

It took a little pressing from Amber, but the tech finally admitted that they thought Amber could have a serious blood clot in her left leg. Of course, blood clots are no joke, for mother or baby, so we rushed to hospital, where Amber was admitted for monitoring and treatment. She was 36 weeks pregnant at that time.

Slowly the implications of this began to sink in:

  • We would not have the home birth that we had been planning for and looking forward to. Amber was now considered a high risk case so this was no longer possible. Our other children, Jensen and Selah would not be able to be present at the birth of their sibling.
  • Amber’s mobility would be seriously hindered, and possibly for quite some time. She would have to manage pain.
  • There would be an element of risk of complications for both Amber and the baby that--even though Amber would be on medication--would nevertheless be continually present. There is even now a very real risk that a part of that blood clot could break off and enter Amber’s heart or lungs.

The stress level of our lives has gone up…considerably.

Of course, Amber is navigating all of these implications with grace and strength: typical Amber.

But let me be honest: I have not. I am by nature a worrier, and I tend to allow the “what-if” scenarios rule in my mind and by extension–because that’s how these things work–my heart. My struggle against worry and fear has been constant.

I have had many moments where I am freaking out on the inside because I can’t bear the thought of what could happen to my dear, sweet wife or to our precious little one that is waiting to be born.

A few days after Amber came home from the hospital I attempted to pray the Psalm for the day, which begins like this:

Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering. Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and my mind. For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness. (Psalm 26:1-3 ESV)

As I made my way through the Psalm I thought, How can I pray this? How can I say this to my Lord and my God when I do in fact waver, sometimes every hour of every day? And it’s not that I don’t want to…more than anything I want to trust in Jesus but no matter how much I want to, the more I try to force some faith, the more it seems to slip through my fingers and I realize that I am helpless. I am weak. I do not possess in myself even the ability to believe.

But it’s not just a piece of poetry from the Old Testament that confronts me on this, but the the words of Jesus himself. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

In Matthew 6, Jesus says, over and over, “do not be anxious.”

At the beginning of the very chapter we are in right now Jesus said, ““Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” (John 14:1 ESV)

I feel like like I love Jesus, I know I want to love Jesus. I have dedicated my life to loving Jesus..and yet, this simple statement devastates me.

Does it devastate you?

Do you grasp the difficulty?

You and I can’t work for Jesus, or speak about Jesus, or bring others to Jesus, or really love others at all, much less love Jesus as he says, by keeping his commandments. We just can’t do it. We’re not able to do it.

At least, not on our own.

I’m reminded of what Jesus says just a few verses later in chapter 15: “Apart from me you can do nothing.”

And that’s why what Jesus says next in John 14 is such good news.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth..”

This is the beginning of some good news! God will send us help to accomplish what we can’t under our own power! And that help will be a person…God the Holy Spirit himself.

In his daily devotional on the Holy Spirit, A. W. Tozer says,

“Indeed it is not possible to love Jesus rightly except by the Holy Spirit. Only the Third Person of the Trinity can love the Second Person in a manner pleasing to the Father. The spiritual love of Jesus is nothing else but the Spirit in us loving Christ the Eternal Son.”

I love Jesus, and I want to obey his commandments. I want to love him and other people, but I need a Helper. Thank God Jesus has not left us as orphans.

Thank God he sends us his Spirit.


This post is an edited excerpt of a recent sermon. Listen to the whole thing here.

4 weird things about Palm Sunday

This is an edited transcript of one of my recent sermons at Desert Mission Anglican Church. Listen here.

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. (Mark 11:1-11 ESV)

During Holy Week we will through Scripture readings, prayer, and special services walk with our Lord to the cross, and it all starts on Palm Sunday. This is– as you would expect–a rather somber journey, but Palm Sunday is a celebration. I don’t know about you, but this strikes me as a little strange. The whole story of the Triumphal Entry is–if you think about it–a little weird. The great preacher Charles Spurgeon said,

“Christ’s kingdom is a very strange one, totally different from anything that ever has been seen or ever will be seen…”

Palm Sunday - Spurgeon Quote

This story is a perfect example of this. At virtually every turn Jesus is doing something that neither his disciples, nor the crowds that celebrated him, nor the religious authorities, nor even you and I would probably expect.

Now, this story may be strange, but here’s the thing…it’s in the strangeness that we’ll find the significance. We have to go a bit beyond a surface-level reading to see what’s happening here. Are you ready to dive a little deeper with me?

Let’s start at the beginning.

Jesus has been travelling. He’s been moving throughout Israel, teaching, preaching, healing, casting out evil spirits, doing miracles. He has repeatedly talked about the nature of his own ministry (Mark 8, 9, 10), how he came to serve and how he must die. But it doesn’t seem like the crowds or the disciples were getting it. In fact the Scripture says there were afraid of asking him about it.

Now he comes to Jerusalem. It’s certainly not the first time he’s been here, but this time it’s different. He stops at the Mount of Olives which stands directly opposite the Temple mount. So if you were standing there with Jesus, you would look across the Kidron Valley and you would see the Temple, the holy city, ruled by religious hypocrites and the Roman military. Luke says that Jesus wept over this city because they did not understand what was really happening here, who he really was.

That’s when the strange things start happening.

A series of strange events

Strange thing #1:

Jesus sends his disciples to get a young donkey, one that hasn’t been ridden before. Somehow he knows ahead of time that it will be there, and that the owners won’t mind if he commandeers it for a while.

I mean, think about what happens in this story: The disciples go, they find the donkey, and I’m sure you can imagine they’re just hoping they don’t have to explain what they’re doing. Of course, they’re caught red handed. The owner’s all like, “hey, why are you taking my donkey?” You know they probably looked at each thought, I hope this works. Then they say, oh, the Lord needs it…but don’t worry he’ll bring it right back. The owner response: “Cool with me.”

Imagine if couple scruffy dudes came to your house and started hotwiring one your cars. You’re like, hey what are you doing? They’re like, “The Lord needs this…but we’ll bring it right back.” Kind of strange.

Strange thing #2:

Jesus rides the donkey–a young colt that hadn’t yet been broken in–into Jerusalem. First, this is a little weird just because the colt allowed it, and second, it’s not exactly an impressive animal. It would be like a celebrity rolling up to the red carpet in a beat-up, borrowed Ford Fiesta instead of the Rolls Royce. It should seem a little off.

Strange thing #3:

The people love it! They starting shouting and singing and praising and throwing their clothes in the road and treating Jesus like a king! Why would they do this, and why would Jesus allow it when he had just told Peter back in chapter 8 to not tell anyone that he was the Messiah, which means “deliverer of Israel?”

Strange thing #4:

Jesus gets to Jerusalem, looks around, and leaves. All this celebration, all this commotion; Jesus is even using supernatural powers to find and ride this donkey…and the people are loving it…shouting in praises and talking about him like he’s a king and savior…and he walks away.

Sometimes I think we just accept all the details in this story without really thinking about them because we’ve heard it so many times…in reality this is a strange story but each one of these strange details is crucial for understanding the significance of the Triumphal Entry then and understanding the significance of the Triumphal Entry now.

Looking at the Triumphal Entry with fresh eyes

church-window-579059_1280So let’s take a look at each of these strange events with fresh eyes and try to understand them in their cultural and biblical context.

First up: Jesus knowing about and requesting a colt. I think this is significant because it is a testimony to Jesus’s divine and sovereign character. He had foreknowledge that no ordinary human being could have. And he commands an incredible amount of trust and respect from his disciples who carried out the strange order, and from owners of the colt themselves. There’s more to it than just the supernatural-ness of this, though. Jesus is quite deliberately fulfilling an Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah from Zechariah, Chapter 9:9-10:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. (Zechariah 9:9-10 ESV)

Do you see what’s happening here? Jesus is taking on the mantle of Messiah. The connection between his actions and the Zechariah passages probably wouldn’t have been lost on the disciples although some of it definitely went over the heads of the crowd…more on that in a bit.

