Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A One-Month Experiment...Update

On my 37th birthday, I decided that for 30 days I would be diligent about doing four practices in my daily life:
Practice 1: Going to bed each night at 10PM and getting up each morning at 5AM
Practice 2: Becoming more regular in my practice of Spiritual disciplines (i.e. prayer, journaling, reflection on the Scriptures, etc.)
Practice 3: Exerciseing 3 times a week to take help maintain good health
Practice 4: Fasting once a week to remind myself that while the physical life is part of who we are, it is not our master.

I chose to tell about this experiment through blogging for two reasons. First, if one share's goals publicly it becomes harder (not impossible, mind you) to rationalize commitment to the goals. Second, because I had a fifth unstated practice - get back to regular writing and usage of social media.

So, dear reader, more for my own accountability than for your reading pleasure, here is how the practices have been going:

Practice 1: I have really enjoyed the challenge of going to bed by 10PMish* and getting up at 5AMish*. (*Note: "ish" is a technical term that means give or take five to ten minutes. Its a real life-saver when telling one's spouse what time one plans to be home from work. "No, I'm not late, I said 5:30ish.") And for the most part I have done pretty well. There have been exceptions to this rule, (trip to emergency room for stitches with a two-year old, guests arriving from out of town, etc.) but they have been for actual life events and not because I was staying up late surfing online for the latest Justin Beiber updates. (And no, I am really not a fan of Justin Beiber.)

Practice 2: Getting up early has made becoming more consistent in practicing the spiritual disciplines much easier. I have been successful at this practice and am thankful for the time to start my day in quiet reflection, prayer and reading. When I start my day out this way, i really notice a difference in my attitude and approach towards others. I don't know who said it, but I believe there is something to the quote: "Before beginning dealing with the affairs of men, it is important to deal with the affairs of God." (my paraphrase)

Practice 3: Umm...well...Yeah I haven't been very successful with this practice. I really need to find a group of people with which to run or sign up for another race to give me a goal. Even with the warmer weather, I have not been able to motivate myself to get out and run. So this practice definitely needs some work.

Practice 4: I continue to find the practice of fasting a helpful discipline. Interestingly enough, each week instead of getting easier, it seems to get more challenging. I find myself more tempted to break the fast early. Now that Lent is over and my Lenten commitment is ended, I have considered not fasting any more. However, since it is still a helpful and challenging practice, I will continue it for the rest of this one-month experiment, and re-evaluate then.

So, that's how the practices are going. I will give a final update on the "one-month experiment" on May 7...ish.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Goal and an Idea...

Earlier today, we had the Sticky Group Summit, where we invited leaders and participants from our Sticky Groups (sermon-based small groups), other small groups, and adult classes to join us for a conversation. In the course of the conversation, I shared with them a personal goal to have 60% of our average worship attendance participating in a group where they are being connected to the Scriptures, to God, and to one another.

My purpose for stating such a goal is not about getting more people to do more stuff. This is about letting Jesus run rampant in our community through transformed lives. I believe that as the church we are about transformation.

I firmly believe that one of the ways we experience transformation is when we gather in community with others to explore the Bible and seek God. This is an important part of intentional spiritual growth.

Now back to the goal for a minute. Right now, 60% of our average worship attendance is about 720 people. Imagine if 720 people from the same community are experiencing transformation. Think about all the people those 720 people touch in their daily lives: their family, friends, and co-workers. Imagine the impact those 720 will have in the world. Its exponential!

Remember, this is not about getting more people to do more stuff. This is about letting Jesus run rampant in our community through transformed lives that begins in Christian community and runs out into the world.This about making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

If you live in Stafford, and you are not already a part of an experience where you are connecting with others, the Bible, and God, click here to learn about some upcoming opportunities for transformation!

Friday, April 15, 2011


People often ask me what makes Christianity different from other religions.  This is a fair question.  Today, while preparing for a memorial service, I came across the following excerpt from a sermon I did at a funeral a couple of years ago, which points toward a unique claim of the Christian faith.  Since Easter is right around the corner, I thought it would be appropriate to post.

"You see, the Christian faith makes a particular and unique claim:  Jesus (the Son of God) was crucified, dead and buried.  After three days he was raised from the dead – not through some magic hocus pocus - but through the action of God to show God’s power over death and sin – two parts of life that seem to have so much power in the world, as evidenced by the power of the grief you are feeling right now.

