Archive for Spiritual Formation

Mar
30

Playing Checkers with Dad

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My dad was never one to play cards or board games. He did, however, enjoy a game of checkers. If I wanted him to play with me, checkers was my go to. In all of the years I played him I never could beat him. Not. One. Time. He learned to play the game from his father, who he reports he could never beat. It must have been a regressive generation trait.

I can remember those games with him. He never really cared if he was “black or red,” and always let me make the first move. We would play at a very slow and deliberate pace, each taking his turn with no one seemingly possessing an advantage. Then after several moves, almost out of the blue, he would go on a massive offensive, making double jumps and reducing my number to one or two checkers. After the offensive, there was nothing left to do but concede defeat. And it went that was whenever we played. Every. Single. Time.

When I got older I finally possessed enough wisdom to ask him how he became so good at checkers. I knew that he had learned from his father and was hopeful that he could teach me some amazing trick or sprinkle magic dust on me to grant me these mysterious powers. He simply smiled and said, “You just have to look ahead to your next move.” By looking ahead, he meant the next 10-12 moves.

While I was messing around making my individual move he was strategizing his next series of moves. All I could see was his move. I could not see within his mind and uncover the checkerboard that was in his brain.

I think God works in our lives in similar fashion. We go through life, plodding along one move at a time, complete with our questions and doubts as to why particular things happen to us. And then all of a sudden, God unveils his plan and we can look back and see how all of those individual moves led to one great moment where things seem to come together and everything becomes clear.

Life certainly has more value than a game of checkers. But like the game of checkers, things rarely happen all at once. There is usually a series of moves that occur that do not seem like much…coincidental events that, in and of themselves seem benign. But it all matters and it all counts. Even the things that don’t appear to mean much, if anything.

Checkers reminds me that I can trust God is at work, even when I cannot or do not see or sense him. And when I feel as those things are barely moving forward in the daily grind of life, God unveils his will and when I does, I can look back and see how he set it all up.

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Oct
08

Lazarus

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The following essay is a guest post by my daughter Shannon. It is a thoughtful and prophetic perspective on faith through the eyes of a millennial.

“So, what’s it like being a pastor’s kid?” I always laugh awkwardly after that.

To answer the question: It’s fine, really. I don’t mind it, not other than the old white members of our Baptist congregation putting my life under a spectacle. Maybe they wondered if I would be the third generation of my family to go into ministry, or maybe they wished I would just stop wearing jeans to church. I’ll never know, but when it came down to it, calling Reverend Doctor Tim Deatrick my father was a plus. I had the easiest access to knowledgeable answers when it came to the tough questions, and I swear 75% of our church brought money to my graduation party. I’m just being honest, it was a good place to be. Still though, I was similar to any other high school student you would meet. I was highly involved in a range of activities, but I hit valleys of depression like so many other teenagers in today’s society. Though sociable, I would say I was alone. I only pretended to have confidence, I lacked consistent friendship, and I punished myself for it when I didn’t understand. It was fine though, I had Jesus twice a week.

I was having coffee in October with my teammate and friend. I didn’t know a lot about her beyond the surface, but I did know that she was an atheist. So when the conversation somehow hit faith and she asked me what I believed in, my brain pilot hit the panic button, strapped on a parachute, and leapt. In other words, I was flustered. I had never been put on the spot when it came to my beliefs, and though I attended church more times in a week than some Americans do in a year, I had no idea how to articulate the tenets of my own faith.

Probably because I didn’t have much.

So how does this happen? There are places in the world where citizens have to meet secretly to read the Bible and risk their lives in doing so, but in America, being a “Christian” is barely more than a cultural label. The Barna Group’s research shows that “in just two years, the percentage of Americans who qualify as ‘post-Christian’ rose by 7 percent,” and on top of that, perceptions of those worshipping a God of love and grace are only growing more negative. In fact, the most common associations when it comes to Christianity are anti-homosexual, hypocritical, and judgmental. We can try to pin it on a rebellious generation that is disinterested in their parents’ bland tradition, but when the topic is boiled down, Americans are turned off to the idea of Christianity because of “believers” who claim to be transformed, yet live their lives in a way that fails to reflect the teachings of Christ.