Okay, so getting on the donkey after doing lots of miracles and teachings and stuff is a deliberate fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. But why did he ride it into Jerusalem the way that he did? To understand this you have to understand that the whole idea of a Triumphal Entry is not unique to Jesus. In ancient Rome rulers would make triumphal entries into cities after a military conquest, usually on horses with chariots, displaying the plunder and glory of their conquest. When Jesus starts on his ride to Jerusalem, the crowd picks up on the cues he’s laying down. He’s talking and acting like a king, finally! And that explains why the people got so excited.

The people, seeing what Jesus is doing, think he’s coming in to Jerusalem to triumph over their enemies, the occupying Romans! To be fair the timing was perfect…it was the beginning of Passover week, the celebration of Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt.

The celebratory shout of the crowds couldn’t make this more clear:

And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! [(which means ‘please, save us’)] Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9-10 ESV)

In their excitement, they are missing that Jesus does things very differently. He makes no show of wealth–he borrowed his ride after all. And again, he’s on a donkey. Certainly kings rode donkeys in the ancient world, but they were seen as peaceful animals. Not like a horse, bred for war, a donkey is raised for acts of service. The crowd misses what Jesus would later make explicit–that his is a spiritual, not a political kingdom. It’s a kingdom marked by reconciliation, not war. A kingdom that is not concerned with making weapons, but in making peace between God and man. If you’ll endulge one other Spurgeon quote, commenting on this passage the great preacher said:

“His armies are loving thoughts, his troops are kind words. The power by which he rules his people is not the strong hand and the stretched-out arm of police or soldiery, but by deeds of love and words of overflowing benediction he asserts his sovereign sway.”

Jesus drives this point home by arriving at the end of his 2 mile journey at the Temple, taking a look around, and…doing nothing. He does come back and cleanse the Temple, on his own time-table, of course. And it’s not by spilling Roman blood or starting a riot. No, he drives out money-changers single-handedly in a powerful critique of how corrupt the religious leadership had become.

The cumulative effect of all of this is to bring the people of Israel to a point of decision. Jesus is acting like a king, talking like a Messiah, yet a very different kind of king, a different kind of Messiah than people wanted. He was in effect forcing the people to make choice, because now they can’t avoid his claim to be the Messiah, and after his stunt in the Temple along with the rest of his teaching, they can’t deny his idea of the Kingdom of God is very different than what they were expecting from a savior.

[bctt tweet=“Jesus did not demand a bloody political revolution, but a radical reformation of the heart.”]

These were not the terms they were expecting or desiring or willing to consider, so the crowds that had cheered for him quickly turned against him. In just a few days the same people that had cried “Hosanna!” would be shouting, demanding, “Crucify him.”

He knew it would happen; he had already tried to tell his disciples three times! Mark Chapters 8,9,10.

What's your decision?

As we walk with Christ through Passion stone-91055_1280Week, we begin here, at the Triumphal Entry. And just like the crowds and the religious rulers we too are forced to come to terms with who Jesus claimed to be and what his Kingdom is really like.

And don’t assume that you or I would have thought much differently than the crowds. I mean, it seems to me that the church is in many corners is looking for Jesus to change their political situation–just like the Jews in the first century. It seems to me that many people calling themselves Christians are also publicly calling for military solutions to their persecution–again, just like the nation of Israel under Roman rule.

We have allowed our own evangelical culture to be politicized and militarized in ways that Jesus would not recognize as part of his Kingdom.

On personal level, are you submitting to the Lordship of Jesus on his own terms in your life? Or are you only following him when it is convenient, when it seems like Jesus is operating within your preconceived expectations? Are you willing to follow not a lord of war, but a prince of peace? A king that died not only for his oppressed people but for the oppressors, too? Are you willing to follow a king that doesn’t necessarily deliver you from your circumstances on your timetable, but is rather more concerned with transforming your very soul to be more like him?

Jesus did a very strange thing by riding into Jerusalem on that young donkey. He did a very significant thing. He said he was the Messiah, Savior, and Lord.

He proclaimed a counter-intuitive, new kind of kingdom, where a carpenter is king, where the poor have cause for celebration, where swords are beaten into ploughshares, where God himself serves even the lowliest of his subjects. And those subject will be lifted up and called sons and daughters of the Most High God, and they will worship him with all their heart and soul and mind and body in spirit and in truth. T

hey will have a hope that frees them from the fear of death, and indeed they will be free from death itself!

This is the Kingdom that Jesus was proclaiming, and you can be part of it.

But to enter that kingdom you’ve got accept Jesus on his own terms, strange though they may be.

#Lent, @Twitter, and the real meaning of self denial.

Brothers and sisters, we are now solidly into the season of Lent. Lent is that time of the Christian year where we remember own sin, our own deep need for a savior. We remember we’re made of dust, and we’re going to back to being dust. Perhaps you’re giving something up for the Lent this year…

Christianity Today compiled a list of some of the most popular things people are giving up on Twitter.

You know what the number one thing people are giving up for Lent is on Twitter?

School. It’s understandable. You know you’ve been there.

The number 3 thing was Twitter (not a bad choice).

The 5 thing was social networking (I’ve done this before…it’s quite refreshing).

Of course the usuals like chocolate, alcohol, fast food, and so on were popular. Then there are the people trying to be clever.

Giving up Lent for Lent came in at number 14, and right ahead of that was simply the word “you.”

As in, I’m giving up you for Lent (yikes!).

Do you think there’s more to it than this?

You know, on the one hand, I’m encouraged that the culture at large is at least aware of the season of Lent, and is at least interested in the idea of denying themselves in some way. I do wonder, however if even those of us in the church really have a clear understanding of what it means to deny ourselves the way Jesus talked about it.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34 ESV)

What does this mean? What does this look like in our day to day lives?

Self denial isn’t giving up chocolate

chocolate-183543_1280First, let’s talk about what self denial and taking up our cross isn’t. The kind of self-denial that Jesus is talking about is so much more than giving up chocolate for Lent. Giving up sugary snacks might be an admirable form of self-discipline and could be a way to deny an unhealthy sort of pleasure. But I don’t think this is exactly what Jesus had in mind when it comes to discipleship. I once heard on a sermon on Ash Wednesday in which a priest made this statement: “a great proposal demands a great response.”

When someone proposes marriage to another, they are offering a great gift: their entire life. Yet, to accept this gift, you have to say “yes,” which means giving your whole life as well in response. This is how it is with God. He has made a great proposal by sending us Jesus. This proposal demands a great response. If our practice of self-denial is limited to chocolate, I’m not sure we’re getting what the Lenten season is all about…or what following Jesus is all about.

When it comes to taking up our cross, we often speak as if merely enduring inconveniences is somehow giving glory to God. “Poor Amber has to listen to Nathan’s jokes every day. That’s just her cross to bear.” I don’t think so.

Don’t you think real denial of self, a real taking up of one’s cross has to be more than this?

What self denial really looks like

When we think about denying ourselves, we often become self centered. We think about not swearing, or drinking too much or gratifying some other desire of our flesh. We deny ourselves the pleasures of the world, and we do it to try to increase our own personal holiness.

Don’t get me wrong, personal holiness is important, but you can’t stop there. Jesus was perfectly holy, perfectly righteous, but he still went to cross. Aren’t we called to imitate him in this?jesus-485411_1280

Jesus didn’t take up his cross for himself–he suffered scorn and shame and death for you and for me. So our self-denial has to move beyond just personal holiness become self-sacrificial in character. We have to deny ourselves and pick up our cross and follow Jesus for the sake of others.

Let me offer your three examples of what it looks like to deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow Jesus:

1) Thomas_CranmerArchbishop Thomas Cranmer. Thomas Cranmer was the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time of the English Reformation. It’s primarily because of him that we have the liturgy in English that we worship with today. He risked his life to reform the Church, and was ultimately burned alive for his commitment to the Word of God.

2) Recently 21 Christians were killed in Libya by radical Muslims. Another Mass Execution of Egyptian Christians by ISIS‌The brother of two of the men prayed for their murderers publicly on television, thanking them for publicizing their profession of faith in Jesus, and saying “This only makes us stronger in our faith because the Bible told us to love our enemies and bless those who curse us.” This man set aside any desire for revenge and retaliation for the sake of even of those who killed his own brothers!

