A DEALERSHIP AND DISCIPLINES
Why do we engage the disciplines of spiritual practice?
I will never forget the experience of going to work for my dad. I was pretty excited because my name was on the building and I assumed that I would get to work some cushy easy job and make the big bucks.
I was very, very wrong.
The first summer that I worked at Rose Jeep/Eagle I spent three months cleaning the shelves in the Parts Department. Every day I worked I would leave covered in black grime from head to toe. It was an exhausting, boring, dirty grind.
The second summer that I worked at the dealership I painted the lifts in the service center a bright yellow. It was again, a boring dirty experience.
The third summer I took a step up in the world. I became a porter. Since I couldn’t drive yet, it meant that I spent my days in a small garage behind the dealership cleaning cars. I would prepare them for delivery or detail a customer’s car after service.
All along I was also responsible for washing the windows, sweeping, and mopping floors. The first time I mopped my dad said, “Clearly you’ve never been in the Navy, that son, is not how you mop a floor.” I also learned from my Grandpa Rose that only an idiot would allow plants to touch a wall or window because whichever leaves are touching would die. “Danny, don’t be an idiot, you’re a Rose.”
I think at some point my dad knew I was growing frustrated with these jobs. He has an intuition for reading people and seeing into them and knowing what they need to hear. I think that’s what made him a great salesman.
One day we were “walking with purpose” (another lesson learned at the dealership) to another task that I was about to be assigned and he said, “Son, do you know why you’re doing all these things?”
“No.” I responded with that teenage churlishness that I’ve now discovered is apparently a genetic trait within Rose men.
“Someday, I hope, this place will be yours. There will be people who you have to tell to do jobs that nobody wants to do. When you do, you have to be able to say, ‘I know you don’t want to do this. Neither did I. But, these jobs have to be done. I did them and I need you to do them now.’ Son, when your name is on the building you work twice as hard for half the money. People will never think you do. Watch at the end of the day. Most of our employees gather around the time clock to punch out 15 minutes before we close. The people whose name is on the building are still at their desks, still on the phone, and still with customers. Why? Because, our name is on the building.”
I started watching. It was true. All of it. My Grandpa Rose never entered the building without trash from the parking lot in his hands. Why? Because his name was on the building.
In a very real sense my brothers, cousins, and I were freely given an opportunity to make money and to have jobs. But, we couldn’t just pretend to work. We had a responsibility to work hard and honor the name.
When it comes to our faith, we have been given everything. Grace demands that we bring nothing to the table. We don’t deserve to be redeemed, rescued, and reconciled. Yet, God has done that. Christ has brought about this reconciliation through his self-sacrifice. We offer nothing and we get everything.
So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books. (2 Peter 1:5–9, The Message)
The “how” of growing and building these qualities in our lives is what spiritual practice is meant to do.
Over the next few posts, I will unpack some of these practices. They fall into two categories that Dallas Willard refers to as, “disciplines of abstinence” and “disciplines of engagement.” (pg 158, Spirit of the Disciplines)
The disciplines of abstinence are solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, and sacrifice. (These will be the subject of the next post.)
The disciplines of engagement are study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, and submission.
Willard writes about the disciplines, “A discipline for the spiritual life is, when the dust of history is blown away, nothing but an activity undertaken to bring us into more effective cooperation with Christ and his Kingdom. (pg 156, Spirit of the Disciplines).
To is to continue to grow into our Christ-likeness. As we do, we learn to love ourselves more truly which frees us to love our neighbor and even our enemy.
Originally published at https://danielmrose.com on December 18, 2019.
THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER…
The fuel for spiritual growth
For the last few years I have had the privilege to help coach a few baseball teams. It has been an amazing experience of learning the game and learning how to help young men develop into the best baseball player that they can be. When a player is coachable, it is amazing to see how they grow and change over the course of the season. When a player is self-motivated, the growth is exponential.
While the joys are incalculable, the hardest part is having to tell parents the truth about the ability of their son. Every parent that pays the money to play high level travel sports believes that their son is the best player on the team. Often, this is because on their house or rec teams they were. They may even have been the best player in their league. Yet, when they join a high level team, every kid was the best somewhere.
There comes a point in the life of a competitive athlete that the “equal play for pay” comes to an end. This is typically around the age of 15 or 16. In baseball, the hardest conversation that I’ve experienced is when it becomes apparent that a player is no longer a “two way” player. Often this means that someone has become a pitcher only or is a player that will more times than not be DH’ed for. The truth is that at some point different aspects of the game bypass certain individuals. It’s hard to hear and especially for parents of players who become pitchers, it’s painful.
Yet, if these young men who have tremendous talent as pitchers would embrace this identity, the sky is the limit. If they and their parents would hear the truth and develop their exceptional skill set they would experience so much more joy and success.
Truth is hard to hear.Truth is even harder to accept.
None of us like to hear truth. None of us. I don’t. You don’t. Your neighbor doesn’t. But, the simple fact remains if we do not hear and embrace truth then we will not be able to grow and change.
If grace is foundational to growth and time is the key to growth, then truth is the fuel for growth.
For most of my life I have struggled with maintaining a healthy weight. I recently began going to the doctor because I realized that I need to. Being over 40 and overweight the need for medical oversight is pretty important, particularly because I’d like to live long enough to be a grandfather. There’s nothing that prepares for you the hard truth of medicine. My doctor is kind and has a great bedside manner. He is approachable, funny, and yet shoots it straight. When I left after my first appointment I was reading over my paperwork and I saw the words, “morbidly obese.” That is truth. That is a truth that I don’t want to hear, but if I’m going to ever get to a place of physical health I have to hear that truth and embrace it.
When we consider our spiritual lives, or any aspect of our lives, we must be willing to hear truth. Truth provides the fuel for our growth and change. It is often what triggers kairos moments for us to help take next steps.
My friend Todd refers to spiritual truth as the “Waller 2x4.”
That’s how truth often works, it seems to hit us blindside like a 2x4 and as we stare at ourselves we can’t help but think, how did I miss this before?
Over the last few weeks life has been very heavy for my family. We have been walking through some tough life stuff. Nothing that’s out of the ordinary for the course of a life, but it’s been hard nonetheless. I had to hear some truth from my wife and I responded in the moment, oh so well (please hear the sarcasm). A little while later the truth of the matter and the reality of the situation landed like an atomic in my soul. I sought forgiveness and took some time to take some stock of what was going on in me. This truth has helped me recognize some besetting issues that I need to continually address.
I thought that I had a better handle on them, but it turns out that I did not.
“Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of man he is.” — C.S. Lewis
What sort of man am I? I am one that is still imperfect. One that has much room to grow. When I can’t control everything in my life, I smolder and get frustrated easily. The time between being an ass and realization of being an ass is shrinking. That gap is shrinking because the time it takes for me to embrace truth is shrinking.