The afternoon I stumbled through that conversation with my friend, my own blindness was out in the open. I sat on my bedroom floor that night and wrote under the title, “What I Believe.” Like a friendship, my time spent in church did not equate to a strong relationship. You can know a person inside and out and neglect to trust and respect them, and making the realization that my faith was not what I thought it was changed a lot of things about my life from that point on. I had an urgency and a thirst, so much so that I organized a mission trip to Belize and sold art until I could take advantage of a mission opportunity in the Philippines as well. A key thing I learned from these experiences was that being an American “Christian” is not like being a Christian anywhere else. In preparation for the Philippines, our leader told us to be ready to answer to any given stranger that might ask you about your life or for encouragement. Most of us had the same panic that I did with my friend. Revealing the faith that drives our morals, values, character, and life to a stranger would be an uncomfortable experience at best. In American “Christianity”, beliefs are separate from the rest of our lives. Discussing Jesus is nothing like reflecting on what you had for lunch yesterday. There is this “sacred/secular divide” that makes talking about Jesus awkward and unnatural because we often live our lives one way on Sunday mornings and another for the remainder of the week.

In the squatter villages of the Philippines there was no divide. The Christians that we collaborated with along the way were whole-heartedly devoted to the needs of others, even if all they had to offer was love. It was vital that they be consistent in their faith-based actions because the need of the community was so blatant that they had nothing to hide behind. No iPhone 6 could shield their desperation, and as we entered the homes composed of garbage and tin, family after family poured out their desire for protection, opportunity, and above all, hope. Authors Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert analyzed diverse personal stories from those in poverty and came to this conclusion:

While poor people mention having a lack of material things, they tend to describe their condition in far more psychological and social terms… Poor people typically talk in terms of shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humility, fear, hopelessness, depression, social isolation, and voicelessness.

I can tell you from experience that the studies are spot on. On the streets of Manila, where there are 2.2 million children without homes, we met Girlie. She was found by the orphanage we were volunteering with several years ago. She didn’t have a family or a name, and they guessed her age based on her dental records. No one should ever have to experience the abandonment that she did, and yet, the first time we met her, she greeted every person in our group with a hug and a smile that still radiates in my mind.

This being said, if studies reveal that poverty boils down to a psychological mindset rather than a caliber of material objects, and if people who have come from the worst can be revived without diamonds and a beach house, then I would say that America is as spiritually impoverished as anywhere. We are poisoned with a different disease, and it is so much easier to hide. In countries that we would consider impoverished, the evidence of their collective need leads to an understanding and unity between the people. They suffer together, but what we don’t realize in America is that we are all mutually broken. As we advance in technology, knowledge, and power, I hear daily claims that we have outgrown religion, but is that all we’re moving away from? What about the desire to connect and empathize? Each and every one of us is facing a battle, and rather than being transparent so that we can help one another, we do as much as we possibly can to suppress our struggle and pretend that it isn’t there. Our desperation pushes us not to find help, but to avoid it or even temporarily forget about our stress. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that “By 2020, mental and substance use disorders will surpass all physical diseases as a major cause of disability worldwide… [Anxiety and depression] frequently co-occur with each other and with substance use disorders.”I myself am guilty of hiding out and avoiding help; we’re afraid of vulnerability because we associate it with weakness. Without steadfast peace, we resort to masked lifestyles centered around personal gain and goal of living in comfort under the umbrella of “enough”.

The idea we have of enough is a tricky thing though, as the finish line of our dreams is a moving target. “Enough” is unattainable in America because we can see that there is always a gadget we haven’t bought, a car we haven’t driven, or a style we haven’t tried on. We are bombarded with advertisements and commercials highlighting people that have something we don’t, and they always look that much happier. Author John Brueggemann describes what he calls “Everest Psychology” in his book Rich, Free, and Miserable. We are already so close to what we think is the top the mountain, and we will be satisfied as soon as we grab hold of that one last thing. If I could just get into my dream school, if I could just marry the perfect guy, if I can just find the right job— there is nothing wrong with short term goals, but once we rely on these for our fulfillment, we miserably find ourselves depending on what can only provide temporary happiness, and “the elusive summit is always within sight but just out of reach”.

Not only are we increasingly materialistic, but our generation’s individualism has surpassed the simplicity of having a unique personality. Defensive individualism has translated to a mindset that says, “you do whatever it takes to make you happy, I’ll do whatever it takes to make me happy, and if we all do this while simultaneously staying out of each other’s way, we will all be united in happiness.” Again, you would think that this existentialism would make us more peaceful and accepting, yet it still fueled by selfish ambition and tolerance rather than love. We are incredibly defensive, easily offended, unforgiving, and still dissatisfied.