3) 1966702_10201470725866286_256022291_nMy parents, Jeff & Renée. Both of them left established, comfortable careers to become missionaries in Africa. My mom was playing violin for world-class orchestras. My dad was minister of music at a large church. Things were going well. They gave up safety, security and all kinds of certainty to take their young children with them and plant churches in one of the least-reached places on the planet.

Do these examples sound radical?

Do they sound extreme?

I hope so.  

“Deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me” is a radical, extreme statement. Remember…a great proposal requires a great response. How are you living a radically sacrificial life for the sake of others?

But…what if you are not a Reformer? What if you are not in physical danger because your commitment to the Word? What if you are not called to be a full-time missionary?

First, you are called to be a Reformer. You are called to stand firm on the Word of God and be constantly reforming your life to that standard. And believe me, that will always entail risk. Perhaps not to your physical person (at least in the short term in the United States)…but it will entail relational risk. It will mean changing your life in ways that may be scary to you. In ways that will be unsettling and profoundly uncomfortable at first. And you are called to embrace that, and lead others into it.

Here’s the thing: if you’re following Jesus, sooner or later will be presented with your opportunity to take up your cross and join in Christ’s suffering. I will go so far as to say that suffering with Christ is a necessary part of the Christian life. The Apostle Paul reminds us,

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:16-17 ESV)

If you are living a life of habitual risk-avoidance you will certainly suffer less. But you will also miss out on really following Jesus.

What do you really believe?

Please don’t get me wrong. I never want to encourage suffering for suffering’s sake. That would be sick and perverse. We don’t embrace suffering because it is inherently good…it’s not, and we rightly pray to be relieved of it. But when we are suffering for the sake of others and for Christ we can see God’s hand it in, we can see it’s worth it because of what is waiting for us on the other side.

  • Someone’s else’s life is worth suffering.
  • Experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit is worth suffering.
  • Building the Kingdom of God is worth suffering.
  • Knowing Jesus more is worth suffering.
  • Eternal life is worth suffering.

“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35 ESV)

This is the counter-intuitiveness of the Gospel, and Jesus is crystal clear here. What he calls us to may look like death, but only in the short term.

Do you believe this? I mean, really deep down do you believe it? Because if you do, you will act on it!

You remember how Paul said it…

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21 ESV)

Paul believed it, and acted on it.

In order to deny yourself, to take up your cross, and to follow Jesus you’ve got to believe the believe it deep in your soul when you pray,

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11 ESV)

This is the truth.

And this is our hope!

And we are fools if we cave in to our own selfishness and the lies that the world will tell us.

“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:36-38 ESV)

This is the call and cost of discipleship:

Not reserved, but radical.

Not self-centered, but self-sacrificial.

Not grudging, but giving.

Not haughty, but holy.

Not only a promise of life forever, but an invitation to die today.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote,“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

The great proposal has been made. Jesus lived and died and rose again for you and today, and he has spoken to you..

What’s your response?

Will you come?

Will you die?

Will you truly live?

If your heart belongs to God, so does everything else

When my wife Amber and I married each other, a lot changed for both of us in the days immediately after our marriage. For instance, we went from two separate bank accounts to one, joint bank account.

All of a sudden someone else could see everything I was spending my money on. I remember well the days before I got married, when I could buy video games and technological gadgets without really asking anyone for permission, just because I wanted to.

Those days are long, long gone.

Things changed because I became responsible for more than just myself.

Before we got married, I had a car and, Amber did not. After we were married, if someone asked Amber if she had a car, she’d say yes, of course I do. My things stopped being my things and became our things. In effect, my stuff became her stuff. And while it took some getting used to, I really didn’t mind. Why is that? Because the relationship was worth it.

Because on a summer day in 2005, I gave Amber my heart, and everything else followed from that.

Isn’t really the same with any deep relationship? We have these expressions that we reserve for our best friends and people we want to honor…”what’s mine is yours” “Mi casa es tu casa.”

If this is how we relate to other human beings, how much more should we give to God?

St. Mark shows us what it looks like in someone’s finances when they’ve given their whole heart to God.

The Widow's Offering And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44 ESV)

When we give our heart to God–when we say “you are worth everything to me, it is you I am going follow, it is you that I’m going to find my identity in,” then doesn’t it make sense that everything will follow? Giving our life to God can mean nothing less than our time, our energy, our efforts, and yes, even our money. There is no reason our finances should be exempt from this. Our entire lives become our responsibility to steward toward the furtherance of God’s Kingdom.

A private affair?

We don’t like to talk about money in our culture. It’s considered to be a private affair. Here’s the thing though: Jesus wasn’t afraid to talk about money. Not at all. I made a chart to illustrate!

How much did Jesus talk about money-

This graph is based on simple word searches from ESVBible.org.

I found about 80 passages that deal with money or use money as an illustration, which is significantly more than many other very important topics like hell, the Kingdom of Heaven, and faith.

Here’s just a sampling of what Jesus had to say about money, wealth, and treasure:

“You cannot serve God and money.” Matthew 6:24 “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money...ridiculed him.” Luke 16:14 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Luke 12:15

In contrast here are some of Jesus’ thoughts on poverty:

“...when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind...” Luke 14:13 “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21

This one is truly staggering, evening paradigm-shifting:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Luke 6:20

So the first thing we have to realize is that it’s okay to talk about money. Jesus did it! We’re meant to talk about it because the money’s not ours anyways. The second thing we have to realize just from this short survey is that Jesus’ attitude and approach to money is drastically different from our natural instinct.

Our culture privileges, idolizes, and empowers the wealthy. Possessions are status symbols because one’s status is determined by what one can afford. Jesus takes a different approach. For Jesus, everything belongs to God, and we are just managers.

Is that how you see yourself when it comes to your finances?

A matter of the heart

As you think about your life and how you approach your finances and what Jesus had to say…you have to ask yourself hard questions:

  • How much of my heart am I really giving to God?
  • Does my heart really belong to God?
  • What is my treasure? Is it a thing, or things? Or is it Jesus?

That’s what is so beautiful about the passage from Mark. Jesus saw what the widow gave and had to comment because she went all-in. She gave everything she had to live on. And you know Jesus has gone all-in for you. Are you all in for him?

And the widow wasn’t giving for show! Everybody else was just throwing coins in, and enjoying the attention they would get as a result. But not the widow. No, the widow gave what she could, without any fanfare. But didn’t matter to Jesus how much she gave…it was the condition of the widow’s heart that mattered to Jesus.

That’s how it is with you and I too.

How much money should you give to your church?

It’s not a matter of whether or not you are giving a 10% “tithe”. Honestly, that would be the easy way out. You could think that if you’ve given your 10%, you’re good to go and the rest would be yours to do with as you please.

The whole 10% rule thing is a great place to start and a valuable part of the Old Testament economic system, but if we approach it as some sort of magic number or a strict rule that we just have to follow, we’re missing the point.

What did he tell the Rich Young Ruler who said he had been keeping the law faithfully his whole life? “Sell all that you have…

Look, Jesus doesn’t demand 10% of your money. He asks for 100% of your heart and he wants whatever amount that you give to flow from that.

[bctt tweet=” Jesus doesn’t demand 10% of your money. He asks for 100% of your heart.“]

The point isn’t whether or not you are giving 2%, 10%, or 50% to your local church. That’s not what Jesus is looking for. That’s not how a heart that belongs to God looks at it. It’s about whether or not 100% is being stewarded toward the Kingdom of God. This includes paying your rent and providing for your family and even enjoying life and gifts God has given you, but you’ve got to check your heart often to make sure you’re not hoarding or becoming selfish.

How to know you are giving from a heart that belongs to God

Here are 3 indicators that your giving coming from a heart belongs to God:

  • It’s willing and cheerful. “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).
  • It’s a consistent pattern. The habit of giving is replete in both Old and New Testaments.
  • It is sacrificially generous.

a giving heart

“Sacrificially generous” doesn’t necessarily mean that God is calling you to sell everything you own for a particular purpose right this second. I’m not saying it for sure means you shouldn’t buy a nice TV or new car. However…it might mean those things! You need to make sure you’re willing put others ahead of yourself. I mean, the widow gave everything she had to live on. Jesus gave everything he had to live on. Are you willing to follow Jesus in this?

