Diagnose Your Spiritual Health

self-diagnose

So I was at Half Price Books Monday (shocker), and saw this book entitled Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health. Now that’s one of those titles that can sound a little too one-size-fits-all-ish, but I noticed it was by author, Donald Whitney. I’ve found his book Simplify Your Spiritual Life quite inspiring and encouraging. I had to look inside.

And I found his questions to be so very right on as I read them. I kept thinking, “Oh this is good. This is really helpful.” Couple that with seeing my  good broseph (whassup Ryan) at the gym the next day, and in our discussion of spiritual self-diagnosis he brought up the good point of, “Sometimes we don’t really know the questions to ask.” Great point indeed. Sometimes we don’t even know a starting point because we’ve never been trained, or have never been influenced by any success model.

So here it is, a starting point at least, the ten questions to diagnose your spiritual life:

  1. Do you thirst for God?
  2. Are you governed increasingly by God’s word?
  3. Are you more loving?
  4. Are you more sensitive to God’s presence?
  5. Do you have a growing concern for the spiritual and temporal needs of others?
  6. Do you delight in the bride of Christ?
  7. Are the spiritual disciplines increasingly more important to you?
  8. Do you still grieve over sin?
  9. Are you a quicker forgiver?
  10. Do you yearn for heaven and to be with Jesus?

 

Advent

light_world_hunt

Today is the first Sunday of Advent.

Advent simply means “arrival.” It is the season to celebrate and reflect on God’s breaking into His creation in the form of a human life approximately 2,020 years ago.

This is the first season of the Christian Church year, leading up to Christmas and including the preceding four Sundays.

It’s beautiful.

During Advent, we reflect upon, meditate upon, even work at what it means to be watchful. To be hopeful and watchful. To be ready for Christ’s coming, His advent, the most important and significant event in our human history.

Passages in Scripture that have been misappropriated or misused for Christ’s second coming actually much more likely point to Jesus’s vindication at the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in 70 A.D. (more on that another day). Quite important for us to keep in mind is being ready for Christ’s little advents everyday throughout each day. Christ’s coming like a thief in the night, or even His standing at the door knocking are His unexpected anytime moments of calling on us for service, worship, listening, or changing.

We Christians do believe Christ will return as King, but many over the decades have abused passages to the provocation of a response by some with the bumper sticker, “Jesus is coming, hide the bong.” That’s what it sadly turns into. But (hopefully) it’s much deeper than that. It’s to always be at the ready for Christ’s calling upon you. He may very well tell you to put the bong away, I don’t know. But I do know, and have experienced, many times the beautiful call to His work of listening to someone, to sending a message of encouragement, to stop reading and just listen to Him, to stop staring…

Growing up very Protestant, I unfortunately missed and misunderstood the season of Advent. It was something “they” did that we don’t do so as not to be confused with “them” over there on the wrong side. And I missed out on the beauty I now appreciate greatly of the Christian calendar. We are not of this world, we are of God’s kingdom. Therefore, isn’t it right to base our seasons upon the true Center of the universe Jesus Christ, and not on ourselves?

The Lights on the Slide

the-trinity

On this Thanksgiving Day I feel compelled to share with you an experience I had recently (Tuesday, November 15th).

I awoke at 2:30 in the morning and felt this strong urge to go downstairs. Not sure why, but I went. And, like many parents I’m sure, I checked on our two daughters, making sure they were breathing and peaceful. I prayed over them, and then walked around the living room, double checking that the front door was locked, and wondered why I was up walking around.

I decided to head back up to bed, and just before I got to the stairs, I peered out the back kitchen window and saw something striking. Out on our girls’ play-set slide there appeared to be three lights–on the top, middle, and bottom. They looked just like stars as they appear from looking up at the night sky. The middle one also had a crescent on top of it, like a smile. They were extremely bright.

It was so mesmerizing, that I could not stop staring, trying to figure out the cause of this light show that dazzled me so. Now this was the time of the “super moon” when the moon was its closest to earth in decades. So logically, I figured it must be a reflection from the intensely bright and close moon. It’s just that these three “stars” looked to be emanating their own light, again, very brightly. As practical as it seemed to call this a moon reflection, it simply did not appear to be the case as it looked like no reflection I’ve ever witnessed. Also, I stared at these attractive lights for about twenty minutes straight, and they stayed fixed. They did not move. At all. If a reflection, I would expect some movement. But I’m not a scientist.