My friends, truth is the fuel for growth. We must be willing to speak to one another in the context of grace and time. We must be willing to hear it from one another believing the best that those around us want to help us grow.
Originally published at https://danielmrose.com on December 10, 2019.
THE THING ABOUT TIME…
The key to spiritual growth
I am the oldest of three sons and I check just about every box on the “oldest child” list. Chief among them is that if I don’t think I can do something perfect right away I usually won’t even make the attempt. Do you know what’s odd about that? I love to learn. There’s something magical in learning something new. What I am coming to realize though is that when I say learn what I mean is gaining new information.
These two things are not equivalent.
In my experience, within my tribe of Christianity, spiritual growth is directly related to the receipt and comprehension of information. If you know this or understand that then you are becoming more spiritually mature. People who have been to bible college or seminary are afforded some sort of platform in the hierarchy of spiritual maturity simply because they have ingested more information.
The great thing about information is that it doesn’t take much time. We can read a book over a few days and have the information in our brains. One can got to a conference or seminar and learn all kinds of new information in a very short time. Many of us love podcasts and as a result are over-filled with information.
For too long now this equating spiritual maturity with information has undermined true spiritual growth and discipleship.
Over lunch the other day a friend and I were talking about the discipleship and spiritual practice. We discussed how much of “discipleship” is information transfer through “one one ones” or small groups. Yet, the transfer of information is not the point of the discipleship we see in the life of Jesus.
The goal of discipleship we see from Jesus is imitation. That is, to become, as much as it depends on us, like Jesus.
Jesus didn’t hold classes or seminars with his disciples. He lived life with them. They spent time together in one another’s homes and traveling the highways and by-ways of Palestine.
The disciples were able to witness Jesus living life and responding to all the mundane and routine things of life. They were also up close and personal with him in the big moments and the struggles. Being so close and spending so much time allowed them to fashion their lives after Jesus. When he finally left them they spent the rest of their lives trying to imitate him and inviting others to imitate them as they imitated Christ.
Inherent in this process is something that someone like me doesn’t like. What is it you ask? Time.
Time is one of the most important factors in the life of the person who wants to become like Christ. There is nothing that can replace it. It takes time for us to experience the fullness of life. Each moment, each hour, each day, each week, each month, each year, brings us into a deeper understanding of the way of Christ.
We can’t rush the clock or the calendar. What we must learn to do is to be present in the very moment we are in. Every single moment is an opportunity for us to be more like Christ. I think this is what Paul meant when he wrote that we should take each thought captive. When we learn to be present in each moment these moments string together to hours, days, weeks, months, and years. What we find is that over time we have become more like Christ.
It takes time to become.
There are no overnight sensations in the arts or sports. All of those who have been labeled as such put in years of work for that one moment of greatness.
For those of who want to be like Christ no amount of information gain will offset our need for time.
Time to learn to love. Time to learn to forgive. Time to learn kindness. Time to learn humility. Time to learn gentleness. Time to learn patience. Time to learn contentment. Time to learn how to speak truth. Time to learn to follow Christ.
The thing about time is that it’s the one thing we absolutely need and it’s something that we absolutely can’t control.
We can’t hurry spiritual maturity and growth. We won’t get it perfect right away. There will be mistakes and we will fail at being like Christ. Thankfully, there’s grace.
Originally published at https://danielmrose.com on November 26, 2019.
A foundational tool for spiritual growth.
What if I told you that the most significant thing that I have learned about consistently growing in my faith is something as simple as a circle?
As I was in the process of launching the Acts 13 Network, I received some training by an organization called, 3DM. Their focus is teaching Christians to be people who multiply their lives in others. This is often called, “discipleship.”
This was not a new concept for me. I had spent ten years on staff with a parachurch organization whose focus was the same. I had discipled scores of young men over the years. I had a plan to help others take steps of faith. Yet, I don’t think that I ever gave them a clear and easy tool to help them simply grow in their faith every single day.
There are lots of things that many Christians talk about as critical to your personal growth. They include things like prayer, bible study, and worship. In the particular sub-culture of Christianity that I grew up spiritually in these were combined in something called a “quiet time.” The quiet time was the cornerstone to Christian growth. When I was asked by someone how I was doing in my faith my response was always filtered through the state of my quiet times.
Do you want to know something interesting? The times of greatest growth in my life have been during seasons when I wasn’t having “quiet times.”
These times of great growth were times when I have intentionally engaged in a practice I have come to refer to as the “circle life.”
The circle is a concept that I learned in my training with 3DM. It is a tool that describes a method to keep us moving forward in our faith. This tool helps us to identify the personal, the communal, and the significance of our interactions with the divine. It’s a tool for mindfulness that relentlessly points us toward change and growth.
The circle is comprised of a kairos moment, repentance, and belief.
In the Greek language there are two words for time. The first and most common is chronos. This is where we get our word, “chronology.” It refers to the moment by moment, the constant tick-tock of the clock. You could call it “ordinary” time.
The other word, “kairos,” points us to those moments when it seems like time stops. There is an in-breaking something outside of our normal experience. This could be as simple as being overcome by the sunset or the rainbow in a puddle that catches our eye. It could be as significant as the moment you fall in love. Kairos moments are those moments when we interact with the divine. They don’t need to be major earth shattering moments, they can be small and seem insignificant.
As we try to live the circle life, we are trying to grab hold of each kairos moment that we experience every single day. We want to acknowledge, engage with, and embrace these moments for what they are. As we do, they plunge us into the process of spiritual growth and away from stagnation.
After we recognize the kairos moment, we wade into the waters of repentance. Many of us hear this word and it holds for us a negative connotation. Too often we think of repentance only in conjunction with some sort of failure. Yet, the word simply means to change direction 180 degrees. We can repent from something good to something better.
Repentance is nothing more than changing. When we engage with the kairos moments of our lives we either enter in with them and the process of change or we let them go and continue moving forward as though nothing happened. When we practice the latter, stagnation of our spiritual lives is the result. If we can embrace the call to repentance inherent in the kairos moment we will continue the process of spiritual growth.
The process of repentance is comprised of observation, reflection, and discussion. Observation is that process of identifying and grasping hold of the kairos moment. It’s that moment where we say, “AH! This is that!”
In reflection we take the kairos and dwell on it, we meditate on it. We treat it like a prism and turn it around in the light trying to witness all the beauty and nuance of the light refracting through it.
In discussion we bring the moment to our trusted community. We put it on the table and wrestle through it together. In community we talk with one another and process together. Often this looks like our community asking probing questions to help us turn the moment around and catch different glimpses than we have before.
The final turn around the circle is encapsulated in the concept of belief. This points us toward our response to repentance. Change, necessarily means that we must act differently than we did before. Almost always, change brings uncertainty with it. It is uncomfortable and demands us to step out in faith.
The belief side of the circle follows a similar rhythm as the repentance side. Instead of beginning in the individual it continues the engagement of the community in what we call “planning.” Our community helps us create a specific plan for change. In light of the change that comes from engaging with the kairos moment, we must answer the question, “What do I do now?” in a specific way. When we try to deal with this question on our own we too often leave it open and general. Our community will help get specific.
