Friday, December 14, 2007

Learning to Love Life

I love being with my family...

...Though being intentional and fully-present is always an ongoing discipline to be practiced.

...Yet, more and more I simply enjoy being with my family... at home... doing nothing... but playing and exploring life...

Here are a few things...

...I'm Loving this Holiday Season:

      • Wrestling with Micah
      • Dancing with Naylah
      • Making Pancakes on Saturday Mornings with the Kids
      • Creating Oatmeal and Coffee Every Morning with Naylah
      • Watching Life & Journeyman with Charissa
      • Seeing Avi Smile and Giggle
      • Gett'n Down With the Whole Family to Jam'n Music in the Basement
      • Observing my Children Discover Life
      • Laughing with Charissa at our kids, each other & the silly'ness of Life
      • Playing Mario Kart: Double Dash with the Whole Family
      • Simply Being Together - Having Nothing to Do...
Here is a little video featuring some of our seasonal celebrations...

Menorah Hora - A Jewish Celebration

Now for the Snowball Fight...

Family Snowball Fight

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Parents Buying What They Don't Want to Buy...

According to The Barna Group, born again Christians in the U.S. are predicted to spend $1 billion on media products for children younger than 18 this Christmas.

, many of them are concerned about the media content of the products they buy.

  • 70% of those who bought downloads for their kids’ mobile phones were concerned about the content
  • 46% of video game purchasers were concerned about the content
  • 33% of CD purchasers were concerned about the content
  • 31% of magazine purchasers were concerned about the content
  • 26% of DVD purchasers were concerned about the content
  • 24% of computer software purchasers were concerned about the content

"Obviously," if parents are concerned about the content, they should not buy it. Unfortunately, somewhere between a quarter and a half of all Christian parents still buy the media products.

Questionable content often shapes culture in unquestionably negative ways. It makes the jobs of children’s pastors and youth ministers more difficult when even the Christian students subject themselves to negative influences, particularly when parents are the ones buying the bad influences."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Warning! :: Sesame Street 1969 is Not Suitable for Generation Z

We are in the process of totally ReDesigning our children's ministry space, as well as the whole scope and sequence of what transpires on a Sunday morning for our children. This is going to be an exciting venture and I can easily become adrenalized merely envisioning what the creative-interactive-hand's-on integrative-multi-sensory worship-learning-engaging-connecting with God environments are going to look like...

As someone who spends a good deal of time thinking about communication, culture and ministry, as well as frequently taking in a new episode of Sesame Street with the kids, I found the following post on a blog hosted by Bombay Creative.

Culture has certainly changed over the past 40 years. The New York Times reports that DVD Volumes 1 & 2 of “Sesame Street’s” original episodes come with the following warning:

These early “Sesame Street” episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child.

Why? According to Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente, Cookie Monster smokes and eats a pipe during “Monsterpiece Theater.” And other characters may seem too grouchy, depressed, slow, or drugged. The NY Times also notes:

On the very first episode, which aired on PBS Nov. 10, 1969 — a pretty, lonely girl like Sally might find herself befriended by an older male stranger who held her hand and took her home. Granted, Gordon just wanted Sally to meet his wife and have some milk and cookies, but . . . well, he could have wanted anything.

The DVD warning is a reminder that our culture has become much more politically correct over the years and our streets have become much more dangerous for children.

From a ministry perspective, what worked 40 years ago certainly seems out of place today.

1969 Sesame Street Intro

Compare that to a Recent Sesame Street Intro

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Gates, Walls & Self-Perception

There is an ancient proverb that says, “As one thinketh within his heart, so he is.”[1] Though phrased a little awkwardly for our times, this ancient maxim is loaded with application for our media saturated culture. The word for heart utilized in the original text is nephesh[2], which is the Hebrew word for soul. The Hebrew concept of the heart encompasses the seat of emotions, the core of one’s being, the mind and emotions. Some would even say that the soul would also store the shaping influences of one’s life experiences. The interesting aspect of the verse and that which acutely relates to our understanding of how each of us has been formed by our surrounding environments has to do with the word “thinketh.” Not exactly a word that makes its way into the everyday vernacular. Thinketh, is the Hebrew word shaar. The fascinating thing about the word shaar isn’t so much the linear translation as think, rather the embedded word picture that would have been striking to the first hearers of this saying.

Shaar literally means, “to split or open.”[3] It was a place of access. Another translation is the idea of one “acting as a gatekeeper.”[4] Ancient proverbs were deeply visual sayings, especially given they were generated and shared in a oral-storytelling culture. Proverbs were profound, subversive and rich in imagery. This particular adage would stir up vivid images of a city surrounded by huge walls. Cities were typically characterized as such. Often there were only a few avenues of entrance into the city. These entrances were guarded by trained watchmen and gate-keepers.

It was the watchman’s responsibility to recognize and identify visitors on the horizon, then report to the gatekeeper below where they perceived them to be coming from, intended purpose and their relational standing to the city. The gatekeeper took this information and then interacted with those wishing to make entrance into the city. The gatekeepers responsibility was enormous, for the destiny of the city depended on their discernment and wisdom. The ancients knew that everything that was allowed through the gates of the city would influence and effect the whole of the city, for better or worst, good or bad, blessing or cursing. For instance, a covered wagon full of manure carried into the city would quickly infest the entire city with a putrid smell by high noon. Regardless of the strength and fortitude of the city walls, it was this place where the city walls were “split open” that could easily lead to a titanic like crash.