If this sounds like a hard saying, good. This is hard. This kind of trust requires wisdom and faith and sacrifice.

But the relationship is worth it.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11 ESV)

Do you believe this today?

The impossible becomes reality

Giving God control in the area of finances will free you to build his Kingdom in ways you never even thought possible. God will accomplish amazing things in and through you that you might not even be able to imagine.

John_Wesley_clippedConsider the example of John Wesley, the Anglican priest that started the Methodist movement in the 1700s. He made a good living (in fact he was quite wealthy) and spend most of it at first like most people…on things like entertainment and furnishings for his apartment. After an incident where he encountered someone in need but realized he had spent all of his money, things changed. One writer tells what happened:

Wesley began to limit his expenses so that he would have more money to give to the poor. He records that one year his income was 30 pounds and his living expenses 28 pounds, so he had 2 pounds to give away. The next year his income doubled, but he still managed to live on 28 pounds, so he had 32 pounds to give to the poor. In the third year, his income jumped to 90 pounds. Instead of letting his expenses rise with his income, he kept them to 28 pounds and gave away 62 pounds. In the fourth year, he received 120 pounds. As before, his expenses were 28 pounds, so his giving rose to 92 pounds. Wesley felt that the Christian should not merely tithe but give away all extra income once the family and creditors were taken care of. He believed that with increasing income, what should rise is not the Christian’s standard of living but the standard of giving.

John Wesley knew that if his heart belonged to God, so did everything else.

A sacred trust

We’ve all been given a sacred trust in relationships, opportunities, physical resources, and money. If you believe your life is not your work, but God’s work to build his Kingdom, you have to be cheerful, consistent, and sacrificially generous in how you steward your entire life.

Of course, there’s so much more to it than money. Your whole heart must belong to God.

And if your heart belongs to God, so does everything else.

My GTD system, January 2015

Capture & Organize

Simple tasks For the capturing and organizing simple tasks, I use the Any.do app.

Any.do lets me add tasks quickly and organize them efficiently into sublists like “home,” “work,” and “someday/maybe.” You can even add recurring tasks for action items that you do every day, week, month and so on.

Multi-step projects If I need to plan a multi-step project, I’ll make an Any.do todo item like, “plan such and such event.” When I execute on that task I will actually plan the event by breaking it down into smaller tasks. I use Trello for this. During meetings I used pen-and-paper to capture and transfer action items (todos) to Any.do as soon as possible.

Time-sensitive items Items that have to be done at a certain time go immediately on my calendar (a Google Calendar/Outlook combo). If something needs to be done on certain day I’ll add a due date to the item in Any.do so I’ll be reminded on that day.

Paper items I have inboxes for paper items that need to be processed and put on my task list. To be honest, this is the weakest point of my system…mainly because I haven’t been disciplined in my review process for these at home. At work, I quickly scan and email most paper items to myself. Which brings me to my email system.

Email Everyday I get my inbox at work to zero. To do this I use a simple (but effective) three-folder system:

  • #1 Follow up
  • #2 Hold
  • #3 Archive

My “Follow up” folder is for any email that needs an action from me (including a reply) that I can’t do right now.

The “Hold” folder is for any email that needs further action from someone else. So anything that I’m waiting for a reply on or that someone else needs to act on before I can “close the loop.” It’s also a handy place for anything I might need for next couple of days for reference.

Everything else goes into “Archive.”

Review I schedule a weekly review on Friday to go over all of task lists. I’ve learned this step is crucial, and really the key to making GTD work. Without a disciplined review, all your nicely captured tasks stay in your nicely organized system…but may never be acted on. I look through my Any.do list, making sure things are are in the appropriate folders, adding anything that comes to mind, and transferring items to the calender if needed. I do the same thing with my projects in Trello.

Taking action My favorite feature in Any.do is how the app will guide you through planning the tasks you’d like to accomplish that day, complete with some motivational feedback when you finish your session. I do this every morning almost without fail so I can make sure to keep reviewing my list and making progress every day.

Of course, I’m not there yet. I don’t always have a mind like water. But I’m getting there one next action at a time.

3 reasons you should be savoring Advent to better celebrate Christmas

Christmas is all the rage in our culture right now…but I say we slow down and do something counter-cultural.

Let’s savor Advent so we can better celebrate Christmas.

Here are 3 reasons why:

1) You'll get more of the Gospel

The Christian liturgical year allows for the whole story of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection to be lived out and celebrated. Part of that story is a long time of waiting with an expectant hope based on God’s promises. Advent is when you get to remember and celebrate that part of the story, the prologue, if you will. It’s still part of adoring Jesus and celebrating his birth, but it keeps us from rushing through the story.

2) You'll actually get more Christmas, if you think about it.

Christmas doesn’t start the day after Thanksgiving and culminate on December 25…it starts on December 25 and is traditionally celebrated for–wait for it–12 days. That means you could extend and enhance your celebration and appreciation of Christ’s birth if you began with Advent.

3) You'll be in-step with the Church

The liturgical seasons are one way of unifying the whole Church, past and present. Most Christians still celebrate Advent. To participate in Advent as a priority over the secular “Christmas season” is a way of connecting with the universal Church and keeping the focus firmly on Jesus–not just individually, but as a covenant community.

How and why do you celebrate Advent?

How a dreaded chore became a sacramental action

Once upon a time I hated washing the dishes.

The left over, sticky food residue was smelly and repulsive to the touch, especially after procrastinating. It seemed like a waste of time, a boring chore that had to be done every day. Everyone else seemed to be enjoying themselves with conversation, entertainment, or creating more work for me by eating dessert or drinking coffee while I was still cleaning up. It wasn’t torture, but it sure wasn’t fun.

I hated washing the dishes.

Then I got married to a woman who hates washing dishes more than I do. We entered into our marriage with a loose agreement: she would cook, I would clean.

Turns out she was (and still is) an amazing cook, but I wasn’t so great at consistently washing the dishes. I still disliked doing them, and still procrastinated. But I disliked it a little less, because I knew that what I was doing was contributing to the home and to the relationship we were building together.

Over time, I came to appreciate the feeling of satisfaction that comes from doing a simple task well. The rhythm of washing, rinsing, drying, and putting away became a place to think and learn and even pray. I started to appreciate how much less disgusting it was to wash the dishes immediately after meals. I found I was especially thankful for warm water (especially in the winter) and–when we moved to place that had one–electricity for the dishwasher to take most of the hard work.

My wife always says thank you when I do the dishes, sometimes with a hug or a peck on the cheek, and that becomes for me a sacred–dare I say sacramental– moment. The wonderful meal cooked out of love for me and the children, the washing and cleaning of pots and pans and plates, a thank you kiss. It’s all part of the liturgy of the family, and after all, a sacrament is an outward sign of an inward grace.

Now, I know washing the dishes cannot be a sacrament in same sense as Holy Communion, Baptism, or even Marriage. Yet in some small way, washing the dishes has transformed from a necessary task, to a discipline, to even (on rare occasions) a treasured ritual.

A once dreaded chore has become a precious, outward sign of the inward grace of being spiritually bound to my family. Somehow, washing the dishes became a sacramental action.

Once upon a time, I hated washing the dishes. I still don’t always like washing the dishes.

But now, I love washing the dishes.

How to have a life-changing mentoring conversation

I’ve spent the last three or so years mentoring college-age men in both one-on-one and group settings. One of my initial challenges was figuring out what I should be talking about so I could effectively lead the conversation and make the most of our time together. It doesn’t help that the goals of many mentoring relationships are somewhat vague (learn from the mentor’s mistakes, become a better Christian, etc.)

After my first year as a formal mentor, four essential conversation categories emerged for me. These make up a focused, productive, and ultimately life-changing mentoring conversation. Each of your mentoring sessions should generally include all of these elements (though not always in identical proportions).

1) Relationship building

Relationship building is how I start most of my meetings. This is where you look for opportunities to connect with the person you are mentoring on a personal level. Ask questions about their background if you’re just getting to know them, or about their day or week a little later in the relationship.

