NRH


How to avoid ministry burnout

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Did you know that 90% of pastors feel fatigued and worn out every week?

That’s not okay.

The same percentage works well over 50 hours a week. Do a quick Google on issues contributing to ministry burnout and you’ll find overwork, stress and enough time for family near the top of the lists.

This is a pervasive problem.

It’s not just that pastors have a tendency to work too much…I think many ministry leaders are so afraid of being lazy they border on burning themselves out.

There’s a destructive cult of overwork in the ministry culture that is incredibly selfish on pretty much everyone’s part. When pastors throw in the towel because they are physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally exhausted, it’s often because their congregations demanded a level of “service” that is impossible to sustain. And they just can’t say no. The idea is that you’re supposed to “sacrifice for the ministry.”

Who gets hurt?

Not only is the pastor hurt by this sort of thing, but the pastor’s spouse, kids, and congregation are hurt too. Sometimes the damage is irreparable.

As Christian leaders, we have to believe that saying “no” to something (even a good thing) in order to get enough rest is not only okay…it’s a good decision.

Getting adequate rest is taking care of yourself so that you can keep working to help others. If you’re exhausted, you’re out of resources. You can’t give people what you don’t have.

Believe me, I get that it’s tough. I like to work. I feel the urgency of what I do. I can feel the pressure from others too. I don’t want to be lazy.

That’s why rest is a discipline for many of us. You’ve got to discipline yourself to get the rest that God designed you to have, and resist the guilt-trips from yourself and others.

Taking care of yourself in order to bless others isn’t laziness. It’s good stewardship.

What’s keeping your from getting the rest you need to be your best for God and others?

The exponential power of encouragement

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Years ago I was going through a very tough time. I was a long way from home, feeling alone, and wondering how I was going to move forward. My dad, one of the wisest people I know, read me a short passage from Scripture on the phone:

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8 ESV)

I remember vividly the hope and life these words seemed to breathe into my situation.

I’ve since used that passage in my ministry over and over, and I’ve seen so many people be similarly encouraged.

The interesting thing to me is that I don’t even remember the specifics of the circumstance that caused my initial distress–but I do remember being encouraged. Because of that brief conversation, many others have been blessed, and they in turn will bless others.

That little moment when you point people back to God’s truth matters.  

Don’t underestimate the exponential power of encouragement.

Say hello to Trello, a new tool to organize your life and ministry

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Think of Trello as note cards on digital steroids. I tend to resist new organizational tools these days, but when I started digging into this one, I was hooked. This could be a game changer for me.

Old-school organization

Trello is based on an old Japanese process for managing projects and workflows called Kanban. You are probably familiar with the basic idea in the form of sticky notes arranged in columns on a whiteboard. As items on the sticky notes move through a process, you would transfer them from column to column to indicate progress.

Trello duplicates this basic functionality beautifully on the web and via mobile apps.

The astonishing thing about Trello is that if you wanted to, you could keep things this simple and never skip a beat. There is no learning curve.

Create a new board, make a couple columns (“lists” in Trello) and start moving simple cards around. All the advantages of the notes/whiteboard combo (visual, flexible, creative) with virtually none of the drawbacks (cumbersome, limited, messy).

Digital-Age implementation

Trello takes it to the next level in two key areas: supercharged notes ("cards") and collaboration.

Trello “cards” can be anything from simple text items, to checklists, to rich multimedia. This means your Trello boards can be used for virtually anything from simple shopping lists to Pinterest-style galleries to semi-automated workflows and software development.

Cards, lists, and boards can all be collaborated on in real time and shared with multiple people. Your whole team can contribute to boards, and you can control was various members are able to see and edit.

The way that Trello manages to maintain a simple feel and genuine ease of use is nothing short of a feat of user-interface design.

An innovative ministry-management tool

The applications of this simple yet robust organizational tool are limited only by your imagination. Possible applications of Trello for ministry include:

Reservations

I'm excited and enthusiastic about Trello, and I think it could change the way I manage both personal and professional projects. That said, it's a fairly new service and I've only been using it a few days, so we'll see how I feel in a couple months! One feature I'd love to see the developers add right away is offline support for mobile. Right now you have to have an internet connection to see and edit your boards. Honestly, I haven't found much else to complain about.

Learn Trello fast

At first, I saw Trello as primarily a list of lists. Trello Dojo by Daniel Root is short ebook that helped me to grasp how it could be used to design workflows and track projects. I also learned a ton of tips, tricks, and advanced features for making the very most of my Trello boards. If you end up buying a copy of Trello Dojo, I'll get a kickback on the sale that will help keep the lights on around here.

(For more info see https://leanpub.com/affiliates. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials.” Nathan R. Hale is a Member of the Leanpub Affiliate Program.)

Final point: it's free!

Practically every feature on Trello is totally free (another reason to love it). That said, if you sign up with this link, I'll get some premium features like the ability to upload my own backgrounds, etc, which will be awesome!

