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Why I Believe in Habits

Every morning, I follow a similar routine.

1. Waddle half asleep to the kitchen. 2. Turn on the kettle. 3. Put ground coffee in the French press. 4. Set out the vitamins for my wife, daughter and I.

Recently I found myself setting out vitamins but something didn't seem quite right. It was 4:30 in the afternoon.

I had put the kettle on for tea to help with a raging sinus infection and the decimation of my throat, and something in my muscle memory - or my deep subconscious - or perhaps it was an antibiotic haze, whatever the case it triggered a series of very automatic actions.

Habits. Routines.

Routine is the enemy of the modern world. We talk about things as "routine" with the same facial expression as the words "cheap" or "fake." Routine is our enemy because it makes the statement that perhaps every moment of our existence isn't a wild new adventure. In a culture of new, routine is a blockade to progress, to happiness and even to vitality.

However, if we're honest and we look at our life under the microscope we realize there is much more that falls under the category of "routine" than perhaps anything else. Routine is natural. New is not always natural.

Now, please don't misunderstand. I like to shake it up as much as the next person - as a restless person with an NF temperament, I need to throw things into a whirlwind just for the sake of seeing what else may happen. But I can say with some certainty -

the most significant points of growth - spiritual, emotional, and even physical - in my life have come from energy-sustaining, path-blazing, well-worn habits.

There are routines that give us life and the primary way they do that is by tapping into that spirit within us - the Spirit with which we're trying to keep up (Gal. 5) - and creating automatic and natural responses.

Dallas Willard defines this outcome as "easy holiness" - a phrase that makes us cringe but in all honesty if we shape our lives with holy-making habits there is the high probability that we'll begin to do things automatically.

The kettle triggers the vitamin distribution.

The hunger in our bellies triggers our resolve against consumption.

The time spent with the marginalized, the cast aside, and the broken triggers our impulse to never divide people into "us" and "them."

Perhaps it's time for you to redeem some routine - to stop fearing it, to stop seeing it as a failure or a lower state of life, but to own the goodness of knowing what to expect and reacting instinctively to the movements God may be bringing into your life at a moment's notice.

 

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A Prayer For Friday

607524This week's prayer comes from The Divine Hours: A Manual for PrayerAuthor Phyllis Tickle (I know, incredible name!) has compiled a book that is often called the "daily office" in other church traditions and is used for daily prayer three times per day. If you feel that you need some order to your prayer life as well as some consistency, this is a fantastic way to enter into a more workable life of prayer. Today's prayer comes from the morning office for this week:

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon all your faithful people your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Living On Borrowed...?

I love the public library. I really do. Our tax dollars at work...I think. One of the amazing things about the library (at least mine) is the selection of music they have on hand. Just this week I picked up some Laura Marling and Frightened Rabbit and have been enjoying both greatly.

Then the thought sets in:  I could just rip this to my iTunes and have it. 

Yes, it's a crime and yes I know that. Yes it is a resource I've "paid" for with my tax dollars, but still...come on. Who'll say anything?

I have to ask myself, whom I consider to be an ethically upright Christ-follower why this didn't set off alarms like crazy in my heart and mind. Really, can I justify what amounts to theft? How does this reconcile with the most basic commandments of God not to take what is not yours. Even my first grader understands this.

I think there is a deeper spiritual root to this question, and it is very simple: we live under a very heavy compulsion to own. To possess. To call something ours. 

Along with this compulsion is the idea that if I don't own it, how can I enjoy it? 

This is why generations of folks can't understand renting a house for the rest of your life. The goal was always to own your own, right?

There is so much in our lives that would be radically transformed if we learned the spiritual discipline of borrowing. The discipline that says we can live and enjoy things in this world without owning them, because it teaches us stewardship rather than ownership.

Maybe you think I'm begging the question, but honestly how would our lives change if we started to enjoy the loose grip lifestyle of borrowing?

Instead of buying that new book, find a library and borrow it.

Instead of downloading new music, borrow it from a friend or a public library.

Instead of buying that new tool or piece of equipment, rent it or borrow it from a friend.