After we create a plan, we must put accountability in place with our community. How will we allow ourselves to be held accountable to the plan we have developed?
Finally, we move to the individual, and that is the “act” stage. Belief that is not accompanied by action is not really belief. As we move out in action the circle is completed and we move towards our next kairos moment.
There is no way to hurry or rush the process to get to the next kairos moment. We can’t control when the kairos moment comes, all we can do is be ready to grab hold of it when it does. There is no recipe that brings about these moments. It is simply a process that we continue to engage in over and over again.
Over the years this process has helped me to avoid stagnation in my spiritual life. It also brings great meaning and purpose to everything that I do. Within every interaction, every book, every moment there is a possibility of kairos. This possibility creates a sense of wonder, awe, and intrigue in all of life.
The circle illustration and the concepts written about here can be found in more depth in Mike Breen’s book, Building a Discipling Culture.
Originally published at https://danielmrose.com on November 21, 2019.
The Foundation of Spiritual Practice
When we start talking about spiritual practice, spiritual growth, and the like some folks begin to sweat. They think that this necessarily means that there is something we are “adding” to our salvation. Some folks have a deep and abiding worry that somehow talk about spiritual practice necessarily leads to a works based Christianity.
The reality is that the opposite is true.
To truly embrace spiritual practice we must start at the beginning. The beginning is one abiding truth:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. — Ephesians 2:8–10
Grace is the foundation and the fundamental reality of the Christian life. This grace is a radical grace rooted in God’s abounding love and enduring faithfulness to his promises.
As we enter into spiritual practice we have to understand that at no time during our practice do we have to worry about God being disappointed in us. Practice is the place of failure. Practice is where we try and try again to grow, to get better, to be more like Christ.
Grace calls us to a place of radical action because we no longer to fear or worry about finding acceptance with God or anyone else.
Grace is radical, free, no strings attached.
Grace makes all things beautiful.
Grace cries out, “Go for it! Try! You can do it, I have you!”
Grace exclaims, “Fear not!”
Because of this overwhelming and extravagant grace we please God with nothing more than our simple faith. Our willingness to trust God is ultimately what pleases God. Think about that reality for just a moment. Our faith, imperfect, small, weak, is what brings God joy. This is grace. This is what is meant by Jesus saying that his burden is light. Yes, we are called to pick up our cross daily, but when we do it in faith it is lighter.
Let’s be clear, grace does not make things easy. There is nothing easy about practice or disciplining ourselves to take up our crosses daily. Grace changes the perspective, it changes the paradigm. This practice ceases to be work and becomes joy.
This is how grace makes “beauty out of ugly things,” as Bono says.
As we step into these attempts at spiritual practice, we will fail as we try. That’s OK. There is grace. The attempt is what matters.
Trusting that in the practice we will meet God and be changed, that’s everything.
Originally published at https://danielmrose.com on November 13, 2019.
PRACTICE? WE’RE TALKING ABOUT PRACTICE?
An Introduction to Spiritual Practice
“Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of man he is.” — C.S. Lewis
Do you find that quote to be relatively true? I do.
Actually, I not only find it to be true, it cuts me deep. As I think about that line it has me wondering, “How can I become the kind of person that does well when he’s taken of guard?”
The Christian is meant to be like Jesus. Our lives are supposed to look like his. We are to be an honorable, kind, loving, self-sacrificial kind of people. Those who claim to follow Christ are to live lives that transcend the average. The word “christian” means, “Little Christ.” This designation is much more than just the religion that we embrace. It is to go beyond systems of dogma and belief and theology. To be designated as “Christian,” is to designate oneself as a person who is intentionally seeking to love God with all of who they are, love their neighbor as oneself, and love their enemy.
“Christian” is no small task. It’s not a calling to escapism or eternal insurance for the “age to come.” It is an identity that shapes all of life in every minute of everyday. It is a commitment to take up one’s cross daily and follow Christ to the place self-sacrifice and love that brings grace, mercy, justice, redemption, and reconciling to all things.
If you’re anything like me, you’re left with one simple question, “How?”
Dallas Willard in his marvelous little book, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, illustrates the “how” question by talking about a child and their sports hero. Indulge me for a moment as I share the same illustration.
When I was younger I played hockey. I loved the game. It was fast, fun, and exciting. I watched hockey as much as I could on TV. I read about in the library. Newspapers and Sports Illustrateds would be shredded as I cut out pictures and articles about games and players. My favorite player was Ray Bourque. I wore his number and tried to emulate his style of play as best I could. When we hit the ponds near our home I would always “be” Bourque. This men was a Boston Bruins legend and would eventually win a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche.
I stopped playing hockey during my 8th grade year.
Even though I emulated Bourque’s style, I never became Ray Bourque. Why? What was the difference? 1000s of hours of practice, drive, commitment, and natural ability. But, mostly the practice.
During games I could pretend to be Bourque. I could mimic his skating style and wear his number. But I never put in the behind the scenes work to become a great hockey player.
We as Christians can pretend to be like Jesus in many settings. We can act like Jesus without ever becoming like Jesus.
This is where that Lewis quote hits home. When we are taken off our guard we won’t act. We will simply be. Who we truly are is exposed. This when we are in the game, so to speak.
The question remains, how do we become like Jesus? What does it look like to practice in our spiritual lives so that when it comes time for the game we are ready?
In my life, I have found that pursuing a personal practice of certain spiritual disciplines has helped me tremendously. In those moments where I have failed during the “game,” I can almost always trace it back to a season of neglecting my practice.
Over the next few posts I am going to share some of the “how” for our spiritual growth and development. Hopefully at the end you will be able to craft your personal spiritual practice.
Originally published at https://danielmrose.com on November 8, 2019.
WHAT IS THE KINGDOM OF GOD LIKE?
I’m a pastor. I invite people to follow Jesus. It’s my vocation, calling, and passion. Before becoming a pastor, I was a missionary on the college campus. I invited people to follow Jesus. There is nothing I want more than people to follow Jesus.
Over the last few years there is something that has significantly changed in the way I think about this calling and vocation. Not so long ago I would have said that I’m primarily concerned about people believing in Jesus. Getting folks to believe was the key step. I spent countless hours trying to convince people to place their faith in Jesus.
Belief and faith were the primary and central requirements that I was completely focused on.
Get folks saved, this was the key. There was nothing more important than that. Sure, I wanted people to grow in their faith and all the like, but seeing folks get saved was what mattered most.
I am someone who holds to what is known as “Reformed Theology.” One of the key beliefs we hold is that God is sovereign. Those of us who hold this theological system are what’s known as “monergists.” That’s a fancy way of saying that we believe that God is the one who does the saving of people.
It’s confession time: For most of my life in ministry I didn’t really believe any of that.