How can you see yourself using Trello to organize your life and ministry?

Do you have too many Bibles?

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According to the American Bible Society and Barna Group, 88% of American households have Bibles, and the average number of Bibles per household is 4.7!

Compare this with some parts of the developing world, where Christians may never own a Bible or owning a Bible is against the law. We have an embarrassment of riches, really, when it comes to availability of copies of the Scriptures as well as the number of quality translations.

I own and use at least three or four separate copies regularly, with plenty more around the house and office.

I guess what I’m wondering is…Do I have too many Bibles? Do you have too many Bibles?

Do I need more than one or two at the most (especially with access to sites like Bible Gateway and YouVersion)? Could I be blessing other people by giving away my extra copies? What if I simply chose to give the money I would spend on what is really a luxury purchase away? Maybe to a ministry that will give the Scriptures to someone that might not otherwise have access?

I’m not gonna lie, nice, expensive Bibles are a weakness of mine. I know it’s okay to pay for quality, to be sure, but after a point my collection could quickly become a prime example of poor stewardship.

I don’t want to be the guy that keeps someone less fortunate from having access to the Scriptures, just because I like the smell of a new book.

Too much of a good thing is still too much.

What are you holding onto that you could give away?

3 reasons why you hate going to church (and what to do about it)

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You know the feeling. You wake up on a typical Sunday morning, roll over, and feel a sense of dread, followed swiftly by a pang of guilt.

I should really go church…but maybe just not today… You would never say it out loud, but inside you’re thinking, I hate going to church.

So many people I speak to (even young, Christian ministry leaders) seem to hate going to church. You might not even know why you have that stubborn resistance in your heart and mind every Sunday morning. Here are three extremely common reasons that come up consistently in my ministry, and three ways you can combat them.

1) It's one more thing to do in your already-busy schedule.

You’re a busy person. You have work, school, family, friends, maybe even other ministries. Adding another 2 hour commitment (or more if you volunteer) just seems overwhelming.

The solution: Examine your beliefs. Do you really believe that the regular gathering of believers for corporate worship under Godly leadership is part of God’s plan for his people? If the answer is “yes,” you’ve got to get your priorities in line, and learn to say “no” to things that might be important, but are simply a lower priority.

2) The message and music just don't "speak" to you.

You’re bored. You don’t connect with the weekly sermon. You’re not into the music…it’s too “Jesus-is-my-boyfriend” or too “contemporary” or too “old-people-style hymns.”

The solution: It would be too easy to tell you to find another church. Although your discontent might mean it’s time to move it, more than likely you need a shift in perspective. Are you waiting for your pastor to entertain you, or are you expecting God to speak to you? Do you see corporate singing as a team effort or just “me-and-Jesus-time?”

3) There aren't enough people in your peer group at your church.

You look around, and you’re surround by people twice your age…or half your age. It feels like a nursing home or youth camp on steriods. There are too many kids! Not enough kids! You can’t take the sea of plaid shirts anymore! You’re done with people that are so. slow. to. change.

The solution: Realize it’s not about you. Don’t get me wrong, you need fellowship with Christians in your peer group to be healthy, and your local church may not be able to provide that for you. Yet, that’s not necessarily a reason to jump ship. You might be the person they need to jump start a ministry to your peer group, or you just might bring some much needed balance to your community. Realize your local church will most likely not be able to provide you with the entirety of your spiritual formation…and be okay with that.

Why do you hate going to church?

How to Please God

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Chapter 13 must have been especially powerful to the Hebrews, since the author reiterates that it is the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving (offered in faith) that are pleasing to God. The old blood sacrifices had their place, but only as pointers to what God has now fully accomplished in Jesus.

Animal sacrifices never brought God joy the way a heart set on him does.

You can act in faith just like those from the “hall of faith”, but now with the full knowledge of God’s saving act on your behalf.

Now, because of the purifying one-for-all blood sacrifice of Christ, you are free to act out of gratitude. If you want to please God, allow your good works to spring from a thankful heart (cf. Heb. 13:16). (Tweet this)

As we conclude this series on Hebrews, pay close attention to Hebrews 13:12-13. Jesus endured the cross for us so that–out of thankfulness–we too might be able to give ourselves for the sake of others.

Are you so grateful for what Jesus has done that you are willing lay everything down to lead others to him?

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21 ESV)

3 reasons you should run a Tough Mudder (or any obstacle race)

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Me about halfway through the Tough Mudder Me about halfway through the Tough Mudder

When I started on my fitness journey less than 2 years ago, I could barely run three miles. I couldn’t do a single pull-up and was embarrassed to set foot in a weight room because I was so intimidated. Well, I pressed through thanks to the encouragement of my family and friends and I finally completed a major fitness milestone: I ran the Arizona Tough Mudder 2014. About 12 miles plus obstacles, including mud pits, wall-climbs, insane monkey bars, ice-water swims, and electric shocks.

