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.”