There isn't a law for this, and Jesus is not going to be unhappy if you own stuff, but if we want to train ourselves to be the kind of people who are "free indeed" from debt and stuff then we can harness the discipline of borrowing and learn to live without ownership.

Because deep down, ownership means control. Status. Prestige. When those things get out of order, we end up displacing God and replacing Him with our own power to own.

So today, consider this:

1. Make a list of the top 10 things you have been thinking about buying.

2. Brainstorm about where you could borrow those items from rather than owning them.

3. While you're at it, consider the things you already own that you don't need. Eliminating clutter makes this process much easier.

4. Pray about your desire to own and ask God to reveal ways that it has kept you from being the kind of person who can do what Jesus asks.

Engaging in the discipline of borrowing will teach us new things about our own drive to own, our relationship to others, and our relationship to God.

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The Long Quiet

  silence

It's been a while since my last blog post. Goodness, that sounded like the strains of a confessional booth.

It has been 15 days, to be exact, the longest layoff since I began blogging on this platform. There were good reasons...

 

I was preparing 3 retreat teachings and a sermon.

I participated in our staff's StratOps retreat.

I came down with some crud located in my sinuses and lungs that rendered me without energy or coherent thought.

My wife lost her job and we had to do some thinking about the future.

These are all great and grand justifications, certainly, for setting aside the blog and focusing on other aspects of life and ministry. I would like to say they are the primary drivers of why I didn't post a single thing for the past 15 days. However, I need to be honest:

I simply had nothing to say. 

I wrestled with this, after reading other bloggers talk about consistent content equals consistent traffic and after thinking through where and when the things I write would have an impact on people's health and growth and honestly my words and ideas were not well formed or meaningful. Frankly I though they may be dangerous.

So I shut it down. I didn't write anything outside of my teaching and preaching roles. It was good.

I feel that in our communication media saturated society, the pressure to communicate is far higher even than when we had less immediate means of getting our message to the masses. The pressure to write books in a literate culture without internet was incredibly high, as the primary interchange of life-giving world-altering knowledge came on the printed page.

Still, there were only so many books that could be written - printers that could print them - and audiences with the resources to buy them. With those obstacles out of the way, the field is so wide we often forget about the significance of running in the heather.

So, I think Psalm 46:10 becomes incredibly relevant:

"Be still and know that I am God."

Being still, being quiet, resting from the relentless compulsion to be visual and verbal, reminds us of the original word.

The one that spoke brilliant light into being.

The one that moved into our grime-stained world.

The one that said "It is finished" and meant every last syllable.

So I have been quiet, thinking, being healed, being loved by the Beloved. I have come to some insights:

1. I am convicted by the lack of beauty and artistry in my own communication. My posts from now on are going to be as much about the art of writing as they are about the content. Not that I am any great artist of the word, but I'll give it a go to honor my soul's ache at this point.

2. I need to aim for significance rather than productivity. I am going to trim my blogging back to three posts per week, to accommodate the need for more creativity as well as to honor the responsibilities of my life that override an upward-shooting mark in Google Analytics.

Thank you for reading, thank you for your visual energy, and I pray this is a time of renewal and hope for us all.

As yet to be written, but hope springs all the same.

Peace.

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4 Critical Questions in Formissional Life

If you've read this blog for any amount of time, you notice I use the term "formissional" on a regular basis. You may wonder what that means and if so then the best way I can sum it up is to have you read my e-book (it's FREE, did I mention that?) "The Jesus Rhythm." The best summary I can give is this:

The formissional life is the life that is being formed through retreat with God to advance toward the rest of the world with the message of His Kingdom.

Too often we stay in prayer, meditation, fasting - internal, personal disciplines - and never move toward those who were and are most important to Jesus Christ. I believe that within this formissional life there are 4 diagnostic questions we need to ask in order to keep ourselves moving in the right direction as we advance and retreat.