If I can do this, anyone can do this. Not only can you do this, but I think you should do this. Here’s why:

1) Regular training builds discipline.

I struggled to maintain my training habit on the weekends,  but boy was it worth it! Discipline breeds more discipline, and not just in the physical realm. You will be surprised to find out what you will accomplish in every area of your life when you begin to take control over your own body. The power of incremental change over time is immense.

2) You will do things you are afraid of...and accomplish things you never thought possible.

Trust me, I was afraid of diving into ice water, but I felt amazing after I conquered it. My confidence went through the roof for the whole rest of the race! I was afraid I would fail to buddy-carry a guy about 1.5 times bigger than me, but somehow I did it! Confronting your fears is a key aspect of growing beyond them. Like the discipline piece, the benefits of overcoming your fears in one area of life will bleed over in many others.

3) You will be encouraged that you're not doing life alone.

I would have never even attempted this kind of event without encouragement and advice and inspiration from my friends. I literally could not have scaled some of those walls without a friendly stranger giving me a boost. I couldn’t of made it out of any of those mud pits without relying on a helping hand. Proof:

The kindness and camaraderie at Tough Mudder and other events will restore a bit of your faith in humanity…and remind you that you can pay it forward elsewhere.

What would completing a challenge like the Tough Mudder mean for you?

The one reason you can't give up when things get tough

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You may be tired, worn out, discouraged, and in pain. But you can’t give up. Not now. You’ve come too far, and too much is at stake.

Like most of the Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 12 is rich with meaning to unpack, too much for a single post.

That said, the key for me is in the first two verses.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV)

Run this race of life with endurance. You may trip, you may fall, but that’s okay.

Get back up.

Push through whatever is holding you back. Keep your eyes on Jesus…that’s where you’re going, and he’s worth the pain.

You’re not alone! A great cloud of witnesses made up of both the saints here on earth and in heaven is cheering you on.

Jesus started this journey with you and he will finish it with you. (Tweet this) In fact, Jesus is the prize. He is who you are running toward. You know him now so you can know him even more completely in eternity.

The promise of a greater communion with Christ can carry you through the darkest, most mundane, most wearing times. His love will lift you up.

Jesus endured excruciating physical, emotional, and spiritual pain “for the joy set before him” (Heb. 12:2).

Because Jesus did this, you too have much set before you. You have forgiveness, redemption, resurrection, hope.

You have “a kingdom that cannot be shaken” now and in the future (Heb. 12:28).

Run to Jesus.

Press on.

Why do we need the means of grace?

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And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. (John 1:14-16 ESV)

Back when I started my journey toward a sacramental theology, I was hesitant to consider the Lord’s Supper and Baptism to be “means of grace.” In my mind, this seemed to be adding something–works–to faith in Jesus for my justification and sanctification.

Thankfully I was hanging out with some Lutherans at the time, and one pastor helped to set me straight. I asked him, “Why do we need ‘means of grace’ if the grace we receive in our simple faith in Jesus is sufficient?”

He said, “Because, Nathan, God doesn’t want to give you just sufficient grace. He isn’t just giving you enough grace, he is giving you more than enough grace!”

The sacraments aren’t works, they are gifts from God.

What a shift in thinking.

What a great God.

He makes even our principal act of corporate worship (Holy Communion) a gift for us.

Even as we worship him he gives us himself.

I often say, “Jesus is enough.”

As I remembered this conversation from years ago, I was reminded that not only is Jesus enough, he is more than enough.

“Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15 ESV)

4 life-changing lessons I learned about spiritual leadership while being a follower.

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Four years ago I finished my graduate degree and had been working part-time as a worship leader for nearly three years. I was certain the best way I could serve God was in vocational, full-time ministry.

For various (and probably good) reasons, no one would hire me! I was hurt and confused, and moved to from Texas to Arizona to work in a “non-ministry” field. Even though I wanted to serve God in a position of spiritual leadership, the time wasn’t right. I had to wait.

God taught me 4 life-changing lessons during that period that have proved to be invaluable now that I am in a position of spiritual leadership.

1) Sometimes you have to learn how to be a better spiritual leader by following for a while, even if you wish you were leading right now.

In my case, I realized I still had a lot to learn about pretty much every aspect of ministry. I slowly came to appreciate how much God was teaching me by allowing me to watch and follow great leaders.

2) Ordained or “official” ministry is never the only way to lead, nor should it be.

There are always opportunities, places, and ways to point people toward Jesus, no matter what your title or position or job—and pointing people toward Jesus is the essence of spiritual leadership.

3) You will often take your greatest risks for God in everyday life, not in your “official” leadership position.