The writer of Proverbs often referred to the human soul as a city and the walls there of. “Like a city whose walls are broken through,” writes the author of Proverbs, “is a person who lacks self–control.”[5] In Proverbs 23:7, the sage isn’t so much talking about a persons “mind” or what they think, rather he is talking about the things that influence the way one thinks. There is a distinct difference. He isn’t just saying, “as a person thinks, so they are,” though that’s true, the deeper meaning of the word shaar is actually digging a few layers below this reality. It’s not one’s thoughts that he’s talking about, but the realities that are influencing and shaping one’s thoughts. It’s the things that are given access to our soul (mind, emotions, experiences) that shape and determine who we are and how we respond. This is the case, whether we are aware of it or not. It doesn’t matter whether we expose ourselves to these powers consciously or unconsciously, be it intentionally or unintentionally.

It is imperative that the weight of this proverb be understood and internalized, otherwise we will remain hamstrung and incapacitated in our endeavors to live a life of biblical simplicity. For it is only as we understand the principles governing this verse and the practical in-workings by our surrounding culture on our understanding of value, success and personal worth, that we can begin to reorient ourselves to the truth. “We crave things we neither need nor enjoy,”[6] Foster tells us. He continues, “We are made to feel ashamed to wear clothes or drive cars until they are worn out. The mass media has convinced us that to be out of step with fashion is to be out of step with reality. It is time we awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick…”

[1] Proverbs 23:7, KJV.
[2] Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon, reference no. 5315.
[3] Strong’s Hebrew Bible Dictionary, reference no. 8176.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Proverbs 25:28, TNIV.
[6] Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 80.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Beauty is Distorted...

If we could only see and realize that the "images" we are so longing to be like, in actuality don't even exist - they're an illusion. Much like the Sport's Illustrated photos mentioned in the previous post. These images are paraded before us as if they are the norm, and that which we should aspire to, yet we are never told that in reality these people don't even exist - at least as they are shown on the cover.

Dove's Beauty is Distorted campaign is a brilliant revolution attempting to subvert the illusion of beauty and our never ending pursuit thereof. There campaign is a unique stance against the false image portrayed in advertising by revealing the process a model goes through before her image hits the billboard... The same is true of the process one under-goes before hitting the cover of some magazine at the check-out aisle.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Image is Everything... Counter-Currents to a Life of Simplicity

In the 80’s, when Andrea Agassi was at his prime, Canon did a commercial for their EOS Rebel camera, with the slogan, “Image is everything.” We’ve long since left the 80’s, but the slogan is perhaps more alive today than ever before. Moreover, it’s not only Canon’s phrase for living anymore, it appears to be almost everyone’s. Image is everything, the mantra for the New Millennium. This mantra, it seems, isn’t just for the media’s perpetual consuming self-promoting commercials, but for human self-preserving, self-promoting, self-esteem enhancing-make-me-feel-better-about-myself,
make-you-feel-better-about-myself purposes.

Image is everything.

From a very early age, we are all influenced by the power of these culture inflicted images. These images, by and large, shape our understanding of who we are, what we look like and if we appreciate or detest what we look like. Psychological studies establish that by age five a child has formed a comparatively distinct impression of themselves. The same studies reveal that self-esteem is not closely related to social position, family work background, education or any combination of such factors. A young child sees him/herself from the reflections of those close to him/her, mainly one’s parents. It is these reflections mirrored back into one’s soul in response to their interactions and activities that largely determines and influences one’s self image. These reflections attach themselves to the core of our being.

“We are trapped in a maze,” Foster writes, “of competing attachments.”[1] We are spellbound by what has been mirrored back to us through our experiences. “We are the most conditioned, programmed beings the world has ever known,” writes Dr. Tim O'Shea. He continues, “not only are our thoughts and attitudes continually being shaped and molded; our very awareness of the whole design seems like it is being subtly and inexorably erased.”[2]

The noteworthy indicator here is that all of this shaping and molding, though unconcealed, transpires very subtly to our awareness. For example, how do you know what you look like? Chances are, when you were only a baby a parent or significant caregiver held you up to a mirror and amid weird faces and goofy noises began pointing to you and the mirror repeating a series of chants to the effect of, “Who’s that…?,” followed by “That’s YOUR NAME…”

Over time, we began to understand that the image we saw in the mirror was indeed us and that was what we physically looked like. This awareness of ourselves is reinforced by pictures, videos and the like. These reflected images helps us to recognize who we are and what we look like, but they don’t in and of themselves influence what we think about what we see and how we feel about how we look. This type of conclusive internalization comes only as we observe others respond and react to who we are, how we act and how becoming and attractive we perceive they think we are. Additional calculations are made as we learn the curse of comparison to those around us, as well as the images presented to us via the various means of media.

It is imperative that we understand and internalize the sway image can and has had over us, otherwise we will remain hamstrung and incapacitated in our endeavors to live a life of biblical simplicity. For it is only as we understand the principles governing this reality and the practical in-workings by our surrounding culture on our understanding of value, success and personal worth, that we can begin to reorient ourselves to the truth. “We crave things we neither need nor enjoy,”[3] Foster tells us. He continues, “We are made to feel ashamed to wear clothes or drive cars until they are worn out. The mass media has convinced us that to be out of step with fashion is to be out of step with reality. It is time we awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick…”

Consider that for every alluring photo included in “Sport’s Illustrated’s yearly swimsuit edition, roughly twenty-five thousand photographs are taken and discarded. And that is after starting with statuesque models who likely have undergone intense dieting, rigorous exercise, and scores of cosmetic surgeries – not to mention the lights, make-up, and exotic settings. Tragically, countless women hold such photos as the standard for beauty, with devastating consequences for their health, confidence, and sense of priorities.”[4] And, innumerable men hold such photos as the standard for beauty as well. Regrettably, these images are by in large merely figments of creative design, blemish manipulating, cosmetic altering, psyche-seducing, cheap counterfeits of intimacy without responsibility.