1. Who am I becoming?

Paraphrasing Dallas Willard, we are all being formed spiritually. We are either being formed into Christ by engaging in the path of discipleship, or we are being formed by the ethos and customs of the world we live in. Formissional life is built on the foundation of personal and community change via the transformation of how we see the world (Romans 12:2) so that we are constantly becoming those who love God with everything we have and who love our neighbor as ourselves. We have to run a constant assessment - am I more or less forgiving than before? Am I more or less content with the "benefits" (Psalm 103:1-2) of God than before? Am I more or less irritable than I was before?

2. Where do I live?

Formissional life requires we know our context, our community, our missional field. As we are being formed, part of the work of formation happens when we engage the unique people and unique challenges those people represent in our lives. Hugh Halter and Matt Smay indicate that living a missional life begins with forming friendships in your context. As we become more like Christ, we will be driven out of our transformed hearts into our yet-to-be transformed communities. How has your inner life change (peace, healing, contentment through Christ) affected your context? How many friendships have you made and how are you living like Jesus in those friendships?

3. Where do disciplines meet needs?

I have made mention of this before, but our spiritual disciplines* (prayer, Scripture, fasting, etc.) should inform our spiritual practices (hospitality, truth-telling, pursuing justice) and therefore meet the needs of those in the context where God has placed us. This is where the interrelatedness of what we do in quiet times with God and what impact we have on the public visible world begins to become clearer. We are never to engage in spiritual formation through intentional discipleship to Jesus simply for self-improvement. As a matter of fact, that would be completely AGAINST the nature of following Jesus. Instead, our inner work needs to feed our outer work so our focus should be on Which spiritual disciplines and spiritual practices prepare me to live out the Gospel in my context?

4. Where is God moving me?

As someone who practices spiritual direction with individuals, I can't walk away from the formissional questions without making a comment on God's direction. If the formissional life is becoming like Christ so that we may be sent out to others in a healthy, Kingdom-in-motion manner, we will need to have a consistent and clear way of listening to God. Books such as Dallas Willard's Hearing God are helpful in getting our heads around the ideas, but having a director or group of people you can turn to in order to objectively discern God's direction through the narrative of your life is critical. Asking the question regularly of Given my story and my experiences and the context in which I'm planted, what is God preparing for me that I may enter into? Having another person, a wiser and objective individual to help us pray and talk us through the various ideas involved in hearing from God will bring us fully into the beauty of this formissional life.

I pray that you spend some time with these questions and listen to where God may be stirring you to move today.

(*My thanks to Richard Peace's book Noticing God for the distinction between spiritual disciplines and spiritual practices. A review will be out on Wednesday.)

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Book Review: "Noticing God" By Richard Peace

As a writer, I appreciate people who begin with the simple and move into the complex. They present ideas and insights, and yet never fully convey that they have all the answers. They admit their faults, struggles, and they are fully in support of God's mystery as a reality to be accepted and explored through prayer. Richard Peace in "Noticing God" (IVP, 2012. 189 pages w/study guide) follows that exact formula.

What I appreciate most about this book is that it is a "book in time" for me. It comes in a time in ministry where I am presented on a regular basis with the question "How do I hear God?" or "Where is God in the midst of _______?" Peace's book presents several fronts on which we can practice the simple art of "noticing" God. We can tune our senses to see Him in a variety of locations, and the support for this habit comes from long-standing classics such as Brother Lawrence's Practicing the Presence of God in which every space of life is a "thin place" where heaven and the mortal world intermingle.

The opening chapters are thick and rich and holy, presenting seven major areas in which we may "notice" God: mystical encounters, God in the ordinary, the still small voice. the power of community, the written word, creation/culture/creativity, and last but not least the church.