I would have said that I believed it. Often, I would argue for that position as being “biblical.” However, the way that I carried out ministry proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that I believed that I was absolutely responsible for getting people saved. I didn’t trust that God could do it without me. God needed me.
Something has significantly shifted in me over the last few years. I believe more deeply than ever in the mystery, magnitude, and greatness of God. I am more convinced than ever that God is more gracious, merciful, and good than we can even imagine. I am also convinced that I am not responsible for saving anyone. God indeed does that. He saves people. He changes people. In his radical grace and mercy he moves in people’s lives.
So, if I don’t have the responsibility to save people, what is my job as pastor? It is to help people follow Jesus. It is to make disciples.
To follow Jesus is exactly what it sounds like. We are to live like him. His life marked by grace, kindness, truth-telling, sacrifice, suffering, and joy is to be the life that we live. In his wisdom he commissioned his first disciples to make other disciples. In his wisdom he gifted some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. The responsibility of us all working together is to bring his people to maturity. What is a mature faith? It is a person who looks like Jesus.
Could you imagine a world where all the Christians lived like Jesus? Engaged the world like Jesus? What if people were living lives that were different enough from the rest of the world that people knew we were Christians by our love?
What if those of us who are pastors focused all of our attention on helping people actually live like Jesus? If that’s the case, where do we turn for help in doing this? I think we can look to Jesus and what he’s recorded as saying in the gospels.
I write all of this as an introduction and invitation to a new series of blogs on the parables. I have been spending quite a bit of time in them recently because they are fascinating and they are life giving.
The parables almost always seek to answer one question: What is the kingdom of God/heaven like? I’m beginning to see that they are also almost always pointing to how one is to live into the narrow way. I have been surprised to see an emphasis on living and acting in the parables as opposed to faith and belief. So often I expect Jesus to say, “Believe…” but he instead calls people to a lived a life. (This is not to devalue the need for faith. Jesus often says, “Your faith has healed/saved you.”)
What is the kingdom of God like? It is like a narrow way that leads to life.
Over the next few weeks we will explore that narrow way in the parables.
Originally published at danielmrose.com on April 4, 2019.
WE CAN BE CHURCH TOGETHER
Both/and not either/or
I wrote yesterday about problems. Problems with he building centric model of being church and problems with the neighborhood missional approach to being the church.
It’s so very easy to point out problems.
The hard part is coming up with some solutions.
What could it look like to be the church in a fresh way as we move into the next age of the church?
I think in some ways we must go back to move forward. From the outset I want to stipulate something: There will always be church buildings. There will always be large gatherings of Christians meeting together for worship, study, and fellowship. There will always be gatherings of Christians who want to eschew those types of gatherings. They will be drawn to the hyper local and intimate and happily trade off the larger corporate gathering. This has been the case from the beginning and it will continue to be that way. There is no wrong way to be the church. There will always be different expressions for different people, cultures, and communities.
With that as our starting point, I want to suggest an idea that has been floating in my mind for a few years.
I think that the problems that the building-centric church model faces is corrected by the missional neighborhood model and vice versa.
These different approaches of being the church need one another. If we could figure out a way to bring these two approaches together we could, I think, begin to make a significant shift in the west towards becoming a living, breathing, movement again.
I dream of the day when missional pastors in neighborhoods can leverage their expertise and train pastors in the building to help them understand the needs, attitudes, and concerns of the average person. I hope for a day when missional pastors can be mentored and cared for by a team of pastors in the building centric church.
Could you imagine?
What if the building centric church mobilized its considerable resources to be dispersed by the missional pastors in the neighborhoods?
What is the missional pastors in the neighborhoods could connect people who they are reaching out to with the kind of programming and broader Christian community that the building centric church offers?
In my mind’s eye, I can see a new way forward of the old model of cathedral and parish.
The missional communities in the neighborhoods would be the parishes. The building would be the cathedral and both would work in symbiotic relationship with one another. The cathedral church building could become the hub of ecclesiastical training, a sending agency, and a sacred space for the significant ceremonies that we carry out in the life of our faith (weddings, funerals, baptisms, celebrations, feasts, etc…).
What if, because of the cathedral, every pastor would be part of a pastoral cohort? What if because of every neighborhood missional community the cathedral would be constantly pulled out from its four walls?
The working together of these two valid and important types of being church could allow the Church to stay focused on what it needs to in mission and yet also provide the stability of the institution.
This all sounds nice. But something deep within the leaders of these two approaches will need to change for it to become a reality. They will both need to humble themselves and determine together to serve one another. The building centric model will need to let go of expecting the neighborhood pastors to be at meetings and teaching Sunday school classes. The neighborhood pastor will need to let go of their unlimited freedom. The building centric model will need to see the missional communities in the neighborhoods as extensions and not as drains. The missional communities will need to embrace the building centric as a sacred space and be willing to help care for it.
Both leaders and communities will need to embrace the messiness of loving one another.
It is possible. It is doable. But the both/and requires humility and respect and conflict and grace and mercy and listening and learning. The question is, are we willing?
Originally published at danielmrose.com on February 22, 2019.
WHEN THE “CHURCH” LOSES “IT”
Or “Why the missional neighborhood church isn’t perfect.”
I often write and speak about how beautiful my congregation is. The truth of the matter is that I do love it, I love every messy thing about living life with the people who are in my congregation. There is nothing that I would rather do than be our neighborhood pastor.
It is life.
Yet, it isn’t perfect. There are problems, real and significant problems, inherent in a congregation like the one I lead. The biggest problem, the one that keeps me up at night, is loss of momentum.
Our congregation loves one another. We deeply care for one another. Like no other congregation I have ever been part of, these people live out the Scripture’s admonishment to “love one another.”
In the midst of this though is the very real possibility that it can lose momentum. We can become complacent and satisfied. When you deeply love and care for one another, it is easy to look around and think, “This is great, I don’t want anyone to come in and ruin it.”
When that moment comes, something significant is lost.
This loss of momentum or missional impulse that leads to complacency is the great weakness of a smaller, home based congregation. Particularly when all is going well.
Nobody is looking to “rock the boat.” We can easily rest in the reality that we have an amazing community. Those people would only ruin it.
When you have intentionally freed people to carry on mission without the programs of the congregation you risk losing momentum for the mission. People can become consumed with other things. It can be easy to slowly lose sight of the importance of connecting with their faith community.
When momentum is lost it is difficult to recover. It is much easier to lose momentum in a smaller community than a larger one, because there is little back up for the key people who bring the energy.
Along with momentum, there is also the down side of lack of scale.
Something I noticed working for a large para-church organization as opposed to the local church is its ability to serve on a large scale. It felt like the large organization had greater reach to serve more people. The numbers bear that out. The bigger organization has the ability to serve on a larger scale.
The small scale within which we serve in our neighborhood in beautiful and personal. Yet, our ability to serve on a larger scale is very limited. While we can help out immediate neighbor, our ability to have a significant on something like the Flint water crisis is quite limited.