Yet God has more power.  Jesus conquered death and sin so that we, God’s creatures, are not conquered by death and sin.  Jesus’ death releases us from the grips of these two oppressive powers and frees us for new life.  This shows not only God’s amazing power, but it shows God’s amazing grace – God’s amazing love  - that he would conquer those things on our behalf through the sacrifice of Jesus.

And so, by these acts, which are God’s initiative and not ours, we may lay claim to everlasting life – a life that begins here on earth and passes through death into new life at the resurrection. This everlasting life is not marked by fear or sorrow.   This everlasting life is marked by hope and love.  We have hope for the full and everlasting life God promises.  And we grow in love for God, the one who frees us from the power of death and sin.  And this love of God transforms us to go out and love others.

This is our unique and particular claim – that God loves us, and through Jesus saves us from death and sin, which transforms us to a people of hope and love.  And this is a reason to celebrate life  for death does not have the last word!  That belongs to God, because God is about life – everlasting life!

And so my friends, today as we celebrate XXXXX’s life, a life of hope and love – may we rejoice in the everlasting life that is his and ours through Jesus."

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Third and Fourth Practices: Exercising and Fasting

"You are not a body with a soul. You are a soul. You have a body." I really like this thought from CS Lewis. One reason I like it is because it recognizes the priority fo the spiritual life. A second reason I like it is that it doesn't diminish the physical body. BOTH are important. All too often though we get caught up in a theology that says the body is evil and the spirit is good. (That kind of thought is actually part of an ancient heresy called gnosticism.) Now we get this kind of thinking because of the struggles we have with our desires,most of them right and natural. However as humans we are often tempted to get the right needs met in the wrong places. (Rabbit trail...for some reason as I wrote that last line, i can hear SNL's version of Lookin' For Love, sung by Buckwheat...)

So if we are this spiritual person, how do we honor the whole without diminishing either the spiritual or the physical? These would be practices 3 & 4, exercise and fasting.

Exercise takes care of the physical body that is created by God and given to us in whatever shape and form we have. We ought to take care of this physical body it is a gift. Now that said, it is easy for us to worship the body (look at most magazines in the checkout line at the grocery story) and make it an idol. That would be loving the right thing wrongly. No, the purpose of exercise is not to have six-pack abs and 0% body fat. No, the purpose of exercise is to be a good steward of what God has given us as a body. In some cases, exercise can even be a form of recreation and enjoyment. Great! So, for this one month experiment, I am going to commit to exercising at least 3 times a week for the purpose of taking care of this physical body God has given me.

Now that said, having a physical body means there are certain desires that come along with having a body. (food, drink, sex, joy, etc.) I believe these desires are part of what it means to have a physical existence in God's creation. However, those desires can easily turn into idols that draw our attention away from God. Which is one of the reasons Christians practice the spiritual discipline of fasting. Intentionally denying oneself a natural desire for a period of time to exercise self-control (a fruit of the Spirit) over bodily desires. This practice is often accompanied with prayer and reflection.

I have always liked the idea of fasting but always feared doing it. So I chose Lent, and now this one month experiment, to give me the opportunity to practice the spiritual discipline of fasting. One day a week I am fasting from eating. When I begin to feel hungry and start to crave food during that period, I will remember am thankful that I have access to plentyof food and pray for all those who do not have food. So far it has been a (pardon the pun) fruitful experience.

Humans are created to be whole (physical and spiritual) and just as it's important for us to intentionally care for spiritual life, I believe it is important to intentionally care for physical life.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The whole pie or a piece of the pie?

If our lives were a pie and the different parts were pieces (work, school, family, etc.), is God interested having the biggest piece or the whole thing?

Last week I was up at Wesley Seminary for a reunion of the Lewis Fellows. (A group that invests in young clergy to give them resources for leadership and the opportunity to develop connections with other young clergy leaders.) During one of the discussions, one of the speakers made an observation that's been bouncing around my mind ever since: In our congregations are we about transformation or merely enlarging our portion of the pie?

This is a really important question, because it shapes life together as Christian community.

If you were to ask most church leaders, 99.9% of them would say that we are about transformation, and rightly so. However, when it comes to how churches operate, it seems the "increasing the faith portion of the pie" is dominant. Worship and faith are just another part of the pie.

If worship and faith are just another piece of the pie, then the goal is to get people in the door. People just showing up at an event is success. This mindset sees all other activity (i.e. school events, community events, work, etc.) as competition. If the church and faith isn't taking up a bigger portion of the pie then it we are losing. This doesn't make better disciples, just busier disciples.