Actually, the crescent was the one thing that did shift. It morphed over the middle “star” in such a way that it looked more and more like a bird’s wings. A dove.

Transfixed, I prayed, thanking God, asking God what was happening here. The answer I wrote in my journal as follows: “I take this as a sign of you, Trinity–Father above, the Son sent below, and the Spirit, like the wind, ever moving, unpredictable. You are here with us, in this place.”

I felt a tremendous peace as I looked upon this sign and manifestation as the presence of God with us, the truth of the Trinity–that God is Father, Son, and Spirit, here with us in this very place. The shekinah. It’s as if God sent this sign of lights to lovingly to say, “I am here. I am with you. I am three-in-one relationship presence.”

I’m not sure if this gives you some comfort, or causes you to think I’m even crazier than you already suspected–I hope both! Because that would really make me smile.

What I’m really trying to say is that I am most thankful for the presence of God which is very real, even if it’s without a laser light show on our daughters’ play-set at three in the morning.

Embracing the Thorn — by Joel Vestal

paul-in-prison

2 Corinthians 12:8

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  

“Life is lived forward but understood looking backwards,” wrote Danish philosopher, theologian, and poet Søren Kierkegaard in the 19th century.

Paul, author of 13 books of the New Testament,  wrote about a thorn in his flesh from 2 Corinthians 12. When he wrote this,  It was 23 years after the Damascus road and he was on his third missionary journey. He has a few more battle wounds of life perhaps, and is older and embracing a mysterious paradox,  “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (vs10)   Paul’s thorn is a mystery, and he does not write what it was exactly, and this is important.  Some have  speculated  it was his eyesight or other physical ailment.  Perhaps it was other earthly passions that we all men battle:  wine, women, or wealth (or some deviation thereof).  Was it a thorn Paul brought upon himself?  Was it a thorn that “life” brought upon him? Maybe a combination of the two?  If we did know exactly what this “thorn” was, we would sure slip into discouragement if we had a “thorn” he did not have.  Indeed, this is a key reminder of the inspiration of Scripture by the Holy Spirit.  A timeless truth for all ages, struggles/situations that rises above the pages we read and can birth in our souls faith and hope (or rebirth), even in the lowest valleys of life.

With a divorce finalized and making a decision to enter into a rehabilitation center,  I was at the end of my rope.  No, I was not at the end. I had let go of the rope.  You know what happened?   God stepped in a weak, broken soul and my discovery of the grace and mercy of God was waiting.  That “dunamis” power was experienced far beyond any successes and accomplishments of the past.   I was introduced to the strength and might of God in a fresh way and embraced a new outlook and interpretation of not just my own ‘thorns’ but the world around me.

That “power” Jesus speaks to Paul in verse 9 is the Greek word “dunamis”.  It is one of four Greek words for ‘power’ in the New Testament.  Dunamis is where we derive our English word dynamite from.   However, God’s power is not a public spectacle like an explosion or bolt of lightning. [Remember God’s dialogue with Elijah? (1 Kings 19)  God’s presence was not in the earthquake, fire, or wind but in the whisper.]

Need a fresh discovery of this “Dunamis” power for your own “thorn”?

I suggest 3 easy reminders that I practice daily.   The H.O.W. of transformation!

H = Honesty of the ‘thorn’

O=  Open Mindedness  (to that Dunamis Power)

W = Willingness  (for surrender and change)

 