Use this time to simply enjoy conversation about topics of mutual interest. If you have the time it’s also great to do something fun and meaningful together. On occasion you may devote your entire session to relationship building. Although it may not seem particularly productive, spending the time up front to simply get to know the person you are mentoring and allowing them to get to know you will lay the foundation for a trusting relationship. Without a certain level of trust, it’s impossible to be an effective mentor.

2) Accountability

Accountability is the tough part of any relationship (and thus, the easiest to let slide), but I promise you will be rewarded as you lean into it. Mentoring relationships usually entail some sort of commitment… Has your mentee followed through?

Ask the tough questions, and don’t let difficult subjects slide by…but remember to practice a lot of grace, mercy, and love as well. Don’t be afraid of awkward silence–embrace it. Sometimes the person you are mentoring will need a few moments to think about how to answer a particularly personal or probing question.

3) Teaching

It’s easy for the teaching step to get lost in the shuffle (especially when you’re having fun relationship building) but a massive part of being a mentor is helping others learn. For them to learn, you have to teach.

Don’t think it needs to be a lecture, though. Never forget the power of teaching through asking leading questions and genuinely listening even as you offer thoughtful feedback. You should always be willing to be vulnerable and share your mistakes, but don’t forget that now isn’t the time for you to be on a soapbox.

4) Prayer

I close every one-on-one with those I mentor with prayer. Few people have someone with whom they can pray with regularly, and I consider it a particular honor to be able to be that person for some of the men I mentor. Make sure to allow plenty of time for this as well (at least 15 minutes). I’ve found that asking someone how you can pray for them can lead to some very honest and very encouraging conversations…sometimes this can be the deepest and most meaningful part of our time together!

How could implementing these four elements improve your own conversations with those you mentor? Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!

My top 3 spiritual struggles

If there’s one thing I’m not a fan of, it’s the goes-without-saying assumption that Christian leaders should basically pretend like they never struggle with anything, at least not in the present. If it was a long time ago, that’s okay, because it’s in the past. But we really can’t have our leaders admitting weakness in the here and now, right? Wrong!

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. (2 Corinthians 11:30 ESV)

Time for a trip to the confessional. Without further ado, here are 3 spiritual struggles that are ongoing for me.

1) Death to Self

I am entirely too self-absorbed. When I should be thinking of others, I think of myself, often at their expense. This is expressed in me acting like a real jerk (usually to the people I should love the most). Irritability and impatience too often get the best of me, along with childish reactions when I don’t get my way or when things don’t go according to (my) plan.

2) Discipline

I write and talk a lot about discipline, because it’s one of my own problem points. Although I have–by God’s grace–experienced some measure of success in this area, I know I have a long way to go. I become discouraged quickly when things get difficult, and it’s a struggle to maintain the discipline I have built. It takes tremendous effort every single day, and I fail in some regard in this area constantly. It’s three steps forward, two back. There’s steady progress, but not without consistent setbacks.

3) Distraction

I suppose this is sort of a sub-struggle of #2 and definitely related also to #1. I am so easily distracted from what should be the most important things in my life: faith, family, ministry. My days often seem to slip through my fingers. Before I know it I’ve wasted hours tracking a pointless Internet debate or with a mindless, unnecessary task that serves to help me avoid starting a more difficult (but also more important) project. I even distract myself from legitimate rest and relaxation by prioritizing work at the wrong time.

I don’t write this to wallow in, justify, or glorify my sin. Nor am I attempting to elicit any kind of pity. I just think that–as a Christian leader–it’s important to acknowledge that I am as flawed as everyone one else. I struggle day-to-day with following Jesus, just like everybody else.

Just like you, I’m fighting the old man with God’s help, every day.

How could admitting weakness change your ministry for the better?

Stop resisting God's grace. Start resisting false gods.

My pastor has been preaching on it. My friends and coworkers have been practicing it. It keeps coming up in conversation.

Sabbath.

It is a consecrated, dedicated time of rest. It is a time of remembrance of all that God has done. It is a covenant sign that we are God’s people; we do not belong to this world.

It is a gift.

It is not about hard-and-fast rules, but avoiding a legalistic approach has become my excuse to all but abandon Shabbat.

It’s obvious that individuals and societies are less healthy for not observing the Sabbath. The cycle of production and consumption never ends in a Sabbath-less life. We allow our actions to be driven by an anxious-yet-subtle whisper in our heads, “what if…

What if I don’t work today? How will I pay the bills? What if I don’t commit to this social event? How can maintain all of my friendships? What if I don’t volunteer for this church program, won’t I let my congregation down? What if I get bored?

This is not the Life Abundant that Jesus came to give us.

Sabbath is resistance to the false gods of anxiety, consumerism, pride, and restlessness.

Our Spirit-filled new life in Christ is one of freedom from slavery to sin, worry, and ignorance. We are even set free from slavery to ourselves.

We are free, and God takes care of us now.

Practicing Sabbath is an act of faith. It is to act in trust of God’s goodness.

As I mediate on these things, I realize it’s time for me to stop resisting God’s grace, and start resisting false gods. It’s time for me to quit submitting to the yoke of slavery and to live free. It’s time to begin taking Sabbath seriously again.

Shabbat shalom.

Do you also feel like it’s time to begin treating the Sabbath with more seriousness? Let me know in the comments!

4 reasons I’m afraid of silence

If you’re like me, you fill most waking moments with some sort of noise. Maybe it’s music, the radio, TV, Pandora, or podcasts. Too often, I find that the noise I’m shoving in my ears is my own voice.

If it’s not literal noise, there’s figurative static. Meaningless and mindless Facebook scrolling, YouTube ridiculousness, whatever controversy is exploding on Twitter.

I’ll do pretty much anything to avoid the silence. It makes me uncomfortable. Why?

I think it’s all about fear.

1) I’m afraid of being bored.

Why am I deathly afraid of boredom? I read somewhere that boredom breeds creativity. Maybe I’m afraid of the creative impulse…it always pushes me toward art and thus risk. And if I’m honest I know risk means the possibility of pain…and comfort is a value I hold all-too-dear.

And then there’s the fact that if I quit filling up every moment with noise I could listen to myself, to others, to God.

2) I’m afraid to face the truth about myself

I’m afraid to really confront myself because my pride would likely be wounded at what I would be forced to admit upon an honest examination. I’m not the husband, father, or minister I should be. The older I get the more I come to grips with the fact that I just won’t measure up this side of Jesus coming back. The more I live with this, the more I don’t like it.

3) I’m afraid of not being appreciated

I don’t listen to others because on some level I value what I have to say more that what you have to say. Plain and simple. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s ultimately some sort of coping mechanism for my own insecurity regarding the objective worth of my ideas. So I prove it to myself by monopolizing conversations at the expense of others.

4) I’m afraid of holiness

If I sit in silence long enough there is a good chance I might actually hear the voice of God. This is quite honestly a terrifying possibility, because God will call me to change. He will draw me toward deeper obedience and I know that means leaving treasured sins and long-held personal preferences behind in favor of being conformed to the image of Christ and following him into the depths of self-denial and discipline.

What if today is the day that God leads me to my own cross?

Silence is scary. That’s why why we avoid it so strenuously.

This quote has been haunting me for weeks

This quote by one of my favorite Christian authors has been haunting me for weeks.

No short cut exists for a deeper spiritual life...the man who would know God must give time to Him. ~ A. W. Tozer

Haunting me because I know it is true and no talk of “quality over quantity” can ever fully extinguish the conviction I have in my own soul that I don’t spend enough time with God.

I know all too well (when I am being honest with myself) that the first thing to go when I get really busy is my devotional time. I’ve gotten better at holding steady in periods of moderate busyness, but when things start really going crazy I tend to simply forget. Talk about twisted priorities.

When my mind starts going a million-miles-a-minute I just don’t yet have the discipline to quiet it for long enough. I need to work on that.

I’m learning to rest, but it’s not easy.

I realize that often, I’d sooner take an hour to read a book about communion with God than actually give him those same moments. I think it’s because it’s so much easier to absorb someone else’s thoughts than put in the effort to still myself enough to hear from God. Listening–really listening–often takes so much more effort than speaking.

I’m learning that it takes a certain quantity of time to learn how to have the highest quality time.