As faith diminishes in our country, we are left trying to give our own lives purpose. We all want to be remembered for how good we were and all of the positive things we accomplished, but if a street is not named after you following your death, then did you really live? If one day we’ll all be nothingness in a black hole of the universe, then what really is the purpose? The verdict on Christianity in America is that it can be revived, but it certainly won’t happen overnight. Media has skewed perceptions, whether it be the news channels making Westboro Baptist Church the mascot of what Christianity represents, or popular TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy that depict Christian characters as comically annoying and unreasonable. Although the media certainly hasn’t helped the favor of Christians, I will reiterate that they are not where complete blame falls when it comes to American post-Christianity.

Redirection has to come from followers of Christ. The actions of Christian hobbyists in America have diluted the themes of “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” and turned the label of “Christian” into a pride-driven battle between who is right versus who is wrong. For some, it’s a faith so shallow that their ego turns sour just by the sway of an election.
As complex issues such as gay marriage and abortion rise in our politics, it is easy for the religion to “become famous for what we oppose, rather than who we are for,” so it is vital to keep in mind that the kingdom is not built by political reformation or through legislation. It begins with personal responsibility and spreads through the influence of our character.

This character is not that of a picket sign: shameful, condemning, and fueled by hatred. The walk of a Christian should actually be the polar opposite. That is not to say it’s always easy to love the people you disagree with, however, by connecting with those that come from different backgrounds, statuses, and beliefs, we are given the opportunity to share on a personal account why we live our lives the way that we do. When churches become exclusive social clubs, and when we keep anyone who lives their lives differently at an arms length, we lose this connection, and we trade our intended mission for our own comfortable “Christianity”. If 1 John 2:6 urges that “whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did,” then why are Christians starting disputes under YouTube videos in the comment sections and passively spewing opinions in 140 characters or less? We should be less passionate about spiteful debates, but absolutely fervent in connecting with the marginalized, the broken, and the lost. Thousands of people followed Jesus eager to hear what He had to say, not because He forced it on them and hatefully condemned their lifestyle, but because He had a genuine desire to invest into the lives of others, and in doing so, revealed the greater love and hope that comes when you choose to live your life to glorify God. Our calling is not to judge and divide. Above all, we are to be bold in love.

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I can’t think of anyone who has had more influence on my views of spiritual formation than the late Dallas Willard. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, I recommend that you spend some time researching his work. Dr. Willard was a professor of philosophy at the University of South California until his death last year. This book was published posthumously and contains the transcripts of a spiritual formation conference he did with John Ortberg. The book is filled with rich wisdom regarding discipleship and requires slow, deliberate reading. It was released with a companion DVD which may prove beneficial to those of you who are new to Willard’s works.

Here are some of the top take aways from this meaningful publication.

“(Spiritual formation) is the process of transforming the person into Christlikeness through transforming the essential parts of the person. Spiritual transformation is not about behavior modification. It is about changing the sources of behavior so the behavior will take care of itself.”

“When you find problems in the church…it is always a lack of discipleship that led to it.”

“We need to tell our young people, ‘Follow Jesus, and if you can find a better way than him, he would be the first one to tell you to take it’.”

“Often in churches, we try to get people to affirm right beliefs, the right point of view. The real test of what I actually believe is ‘Does it guide what I do?'”

“There are many people who believe in Christ, but they don’t believe Christ. Further, they don’t believe what he believed. But the progression into the kingdom is coming to believe what he believes, coming to trust it, to live on it, to act on it, to make it count. We do that by fixing our minds on him.”

“Wanting other churches to succeed is one of the most important things we can do.”

“Spiritual disciplines are not a gauge of my spiritual maturity. The disciplined person is not someone who does a lot of disciplines. The disciplined person, the disciple, is someone who is able to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. The whole purpose of disciplines is to enable you to do the right thing at the right time in the right spirit, so if something doesn’t help you do that, then don’t do it.”

Oct
02

Staying Put

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Now Elijah, who was from Tishbe in Gilead, told King Ahab, “As surely as the LORD, the God of Israel, lives—the God I serve—there will be no dew or rain during the next few years until I give the word!” Then the LORD said to Elijah, “Go to the east and hide by Kerith Brook, near where it enters the Jordan River. Drink from the brook and eat what the ravens bring you, for I have commanded them to bring you food.” So Elijah did as the LORD told him and camped beside Kerith Brook, east of the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat each morning and evening, and he drank from the brook. But after a while the brook dried up, for there was no rainfall anywhere in the land (1 Kings 17:1-7, NLT).