However, the church exist to make disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world. Thus, organizing around transformation looks at everything the church does, from worship to childcare, and everything in between, and asks the question: were lives transformed because of this event? The purpose behind everything is transformation in Christ Jesus.

Participation in a faith community should not be all consuming (of life, time, and resources), but transforming (of how we use our life, time, and resources). Moreover, the church is not the end, but means to God's purposes in the world. In other words we gather to be transformed or to be reminded of our transformation, so that we can go back out into the world as God's transformed people in the places where we work, play, and live: coaching our kid's soccer team, the way we run our businesses, love our co-workers, serving on the PTO, exercising at the gym, etc. Our lives shine the light of Jesus into the world's dark places.

I don't believe God is interested in just a bigger piece of the pie of our lives. No, God is interested in the transformation of the whole thing.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Second Practice... Spiritual Disciplines

In light of beginning my 37th year, I am taking some time to discuss some new habits that I will be trying over the next month (in no particular order.)

Did you know that an apple tree typically doesn't bear fruit until 6-10 years after being planted? (Yeah, me either. I had to look it up. I do love finding immediate answers online!) Even though there is no outward fruit borne in those first years, the tree still grows, right? Root systems, branches, get the picture.

In a culture that is filled with the immediate: cell phones, texting, email, information online,etc. I think we sometimes find it challenging to do that which does not produce instant results. I think this is why many struggle with regularly practicing the spiritual disciplines. We don't always see the immediate benefit of reading and reflecting on Scripture, or setting aside time for intentional prayer. But those practices, if done regularly and intentionally, do bear fruit.

We may not bear fruit right away, but that doesn't mean growth isn't happening. (Fortunately, most of us won't have to wait 6-10 years before we see fruit being borne from spiritual practices.) Hopefully we are falling more in love with the God who made us; we are growing more comfortable in conversation with God (i.e. prayer); as we read and pray over the beautiful and sacred texts of the Bible we begin to see how our story fits into God's Story. Such growth in these areas is wonderful, but it may not come across as outward fruit.

Yet with such a rich grounding in prayer, scripture reading, and reflection, our roots are deep and we begin to bear fruit. The effects of intentional time spent in spiritual practices is cumulative!

You see I don't always love God well or perfectly, but I want to. I don't always have control over my frustration or anger or desires, but I want to. I don't love others like Jesus calls me to, but I want to. I long to have a life that bears fruit.

Just as I have to do the training to run a marathon, if I want God my neighbor more like Christ...bear fruit...I need to allow God to work in my life through the spiritual practices.

Thus, my second practice is to be more consistent with my spiritual practices. I believe that the more consistent I am at intentionally being present to God, the better the likelihood I can join God in the work he is doing in my life, the church, the community, and the world.

NOTE: I already pray, read scripture, journal, etc., just not as consistently as I did before children. Kids are my explanation for falling off the wagon, not an excuse! I want to intentionally work to get back on the wagon.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

First practice... 10PM & 5AM

In light of beginning my 37th year, I am taking some time to discuss some new habits that I will be trying over the next month (in no particular order.)

Ok, so the first practice: going to bed at 10PM and getting up at 5AM. Yup, that's it. It seems pretty easy, right. I mean, it's not like 10PM or 5AM sneak up me. They happen every the same time!

My challenge is that I have what my wife calls "fear of missing out", or FOMO for short. I am afraid if I go to bed too early, then I will miss out on something then I will miss the answer to world peace or the cure for cancer. I don't really think that, but I fool myself into thinking that whatever I may be doing or reading or watching is that significant.

However, I know that I function better when I am well rested (duh) and my day goes better when I begin with prayer, devotion, and reflection. (Yes, I have a keen perception for the obvious, it's a gift.) So I want to prevent my FOMO from keeping me from missing out on that which is important.

Thus the first practice: going to bed at 10PM and getting up at 5AM so that I am well rested and have plenty of time set aside for daily devotion and reflection.

Friday, April 08, 2011

A One Month Experiment...

When was the last time you actually kept a new year's resolution? Yeah, me too. Why am I talking about New Year's resolutions in April? Well, I just turned 37, its kind of like starting a new year. And to celebrate I want to try a some new month's resolutions. For the next month I want to try some new practices and reconnect with some old practices. So, in the coming days I will talk about each of the practices and why I am going to try it. Then on May 7, I will look at said practices and either keep them, drop them, or pick up new ones. I hear it takes 21 days to make a habit. Let's see what I can do with 30! (days, not habits.)