The Challenge of Simplicity

How will the people of God ever be able to courageously articulate new and more human ways to live,[5] if they are ensnared by the same trappings of the world in which they live, especially as it relates to a life of simplicity?

For many of us, the radical call to living a simple life is too much to swallow. Could it be too much to swallow because we’ve been numbed by that which we’ve been feeding on all along, that which has been entering the gates of our consciousness while our inner “gatekeepers” were being enchanted by the blitz and comfort of the spirits of the age of comfort and ease?

Foster’s suggestions for developing a rule of simplicity can be quite formidable. He counsels us to “reject anything that is producing an addiction”[6] within.

For me personally, television isn’t a problem, sweets aren’t an issue and I haven’t drank a Coca-Cola type drink in almost a year, but I do enjoy coffee. Actually not a morning goes by where my hand hasn’t reached out for a fresh mug of brew and sometimes again in the mid-afternoon. Am I addicted? Can I go a day without it? Depends on how many starbucks I’ve had in a week. More than three days straight can tend to create headaches the next morning, luring me back for another hit. Could very well be physiological indicators of a biological dependence upon the substance of caffeine. The question is, do I care and am I willing to diminish intake down to zilch?

Foster commends our rejection of “anything that breeds the oppression of others.”[7] Typically this is a non-issue, but the ramifications of this are grander than meets the eye. I just took off my shirt to see where it was made. The tag reads, “Honduras.” Was this shirt made “at the expense of exploiting Latin American peasants?”[8] I can’t say for sure, but I’ve been to Honduras, shopped in it’s markets and I’m pretty sure the person who helped manufacture the shirt I’m now wearing didn’t earn anywhere near what the person down the street at McDonald’s does. Is that exploitation? Do I desire to live a life of simplicity enough to refuse to buy these articles of clothing? I actually won this shirt at a 5k race this summer. Do I refuse the prize of winning the race? These too have proved to be some of my internal wrestling this week.

The Formative Place of Solitude

It isn’t until I begin to see how my view of things have been shaped by the world in which I live, contrasted against the values of the kingdom of which I’ve been adopted into, that my perspective begins to shift opening me up to new ways of living. It is then and only then that I begin to understand with Lily Tomlin, that “even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.” But, these revelations often need an initiation that only comes through intentional solitude. “Solitude,” writes Calhoun, “is a formative place because it gives God’s Spirit time and space to do deep work.”[9] “Many other voices pull at us,” Calhoun continues, “seeking to own and name us, but in solitude we learn what it is to distinguish between the voice of God and the voices of the world.”[10] It is in solitude that we began to develop spiritual eyes and ears and begin to “see and hear”[11] things differently – from God’s perspective.

[1] Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 80.
[2] Dr. Tim O'Shea, The Doors Of Perception: Why Americans Will Believe Almost Anything.
[3] Ibid., Celebration of Discipline, 80.
[4] Erik Lokkesmoe and Jedd Medefind, The Revolutionary Communicator: Seven Principles Jesus Lived To Impact, Connect And Lead, 74.
[5] Ibid., Celebration of Discipline, 81.
[6] Ibid., Celebration of Discipline, 90.
[7] Ibid., Celebration of Discipline, 94.
[8] Ibid., Celebration of Discipline, 94.
[9] Adele Calhoun, Spiritual Discipline Handbook, 112.
[10] Ibid., Spiritual Discipline Handbook, 113.
[11] Ibid., Celebration of Discipline, 98.

Image Credits
Image is Everything -
Attainable Beauty? -
Refection & Young/Aging Woman -

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Simplify... Simplify...

"When we are truly in this interior simplicity
our whole appearance is franker, more natural.
This true simplicity...
makes us conscious of a certain openness,
gentleness, innocence, gaiety, and serenity,
which is charming when we see it near to and
continually, with pure eyes.
O, how amiable this simplicity is!
Who will give it to me?
I leave all for this.
It is the Peal of the Gospel.
-Francois Fenelon

Richard Foster, in his book Celebration of Discipline has provoked quite a bit of reflection within me this week. In one of his chapters, he's dealing with the practice of simplicity. In the midst of our progressive culture, much anxiety is the end result.

"Freedom from anxiety," Foster writes, "is characterized by three inner attitudes. If what we have we receive as a gift, and if what we have is to be cared for by God, and if what we have is available to others, then we will possess freedom from anxiety.

This is the inward reality of simplicity.

However, if what we have we believe we have gotten, and if what we have we believe we must hold onto, and if what we have is not available to others, then we will live in anxiety."

Saturday, November 24, 2007

10-21-07 Mosaic Formation: Training to Win

There's a difference in aspiring to finish a particular race and training to win it. The Apostle Paul encouraged those in Corinth to "train in such a way to win the race." This message looks at the parallels between intentionally training for a marathon and following Christ.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

You never know...

It was late this past Saturday night when the phone rang. All the kids had long been “tucked-in” for the night. I made my way toward the phone and was surprised by the voice on the other end. The person on the other end, wasn’t any where near “could it be” orbit. It was a friend of my who is a professor at a college in the region. After offering a few apologies for calling so late, he began to share the reason for calling.