Finally, the neighborhood based missional community approach has limited resources. One of the things that I appreciate about the mega-church is that it has resources that it can mobilize for the greater good of the body of Christ. The finances it can invest in missionaries and other community service is amazing. The number of people that a mega-church or even a church of 150 can mobilize to service is amazing. There are resources that can be freed by the larger building-centric congregations that a neighborhood base congregation is unlikely to ever amass.
Let me be clear, in spite of these potential issues, I am convinced that this is the best way to live as the church. This is not to say that the other ways of being the church are bad or “less than,” they certainly are not.
Quite simply, this the manure that makes the grass green on my side of the fence and I think it smells great. These are the problems that I prefer to deal with and worry about. Also, I don’t think our missional community has lost momentum or is in any immediate danger of losing momentum. But, it isn’t fair to critique one approach without also looking for the plank in one’s own eye.
Originally published at danielmrose.com on February 21, 2019.
WHEN “CHURCH” BECOMES BUSINESS
I met with someone recently who is interested in launching a new congregation. They listened to my stories and my heart. I felt really heard by them. It was a wonderful time. It is evident they are a good person who loves Jesus.
They asked the question in our conversation that always comes up when discussing my perspective on leading congregations.
Why would having a building be so bad? How would it hurt what it is you’re doing?
I have been a pastor in multiple settings since leaving seminary. I have served a very small institutional church that transitioned to a missional approach, I have served at a small mega church, and I have served a missional neighborhood congregation. Being in each of those settings has offered me the opportunity to see behind the curtain of each. All three have their positives, all three have their negatives, the grass is not greener anywhere. Each approach uses their own version of manure and each kind of manure has its own distinct odor, you simply have decide which you prefer to smell.
The one thing that is true about both approaches where a building has been involved is that the leadership of the church is primarily focused on the development of financial resources for the building. The means by which this takes place is by bringing in enough people as giving units to fund the building and its necessary extras. At this point, the primary focus of the leadership of the local congregation ceases to be about the work and life of the congregation, but becomes more akin to a business.
Woah! Woah! Woah! That’s way too cynical. WAY TOO CYNICAL. It sounds like you’re saying that churches with buildings are primarily being run like businesses. I don’t think that’s fair.
I understand that this might make some folks upset. I get it. It’s a hard truth to hear. Yet, if you were to sit in many of the meetings that I have sat in over the years what you would see and hear are discussions based on one thing: money.
Income and expense reports are shared each month. They are gone over with a fine tooth comb. Discussions ensue about how to raise the income and limit the expenses. The desire to grow the congregation is rooted in the need to get more money. Buildings age as do their systems. Things need to be fixed and replaced. Being a good steward demands that the congregation pay its bills. To pay bills you have to have money. To have money you need giving units. To get more giving units you have to figure out to have more people come through the doors and start giving you money.
I have become convinced that the moment a congregation owns a building it necessarily changes its identity from “congregation” to “business.” The pastor becomes the CEO, the Session becomes the “Board.” Congregants become “guests” that need goods and services provided to them. We desire to make them comfortable more so than to challenge them and press them into deeper discipleship. Why? Because we don’t want them to go down to the church down the street.
The church world is very competitive. You don’t want to lose out to the cooler, more hip place down the street.
Am I cynical? Perhaps. I’m fine with that charge. I’m actually very comfortable with it.
Here’s what I know, in the six years of serving a missional neighborhood based congregation, my Elders and I have barely discussed finances. They are almost a non-issue and they are certainly not something that we spend time worrying about. Our Session meetings are times of them ministering to me and us praying for our congregation.
I may be cynical, but I am convinced I’m right about how owning a building changes the nature of a local “church.”
Also, let me be clear: I don’t believe that congregations with buildings are doing something inherently bad, wrong, or unbiblical. I am grateful for the way they serve their communities and all the ways that they honor Jesus.*
One last caveat: My next post will be a critique of the missional neighborhood congregation approach. So, don’t worked up that I think my current congregation is THE way and all other approaches to living as the church is wrong.
Originally published at danielmrose.com on February 21, 2019.
A thought about what happened in the kitchen last night.
Each week I have the joy of gathering with friends to share communion. Communion is the culmination of our time together. It is not quiet or somber. It is noisy and talkative. It is beautiful and I love every minute of our inefficient celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
Before that time we gather in together in a mob of humanity in my living room.
We open the ancient collection of texts known as the Bible.
We read and question and discuss.
We think and doubt and believe.
We do all these things together, kids and adults.
We learn and lead and press into life.
The we of the gathering for communion each week leaves me in awe. Some weeks the we includes more people than other weeks. Yet, it doesn’t matter how many or how few.
What matters is the rhythm of the time and being present and alive with one another.
Some weeks there are tears. Every week there is laughter.
Some weeks there is dessert. Some weeks there is quinoa. Every week there is enough.
When my house empties I realize that there is one thing true: I am changed.
These amazing people change me. They leave me filled and overwhelmed with joy.
The bread and juice may be the “elements” of communion, but it is the people that make communion live and breathe.
The stories, the prayers, the laughter, the tears, the people.
These are communion.
Originally published at danielmrose.com on February 18, 2019.
HELP US NOT SUCK
Why are we, Christians, upset when people want to hold us to a higher standard than others? When this happens I see the response from other Christians,
“We are sinners too, you know!” “We aren’t perfect, that’s why we need Jesus.” “We are broken.” “We are just like anyone else.“
Here’s the thing, we claim to follow Jesus if we bear the name “Christian.” If that’s the case then we are to appear to be his followers. The word in the Bible for this is “disciple.” This word means, “learner.” We are to be learning from Jesus.
In the first century, disciples would seek to be exactly like their teacher (the word they would have used is “Rabbi”). They would take on his mannerisms, language, everything they could. They would walk so close to him as to get his dust on them. They wanted to be just like their teacher. Paul calls this “having the mind of Christ.”
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” — Matthew 5:14–16
This is such an important statement from Jesus. What he’s saying is that our lives, our actions, what we do, points people to God. The way you live your life matters. It matters how you act, what you say, because the world is watching you.
Christians are held to a higher standard, we are held to that standard not by the world but by Jesus.
Jesus tells us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.” He is telling us we need to pray and ask for help in avoiding sin. We need help to live the kind of life that points people to God.
This is not some sort of weird moralism. No, this is more than that. We must be diligent and mindful in paying attention to our lives. When we stop paying attention we slide into stress and unhealthy modes of living. When we pray this prayer we are setting our minds on the necessity to be aware of our lives and how we are living. There is an intentional mindfulness.
If we are going to be on mission with Jesus we must live the Jesus life. We must live lives that look like his. We must pursue a unity with the mind of Christ. Our lives by necessity need to be marked by self-sacrifice, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Being on mission with Jesus is to live this life in the public sphere. This means that we will be judged by how well we live it out. This is our reality.