Don’t discount the dangers inherent in the “ordinary” Christian life. It is a risk to devote time to feeding the poor when you are not being compensated. It is a risk to give your money sacrificially. It is a risk to be bold with Gospel in relationships with people that may not agree with you. It is hard, purposeful, meaningful work to lead people toward Jesus not from a position of organizational authority, but of service and genuine relationship.

4) Do not be too quick to desire much influence.

It is not wrong to see your gifts as leader and move to use them for the Kingdom, after all, “…if anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task”(1 Timothy 3:1 ESV). That said, you must always keep in mind that in general, God starts us off small. If you cultivate contentment and faithfulness with the “small” things (which are often really the most important, foundational things), then you must trust that God will give you a greater scope of responsibility when you are ready. “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much…”(Luke 16:10 ESV).

What have you learned about spiritual leadership by being a follower?

What is saving faith anyways?

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Here we come to one of the most beautiful and inspiring passages in all of Holy Scripture–the “hall of faith.” As the many names are recounted–Moses, David, Samuel, and more–a beautiful picture unfolds.

A bunch of murderers, adulterers, bad parents, and alcoholics somehow managed to play key roles in God's saving plan and be transformed in the process.

All because they trusted God.

I have heard many people attempt to articulate the “content” of “saving faith,” usually in terms of the doctrine of justification.

It often comes off as overly complicated and (honestly) pretty weak compared the simple and profound definition found here.

For the author of Hebrews, saving faith is no mere intellectual assent or even “confidence” in any doctrine in and of itself. We find that

...faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen...by it the people of old received their commendation... (Heb. 11:1-2)

What is saving faith?

Saving faith is trust in a person. Saving faith is trust in God, that he is who he says he is and will do what he says he will do.

These people of old did not know all the details of the faith that saved them…but they still trusted that God had a plan. God began to reveal his plan with Abraham, and the Abrahamic covenant of faith still stands, gloriously fulfilled.

People were saved through faith ages ago, and people are saved through faith now.

All because of Jesus.

5 powerful ways to keep growing when you can't find a spiritual mentor

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I’ve written about how to find a spiritual mentor, but one thing is for sure: it’s not an instant process. It can sometimes take a while to find the right person–or for the right person to find you. If you’ve not yet found a spiritual mentor, take heart! Don’t forget these five ways to continue to grow as you pray and think about who might be a good mentor.

1) Value one-off conversations

You may not be able to have an ongoing arrangement, but don’t forget the value of asking someone you respect in the faith to lunch every now and then. Perhaps you can make a habit of asking one person from whom you know you can learn to coffee once a week. Then remember to do more listening than talking.

2) Find mentors in books

I consider C. S. Lewis a spiritual mentor, even though he died long before I was born. I’ve read almost everything he’s written on Christianity and he is an author I return to frequently for reference when I come up on a theological problem. Tim Keller and N. T. Wright have also become mentors for me this way. Find a solid author that resonates with you, and begin to read all of their work.

3) Create a life plan

Creating a life plan is an essential way to sharpen your focus and gain clarity on how to move forward in life. There are plenty of the self-guided programs out there; I recommend Storyline by Donald Miller. Going through Don’s process will take you a few weeks, but the time investment will pay off. You’ll begin to better understand what’s really important in your life and the areas that you need to be mentored in.

4) Find someone you can mentor

Everyone needs a mentor and to be mentored, depending on the season of their life. Consider whether it might actually be the time for you to reach out and find someone to invest in. As I’ve made mentoring others an integral part of my life, I’ve experienced tremendous personal and spiritual growth.

5) Continue your education

Enroll in classes online or at a local college that will benefit you spiritually. Consider church history, systematic theology, or even a class in spiritual formation. Read blogs and listen to podcasts that will help think through spiritual issues and gain biblical knowledge.

How have you continued to make spiritual growth a priority while you look for a mentor?

What I learned about life by training for the Tough Mudder

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I’ve been training for the Arizona Tough Mudder event. The Tough Mudder comes around once a year and completing it has been a fitness goal of mine ever since I decided to become more physically disciplined. Basically, it’s a half-marathon with obstacles like ice-swims, rope-climbs, barbed-wire-crawls, and electric shocks. Sounds fun, huh?

Well, I set a personal record distance record recently while training: 11 miles. It was no triumph though. I got home after that run and practically collapsed; I was useless for the rest of the day. Nausea and muscle cramps kept me miserable for hours.

This came as a bit of a surprise to me since I had just run 10 miles the week prior–and killed it. What happened?

Basically, I made a series of small, but critical mistakes.

  • I decided to run in the hottest time of the day instead the early morning like I usually do. This resulted in mild dehydration.
  • I took a new route that I hadn't properly scoped out. It included long stretches of uphill terrain I wasn't used to.
  • I ran on the painfully hard pavement instead of my usual soft trail. My knee was basically yelling at me in protest by mile 4. After the run it hurt just to walk.
  • I ran less than an hour after eating a meal (I usually wait two or three).
  • I didn't bring any electrolyte replacements or calories even though I knew I'd be running for well over 90 minutes.