It’s become newly apparent to me that God wants a real, personal relationship with me and you. You and I both know real relationships require an investment of time in order to deepen and grow. Real relationships require giving up some things because being with the other person is simply worth it.

Who could be more worth it than God?

My Top 3 Leadership Struggles

I consider it an honor to lead in multiple areas of Christian ministry. From my university ministry day job to working on staff at my local church, leading is part of what I do and who I am. I sometimes even write about some of the things I have learned about leadership here and on social media, but I’m far from an expert. Although I think I’ve been given some gifts in the area of leadership, learning to lead in a Godly and effective way has been one of the hardest things I’ve done. Here are three leadership struggles I deal with on a daily basis:

1) Interacting with lots of people

FACT: I AM AN INTROVERT. I love people and enjoy being with them, but I can become drained quickly. When I’m responsible for large groups and many people need to interact with me, it can take an emotional toll if I’m not responsible and aware of how I am expending emotional energy. Self-awareness has been key for me in this area. Not to be over-dramatic, but I’ve also noticed that for me to be able to give a lot of energy to many people, I have to make sure I’m sleeping and eating well too.

2) Actually leading instead of simply training

I enjoy absorbing knowledge. I then enjoy teaching other people about the things I have learned about. However, that’s not necessarily the same thing as leading. I have to remind myself that part of what I do as a leader is more than just equipping; it’s also about having a vision and inspiring other people to get there as I teach. John C. Maxwell said, “Leadership is influence.” Influence is a lot more than just regurgitating facts.

3) Communicating effectively

I used to think that because I read, write, and speak fairly well, that meant I was a solid communicator. Was I wrong! I’ve had a lot to learn about how to communicate professionally and personally in ways that make sense to the person I am communicating with. I’ve learned that as a leader, it’s your responsibility to make sure your message is understood. In order to do this I’ve had to think hard about little things like my tone of voice, body language, and the precise words I choose to use.

Identifying weakness or struggles is the first step to making progress toward improvement. Have you struggled in these same areas? What’s your biggest leadership struggle? Let me know in the comments!

Freedom is more than liberty

I used to buy into the idea that freedom was about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I thought freedom was primarily the ability the make my own choices.

Then I realized that while that’s part of it, the ability to make my own choices was never enough for true spiritual freedom, because I tend to make selfish choices that keep me enslaved to sin.

In the Bible freedom is more about identity (who we are) than choice (doing what we want), and that identity is always connected to Jesus through the Holy Spirit.

In a letter to the church at Corinth, St. Paul wrote:

Where the spirit of the Lord is there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17)

And what does the Spirit do? He changes our hearts to be more like Christ, because Christ perfectly shows us the Father, and as image-bearers of God, this was our original design as human beings!

We are set free, Paul says in Romans 8:4, “in order to fulfill the righteous requirement of the law.” What’s the righteous requirement?

At the most basic level it’s to do good works, to worship God. It is to show forth, to demonstrate, to radiate the beauty and goodness and love of God.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that when we are doing these things we are displaying the image of God to the world.

Here’s a way think about this idea of identity being the crucial aspect of freedom: Imagine a fish. Regardless of the set of choices in front of him, freedom for the fish is to swim! He was created for it!

Freedom for a bird is to fly. Freedom for trees is to grow. Freedom for you and I is to give glory to God by living in a loving relationship with him!

What's the point of spiritual gifts?

In his first letter to the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul describes what he calls “spiritual gifts.” These charisms are special abilities given in grace to the believer by the Holy Spirit. The gifts that Paul describes enable spiritual growth and help Christians to live out God’s purpose for them in love.

How to develop and discover your spiritual gifts

The spiritual gifts are important to spiritual formation, because identifying how we are gifted (or perhaps not gifted) can help Christians know where to concentrate our disciplines. If your spiritual gift is teaching, for example, you may recognize this and emphasize the importance of the discipline of study. Or, you may find that edification or encouragement is an area where you have room to grow, so you may consider spending time in meditation on passages about God’s promises and faithfulness.

If you sense a faltering in your faith, you might fast as a reminder of God’s provision and faithfulness. Developing our spiritual gifts helps us to conform to God’s will for our life—the very definition of spiritual formation.

Acts of spiritual formation and discipline like prayer, fasting, meditation, and study can also help you figure out what your spiritual gifts should be. Submission to the will of God opens the door for blessings in the form of gifts that, in our natural state, we were resisting.

Since spiritual formation is key to both discerning and developing spiritual gifts, and since spiritual gifts are clearly a God-ordained part of how we minister to the entire Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:5), it becomes clear that spiritual formation itself is an absolutely indispensable part of the Christian journey.

Differentiated or divided?

Although it is easy to confuse differentiation with division, this is not the purpose of the spiritual gifts!

It certainly wasn’t what St. Paul had in mind as he laid out his letter to the Corinthian church. Instead of dividing the Body of Christ, the spiritual gifts unify believers by allowing each individual to fulfill their unique purpose in the community of faith.

When the gifts are practiced correctly, they always function to edify the Church and spread the Gospel (Palma, 1979, p. 19). The focus that brings these diverse abilities in sync is the person of Jesus, who functions as the Head of the Church and through the Holy Spirit is ultimately directing each and every gift given.1

St. Paul describes it this way,:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. (1 Cor. 12:12 ESV)

The gifts, although distributed in different kinds and quantities among the entire Body, are still part of the unified whole as result of the person of Jesus. In this way these distinctions are quite different from the worldly divisions that were plaguing the church at Corinth when St. Paul wrote this letter.2

Your calling and the gifts of the Spirit

Many thinkers have linked the spiritual gifts with various offices in the institutional church, but taking this too far misses the point.3

Paul isn’t so much highlighting how the gifts are different, but rather their unifying threads: the common source of the Holy Spirit’s power, Jesus’ service, and God’s direction.4

That said, there’s no doubt the spiritual gifts are necessary for you to carry out your mission and purpose because they all directly correspond to real actions:

  • Teachers teach.
  • Prophets prophecy.
  • Those with the gifts of tongues speak.

The list, of course, goes on. As gifts from God (not necessarily natural abilities) these deposits of grace also confirm you’re doing the will the God when you’re exercising your gift faithfully.[^5]

When you are faithfully and obediently exercising your God-given gift by the power of the Holy Spirit, you are functioning correctly in your capacity as an “organ” in the Body of Jesus.5 The spiritual gifts confirm that all good things come from God, and that as believers we can only truly and completely fulfill our purpose when we are conformed to his will, living in obedience, and practicing his commandments to us in love.

What are your spiritual gifts, and how has God worked through them? Let me know in the comments.


  1. Palma, A. D. (1979). "Spiritual gifts -- basic considerations." Pneuma, 1(2), 3-26. p. 11 
  2. Ibid. 
  3. Palma, p. 18 
  4. Palma, p. 8 [^5] Dominy, B. (1983). "Paul and spiritual gifts : reflections on 1 Corinthians 12-14." Southwestern Journal of Theology, 26(1), 49-68. p. 53 
  5. Ibid. 

It won't always be pleasant, but I promise it will be worth it.

One of best things my wife and I have done for our marriage is intentionally making time to spend together, just the two of us. We’ve learned that this is absolutely essential for maintaining the close relationship that we need in order to have a healthy marriage and family.

We try to make time for a least a few moments each day, but sometimes we need a bit more time. So we have regular date nights where we can spend a couple hours together. Every now and then we’ll have the opportunity to spend the majority of the day together, just us. Those are treasured times.

Of course, they don’t just happen. Amber and I have to plan them, commit to them, and follow through. Intentionally making time for each other is a discipline.

I think that if you look at most of your relationships, you’ll find that you do this with your closest friends, mentors, and advisers. You have that extended, dedicated time for each other.

Don't forget God.

Do you do this for God? Do you spend time alone with God daily, weekly? Do you ever set aside a whole day or a large portion of your day just for prayer, Bible study, and sitting quietly with him?