Thanks for following along on this journey through the Lord’s Prayer and how it relates to missional living. Here are the links to the whole series. I hope you found it helpful. I know it has been eye-opening for me to think through these things and to process them over the last few weeks.
Originally published at danielmrose.com on February 14, 2019.
FORGIVE THEM, YES, THEM
Who is your “them”? Is it conservatives? Maybe your “them” is liberals. Perhaps your “them” is cishet white males. Your “them” may very well be homosexuals. It could be that your “them” is people of color. Whomever your “them” is, to be on mission is to move towards “them” in love and forgiveness.
In the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray he said, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” This could be understood as “trespasses” or “sins.”
I love how Eugene Peterson puts this in The Message,
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
After he teaches the prayer, Jesus talks even more about this and says that you can’t experience forgiveness yourself if you don’t extend forgiveness to others. Think about this, Jesus is getting at the root issue for many people. Many of us are harboring bitterness, anger, and hatred in our hearts. There are tons of folks who are “them” to us and we refuse to forgive them.
If we are going to be a people on mission in the world, we must become agents of forgiveness.
This does not mean that we are doormats. It doesn’t meant that we don’t speak truth to power. It doesn’t mean that we ignore evil.
It does mean that we move towards people who we consider to be “other” in love and forgiveness.
After Apartheid in South Africa they developed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. “The TRC operated by allowing victims to tell their stories and by allowing perpetrators to confess their guilt, with amnesty on offer to those who made a full confession. (Wikipedia)” The goal was not punishment. It was reconciliation and forgiveness.
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5 that we are to be ambassadors of reconciliation. This means that we are to be agents of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is lived practice. We show our forgiveness by moving toward the “other” in love.
What does it look like for you to move towards the people in your neighbor in love? Whom do you need to forgive? How can you love well?
I’m slowly working my way through the Lord’s Prayer as a roadmap to missional living. Do you want to catch up? Here you go:
Originally published at write.as.
I’m slowly working my way through the Lord’s Prayer as a roadmap to missional living. Do you want to catch up? Here you go:
I am always amazed by how full my calendar is. I have dates on there months into the future. It’s crazy! This reality makes it very difficult to live in the moment. I am often thinking, planning, worrying, and dreaming about the future. Today is not something that I often pay attention to.
I live in the future.
When Jesus taught his disciples to pray told them to pray, “Give us today the food we need.” He didn’t tell them to pray for weeks, days, month, or years of good. Today’s food is what he told them to pray for, even demand. The “give” here is an imperative, it is a command, not a request.
What is going on here with this bit of prayer and how could it possibly relate to mission?
This goes back to the issue of presence as opposed to program. I think what Jesus is saying here is to be aware of the needs of the moment. What is happening around you? Be present in the here and now, don’t miss what is going on right here and right now.
We need daily food. It’s a necessity. When we don’t for a day, we notice.
Often I get busy and focused on work that I forget to eat. I become consumed with my thoughts and plans. This focus is great because it allows me to create and produce. But, if I continue to forget to eat all of that would be naught.
When it comes to mission we, particularly leaders of congregations and communities, get so focused on our concepts of success that we miss the moment. We often don’t see the hurting and the pain in our midst. It becomes easy to not see what is going in our most immediate communities, our families and close friends.
Why do you think so many pastors get divorced or have to leave the ministry to work on their marriages?
If we can’t be present with our families how can we expect to truly be present with the congregation or our neighborhoods or our communities?
To be on mission with Jesus is to be present in the moment. Our body can’t be in the future even if our mind can be. We must work hard to bring unity to the mind and body. To be an embodied presence our minds must be in the moment.
So, we pray, “Give us today the food we need.”
Body and mind united, in the present.
This is easier said than done. So, we pray, “Give us today the food we need.” And we pray it every single day.
Originally published at danielmrose.com on February 11, 2019.
Part four in a series on using the Lord’s Prayer as a roadmap to mission.
I’m slowly working my way through the Lord’s Prayer as a roadmap to missional living. Do you want to catch up? Here you go:
Love that is just an idea is not love at all. Grace that is just an idea is no grace at all. Mercy that is just an idea no mercy at all. Peace that is just an idea is no peace at all.
All these things need to be embodied. Love, grace, mercy, peace all need to be lived to be something. If they are not lived and carried out in the body, then what are they? Nothing.
Mission that is carried out only in ideas, strategy, or concepts is no mission. It is nothing. It is dream and talk. A friend of mine constantly says, acta non verba. “Action, not words.”
Jesus in the prayer that he taught his disciples said,
Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Jesus was keenly aware about the necessity to embody the mission in the world. The word we translate “earth,” can be understood with a range of meanings. It can be translated as “soil” and “people” and “country.” Now, we know that Jesus didn’t speak Greek. He most likely spoke Aramaic and Hebrew. Matthew when trying to express what Jesus was saying here uses this word that can mean “earth” and all these other ideas. Why? Because Jesus was trying to tell his disciples that what he wanted was for the kingdom, his kingdom, to be lived out right here, right now.
The mission, the faith, whatever you want to call it is not a sales pitch, it’s not a media strategy, it’s not to be a marketing campaign. No, the mission is to be something lived. It is to be the living of, the embodiment of, Jesus kingdom right here in the flesh, on the dirt, and with the people.
What is this supposed to look like? I think it’s supposed to look like the poem that Jesus taught earlier in Matthew,
“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted. God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth. God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied. God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy. God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God. God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
Oh that we who claim to follow Jesus would live this way in our bodies.
Originally published at write.as on February 7, 2019.
I’m slowly working my way through the Lord’s Prayer as a roadmap to missional living. Do you want to catch up? Here you go:
The next bit in the prayer is, “Our father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name.” You may be thinking, “What does that have to do with mission?”
First, mission is to be rooted in the identity of God. It is to be shaped by who he is. The driving values for mission are to reflect the nature of “our father.” As we step into mission we must ask, “Who is God? What are his values? What does it mean to serve his kingdom? If he were sitting here with us what would he be encouraging us to pursue?”
For entirely too long mission has been reflective of ourselves.
I will never forget reading Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret. It was the first book that began to make me think about the reality that mission ought to be shaped by who God is and not by our cultural preferences. Taylor was one of the first Western missionaries to practice incarnation mission. He entered into the culture that he was seeking to serve. He dressed like the Chinese people he lived with. He wore the same hairstyle and facial hair. Taylor was not seeking to bring people to English-ism he was seeking to bring the gospel to the people. His mission was rooted in his understanding of the identity and nature of God.
Second, mission is to be embodied. This is rooted in the first. One of the things that I love about God is that he doesn’t wait for people to become “godly” to engage them. He enters into their lives and meets them where they are. This is becoming, for me, the single most important aspect of seeking to be on mission. The incarnation, God becoming man in Jesus, points us to the merciful, gracious, and loving identity of God. He didn’t stand far off, he entered in.