“I have a young lady at my house from Jamaica. At one point in our conversation, she began to talk about a guy named Jerrell.” How many Jerrell’s does any one person know of? They indicated to her that they knew me and that I actually lived near by. “She went on and on about you,” they continued. “She says, that it is because of you and your influence that she is a Christian, given her life to God and now a student at Taylor University studying Psychology and Biblical Counseling.”

They went on to explain that they were going to be a the Deaf Church in South Bend Sunday morning and what it would mean for her to see me in person. They really didn’t have to say any more, I was there.

So, I worked out Sunday morning that I could slip into the service at the Deaf Church before I had to be at Calvary to take care of my responsibilities. There, sitting on one of the seats was Tashi Bent, junior at Taylor University, native to Jamaica. The first thing she told me after giving me a big hug was,

“I just wanted to tell you thank you. Back at camp in 1997, you came to Jamaica. It was during that week in one of the services that you were preaching that I made a decision to give my life to God and follow Jesus…Thank you for coming. Thank you for what you said…”

How cool is that!

We never know…

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Let it Rain...

A friend of mine sent me the following meditation by John Piper. It's a profound reflection on something as common and often mundane as rain...
But as for me, I would seek God, And I would place my cause before God; Who does great and unsearchable things, Wonders without number. He gives rain on the earth, And sends water on the fields.
-Job 5:8-10

If you said to someone: "My God does great and unsearchable things; He does wonders without number," and they responded, "Really? Like what?" would you say, "Rain"?

When I read these verses recently I felt like I did when I heard the lyrics to a Sonny and Cher song in 1969: "I'd live for you. I'd die for you. I'd even climb the mountain high for you." Even? I would die for you. I would even climb a high mountain for you? The song was good for a joke. Or a good illustration of bad poetry. Not much else.

But Job is not joking. "God does great and unsearchable things, wonders without number." He gives rain on the earth." In Job's mind, rain really is one of the great, unsearchable wonders that God does. So when I read this a few weeks ago, I resolved not to treat it as meaningless pop musical lyrics. I decided to have a conversation with myself (= meditation).

Is rain a great and unsearchable wonder wrought by God? Picture yourself as a farmer in the Near East, far from any lake or stream. A few wells keep the family and animals supplied with water. But if the crops are to grow and the family is to be fed from month to month, water has to come on the fields from another source. From where?

Well, the sky. The sky? Water will come out of the clear blue sky? Well, not exactly. Water will have to be carried in the sky from the Mediterranean Sea, over several hundred miles and then be poured out from the sky onto the fields. Carried? How much does it weigh? Well, if one inch of rain falls on one square mile of farmland during the night, that would be 27,878,400 cubic feet of water, which is 206,300,160 gallons, which is 1,650,501,280 pounds of water.

That's heavy. So how does it get up in the sky and stay up there if it's so heavy? Well, it gets up there by evaporation. Really? That's a nice word. What's it mean? It means that the water sort of stops being water for a while so it can go up and not down. I see. Then how does it get down? Well, condensation happens. What's that? The water starts becoming water again by gathering around little dust particles between .00001 and .0001 centimeters wide. That's small.

What about the salt? Salt? Yes, the Mediterranean Sea is salt water. That would kill the crops. What about the salt? Well, the salt has to be taken out. Oh. So the sky picks up a billion pounds of water from the sea and takes out the salt and then carries it for three hundred miles and then dumps it on the farm?

Well it doesn't dump it. If it dumped a billion pounds of water on the farm, the wheat would be crushed. So the sky dribbles the billion pounds water down in little drops. And they have to be big enough to fall for one mile or so without evaporating, and small enough to keep from crushing the wheat stalks.

How do all these microscopic specks of water that weigh a billion pounds get heavy enough to fall (if that's the way to ask the question)? Well, it's called coalescence. What's that? It means the specks of water start bumping into each other and join up and get bigger. And when they are big enough, they fall. Just like that? Well, not exactly, because they would just bounce off each other instead of joining up, if there were no electric field present. What? Never mind. Take my word for it.

I think, instead, I will just take Job's word for it. I still don't see why drops ever get to the ground, because if they start falling as soon as they are heavier than air, they would be too small not to evaporate on the way down, but if they wait to come down, what holds them up till they are big enough not to evaporate? Yes, I am sure there is a name for that too. But I am satisfied now that, by any name, this is a great and unsearchable thing that God has done. I think I should be thankful - lots more thankful than I am.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

10-14-07 Mosaic Formation "One Size Doesn't Fit All"

God has designed each of us to relate to Him in a unique way. But we are often only shown one blueprint for growth - read your Bible andPray...

We each have a unique personality and temperament. These will and do influence our everyday spirituality for the good and the bad. The better we understand how God has designed us and how we are geared, the better we will be able to engage organic spiritual formation.

This is the second message in a series centered around spiritual formation entitled Mosaic Formation.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Discover Your Essence: Pathways, Temperament & Spirituality

Several weeks ago, we offered Discover Your Essence: Pathways, Temperament & Spirituality workshop for the first time.

About fifty people took part in this explorative encounter. It's amazing to be in an environment where people are discovering in greater measures how God has uniquely designed them to relate to Himself. What's more amazing is how often, many, well intended Christians who love God and even set aside time to spend with Him, yet they do so without understanding how they have been created to relate to God.

Our personalities indeed influence our spirituality. The better we understand our personalities, as well as the circumstances and events that have significantly shaped us, the better we can understand how they often influence our interactions with God.