God sent Elijah to Ahab’s palace to deliver a prophetic word: God’s not happy and its not going to rain. Perhaps Elijah anticipated that his next step would be to take the message to the people in the streets. But God sent him to the Kerith Brook to hide. There, Elijah would be fed by scavenger birds and drink from the brook. His assignment? Wait for further instructions. The Bible doesn’t tell us how long he waited there at the brook. Scholars estimate that he remained there between six months and a year. The remarkable thing is not that Elijah went to the Kerith Brook. Its that he stayed there until God gave him his next move.

Brooks don’t dry up all at once. They dry up little by little. With each passing day, Elijah watched his water supply gradually diminish. The Jordan River was just over the hill, and while it certainly experienced the devastation of the drought as well, it would have certainly have provided a more ample and fresher water source than the brook. But Elijah didn’t pull up the anchor and go to the Jordan. He stayed put and waited for God’s next word. I wonder if I would have done the same thing.

Each of us face circumstances in life when we’re tempted to pull up the anchor and strike out on our own. Heaven is silent to our prayers and we see no visible evidence that God is doing anything about our challenges. When we find ourselves waiting for further instructions we often wrestle with the Jordan River that is just over the hill side. If Elijah modeled anything for us in the early stages of his biography, it was his willingness to stay put and continue to trust God. When God plants us somewhere and tells us to wait, he hasn’t forgotten us. He’s preparing us for the next stage of our lives.

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question-mark

Barna research has released a new set of findings aimed at identifying whether Christians are like Jesus in action and attitude or if they are living a faith driven by self-righteousness. While the numerical results from the findings may not be helpful, the core values they established to conduct the study serve as a worthy self inventory. Take two minutes and check out the article HERE.

Categories : Spiritual Formation
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Feb
14

Should We Give Things Up for Lent?

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Fasting has been a part of every world religion and belief system since the beginning of time. The practice of fasting is not uncommon or unknown in secular culture. But what makes fasting and abstinence a Christian practice? Should Christians consider giving up things for Lent? If so, what do we hope to gain from it?

Some people use fasting as a form of asceticism, “buffeting the body” with self denial in an attempt to gain mastery over the flesh and its appetites. But the apostle Paul warns us in Colossians 2:20-23 that outward practices of self denial do not automatically guarantee inward holiness.

Others use fasting as a talisman to obtain a reward or a goal. By demonstrating piety, these people fast in order to gain God’s attention in hopes of earning grace or obligating God to grant whatever request we desire.

Then there are those who use fasting as a response to a grievous moment, such as our sin or even death. We see this evidenced in the Old Testament in the lives of Job and David, to name two.

But what does the Scripture say about fasting and abstinence? What makes it unique to us as Christians? Check out what Jesus said.

One day the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus and asked him, “Why don’t your disciples fastf like we do and the Pharisees do?” Jesus replied, “Do wedding guests mourn while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. “Besides, who would patch old clothing with new cloth? For the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear than before. “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved” (Matthew 9:14-17, NLT).

Christian fasting, at its root, expresses our longing for God. But this longing is only half of the story of Christian fasting. Half of Christian fasting is that our physical appetite is lost because our longing for God is so intense. The other half is that our longing for God is threatened because our appetites are so intense. In the first half, the appetite is lost. In the second half, the appetite is resisted. In the first, we yield to the higher hunger that is. In the second, we fight for the hunger that isn’t.

The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not the bitter but the sweet. It is not the banquet table of the wicked that dulls our appetite for God, but rather the endless nibbling at those things that become substitutes for God. The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not the poison of evil, but the simple pleasures of earth. For when those replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable. They become deadly substitutes, functional idols, if you will. Places and things we turn to in order to find comfort and help with the burdens and challenges of life.

Anything can stand in the way of true discipleship. Not just evil, and not just food. So it should not be surprising that the greatest competitors for our devotion and affection for God would be some of his most precious gifts. This is why fasting and abstinence of the good gifts of God is likely to be more beneficial than using the practice during the Lenten season to break some bad habit.

Christian fasting and abstinence is a test to see what desires control us. What are our bottom line passions? In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster writes, “More than any other spiritual discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what inside of us with food and other things.”

When our souls are stuffed with small things of life, there is little if any room for the great things of God. The pain and the emptiness we feel that is created by loss reveals how we have stuffed ourselves with substitutes. That pain or loss teaches us important lessons and invites us to draw near to the bread of life and the living water that quenches our thirst.