My favorite story about Jesus is quickly becoming his interaction with Thomas. Jesus could have written him off. Instead, he invited Thomas to touch and feel him. This is what embodying looks like. “Thomas, you doubt? That’s OK, touch my hands and my side.” Ah, I get choked up thinking about it.
Finally, I like the way that Eugene Peterson in the Message writes this verse,
“Our Father in heaven, Reveal who you are.”
I think this points us to one more bit about how this line ought to shape mission. Our mission really needs to be about revealing God to the world. I have seen much mission being about revealing ourselves. We make much about ourselves and what we can offer to the world.
Consider the phrase from the church planting world, “Launch Large!” This is a branding, marketing, and business approach that really works well. The new church creates a marketing campaign that is supposed to make a “buzz.” The buzz will bring people in to fill the auditorium. It’s all about making much of the new church and congregation. Usually these campaigns try to communicate how the new church is better than the other churches in town and how the particular can better meet needs than the other churches in town too.
I think that this approach is antithetical to what we ought to be about. We ought to be about revealing God as he is. Not seeking to make ourselves great and the center of the story.
What is churches sought to engage the world these ways? What if they first and foremost rooted their mission in the nature and identity of God? Then, they sought to embody that mission? Finally, their emphasis was on revealing the God in whom they rooted everything in in the first place? **I think what would happen is that we would see more gospel, greater love for the other, and healthier faith communities.
What do you think?
Originally published at write.as on February 5, 2019.
PRESENT IN PRAYER
Part two in a series on the Lord’s Prayer as road map to mission.
The other day I wrote about the difference between program and presence. I stated that I though that the Lord’s prayer is a road map to presence. Lord’s prayer starts with, “When you pray…”
Jesus has just been asked by his disciples to teach them how to pray. He makes an assumption that they will indeed pray. As I consider my own spiritual life that this is an appropriate assumption. Praying is really hard for me, it is not natural or top of mind. I like to fix things and make things happen, prayer feels like the exact opposite of that.
Yet, for those of us who are seeking to follow the way of Jesus the expectation is that we will pray. That is the starting point for this journey into presence. It is prayer.
I’m curious, do you see or understand prayer to be the central driving force to being on mission in your community, neighborhood, or city? I certainly don’t.
There, I wrote it, I don’t see prayer as the central driving force to mission. I see physical presence to the be the center.
Throughout the gospels we see a pattern of prayer then teaching then miracle. I think the pattern holds. Often, Jesus disappears to pray. I think we can understand this to be his regular practice.
Yet, I have grown up in my spiritual life to believe that bible study is the foundational practice, followed by evangelism, then prayer, then serving “least of these.” Attending regular worship gatherings is in there too as an underlying expected practice.
I am growing to believe that prayer is possibly the singular most important thing that we can do.
When I make that statement I am not talking about the wish list kind of praying that many of us think of when we think about prayer. I am also not thinking about saying “grace” over a meal.
I’m coming to believe that prayer is the practice by which we open space to engage the divine presence in our lives. We quiet ourselves and listen more than speak. It is in prayer that we are able to engage with God as who he is, Spirit.
What do you think? Am I making too much of prayer? Is it really necessary for us to truly practice mission in our communities, neighborhoods, and towns?
PROGRAM OR PRESENCE?
Part One in a series on how the Lord’s Prayer is a road map to mission.
I have been re-reading through Faithful Presence by David Fitch this last week. As I read, I am struck by the significance of presence over and against program.
Many conversations that I have with colleagues are about how to “reach” the emerging generations. I’m coming to the conclusion that this is the wrong question. The better question is, “How can we be present with the emerging generations?”
Do you see the difference? One question is about how we can, in a sense, sell/convince/capture the other is a question of being and engagement.
The first question leads to programs. If we can find the right program that will “capture” their interest then we can “reach” them and bring them in. Programs become the center of creative outlet, financial commitment, and time consumption. What is great about programs is that they are easily measured. The metrics are clear and you can determine your success by counting.
Programs in a monolithic culture are very useful. They work because we can assume what people like, want, and how they will resonate. We can also assume that people probably desire the same outcome: being part of our congregation. You see, monolithic culture is key to the success of programming and goes well beyond skin color and economic status. It needs to cut into worldview. During the mega-church boom programs were effective because it could be assumed that many, if not most, people wanted to be part of a congregation, they just needed to find the right one. People were looking for congregations that met them in their niche culture. For the sake of growth and success congregations were happy to oblige.
Then the culture changed, it fragmented, it evolved into something that was not monolithic. We slowly became more isolated from one another even under the guise of deep connection via the internet. Where we are now is the logical conclusion of what began 50 years ago. No longer are there necessarily groups of people looking for niches, now we are so desperately individualistic that the way we used to think about “reaching” people has lost much meaning. We can no longer make any assumptions about any group, much less any individual.
We must seek a new way forward. This new way is not in programs, it is in presence.
The questions before us as the people of God is not how to “reach” people. The questions are now, how can we be with people. How can we be like the God we claim to follow who “moved into the neighborhood”? As one of my favorite poets, Derek Webb, wrote, “We must become what we want to save/that’s always been the way.”
Presence demands more of us than programs. It demands that we set aside our outward desires for looking successful. It demands that we are OK with connecting for the long term. It means that we will have to give of ourselves to others in relationship and connection. We will have to understand that our metrics have to be set aside. They don’t have meaning in the new paradigm. You can’t measure relationship, connection, spiritual growth, and wholeness. Presence is not some new thing we do at our church buildings. It is an intentional living into the world within which we find ourselves.
I am becoming more and more convinced that the Lord’s prayer is the road map to being present in our families, neighborhoods, and towns. Read it. Ponder it. Let me know what you see in it…
“Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” — Matthew 6:9–15
WHEN YOU CAN’T WRITE
A frustrated mind dump in the midst of a creative block.
It’s been a bit since I last wrote a blog or recorded a personal podcast. This week, I shared with some friends how I’m feeling a bit blocked for some reason. I asked them to pray.
As I sit here today, the block remains.
One of my friends asked me if I need to sit with the block. He suggested that I may need to enter into it and experience it, to be aware of it, to be mindful of it.
“Perhaps God is asking you to be patient.”
For the last 48 hours or so, I have been. I am trying to allow myself to see the block, so to speak. During this time, I have found quiet moments to let my mind prayerfully enter in and try to embrace it fully.
What am I finding? Frustration.
That is an emotion that, for me, is negative. I don’t like feeling frustrated. Feelings of frustration are ones that I try to avoid at all costs.
One of the things that I’m learning about myself is that I try to avoid pain. As a result, I self-medicate with food and entertainment. This frustration that I’m experiencing because of a perceived loss of creativity is driving me to entertainment. I am working hard and have some accountability with food, but the entertainment piece is difficult to stop.
Also, because I avoid pain, I don’t very often “sit” in these moments of pain. I tend to move past them and away from them as quickly as possible.