The first 6 sections are well worth the cost of the book. His insights into reading Scripture, while somewhat flawed because of a lack of discussion on reading Scripture in its original context, are engaging and reminded me of the passion I must bring to reading the Bible. The section on creation/culture/creativity showed the intersection between the God who created people to be creative people and the cultural implications arising from the creative intersection. He says,

The gift of creation bears the marks of the giver. The beauty we see in the created world is not God, but as the medieval world knew, 'beauty is a transcendental form of Gods's presence therefore...experience of beauty can be understood, by analogy, as experiences of God. (104)

The final chapter on "Church" is interesting as it is notoriously difficult to talk about the standard spiritual practices - which tend to focus inward on the individual - in a community setting that focuses on "the us." Peace distinguishes between spiritual disciplines such as meditation, fasting, and spiritual autobiography which are more individualistic and spiritual practices such as truth-telling, hospitality, and service which are done in the context of community. Due to my increased attention to the balance of the formissional life, I find the distinction helpful and will hopefully build on Dr. Peace's thinking in the future.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who is attempting to drill down deeper into their ways of relating to God into a constant, conscious, intentional way of seeing Him and noticing Him everywhere. Take advantage of this resource as soon as possible.

My thanks to Adrianne Wright and the staff at InterVarsity Press for the opportunity to read and review this work.

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Divine Wiring #3: The Analytical Ones

Recently I was presenting on temperaments and spirituality in a class at Parkview and a man asked a question about why he had to think everything through so extensively. He had identified with the NT (intuitive/thinking) temperament, and he asked if it affected a person's whole life. I said "Yes" and then asked, "What do you do for a living?"

He smiled and said, "I'm an accountant." I said, "I had a feeling."

I'm not psychic (though I know you were convinced I was), the simple truth is that our temperaments determine a great deal of our life decisions. The whole point of this "Divine Wiring" series is to try and see where our temperaments can be harnessed to relate to God.

And now, the NT's.

Authors Michael & Norissey in their book Prayer and Temperament assign each temperament type a saint that had similar characteristics. They assigned the NT temperament to St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest scholars in the history of Christianity. The reason is that the NT temperament is a thoughtful, rational, and analytical temperament. NT's need to see the history of an idea and think it through from every possible angle before they can come to terms with it. They love intellectual challenges - puzzles like Sudoku appeal to a NT and they are most alive when they are challenged by an idea or thought that is difficult to process.

The downside of the NT is that moving from thinking to action doesn't happen naturally, and sometimes the need to think through ideas can be paralyzing. NT's can also struggle with pride as their academic and intellectual strength may lead them to put those who are not as intellectually gifted or driven at a lower status than themselves. They understand process very well, how to get from point A to point B, but an interruption in that logical movement can be difficult for them to navigate.

Here are some keys to a NT's relationship with God:

1. Take time in prayer to think on one Biblical idea or aspect of God. Choose grace, holiness, justice, or sovereignty and spend time thinking about how these concepts work. Imagine that they are on display at a museum, and mentally walk around the display noticing the different aspects of each concept.

2. Bring intellectually stimulating reading into your life regularly. God has given you a deep desire to use your brain, and the best way to do that is to stretch it. Reading authors like Timothy Keller, N.T. Wright, and Dallas Willard will bring your mind to focus on ideas and understandings of God that will engage your natural thinking and reasoning skills plus it will give God space to transform you through your mind.

3. Discipline yourself to serve actively on a regular basis. NT's are typically good at seeing where they fall short and creating a plan for how to fix their issues. This can be a roadblock to depending on God's grace from time to time, however when it comes to moving from thinking to acting an NT can use that natural discipline to bring regular serving opportunities into their lives. Find a local food bank, soup kitchen, shelter or simply engage in service at your local church. Take the things that you are learning and mull them over as you apply your hands to the work of service.

4. Find a spiritual director to help you soften your "T." The ancient spiritual writers talked about prayer as "descending with the mind into the heart." Just as spending time in the mind without action is dangerous, spending time thinking without an avenue to let those thoughts change our motivations can be hazardous to our spiritual health as well. A trained spiritual director can help you move from the thoughts that God is placing before you to how those thoughts should change your motivations for living each day. They will guide you to see how the thoughts God is bringing you through prayer and intuition (remember, you're still an "N" as well) come together to shape you and your formation into the likeness of Christ. You can find a list of spiritual directors here or you could contact your local church for more resources.

I pray that those of you who wear the NT temperament find God active in your minds, as you take in the world and think it through, may His thoughts be your thoughts and may you move from thinking to doing the bold and beautiful work of the Kingdom today.