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Jan
13

The Truth About Breakthroughs

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Like me, you started out riding a tricycle. Then the day came when you moved up to a two wheeled bike with training wheels. With a little confidence and achieving a bit of balance, the training wheels came off and you rode your bike without the training wheels. Finally, the day came when you received a driver’s license and began to drive a car.

Every break through is a break with. If you insist on holding on to tricycles you’ll never experience the joys of the bicycles and cars. And once you experience the joys of the break through, you’ll never look back. I think that principle is true of virtually every element of life, but especially true of faith.

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Sep
06

Check Out Your Equipment:: 3

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Romans 12 begins with Paul’s statement on worship. In worship we present our bodies and have our minds renewed, enabling us to discern and agree with God’s will. This pattern works for the individual believer as well as the corporate body. As we agree with God’s will and put it into practice, humility is required because we are confronted with the immediate reality that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. We are individual members who belong to a unified body, working together for a common good. To accomplish this, Paul added, we have been given spiritual gifts.

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well (Romans 12:6, NLT).

Spiritual gifts are supernatural enablement given to each Christian by the Holy Spirit for the discharge of his or her special responsibility in the Church. Over the years, I’ve found the following principles to be of general help in understanding spiritual gifts. Most of this is nothing new, but at least should serve as a helpful reminder.
1. The gifts come from the Holy Spirit as He wills.
2. The purpose of the gifts is to build up the body of Christ and equip us for mission beyond the walls.
3. The gift lists in the New Testament are not exhaustive, otherwise they would be uniform. The focus of each list is on the variety of gifts available to believers.
4. Though we don’t possess all of the gifts, we are to exercise the function of all of the gifts. In other words, just because a person does not have the gift of mercy does not mean that person is exempt from being merciful.
5. The gifts may have as much to do with how you serve as they do where you serve. I’m not sure that the gifts were intended to be hard categories for positions of service in the church. I think people are free to pursue opportunities, passions, and callings for a variety of service in the body. However, your gift is your gift and your gift will inflect how you serve where ever you serve.
6. The single best way to identify your gift is to serve. There are all kinds of spiritual gifts inventories that are available that can help a person identify their spiritual gift mix. But the best way to identify your gift is to serve.
7. One way for us to discern God’s will in our churches is to see who God is adding to our bodies. Each person that joins your church either exposes a deficiency in your church or informs your church of God’s direction for your church.

We’re two thirds of the way through training camp. Next week I’ll talk about how we put all of this into practice. Thanks for dropping in this week!

Jan
26

Book Review: Sanctuary of the Soul

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I have a lot of books on prayer. Many of them are good, even inspirational (i.e. they move me to action). Most of these books have definitions of prayer, patterns that outline how to pray, and of course, the “end game” or expected outcome of prayer.

Without question, one of today’s clearest voices on the subject of spiritual formation is Richard Foster. There isn’t a book he’s written that I haven’t immediately purchased and read. Foster’s latest book is titled Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey Into Meditative Prayer. According to Foster, meditative prayer is the prayer that seeks first to listen and respond to God’s voice. It is different in that it is strictly God ward in its goal.

As I mentioned above, there are a lot of books on prayer, and the better ones do include a section on the importance of listening to God. After all, everyone knows that communication is a two way street. But Foster’s book strikes me in a different way, because it dispenses with the whole business of the human voice and how to talk to God. Yes, there is a time and place for believers to speak to God in prayer…where the believer can praise God, confess their sins, request their daily bread, and intercede for others. But meditative prayer is intentional to the degree that its sole purpose is to quiet the soul and hear from God.

Foster offers a lot of helpful direction as to what meditative prayer looks like, but two concepts rose to the top. The first is that meditative prayer is developed through practice. If you’re like me, you know what its like to try to quiet your soul before God and to feel immediately overwhelmed with distractions. The discipline of meditating before the Lord and listening to His voice is like a muscle that must be developed. Which leads me to the second concept, that of patience.

Foster freely admits that there are times when meditative prayer yields no epiphany. Those times are still valued moments of time with the Lord. But there are also times when God speaks, and His unmistakable voice brings about life transformation.

If you’re not committed to regular, private prayer, Sanctuary of the Soul is probably not the book for you. At least not now. But if you are committed to regularly spending time with God in prayer you may find Foster’s book a helpful aide to sharpening your ability to listen for and to the voice of God.

Categories : Spiritual Formation
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This is an excellent interview with Dr. Kara Powell, co-author of Sticky Faith, on how to help kids maintain their faith during college.