Every analogy breaks down at some point, but here are some ways spending alone time with God is similar to dedicating exclusive time to any relationship:

  • It's a bit awkward at first; you might not know what to say
  • This will inevitably drive you to say more than you should
  • After a significant time investment, that awkwardness will melt away to an easy familiarity
  • Silence will then often be sweet and full of meaning
  • Even after this, it will take work to maintain the relationship; you will be constantly challenged

Tips to develop a habit of spending alone time with God

First, determine if you’re ready to get outside your comfort zone. God never leaves us as we are. When we come into his presence we leave changed people (Tweet this). He is always at work in us. When you dedicate time to being alone with God, you are opening yourself up to a new level of intimacy with him. It won’t always be pleasant, but I promise it will be worth it.

Schedule your time. What gets scheduled, gets done. This is–in my opinion–a fact of life. Put your devotional time on the calendar, and treat it like you would any appointment with a VIP.

Don’t over-program. It’s great to go through a devotional book, keep a prayer journal, and perhaps even explore the liturgy as part of your personal time with God. That said, don’t forget to save a few moments to just be with him, without talking. I recommend Lectio Divina as way to practice listening to God.

What’s your greatest challenge when it comes to spending alone time with God? Let me know in the comments!

3 ways to think about the Trinity

The doctrine of the Triune nature of God is a core, essential teaching for historic, orthodox Christianity. This concept, officially formulated very early in the history of the faith, is part of what makes Christianity unique among world religions. Heretical challenges in the first centuries of the Church prompted leaders to join together in order to articulate an “official” doctrine. Examples of these proclamations include the Nicene Creed and of course the Athanasian creed (commonly read on Trinity Sunday in liturgical traditions).

Over time theologians have sought to explain and express this paradoxical concept in terms that make sense in their context. Interestingly enough, three primary ways of thinking about the Trinity emerged: the economic Trinity, the essential Trinity, and most recently the social Trinity.

The economic Trinity

[caption id=“attachment_4111” align=“alignright” width=“300”]Photo Credit: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center via Compfight cc Photo Credit: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center via Compfight cc[/caption]

The concept of the economic Trinity found its genesis in a person named Sabellius, known as a thinker in Rome around 215. His view, appropriately dubbed “Sabellianism” sees the expressions of “Father,” “Son,” and “Spirit” as referring to linear expressions of God’s economic activity over time.

This view sees history in three parts: first, the work of creation (characterized by the Father), second, the life of Jesus (understood as the Son) and finally the church age (exemplified by the Holy Spirit). Sabellius’ view was essentially a modalist way of thinking about the Trinity concept, and did not understand God as eternally existing in three persons. This position was rejected as heretical by the early church1.

Although such a strict modalist view is definitely unorthodox, there is a legitimate concept behind an economic understanding of the Trinity that is helpful for grasping how the eternally Triune God does choose to work throughout history.

The essential Trinity

[caption id=“attachment_4087” align=“alignright” width=“260”]Earliest attested version of the famous Shield of the Trinity diagram, from a manuscript of Peter of Poitiers' writings, c. 1210. Earliest attested version of the famous Shield of the Trinity diagram, from a manuscript of Peter of Poitiers’ writings, c. 1210.[/caption]

The essential Trinity refers to the coequal, coeternal nature of the Trinity that originates in the common divine “essence” of each member, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit 2. The Nicene Creed is careful to state that Jesus is “of one being with the Father” and that the Holy Spirit is to be “worshipped and glorified.”

Still, it was the Athanasian expression of the catholic (universal) faith that articulated the essential nature of the Trinity in no uncertain terms. This venerable and ancient confession from the fifth century states, “And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Substance [essence]” 3.

This “essential” understanding represents the final outworking of the early church’s dogma regarding the Triune nature. It’s also makes an orthodox articulation of the previously mentioned economic activity of the Trinity possible. Furthermore, it sets the stage for understanding the relationships that exist within the Trinity.

The social Trinity

[caption id=“attachment_4094” align=“alignright” width=“243”]Russian icon of the Old Testament Trinity by Andrey Rublev, between 1408 and 1425 Russian icon of the Old Testament Trinity by Andrey Rublev, between 1408 and 1425[/caption]

Recently theologians have emphasized the social aspect of the Trinity.

One of my favorite theologians, the Baptist Stanley Grenz said that by nature the Trinity is relational, existing eternally as three interacting persons. In this way the Trinity is social 4. Each person of the Trinity has a distinct role, yet approaches the others with love.

In this way love is the defining characteristic of the social dynamic that exists between the persons, and all of creation “exists as the outflow of the intratrinitarian relationships” 5. This necessarily has significant theological implications for how we view creation (as a Trinitarian act) as well as how humans might approach their own relationships as persons made in the image of God.

Each way of thinking about the Trinity–in historic/functional terms, as being three distinct persons with one shared essence, and as being in loving relationship–is helpful for understanding the concept of the Trinity and how we should apply to our own lives in the here and now.

Of course, we may never understand the Trinity completely, but these different ways of understanding this idea can allow for a more complete understanding of who God is, how he operates, and what it means to be created in community and in the Imageo Dei.

How do you think about the Trinity? Let me know in the comments!


  1. Grenz, S. J. (2000). Theology for the community of God. p. 57 
  2. Gunton, C. E. (1997). The Cambridge companion to Christian doctrine. p. 135 
  3. Blunt, J. H. (1903). The annotated Book of common prayer. p. 217 
  4. Grenz, p. 78 
  5. Grenz, p. 101 

Preparing for Pentecost: Are you trying to tame God the Holy Spirit?

It seems to me American Evangelical culture in general is guilty of trying to sort of domesticate God. There’s an emphasis on the love of God that often overshadows (or better: glosses over) the fact that he is wholly other, that he is a God of justice, the truth that simply standing in his presence would kill us.

He's not a tame lion

Not like a tame lion

“He'll be coming and going" he had said. "One day you'll see him and another you won't. He doesn't like being tied down--and of course he has other countries to attend to. It's quite all right. He'll often drop in. Only you mustn't press him. He's wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

When God asks Moses to come speak to him on the mountain, he instructs him to keep the people back, just so he does’t accidentally wipe them all out (Exodus 19:21).

Just a few chapters later, God reminds Moses that you can’t look at him in face and expect to survive long (Exodus 33:18-20).

God loves us, yes! It is a deep, abiding, and intimate love. But do we appreciate how awesome it is to be loved by such a powerful, creative, perfect, dangerous being?

Our worship is too often permeated with a casual familiarity that–unfortunately–can miss a sense of God’s transcendence. When only his immanence remains, we begin to fashion God in our own image. Our imagination of what is possible is stunted, our appreciation of who God is can be twisted, and our faith suffers as a result.

download

What about the Holy Spirit?

Although the mainstream evangelical culture has often sought to tame God, at least we are thinking and speaking of God the Father and Jesus quite often. When it comes to God the Holy Spirit, however, it’s another story.

When was the last time you heard a sermon on God the Holy Spirit outside of Charismatic circles? The Holy Spirit is too often not just glossed over, but left out. When tough times come, the advice is often to double down on Bible reading and prayer (fair enough), but confidence that we will meet God there in the Spirit is rarely made explicit. It’s like we’re afraid he won’t show up.

When it comes to living the Christian life, where is the talk of living in the power of the Spirit? Why are we not constantly reminded of the Spirit of Christ that dwells in us? That’s what Paul did for the Church at Rome (see Romans 8).

Why is it that prominent, popular, and widely accepted Protestant teaching on the Holy Spirit seems to make him utterly predictable? Could it be that we are afraid of what he might do? It might not fit our church growth plan. Fires might break out. People might think we’re strange (or drunk). People might try to kill us. We might have the greatest adventure of our lives.

After all, that’s what happened to the Apostles (see the story of Pentecost and the entire book of Acts).

Saint_Cyril_of_Jerusalem

God the Holy Spirit in Church History

Of course, the Church has had a robust view of God the Holy Spirit throughout the centuries. Not only did the Fathers understand the Holy Spirit to be the agent that applied God’s grace in the sacraments, via the hearing of Scripture, and through the Christian community, but the Holy Spirit was considered a teacher for everyday life.

Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386 AD) said,

The Spirit makes one person a teacher of divine truth, inspires another to prophesy, gives another the power of casting out devils, enables another to interpret holy Scripture. The Spirit strengthens one person's self-control, shows another how to help the poor, teaches another to fast and lead a life of asceticism, makes another oblivious to the need of the body, trains another for martyrdom. His action is different in different people, but the Spirit himself is always the same. In each person, Scripture says, the Spirit reveals his presence in a particular way for the common good...light floods the soul of the one counted worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit and enables that person to see things beyond the range of human vision, things hitherto undreamed of.

Maybe we try to tame God and avoid his Spirit because we’re not ready to be trained for martyrdom.

Be trained for martyrdom

Missing out?

Maybe you’re thinking, I’m not trying to avoid the Holy Spirit. I’m not trying to tame him. So why am I not experiencing him?

First, I’ll just point out that as a Christian, you are always experiencing the Holy Spirit, whether you are aware of it or not. He dwells in you. He is doing his work in you to make you more like Jesus, he is interceding for you (Romans 8), and comforting you.

As far as the more dramatic manifestations go, I think you’ll notice if you study Acts that God the Holy Spirit shows up in pretty extreme circumstances. When people are coming to Christ, when the Apostles are out on mission, that’s when we see some pretty crazy stuff.

So, another question you should ask yourself is, “Am I living a life on mission?”

Are you taking risks? Are you living in the confidence that although neither God nor circumstances are ever safe, you are secure in him?

Stop pretending you can fully control your circumstances, or that you know exactly how God can and will work in your life. Your knowledge will always be incomplete, and God will always be impossible to tame.

Let it all go and live life as a reverent embrace of a wild, dangerous God.

Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

How has God the Holy Spirit moved unpredictably in your life? Join the conversation in the comments!

5 surprising benefits of taking a digital sabbatical

I just took my family on camping trip in the woods of northern Arizona. I barely had cell service, so I couldn’t be on Twitter or Facebook or check my website stats. I went for walks, played with my kids, laughed with my friends, and enjoyed the cool weather.

I was reminded of how great it is to get a digital “reset,” a rest, a sabbatical. It’s really one of the most refreshing habits you can have in today’s world. Trust me, you need to do this if you don’t already. Here are 5 surprising benefits of taking a digital sabbatical for a day for a day or two–or longer.

1) Get more restful sleep

Studies have shown that “screen time” before bed tends to mess with your body’s ability to differentiate waking and sleeping hours. This can contribute to difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep during the night. Take just the evening off of technology, and you could feel drastically more rested the next morning.

2) Refresh your relationships

You will see the difference it makes to your kids to listen to them without checking out to glance at that text message. You’ll begin to perceive more about your significant other, because they will have your full attention. You will be amazed at how the quality and depth of your conversations and interactions with others is improved when there’s no device in your hand.

3) Regain some perspective

I know that for me, my “online life” can easily become all-encompassing. Critical comments on my blog or a dip in website traffic or a bit of Facebook drama can seem urgently important. When I unplug and take a step back, I realize that none of it is the end of the world. In fact, I’ll be just fine. When you put a little distance between yourself and the digital world, you’re making room for the important things to surface.

4) Grow spiritually

In today’s world, solitude and silence seem like luxuries. Yet, they are essential for honest self-reflection, emotional healing, and hearing God’s voice. If you are not making time to unplug for extended periods, you are probably stunting your own spiritual growth. Don’t neglect the important spiritual discipline of the digital fast.

5) Get stuff done

Science proves that multitasking is a myth. In fact, it could lower your IQ. You can’t effectively do more than one thing at time. When you’re constantly getting distracted by emails, “social” invites and Facebook debates, you can’t concentrate the way you’d like on important projects. Disconnect and get some work done with classic tools like pen and paper. Do chores. Build something. Make plans, brainstorm, be creative.

How would disconnecting from the distractions of the digital-age benefit you? Let me know in the comments!

How and why you should keep a prayer journal

Keeping a prayer journal has been simultaneously one of the most rewarding and one of the most difficult decisions I’ve tried to stick with.  Ultimately it’s been worth it, despite my own inconsistencies.

What is a prayer journal?

A prayer journal is a little different from simply keeping a diary, because the point isn’t just to record your thoughts, feelings, and observations (although a prayer journal might include those things). Instead, a prayer journal serves to record your conversations with God. Not just requests, but what he is teaching and revealing to you, and what you are saying to him.

The great thing about writing down your prayers and answers to prayers (both positive and negative) is that you build a record of God’s faithfulness in your life over time. You see how you change in response to your circumstances and in response to what God is doing in your life.

Getting started with a prayer journal

If you’re already in the habit of keeping a journal, then you may simply integrate your prayer requests, thoughts, prayers, and petitions as part of what you are already doing. Personally, I’ve been keeping my prayer journal separate from my other diary, however I’m now considering integrating the two.

The best piece I of advice I can give you on starting this discipline is this: don’t succumb to the external–and more often, internal–pressure to keep a “literary” journal full of complete sentences and well thought-out ideas. This is a place just for you and God. Let it take whatever shape works for you. That may be in the form of a “letter” to God, or not. Mine is often just a few bullet points, something like this:

  • Praying for the kids as they start school today
  • Wisdom in financial decisions
  • Thankful for answered prayer for help with ordination costs
  • Wondering how I can be a better leader
  • Need greater trust in God's provision
  • St. John's language about the absolute importance of loving one another is really sticking with me the last couple of weeks

Recommended tools for keeping a prayer journal

I currently use DailyDiary, a free service that lets you keep a journal via email for my primary “journal.” It’s quite excellent if you’re already in your email a couple of times per day. Just set it up to shoot you an email at whatever time you want, with whatever prompt you want (e.g., “what’s on your mind?”). DailyDiary will keep a secure and private website with your replies.

Field Notes makes great little journals that I have used to record my prayers and notes for specific events or seasons of life before. I highly, highly recommend them. Made in the USA and truly a pleasure to use.

The ESV Journaling Bible is another way to write your journal that I really love. It comes in few different covers at various price points (I love this one). This Bible has extra-wide margins with lines so that you can record what God is teaching you as you pray the Scriptures. I’m looking forward to going all the way through one of these in a few years. I imagine giving your filled Journaling Bible to your children or spouse could be very meaningful as well.

What’s keeping you from starting a prayer journal? If you’re already keeping one, how has it had a positive impact on your faith? Let me know in the comments!

Are you feeling far from God?

Are you feeling far from God? You’re not alone. Even the greatest saints have struggled with doubt and the fear of being abandoned by God.

Remember Doubting Thomas? Even Mother Theresa endured a decades-long loss of feeling God’s presence.

Christians throughout the centuries have called this experience “The Dark Night of the Soul.”

16th century mystic John of Cross is known for his poems regarding this difficult (yet rewarding) experience. In this short, 3 minute video I’ll share some insight from John of the Cross that has helped me–and might help you–to make sense of the darkness.

I'd like to say I'm not a liar, but...

"There are things which a man is afraid to tell even to himself, and every decent man has a number of such things stored away in his mind." ~ Fyodor Dostoevsky

I mean, I usually tell the truth to other people, about events and whether I like their haircut and all that.

I don’t willfully misrepresent the Gospel or the Scriptures.

I don’t use bait and switch tactics or advertise falsely in my business.

No, most of my lies are to myself. In my mind my motivations are pure and my actions righteous. If I endure the pain of inner honesty, though, there’s a lot of selfishness. A lot of choices I convinced myself were ok, but aren’t.

If I pry back a few grimy layers of self-deception it becomes obvious that most of the time I care more about how others perceive me than how they are hurting when I apologize.

I’m quick to verbally offer forgiveness, but so slow to actually let go in my heart.

I believe in holiness and real sanctification. God is making me new. But there’s a whole lot of work yet to be done. That’s why I know I still have to cling to grace for every fleeting choice and passing thought.

I can’t do without God’s gifts. Some days it’s hard for me to remember they’re even there…times like that make me so thankful to be explicitly invited to Jesus’ table every week for bread and wine, forgiveness and promises, a renewed awareness of the Spirit inside me.

I’m grateful that when my heart condemns me, God is greater than my heart. Because when I’m real with myself, my heart is both condemning and condemnable.

So…I’d like to say I’m not a liar, but that just wouldn’t be honest.

This song pretty much sums it up, way better than I can do in writing.