God has designed each of us uniquely. Throughout Scripture, we have living accounts of people interacting with God. Interestingly, one element remains consistent throughout all of Scripture, people relate to God differently. While there is One God, and One Way to God (Jesus Christ), there is no "one way" to relate to God. There are many paths of relating to God.

Simply put, there is no "One Size Fits All" to Christian Spirituality. Unfortunately, much of the Western-American Christian tradition has succumbed to a one-size fits all approach to Christianity. The end result has been a form of Christianity that is something that is much less than God intended for us to experience. A one-size fits all spirituality always equates to a fits no-one well reality.

Due to the amount of response to the workshop and even greater inquires about it after the fact, we decided to present it again this fall. We already have another fifty people registered. This is pretty exciting!

Discover Your Essence Worship is designed to help facilitate a better understanding of these very issues.

When: Monday - November 5, 2007.

Where: Calvary Temple Cafe (off of the foyer).

Register: (click here to register online) Please register before Monday, November 5th at 12:00pm.

Childcare Provided:

Cost: $7 (cost includes materials & meal)

If you have any questions email me or call church office at 291.5230.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

For Beginners Only...

"But let us be convinced of the fact that
we will never be anything else but beginners,
all our life (1)."
-Thomas Merton-

At times, I feel like such a beginner. Lately, I’ve found this “feeling” becoming more and more frequent. As the old adage goes, “the more I know, the more I realize I don’t know.” Or, the older I get, the younger I feel. At times this is humbling, especially in regard to the areas where maturity of being is the call of the day. Yet, in other areas, it is quite liberating, exciting and organic. To learn the same lesson over, yet from a slightly different perspective. With each experience of re-learning the “truth” therein seems to penetrate a little deeper within the core of my being, influencing the person I am becoming.

I can see these cycles in my life. There are rhythms of internal construction, then deconstruction, followed by greater deconstruction, then at last there begins a reconstruction, then greater reconstruction. It is these God initiated cycles that remind me that God is “at work within in me” creating a desire to “both will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose (2).” It is these interactions that break into my seasons of subtle neglect, apathy and disillusion. These cycles and interactions cause me to see my life more closely from God’s perspective.

“Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship,” writes Dietrick Bonhoeffer. He continues, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ (3).” It is the presence of “the living Christ” that provokes transformation from within. And the most significant and lasting transformation, as Foster contends, is always “an inside job (4).” Thus, Christian spirituality cannot be experienced without living intentionality. Unfortunately, for many, life just seems to happen to them. Pastor Dieter Zander in an interview with Dallas Willard, conducted by Christianity Today laments, “A lot of people live unintentionally. They get pushed around by circumstances and culture (5).” Some would even say Christians can become more “surprised by change,” than the lack thereof (6). In order to live a life “worth living there needs to be moments where one’s life can be as Socrates admonished, “examined (7).” For me, journaling, one-day spiritual retreats and exercises like the “spiritual growth planner” help facilitate this type of examination.

Again, as Thomas Merton said, “We do not want to be beginners. But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners, all our life.” Times of honesty, relational engagement and “spiritual growth planners” have a way of highlighting the “beginner” in us all. And, when seen from God’s perspective and grace, these awakenings can become entry paths to greater personal transformation. During the process of allowing ourselves to be “open to God,” as Calhoun describes it, we see not only the areas we want to grow in, but the areas that we need to grow in. We frequently see the areas we want to grow in, for these areas often correspond with our personalities and spiritual pathways or “sacred pathways(8).” However, the arenas that we need to grow in most are generally somewhere out of direct sight, somewhere in the shadows of our blind-spot(s).

Adele Calhoun in her book Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, identifies seven major arenas of spiritual disciplines and practices of the Christian faith. She uses the acronym W.O.R.S.H.I.P. Included in this book is a Spiritual Growth Planner, essentially a detailed personal-spiritual assessment of where you're and the disciplines-practices that are strong or not-so-strong in one's life. I was personally challenged in each of the seven areas, however there were two that I sensed a need to intentionally engage in first. At face value these two seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum, yet in reality, they interplay and work in tandem with each other. They are “worship of the Trinity” and “pray my life.”

I have a strong sense of God’s providential love, protection and guidance in my life. This strength can become a weakness. I know God is working around me and actively involved in the various parts of my life. However, “knowing” this and authentically “acknowledging” this are two different things. This is where the “pray my life” component comes into play. If I am not consistently engaged in practices of “pray my life,” I am apt to be less sensitive and discerning to God’s activity in my daily life. Thus, I’m less aware of the actuality of His presence, and the lack of acknowledgment, thanks and worship are the symptoms of this dis-ease. To state it another way, when I am engaged in ongoing “pray my life” type interactions, I am more sensitive, discerning and aware of God’s presence in my situations and circumstances. The result is a natural outflow of acknowledgment and worship.

This fall has been a busy season for me. I’m already finding my mind drift forward into December of 2008. There are mini brainstorming meetings going on all over my head, and there’s still much to be created and done to finish out 2007. What I need isn’t so much a one-day spiritual retreat, I’ve taken two of those already this fall. Rather, I need some small pockets of time throughout the day that interrupt the enchanting busyness of my day with a deep-breath and re-centering of my awareness of God, His presence and His desire to participate with me in the tasks He has entrusted me to do. One of the byproducts that I am certain will be an increased atunement between me and God, as well as an organic outflow of authentic worship. I’m looking forward to increasing my practice in these disciplines and experiencing the “grace” that can be “received” through them(9).