Here’s the thing. I totally knew what I was getting into before my run, but I had underestimated the collective impact of these bad choices.

If all other factors had been ideal, any one of these things would have been an annoyance, but wouldn’t have knocked me out of commission.

I’m determined to get a life lesson out of this miserable experience, and here it is:

We often miss the cumulative negative effect of our many, small, unfortunate choices. Don’t do that.

Every time I make the small choice to be irritated at my spouse instead of being gracious, the likelyhood that bitterness could take root gets bigger. If I let my prayer time go today, my Bible memorization session slip tomorrow, and forget to go to church on Sunday, how can I expect to hear from God?

It’s the little things that count.

What would change for you if you began to address some of those recurring, seemingly-small bad decisions you catch yourself making?

Can you lose your salvation?

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The scope of Jesus' work is epic.

Unlike the old sacrificial system, which required continued animal sacrifice and couldn’t in and of itself actually make anyone perfect, Christ’s sacrifice is once-for-all and truly effectual. In some way we are both perfected and being made perfect (sanctified) at the same time (cf. Heb. 10:14).

Hebrews 10:19-25 is both a comfort and an inspiration. We are encouraged that through Jesus' sacrifice, our consciences are clean, and that the confession of hope that we hold is true. We can have full assurance of the faith (cf. Heb. 10:22). I personally draw much inspiration from the exhortation in Hebrews 10:23-25 to continue on in the community of faith.

Here's where it gets sobering.

Moving through Hebrews 10:26-31 has to make you stop and think.

Those that go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth (that is, the Gospel of Jesus) have nothing but judgement waiting for them.

"It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Heb. 10:31)

This is indeed a terrifying passage, especially when I consider those many moments that I have deliberately chosen to sin. This came up before in chapter 6. Can you really lose your salvation?

The ESV Study Bible states that the implication here is sinning without repentance–the mark of someone who never really believed.

Maybe this is what the author is getting at when he or she talks about those that have “outraged the Spirit of grace.” (Heb. 10:29) How could you outrage the spirit of grace, except by rejecting the grace offered?

I also find it interesting that even those who reject this belief have in some sense been sanctified (cf. Heb. 10:29). The sanctification in this verse could either refer to the those that have been “set apart” in the Christian community but have rejected God’s grace (not “true believers”), or perhaps to “true believers” that have fallen away (cf. Heb. 6). Although my traditional background is fairly Reformed (beginning Southern Baptist and ending up Anglican) I am not settled on this, nor do I feel like I have to be.

Do we have to have an answer?

Instead of worrying about whether or not I can lose my salvation or if someone else is or isn’t a true believer, I’d rather concentrate on heeding this warning. No matter what, it’s not good to not be a follower of Jesus! No matter what, maybe I should have some cause for worry if I’m not following him and repenting of my sin.

I may not be able to tell if someone else is a true believer (and indeed, it’s probably not my place to judge) but I can discern the fruit of the Spirit.

Maybe that’s where our focus should be. Bearing good fruit for the Kingdom.

How important is it to conclusively know the answer to the question of whether or not we can “lose” our salvation?

How to find a spiritual mentor

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Having a spiritual mentor is an effective and important way to grow spiritually. One-on-one coaching relationships provide effective accountability, custom-tailored teaching, and safe places to discuss the most difficult issues.

I don’t know where I would be without the many men and women that have been spiritual mentors to me over the years. My dad has the been the most important of these for me, but I have also had teachers, pastors, supervisors, and peers invest in my life in these ways. Not all of these were organic relationships; I had to make an effort to find and develop them! You’ll have to be intentional about this if you really want to find a spiritual mentor. Here is a 5 step plan to help you find your own spiritual mentor.

1) Pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit

I cannot overstate the importance of this first step. A spiritual mentor will speak into your life, giving direction and advice on some of the most important decisions and issues you will ever face. You want to make sure you are choosing the right person. Pray for wisdom and discernment in this! Pay attention to what God the Holy Spirit may be telling you through other trusted friends and pastors about who could be a good fit.

2) Define what you need

Do you need or want a sort of “all of life” mentor that can coach you through many different situations? Do you need a spiritual mentor to help with a specific challenge or situation? Do you need a long-term relationship or guidance for a few weeks or months? Write these things down and try to be as precise as possible about what you are looking for in a mentor.

3) Make a list of possible candidates

Put pen to paper as you prayerfully consider who you know that could fill the role of spiritual mentor in your life. Ask your trusted friends for ideas. Consider older men and women in your local church, family members that walk with the Lord, perhaps even some of your trusted friends that have had valuable life experience you could glean from.