I am not going to do that this time. I am going to enter in and experience the frustration. As I am being prayerfully mindful of the frustration, I am seeing some things about myself that I needed to see.
For instance, I am learning that I need a great deal of input and mental stimulation through reading and conversations. I also need to be very diligent in capturing ideas when they strike me. I can’t hope to hang on to them and hold them in my mind.
So, here’s what I’m beginning to do. I am starting to carry a small notebook in my pocket. Hopefully, I will remember to jot ideas down when they hit me. Also, I am forcing myself to read first thing in the day. Finally, I am making myself write, something, anything every day. I have found a nice little private blogging space. Maybe someday they will become public, maybe not. But it’s there and it’s for me.
What do you do when you’re feeling creatively or mentally blocked? I’d love to hear in the comments!
“HE TOOK HIM AT HIS WORD”
Signs and wonders or trust and believe?
One of the questions that I bump into on a regular basis is, “Why doesn’t God do some signs? If God really wanted people to believe then he would do miracles and prove it.”
I wrestle with that question often, if I’m honest. I read through the Scriptures and think about what it must have been like to walk with Jesus or the prophets. Could you imagine seeing Jesus turn water into wine? Or raising Lazarus from the dead? What about actually being present when healed the leper, the blind, or paralyzed? As I think about seeing these things in person, I think, “My faith would be so much stronger if we could see these kinds of miraculous events around us.”
Yet, when I get even more honest I realize that is complete bull. My faith wouldn’t be stronger. It would be exactly as it is, middling to weak. I know this is the case because I have seen answered prayer and I always look for the “reasonable explanation” first, as opposed to simply giving God glory.
There’s a great story at the end of John 4 that is often overshadowed by the story at the beginning of John 4. The beginning of John 4 is the story of Jesus interacting with the Samaritan woman the launch of the Samaritan revival. It is juxtaposed against this story at the end of the chapter.
In the second story, there is a royal official whose son is dying and he comes and begs Jesus to save him. At the moment, Jesus is in Cana, where he famously turned water into wine. Jesus’ response is,
“Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” — John 4:48
I thought that was strange until I connected this story to the one before it. The Samaritans didn’t demand signs from Jesus. They believed his words.
So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. — John 4:40–41
Now, this official comes asking Jesus do something miraculous. The crowds were probably watching with baited breath. What will Jesus do? Will he go to the official’s home? Will he be able to save the boy? Jesus calls them out in their desire for signs. All this would have done was raise the tension.
Will he heal or won’t he?
What happens next?
The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”
“Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.” — John 4:49–50a
The official wants Jesus to come to his home. He demands it. “Come down,” is an imperative. He is commanding Jesus to come to his home. Jesus responds to him with a command and a promise, “Go,” and “your son will live.”
The crowds must have been flabbergasted at this moment. How dare Mary and Joseph’s son speak to an official this way. What was he thinking? He had been given a command and he shot right back at the man. What was going to happen? Surely, Jesus would not walk away from this without repercussions.
What happens is this,
The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. — John 4:50b
He believed the word. He trusted that what Jesus had said to him was true. As he went home his servants came and let him know that his son was well and upon discovering that he became well at the same time as Jesus command the Scriptures say,
So he himself believed, along with his whole household. — John 4:53b
Wait, wait, didn’t he already believe? Sure. He believed. But now there was a qualitative difference in his belief. He didn’t simply in the word of Jesus, the object of his faith was now Jesus himself.
The question we must ask ourselves, “Do I trust Jesus enough to believe him at his word?”
This father must have been absolutely desperate for Jesus to save his son. I know I would have been. In that moment I would probably do just about anything to have my son be saved from imminent death.
The man trusted Jesus at his word and went. Then when Jesus’ word was made good, he trusted him. In what ways do you need to trust Jesus at his word right now? Are you demanding signs or are you willing to believe and then believe?
We do not have to have a perfect faith. We simply need to be willing to trust Jesus at his word.
THE ONLY RESOLUTION I WILL MAKE IN 2019
…or why I decided resolutions are dumb and goals are better
This year I’m trying something new. I am not going to make the normal new year’s resolutions. This is kind of a big deal for me. I am very much a resolutions kind of guy. Resolutions are inspiring to me, at least for a few hours or days (if I’m lucky).
I take it back, I’m going to make one resolution and then I’m setting goals. Very specific and clear goals.
I know, resolution and goal, these two things sound like a difference without a distinction. In my mind though, they are very different. Over the course of my life the resolution has become something that is not very specific but is very broad and open ended. Just the way I like it.
Goals on the other hand, in my mind, are specific and measurable. With goals I can ascertain whether or not I accomplished them. Did I reach or did I not reach them? If I did reach my goals, I can celebrate. If I’m not reaching my goals I can evaluate and try to change course to reach them.
This morning as I read the daily psalm in the lectionary, Psalm 34, it struck me that the opening stanza was my resolution for 2019.
I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.
I resolve to bless the LORD at all times. This means that when there are trials, tribulations, joys, and celebrations, I will bless God. This idea of “blessing” God is to worship him, to trust him, to believe him in the midst of the every day life.
I also resolve to invite others into that blessing. To call those in my sphere of influence to magnify and exalt the name of God together. This will demand my engagement in community and relationship. There will be no room for “just me and Jesus.”
It may seem that I have two resolutions. But, really they are one in the same. The second is a development on the first. So, even though it appears to be two, I’m embracing it as only one.
This resolution is a mindset, an attitude toward living, a way of thinking about all that happens to me (and us) in the day to day of life. It is a challenge to embrace a perspective that demands faith, repentance, and community.
Other Resolutions Are Dumb
I suppose I better explain myself. As is typical for me, I make a bold statement here. I am sure you have 101 reasons to disagree with me, and you’re probably right. Yet, I have decided resolutions beyond the grand gesture that provides perspective are dumb.
They simply don’t work for me. Probably because I have in my mind a very different meaning for resolution and goal.
So, I’m setting some goals as I head into 2019. Goals that I can easily track, easily evaluate, and that have tangible results.
“Eat better.” That is what I now characterize as a “dumb resolution.”
“Exercise more.” This too is a “dumb resolution.”
Goal setting looks more like this:
- Exercise a minimum of 3 days a week, including 10 miles of cardio training per week.
- Track calories daily and limit intake to between 1500 and 1800.
- Get established with a primary care doctor.
- Publish a minimum of 3 blog posts per week.
- Record 30 personal podcast episodes in 2019.
Those are my personal goals for this year. They will be challenging, but I think doable. They will stretch me, but I don’t think they will break me. They will demand me to use time well, to sleep, to read, and to use social media less. The best part? I’ve already scheduled a doctor appointment! If he’s not a tool, then one of my goals will be accomplished within the first week of 2019. #BOOM
I would love to know what you resolve this year and what your goals are. So, hit me up here with a response or connect with me on Twitter and let’s hold each other accountable.