This is only the beginning, I am a beginner.


(1) Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, pg. 2.
(2) Philippians 2:13, TNIV.
(3) Dietrick Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship.
(4) Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, pg. 6
(5) “The Apprentices,” Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal, Summer 2005, Vol. XXVI, No. 3, Pg. 20.
(6) John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted.
(7) In Plato’s Dialogues, Socrates remarks that, “an unexamined life is not worth living.” Apology, section 38.
(8) Gary Thomas, in his book Sacred Pathways identifies nine different “pathways.” These pathways, kind of like a spiritual-personality, are the way that God has designed us to relate to Him most naturally.
(9) Foster says that, “God has given us the Disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving his grace.” Dallas Willard says that the Disciplines are “receptacles for God’s Grace.”

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Man on Baley

This past weekend...

...about 12 of us went...

...indoor rock climbing - as we...

...kicked off our weekend together... part of a 10-week conversation that we've been a part of.

We had a blast...
...connecting...with God and one another
...conversing...about life, our families & the men
we are becoming...

..."Man on Baley..."
..."Baley on..."
..."Climb on..."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

the Learned vs. the Learner

Following Jesus and the process of discipleship is a life-long journey.

The very word "disciple," means "a student" or "a learner." It's intentional, ongoing and organic.

Leonard Sweet
offers an insightful comparison of the one who is Learned and the one who is a Learner. He calls is A LEARNED to LEARNER Litany of Transformation.

I used to be a learned professor. Now I'm a learner.

When I was learned, life was a quiz show. Now that I'm a learner, life is a discovery channel.
When I was learned, it was a question of how much I knew. Now that I'm a learner, it's a question of how much I'm being stretched.

When I was learned, knowledge was everything. Now that I'm a learner, kindness is everything.
When I was learned, knowledge went to my head. Now that I'm a learner, knowledge travels the longest foot in the universe–-the foot that separates my head from my heart.

When I was learned, I used to point my finger and pontificate. Now that I'm a learner, I slap my forehead all the time

When I was learned, I used to think I was the best. Now that I'm a learner, I do the best I can.
When I was learned, I was frightened of new ideas. Now that I'm a learner, I'm just as frightened of old ideas.

When I was learned, I looked to the past: to have confirmed the set of beliefs I already had. Now that I'm a learner, I look to the future: to grow, be stretched, and remain open to what I don't know.

When I was learned, I knew where I was going. Now that I'm a learner, I don't know where I'm going----but I know whom I've going with.

When I was learned, I loved to talk. Now that I'm a learner, I'd prefer to listen, because that's when I'm learning.

When I was learned, I had something to teach everybody. Now that I'm a learner, everybody has something to teach me.

When I was learned, I thought that all knowledge was a form of power. Now that I'm a learner, I suspect much knowledge is a form of weakness.

When I was learned, life was knowledge about God. Now that I'm a learner, life is knowledge of God.

When I was learned, mission meant "go to give." Now that I'm learned, mission work is becoming pilgrimage: mission means "go to learn."

When I was learned, my life revolved around what other people thought about me. Now that I'm a learner, my life revolves around what I think about myself and what God thinks about me.

When I was learned, I imagined myself the church's resident "know-it-all." Now that I'm a learner, I'm more willing to admit I don't know everything.

What I was learned, I was always trying to speed things up. Now that I'm a learner, I'm always trying to slow things down, even when I'm speeding up.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Discover Your Essence: Pathways, Temperament & Spirituality

"Read your Bible and Pray." This is what's typically prescribed to someone wanting to grow in their faith in Christ. This statement sounds nice, perhaps even true, but it's the cause of much spiritual frustration. "Read your Bible." Which way? There's more than fifteen different ways to read Scripture - from massive intakes of chapters at a time, to the slow drip meditative 'Lectio Divina'.

"Pray..." There are equally as many different ways to pray. I believe that there's more to authentic and organic spiritual formation than a patent answer. Each of these are good and serve a purpose, but how often do we pause and ask how does my personality make up influence my spirituality?

God has designed each of us to relate to Him in a unique way. But we are often only shown one blueprint for growth - read your Bible and Pray.

We each have a unique personality and temperament. These will and do influence our everyday spirituality for the good and the bad. The better we understand how God has designed us and how we are geared, the better we will be able to engage organic spiritual formation.

You will leave this workshop with a better understanding:

  • how God has designed you to relate Him, as well as some practical ways to engage Him;
  • how your personality affects your spirituality - the up's and the down's;
  • practical ways to better facilitate spiritual formation in your everyday life.

Discover Your Essence Worship is designed to help facilitate a better understanding of these very issues.

When: Monday - October 15, 2007.

Where: Calvary Temple Cafe (off of the foyer).

Register: (click here to register online) Please register before Monday, October 15 at 12:00pm.

Childcare Provided:

Cost: $7 (cost includes materials & meal)

If you have any questions email me or call church office at 291.5230.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

How to Kill a Mouse...

One writer notes an experiment done with mice a few years ago. A researcher found that it takes a high dose of amphetamines to kill a mouse living in solitude. But a group of mice will start hopping around and hyping each other up so much that a dosage twenty times smaller will be lethal - so great is the effect of "the world" on mice. In fact, a mouse that had been given no amphetamines at all, placed in a group on the drug, will get so hopped up that in ten minutes or so it will be dead. "In groups they go off like popcorn or firecrackers,” the writer observed. (The Life You've Always Wanted, John Ortberg).