4) Intentionally develop your existing relationship

You don’t necessarily have to formalize the mentoring relationship right away…or at all. Once you have identified a person that might a be a great spiritual mentor for you, simply make an effort to get to know them more. Invite them for coffee. Take an interest in their life. You might find that as the relationship develops you are comfortable asking and have opportunity to ask the sort of questions you need answers to. I’ve found that most people are happy to give advice if you just ask!

5) Consider formalizing the mentoring relationship

Formalizing the mentoring relationship is simply articulating goals and setting up boundaries. This is a good way for both parties know exactly what needs to be accomplished and how. Doing this can be as simple as saying to your potential mentor:

“Hey, I’ve really appreciated our conversations about spiritual things lately, and I could use your help. Would you be up for lunch a few times this month so we could talk more in-depth about [insert your specific issue]. I’d really like to gain some clarity on this and could use your prayers as well.”

What’s been your greatest challenge for finding a spiritual mentor?

5 common myths about discipleship debunked

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Misunderstandings abound out there when it comes to how you should train up others in the faith. Discipleship is weak in the institutional church precisely because we buy into false assumptions regarding what discipleship is and how it should be accomplished.

Here are 5 common myths about discipleship, debunked.

1) Clergy have the corner on discipleship

This is a major reason why churches are full of burned-out pastors and members with stunted spiritual growth. Clergy cannot and should not attempt to provide all the spiritual formation and training a person needs for everyone! Instead they should be equipping and inspiring others to use their gifts to disciple others.

2) Discipleship is only teaching people how to pray and read their Bible

At vital as prayer and reading the Bible are, this perspective is a sure way to keep people from developing spiritually. Discipleship can never be limited to one or two spiritual disciplines. Not only does discipleship training encompass more than a couple disciplines, it ideally expands far beyond all of them to include things like theology, Church history, family, service, money, and discerning vocation.

3) Discipleship shouldn't feel like work

Of course we should look for creative and engaging ways to teach the faith and facilitate spiritual formation. But at the of the day…

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23 ESV)

4) Rote learning should be avoided at all costs

One aim of discipleship is greater understanding of the faith. In order to understand the faith (and especially the Christian faith, which is grounded in historical reality) it is helpful to learn the basic facts from memory first, and then process them for greater understanding. This is why we teach our children the alphabet by rote in the form of a song. It allows them to better process and interpret those letters when arranged in to words. Examples of useful rote learning for children and adults include:

  • Question-and-answer format overviews of the faith (catechisms)
  • Memorizing the Lord's Prayer, Ten Commandments, etc.
  • Learning songs that reinforce truth (Jesus Loves Me, In Christ Alone, etc)

5) Small groups are where the real discipleship happens

Look, I agree that small groups are undoubtedly an essential part of an effective plan for discipleship. That said, the more nuanced teaching points and deepest heart-issues are often best addressed in a one-on-one mentoring relationship. The single best “program” a church could have today would be to facilitate these kind of spiritual friendships.

How do you think addressing some of these myths could transform discipleship in your life?

Why the blood of Jesus is enough for me, you, and God

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Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (Hebrews 9:22 ESV)

Hebrews chapter nine examines the sacrificial system of the Old Covenant. These ancient rites dealt with external actions, not the internal conscience (cf Heb. 9:10).

Sacrifice and blood were the essential ingredients.

The priest and people repeated these ceremonies day in and day out, year after year.

The New Covenant also involves blood, but instead of the blood of animals, it is the blood of Christ. Because of his special status, his self-sacrifice on the cross is able to be a once-for-all sacrifice (cf Heb. 9:12). This does much more than purify our bodies, it purifies our minds (cf. Heb. 9:14).

So, Christ's sacrifice accomplishes everything the old sacrifices did, but more completely.

The sacrifice described in this passage is certainly a blood sacrifice, but the blood of Jesus accomplishes things animal blood never could. There is one sacrifice instead of many, and a cleansing of even our consciences instead of merely our bodies.

This is the kind of sacrifice that results in justification and paves the way for salvation.

It is clear that Christ was able to offer himself as a perfect sacrifice as a result of his submission to the Father.

Although our own discipline of submission is a kind of sacrifice, it is not the justifying kind. We are not–nor will we be in this life–perfect.

Yet, our disciplined, sacrificial submission reminds us of our own weakness and dependence on Jesus' self-emptying actions. It furthers the process of salvation from sin in our lives, and brings us closer to each day to the ultimate goal: perfect union with God.

Meditation on the Resurrection is like...a lottery ticket?

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Say a stranger buys you a lottery ticket in the gas station line as a random gift on an otherwise mundane day. You get back to your car and put the ticket on your dash. Might as well, you think.

You scratch the little shiny circles with the last dime you have in your pocket. You start to get excited as the numbers are revealed.

Turns out, you won.

Every time you look down at that ticket, you smile to yourself. Even if you haven’t cashed it in yet, you are a winner and things are going to be very different for you shortly. Sure, you may be technically in debt right now, but that’s about to all go away. Yeah your car doesn’t work, but that won’t be a problem much longer. You’re behind on rent, but soon you’ll be buying a new house.