If you want to catch up on the other temperaments, you can find them here:

Divine Wiring #1 - The Sensitive Ones (NF)

Divine Wiring #2 - The Driven Ones (SJ)

You can also take the FREE temperament sorter here to find out your temperament.

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Do You Think or Feel Your Way to God?

These are two important, most definitely, because the answer to these questions shapes the way we see the world. I tend to process the world by how I feel about it - intuition, hunches, nudges. I'm a feeler.

My wife tends to process the world by how she thinks about it - details, facts, tangibles. She's a sensing type.

Why does this matter at all?

In the conversation about spirituality, discipleship, and growth the thinker/feeler ideas can either help or hinder us as we grow. They can create presuppositions - I'm not a "spiritual" person because I don't get emotional - or they create barriers - I don't FEEL God right now so I must be out of sync with Him.

Either way, the thinker/feeler discussion is incredible important. As you read this, no doubt you're trying to decide who you are. The best way to determine where you land is to think about the last major purchase you made. Did you read reviews and ask other people who purchased the same thing? Did you need to hold it, look at it, test drive it before making a decision? You're probably more of a sensing type. If you pulled up a mental "chair" and cozied up with a blanket and waited to see what your gut did when you thought about that particular purchase, you're probably a feeler. If you hit in the middle, I can't help you.

Now that we've established at least a ballpark idea of where you are, here are some challenges for thinkers and feelers. I'm listing these because honestly I believe we will grow most powerfully when we split the difference between the two.

1. Thinkers will want to protect the facts about God, feelers will want to cultivate a feeling of God.

2. Thinkers will strive for efficiency in their spiritual practices (prayer, study, etc.), feelers will get lost in them completely.

3. Thinkers will need God to prove Himself to them, feelers will need God to give them a "buzz" that reminds them of His presence.

The reality is that we need to be aware of how we relate to God if we want to be formed into the image of His son. We must realize, as the Psalmist says,

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. (Ps. 139:13, NLT)

God designed the very basis of our humanity, and He understands how the various parts of us work together and how we understand the world. He desperately wants to poetically and practically engage those inner fabrics in a way that we begin to become who we were intended to be.

Is it possible that our major hurdles in growing in Christ - in living out the Jesus Rhythm - are based on the fact that we haven't tapped into our basic personality as a way of relating to God?
Thinkers - would you pray differently if you realized you didn't have to feel anything for God to listen to you?
Feelers - would you engage the Scriptures differently if you were able to get lost in them without an agenda?
I hope to do a series of "Wednesday" posts on this topic going forward. I'd love to hear from you and know whether or not this is an area you'd like to explore.

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A Change in Schedule

Today I'm on a plane - likely as you're reading this - and so I'm saving some blog material for later this week. I'd appreciate your prayers as I speak and see some old friends this week. Catch you on Thursday! peace

 

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My December 27th Tradition

It's a new year and each new year brings on a practice that is totally foreign to a slacker-esque and non-type-A person like myself. Goal setting.

Every year around December 27th I start thinking about the upcoming 365-day period and wondering: What's going to happen in the next year and what kind of things can I plan to do and then foolishly ignore, only to read over them next December 27th and wonder exactly what I was thinking? 

That may be a tad more than my actual thought process, but not too much more.

Getting back into blogging has actually been quite difficult (as you can see, no posts since 1/4) for that very reason.

I've been forced to think about what I REALLY care about and what I REALLY want out of the coming year.

I've been forced to think about what God may want from me in the next calendar year. Who should I be and how do I open myself up to His grace in pursuit of that person?

I created a list of goals on Evernote and haven't looked at it since. I can see the icon on this very screen, I know the list I made and what it means for this coming year. And as I think about it I ponder this one thought:

Will the Kingdom of God be beautified or defaced by my plans, actions, writings, dreaming, loving, living, hoping and teaching this year?

If not, my piddly weight loss and personal organization goals are useless.

How will the Kingdom of God look after you're done with 2012?

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