There are times in our lives, when we simply need to pull away from everything that surrounds us and find a place of solitude. A place to reflect. A place to reconnect with ourselves and our God.

Throughout the Gospels we frequently find Jesus doing just that - pulling away - to a place by Himself. He understood what the experiment with the lab mice demonstrate, though there's strength in numbers, there are times we simply need to spend alone.

For the past couple of years I've recognized this to be especially true with me. In the rhythm of my life, I need times alone to re-center, focus, get clarity on where I'm at, what I'm doing, how I'm spending my time and perhaps most importantly, time to simply be with God. Sages of days gone by called this solitude. Last year I spent several days in an old log cabin located on a Christmas tree farm up in the Thumb of Michigan, next to the middle-of-no-where. But that's what I wanted. That's exactly what I needed. No snazzy coffee shops to run off to. No allurement of techy stores. Simply dirt roads, trails, wooden floors, a fire place, my bible, journal and the presence of God. I've done these trips alone and with the companionship of a friend. I've found these times key in gaining insight and clarity into the big picture of my life, family, ministry, etc... I'm doing things right now-this fall as a result of some specific direction God gave me last fall while I was away.

Regardless of who we are, where we're at or what our personalities are, we like Jesus need times of solitude.

Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue
to be entangled in the illusions of the false self."
(The Way of the Heart, Henry Nouwen)

Solitude is not merely a therapeutic place. Rather Nouwen says,"it is the place of conversion, the place where the old self dies and the new self is born, the place where the emergence of the new man and the new woman occurs."

Officially Fall has just begun, but it has been one busy-run thus far. I've had several mentally/physically energy and time consuming projects that I've been working on... All that being said, I'm especially looking forward to this Saturday's One-Day Spiritual Retreat.

If it's been a while since you "pulled away" from all the other mice, this Saturday may very well be just what you're needing...

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Journey Encounter - Desert - September 07

This past week, we went on a journey.

We hauled in 51 tons of sand into our gym and turned it into a desert with a 15 foot waterfall and a stream flowing through it.

Something happens when we pull away from our familiar surroundings. We become more sensitive... More sensitive to who we are... Who God is... What He's doing... And, what He is speaking into our life.

This past Wednesday night we designed a desert for this very purpose, to pull away from that which has become familiar and enter into a desert place.

Here are some shots of what it looked like...

If you're interested in seeing the Desert in the making you can see it here.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Way of the Heart - A One Day Spiritual Retreat

During the 4th & 5th Century there arose a community of people desperate to encounter the Voice of God. They sensed that their daily lives had become so cluttered with business that God’s voice was getting drowned out. As a result, they journeyed to the desert places of Egypt to intimately pursue and engage the Living God.

September 29th we will engage in a similar journey on a one-day retreat to the desert places of the Indiana Dunes.

This retreat is designed to facilitate greater intimacy, rest and attunement to the Voice of God in your daily life. It will be a combination of group facilitation and personal reflection and experimentation.

The FAQ's
  • Departure: From Calvary Temple Saturday morning at 8:30am.
  • Return: by 5:30pm.
  • Lunch: Bring your own bag lunch.
  • Register: by Thursday, September 27. (click here to register online)
  • Cost: $0.00

What to Bring...
    • BackPack: You will want something to put your bible, etc in as you walk about.
    • Chair: Bring a light-portable chair that you can carry. You may also want to bring a towel to sit on.
    • Food: Bring something to eat, snack on and drink...
    • Mp3/CD: You may want to bring a portable Mp3/CD-Walkman with some music that is conducive for you focusing on God.
    • Bring: Your favorite writing utensil and small Bible.
    • Provided: You will be provided a journey guide for the day. The journey guide will outline schedule, activities and have ample space for you to journal.
If you have any questions email me.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Journey Encounter

Shakespeare said, “All the world is a stage.” Jesus often utilized elements of the world around Him as visuals when teaching. Last spring we engaged a number of questions, what if we could create a journey that would take us through the last hours of Jesus' life? As if we were there... with Him... What would we see? What would we hear? What would we feel? What would a multi-sensory and interactive environment be like...?

With the help of over forty people, we designed eight different spaces, representing eight different places along Jesus' last journey. We wrote a script for the journey, recorded it and edited audio/music tracks to accompany...

The journey started in the Upper Room and ended in the Tomb. Over four-hundred people took part in the journey. The responses were overwhelming. We saw fourteen-year-old boys come out in tears. We saw hardened agnostic eighty-year old men come out showing similar tears. We concluded that for many an environment like this could facilitate as much spiritual formation as a ten week class or small group. It caused us to begin to rethink the context that spiritual transformation can take place.

As a result, we are doing it again. We're actually doing it twice this fall. We're calling it Journey Encounter.

Journey Encounter is a unique gathering where the whole environment is the stage. It’s an atmosphere that engages all of the senses. These journey's will explore the world of Scripture, seeking to encounter God and experience personal/community transformation.

The first Journey Encounter this fall is Wednesday, September 19. The night is going to be called Desert.

Throughout Scripture and even history, significant things transpired in the desert. We believe that God is going to do something just as significant in the desert we journey onto September 19th...

Imagine... Over fifty-tons of sand...a community of followers...and the Voice of God...

It's going to be and experience like no other...

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Fall Blitz...

I'm beginning to feel the press of everything swinging into Fall gear.

Last week a group of guys and myself (The Forum) began our plunge into a nine-week conversation and book dialogue. I'm pretty amazed at what has already began to take place in such a short time. (More on all that later...)