A New Commandment — by Andy Chen

leper
John 15:12
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” -Jesus 
Are you loved? Think about it. Really think about if you believe you are loved.
‘Cause yeah, I can be loved. But I want that love to be qualified: I have to earn it first. I need to do the good thing I should have done. I have to look and act a certain way. I start to bargain. If I feel better about myself, then I can be loved. Really, I don’t want to receive love. I want to achieve it. Yeah, my expectation of love is all screwed up.
Jesus loves like this:
He starts the Sermon on the Mount by blessing all the downtrodden, miserable, sad people.
Despite being equal to the supreme being of the universe, he stops to do disgusting jobs. Like washing feet as a servant girl would. Like embracing folks with festering sores and falling off body parts.
Jesus talks about how any simple field is decorated more lavishly than the richest king. Then he says that God takes care of us much more than that.
He says that the people us self righteous folks see as doing deplorable things will get into God’s world first.
He feeds the thousands of people that overwhelmed the countryside but were too stupid to bring food with them.
He leaves a whole bunch of safe, cuddly, comfortable sheep and goes into the big, bad wilderness to find a lost one.
Jesus sits and listens to the forbidden, hurting woman at the well. The woman from that culture that’s so different from us that we don’t talk to them. And then he loves her whole village.
How can I be loved liked that?  We receive love so poorly that we take the savior that’s loving us and we beat him up. We strike him and he turns the other cheek. We do no less than torture him to death. And what does he do? He forgives. Jesus really freaking loves us.
I need to surrender the lies in my head. I will have to surrender lies every day to receive love like that. And if I am really, truly loved this way I am commanded to love others in the same manner. No more giving love the same broken ways I receive it. I’ll have to love, even if people don’t deserve it; even if they haven’t earned it. I’ll have to do things like bless miserable people, do disgusting jobs, lavish upon folks more than royalty, and venture out from my safe cuddly world. I’ll have to be ok with being whacked upside the head. And then… forgive.
This is a big command. Christ have mercy.

 

The Main Thing – by Larry Medcalfe

“The Main Thing”

“Make the main thing, the main thing!” I don’t remember which coach at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp first said it, but I have never forgotten it. Although it sounds like double talk, it’s actually a great reminder of how to determine priorities in life. What’s really most important? What are the essentials for making the best decisions, developing fine tuned disciplines, and growing the deepest relationships? Those essentials are what that same coach would describe as mastering the fundamentals; understanding and executing the basics. It’s when those rudimentary things are consistently embraced that great things are possible. What defines a truly devoted follower of Jesus…knowing and living out His basics. And how does Jesus describe those basics? “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you…learn from me …remain in me and my love…obey me…follow me.” Get the picture? Jesus’ main thing is Jesus himself.

“Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:17)

Arguably one of the best Biblical examples of “making the main thing, the main thing” was in Mary of Bethany’s encounter with Jesus as recorded in Luke 10:38-42. I love this account for many reasons but mostly for the clear message Jesus communicated regarding what was most important to him. Mary’s sister, Martha, had good intentions  but they fell short of what Jesus needed from her. Mary understood what was necessary and she did the “one thing” that Jesus required by sitting at the feet of Jesus “listening to what he said”. More than anything else Jesus wants to build an intimate relationship with us and that is only possible when we make his main thing, the main thing. Are there any good intentions in your life that are falling short of what Jesus needs from you? Is Jesus’ “one thing” a daily reality for you?

“God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in him.” (John Piper)

PART II

At the close of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Elizabeth’s father questioned her decision to stay with Will Turner. The Governor reminded her that Will was just a blacksmith. She emphatically corrected her father by saying, “No, he’s a pirate!” His identity had been lost to a life as a buccaneer. Are you willing to lose your identity to Jesus? Mary did in Matthew 26:6-13. Her time doing “the one thing” that Jesus required prepared her to do “a beautiful thing” to Jesus, anointing his head with expensive perfume. Her undaunted devotion was an imitation of Jesus’ impact on the world; costly, controversial, humble, and memorable. When you spend time with Jesus you can’t help but start thinking like him and acting like him. Are you ready to be identified with Jesus by doing “a beautiful thing” to him and for him?

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:5)

PART III

Indiana is the kingdom of basketball, and for me, the king who reigns is homegrown, hall of famer Larry Bird. I still love watching video of his playing days and reading of how he developed average athleticism into one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Larry was all about “making the main thing, the main thing”. His work ethic is legendary. He was always the first to arrive at the arena and the last to leave. His passion to play well was off the charts, he was extremely fit, and he never ceased honing the fundamentals of the game. He said he wanted to be prepared for anything. Are you prepared for anything? I believe Mary was. To me, Mary is a spiritual hall of famer. She kept her spirit fit by sitting at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10:38-42), her passion for Jesus was demonstrated by her walking in the steps of Jesus (Matthew 26:6-13), and as she honed the fundamentals of her faith, Jesus opened her eyes to see him in a new light when he raised her brother from the dead (John 11:28-44). Jesus commended Mary for her spiritual work ethic.