What fortune! You didn’t even buy the ticket.

I think meditating on the Resurrection of Jesus is a lot like looking at that winning lottery ticket.

Your body may be broken, but you’re going to get a new one. You might be homeless but there’s a mansion waiting. You’re tired now but rest and refreshment is around the corner. Loneliness might be killing you but there’s a wedding feast coming up and you’re invited. You stumble through doing the right thing, but you’re getting stronger, even now.

Sin still tends to gnaw at you, but you know it can’t defeat you.

You were empty but now you’re filled with the Spirit.

You can hardly believe it.

You had nothing–nothing–but now you’re rich beyond your wildest imagination.

You’ve been forgiven, ransomed, redeemed. You’ve seen mercy.

You have God.

And you didn’t even buy the ticket.

5 practical ways to guard your personal time with God from distraction

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distractionI recently asked my Facebook friends what distracted them from their personal time with God. Here are some of the answers:

  • Myself
  • Facebook
  • Kids
  • Job
  • Sleep
  • Church (!)

As a “ministry professional” with young children, I get most of these reasons. Every day our Western culture bombards us with demands for our time and attention, and it’s hard to say no.

If God really is who he says he is, however, and we really believe that, we’ve got to learn to focus in on what’s really important: him. Here are 5 practical ways to guard your personal time with God from distraction. Each one takes time, planning, and commitment, but it will be so worth it.

1) List the reasons why it's important

Writing things down is powerful for creating motivation and making ideas concrete. List the reasons why you believe spending personal time with God through the Bible, prayer, and meditation is essential. Keep this list in the place you tend to get the most distracted (say, taped to your computer monitor).

2) Schedule your quiet time

Things that get scheduled get done. Make the effort to integrate your personal time with God with your schedule. Again, put it on paper! Find those 10-20 minute windows of opportunity in your day and determine to set them apart for God instead of reading articles online or socializing. Set up reminders on your phone so you don’t forget!

3) Enlist your spouse's help

I know firsthand how difficult it is to find any kind of alone time when you have small children. You’ll have to touch base with your spouse and see if they can help you by taking the kids for 20 minutes while you close your bedroom door or step outside to walk and pray. Don’t forget you can do this for them, too. What a great way to minister to each other!

4) Check the Bible before you check Facebook

This one is really simple. Just give yourself a new rule for life: no checking Facebook or social media until you’ve spent time in the Word. If you’re getting sucked into your timeline or feed and wondering where all the time went, this small adjustment will keep your priorities straight in your head and in real life.

5) Move to a different location or a dedicated space

It often helps me to move away from my computer for my devotional time. I don’t necessarily even have to go to a different room of the house or head out to a park (although that’s nice). Sometimes just moving from my desk to a chair in the living room can help clear my mind and “reset.” If you have the room, setting apart a dedicated space for prayer in the form of a home altar, prayer room, or closet is helpful too.

What other ways have you fought distraction from your personal time with God?

What to do when you feel spiritually stuck

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Do you ever feel like you’ve hit a wall when it comes to spiritual growth? Does there seem to be something missing, even though you are pretty consistent with your prayer time and you read from the Bible regularly?

I’ve been there too. For me, the key to breaking through was trying something new…in my case, Christian meditation in the form of Lectio Divina.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14, ESV)

According Hebrews 5:12, the foundational knowledge of salvation and the Gospel should be intimately familiar. The basics have to always be there (to continue the food analogy, we still need dairy in our diet) , however as we progress in the faith it is essential to grow in your understanding of doctrine and God’s character beyond “repentance from dead works…” (Heb. 6:1).

Taking on an unfamiliar spiritual discipline is one way we can progress in our understanding of God’s character and doctrine.

A new-to-you discipline can open doors to experiences and knowledge simply because of its unfamiliarity; it can force you to see things from a different perspective.

When you are compelled to consider spiritual concepts and situations in a new light, you have no choice but to practice your powers of discernment–bringing you to greater maturity in Christ.

A new kind of covenant

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Chapter 8 of Hebrews elaborates on this new covenant innaugaurated with Christ. Now, God’s law can be written our minds and hearts, and we can “Know the Lord” and experience the mercy of God in a new way (Heb. 8:11).

The new covenant of Christ accomplishes something the old covenant of Moses never could, and its effectiveness doesn’t depend on our actions. Israel proved that humans under their own power cannot “continue in the covenant” (Heb. 8:9).

This new covenant in which forgiveness reigns and our souls are transformed is enacted completely on the basis of Christ’s faithfulness and the promises of God the Father.

Is it any wonder that we are spiritually formed by this new freedom and intimacy with the Creator of the universe? How can we not be changed when Jesus, through whom the world was created, is praying for us constantly (cf. Heb. 1:2)?