Also, all of our other fall Growth Environments here at Calvary Temple kicked off...

Last week, I officially became a student again. Something that I've been wanting to do for quite some time, but time it seems, is always of the essence. Finally, I decided, an enormous amount of down-time isn't coming my way anytime soon and I'm not getting any younger, not to mention a little motivation from above... I'm enrolled at Spring Arbor University and currently working towards a Masters in Spiritual Formation and Leadership. After a week of orientation and interacting with other cohorts online, we jumped full-swing into our first class this week - Into into Christian Spirituality. I've been spending every spare moment and late into the evenings reading, typing, re-typing, some more reading, analyzing my personality-preference and primary means and modes of connecting with God. Perhaps a little more naval-gazing than I typically partake of in a given week, but it has been extremely thought provoking as I rethink what spiritual formation is and how our journeys with God transpire. Did I mention there are some really cool people in my class?

Last on the docket, at least for now, is the up coming Journey Encounter. I'll write more about this soon, because this is going to be an encounter like none other... A team of us have been brainstorming this night for the past four months. It happens two weeks from today, September 19, and my to-do-find-build-make list is all the way out my office door and down the hall...

In the midst of all this busyness, I read something recently that keeps coming to mind as I re-tabulate what's my to-do list...
"Somewhere we know that without a lonely place
our lives are in danger.
Somewhere we know that without silence
words lose their meaning,
that without listening
speaking no longer heals,
that without distance
closeness cannot cure.
Somewhere we know that without a lonely place
our actions quickly become gestures."
(Henri Nouwen,
Out of Solitude)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Meditations on the Christian Life

The past couple of days I've been reading my share of Henri Nouwen. He taught at the University of Notre Dame, as well as Yale and Harvard Universities. He later moved to Toronto where he shared his life with people with developmental disabilities. Much of his writings are founded in the intentional thought you would expect from someone with his educational background, yet the core of that which he writes about came as an awareness that came as he laid aside the prestige of his elite status, served the outcast of society, even living among those who could care less about how many letters come after your name.

Here are a couple of quotes that I found particularly penetrating:

The first is from In the Name of Jesus.

"A mystic is a person whose identity is deeply rooted in God's first love." To live with an awareness of the One who loves is an aspect of Contemplative Prayer.

"Through contemplative prayer we can keep ourselves from being pulled from on urgent issue to another and from becoming strangers to our own heart and God's heart. Contemplative prayer keeps us home, rooted and safe, even when we are on the road, moving from place to place, and often surrounded by sounds of violence and war. Contemplative prayer deepens in us the knowledge that we are already free, that we have already found a place to dwell, that we already belong to God, even tough everything and everyone around us keep suggesting the opposite." (42)

The rest are from Out of Solitude.

"More often than not, we not only desire to do meaningful things, but we make the results of our work the criteria of our self-esteem. And then we not only have successes, we become our successes... When we start being too impressed by the results of our work, we slowly come to the erroneous conviction that life is one large scoreboard where someone is listing the points to measure our worth. And before we are fully aware of it, we have sold our soul to the many grade-givers... Then we become what the world makes us… (22)

But underneath all our emphasis on successful action, many of us suffer from a deep-seated, low self-esteem and are walking around with the constant fear that someday someone will unmask the illusion and show that we are not as smart, as good, or as lovable as the world was made to believe… (23)

And so, when our actions have become more an expression of fear than of inner freedom, we easily become the prisoners of our self-created illusions." (24)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Forum

I'm getting pretty stoked about some elements of spiritual formation that we're going to be experimenting with this Fall at Calvary Temple. One of these is The Forum, and it is for men.

A number of things have helped facilitate my personal transformation.

Three of them are:
  • Being in a context of a cluster of friends having un-edited conversations about life, relationships and God.
  • Being a part of a road trip or some other kind of journey experience where we got out of town and just spent time together... Something happens when you leave the familiar surroundings... You often become more sensitive to the Heart, Voice and Presence of God.
  • Being in an environment where there is thought provoking dialogue.
The Forum is an environment that (hopefully-successfully) will encompass all of these three elements, plus frequent doses of fun.

What is it? I have a pictures of what it is in my head. I have a deep sense at the core of my being what it feels like, but I'm still struggling to find the words to portray it... It's a small group of guys connecting, but it's not a small group... It's an on-line life-on-life conversation, but it's not just a blog. It's a dialogue of a book it's not a book study. It's a weekend away, but it's not a retreat. All of these are components of what The Forum is, not to mention illegal amounts of fun. Let me try to break down some of the elements that make up The Forum.

We will meet together Face-to-Face twice during the 9-Weeks. Wednesday August 29th at 7:00pm in the South Gate Cafe & Saturday morning, October 6th.

On-going Conversation
In between our times together we will be conversing through the internet via a private blog. Some of us process information better - after the fact - even alone. For many, it is easier to put thoughts on the screen to be read, rather than in the air space to be heard. This is where the Online Conversation comes into play. Throughout the weeks of meeting together, we will interact with the ideas and concepts presented in the book, as well as other things that emerge during the conversation...

Book Dialogue
The ongoing conversation will spring from the book Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality by Rob Bell.

Weekend Away
We will finish up the conversation over a weekend away in Kalamazoo, Michigan (Friday October 26 to Sunday morning October 28). While away, we will carry on the conversation, have loads of fun, have some more fun, not to mention spend a full evening rock climbing at Climb Kalamazoo, Southwest Michigan’s premiere indoor facility.