Just knowing this truth causes a change in my mind and spirit.

If I had to choose between all the spiritual disciplines

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Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation. If I had to choose between all the disciplines of the spiritual life, I would choose Bible memorization, because it is a fundamental way of filling our minds with what it needs. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth. That’s where you need it! How does it get in your mouth? Memorization.
~ Dallas Willard (“Spiritual Formation in Christ for the Whole Life and Whole Person” in Vocatio, Vol. 12, no. 2, Spring, 2001, 7).

Poem for Ash Wednesday

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Return from your sin.

Be faithful to the Gospel.

And remember

from dust

you came and

to dust

you will return.

Words that–when spoken along

with the imposition of oily ashes

crossed

on my dirty forehead

and the body and blood of Jesus

the Christ that washes me white–

remind of mercy and grace

and love.


This poem for Ash Wednesday was originally published on February 14, 2013

3 highly effective methods for memorizing Bible verses

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There’s no doubt that memorizing Bible verses is difficult for many people (myself included!). A big aspect of the challenge for me has been that I haven’t been very methodical about memorizing. I’d simply repeat a verse a few times and hope that it stuck, with no plan for review. Going about memorizing halfheartedly like this is a recipe for discouragement and–ultimately–failure.

Effective methods for memorizing Bible verses always involve an intentional approach to internalizing new verses and reviewing old ones. Don’t think that there is a magic formula out there for doing this without putting in the hard work.

You’ve got to commit to the process and show up daily.

Here are three ways I’ve found to effectively memorize Bible verses.

1) The John Piper method (verbal repetition)

I first heard about this simple way to memorize passages from the Bible on an episode of the Ask Pastor John podcast. Dr. Piper bases his approach on this booklet by Andy Davis.

For this method, you simply read the verse you’re memorizing ten time aloud, looking at the page. Then you say the verse ten times aloud without looking. Done for the day!

The second day you say your old verse ten times again for review, and follow the same procedure as before for your new verse.

On the third day say yesterday’s verse ten times, then the previous days' verses together, then the standard procedure for your new verse. So once you get going, the routine is like this:

  • Yesterday's verse first (10 times)
  • Old verses all together (1 time)
  • New verse (10 times reading aloud, 10 times without looking)

This the method I use primarily and I love it for its simplicity and structure.

2) Memverse (online software/typing/game)

Memverse is a great piece of software. I have used it extensively and really enjoy the benefits of memorizing this way, because it turns the learning and review process into a sort of game. You start by typing out the words to your verse. Each time you type it out, the software removes a word or two which you fill in by memory. You continue for several rounds until you’ve learned the verse.

There are “badges” and awards for you to unlock, charts to track your progress and time spent on memorizing, as well as an automatic review system. There’s also a built-in community for encouragement and inspiration.

If you spend a lot of time at your computer and think it wouldn’t be hard for you to discipline yourself to log in daily, this could be the way to go for you.

3) Index cards (the classic!)

Using index cards for memorization is a useful way to bring your verses and passages with you every where you go, without necessarily carrying around your whole Bible.

To learn a verse, write it out on one side of an index card. On the other side, write the reference. Use this like a flash card, saying the verse until you know it well and can recite it just from seeing the reference. You would do this each day for a new verse and keep your stack of cards handy for review.

As the number of verses you have memorized grows, you may need to organize your cards and review schedule with a small index card binder or file box.

Here are some free Bible flash cards that you can print at home

What methods have you used to effectively memorize Bible verses?

Jesus the perfect priest did this once and for all

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Chapter seven of Hebrews gives what few details we know about a mysterious priest named Melchizedek – that his name carried a meaning regarding righteousness, and that his office was one of peace.

Because the records of his birth and death are not found in Scripture, and because his priesthood is not tied to any biological lineage, it seems that he was a priest solely at God’s discretion. In some way Melchizedek foreshadowed Jesus.

Jesus, a priest after the order of Mechizedek

Jesus is “after” (“like”) the order of Melchizedek because he is righteous. His office as Prince of Peace also grants him special status. Like Melchizedek, Jesus is not installed as ultimate high priest because of his lineage, but rather because of who he is and the divine will of God.

It’s at this moment that Jesus as the catalyst for spiritual formation comes into focus. Because we have this perfect high priest, we are able to draw near to God through him, and he makes intercession for us…changing us in the process.

A perfect and eternal sacrifice

For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. (Hebrews 7:26-27, ESV)

Ultimately, God’s plan couldn’t be accomplished by the Levitical priesthood. Their sacrifices were temporary, and as fragile human beings they could not go on forever. Jesus, however, can offer himself one time, for all eternity.

His perfection ensures us that we don’t needn’t continually offer sacrifices to appease God or obtain forgiveness.

Jesus–the perfect priest–did this for us, once and for all. We are at peace with the God of universe and ourselves.

Hallelujah!