What might he say about yours?

Are you pursuing the “one thing” he requires?                                                                                                                         Are you giving the “beautiful thing” he receives?                                                                                                                     Are you receptive to the “new things” he wants to reveal to you?

“Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:42)

PART IV: CONCLUSION

Wow, how this week has flown? Where’d the time go? How am I going to get everything done? I know what the “main thing” is, but how do I make it the “main thing” with so much on my plate? Sound familiar? Charles Hummel calls this the “tyranny of the urgent” in his small but powerful booklet of the same name. An acquaintance once told him that, “Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important”. In other words, how do you determine your priorities? If you’re like me, the things that you really want to do will get done one way or the other. Jesus wants to be our top priority just as his Father was his top priority while he ministered on earth. In spite of fatigue, the demands of his disciples, the distractions from his opposition, and the needs of the multitudes Jesus knew how important “the main thing” was to his ministry. To borrow a tag from Nike, you might say he “just did it!” The love for his Father and his desire to obey him was far more important than the urgent matters that he would face every day (Mark 1:35). Don’t let the urgent in your life crowd out the most important relationship you’ll ever have. “Just do it!”

“If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching…” (John 14:23)

Next to the Bible, Oswald Chamber’s My Utmost for His Highest is the most significant book I read regularly. I’d like for OC to conclude our thoughts with his own insights on “MAKING THE MAIN THING, THE MAIN THING”.

“Think about your circumstances. Are you so closely identified with the Lord’s life that you are simply a child of God, continually talking to him and realizing that everything comes from the Father’s hands? Is the grace of his ministering life being worked out through you in your home, your business, and in your circle of friends (which includes our precious 3 footers)? The life of your Lord is to become your vital, simple life, and the way he worked and lived among people while here on earth must be the way he works and lives in you.”

~Oswald Chambers

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21

Back to Basics – by Larry Medcalfe

kindergarten_kids

After forty plus years of ministry I have finally discovered my signature age group, preschoolers. Three days a week I have the privilege to be exhilarated and exhausted working at a Christian Daycare with 3, 4, and 5 year olds. Recently while reading to some of my kiddos I was reminded of a refreshingly fun book I read a number of years ago entitled Everything I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. I wholeheartedly agree with Fulghum’s simple assessment; “Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at Sunday School.”

As I watched the sights and listened to the sounds in my classroom I found myself longing for a world that emphasized the basics of life like they were emphasized in our classroom. Consider what our world would be like if everyone shared everything, played fair, didn’t hit people, cleaned up their own messes, didn’t take things that weren’t theirs, said sorry when they hurt someone, used inside voices and loved all of the time. Throw in The Golden Rule, flushing the toilet, Stop-Look-Listen, washing your hands before eating, cookies and milk and a nap in the afternoon, holding hands, giving hugs and smiles and then perhaps we could sing along with Sam Cooke of the 60s, “What a wonderful world this would be”.

Then I got to thinking why our world often isn’t a wonderful place to be; it’s people. We’re the problem. We’re selfish, we cheat, we hit emotionally as well as physically, we get even, we complicate the simple, we leave our messes for someone else to clean up, we steal, we don’t know how to say I’m sorry or I forgive you, we’re loud and obnoxious, we’re too busy, and we’re self-serving. Now we’re not all guilty of all these attitudes all of the time, but we all could plead guilty to many of them. We can blow it off by saying “no one’s perfect,” but that still doesn’t solve our world’s woes. How far we have wandered from the simple lessons learned when we were so impressionable, so teachable, so trusting, so obedient.

We can’t change the fact that we are all imperfect people living in an imperfect world but we can decide to draw upon the only perfect source to bring back the wonderful into our world. Perfect comes from the one who is called Wonderful; Jesus. And Jesus’ plan to impact the world through His kingdom can only be accessed and experienced by returning to our childish roots; back to basics. Jesus was very adamant in his expectations when he declared: “Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in. Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them” (Mark 10:13-16, The Message).

Jesus is the only one who can bless a life, a family, a nation, and a world with what they are so sorely missing. All he asks is that we step into his kingdom kindergarten and bring our impressionable spirit, our teachable mind, our trusting heart, and our obedient will back to his basics.

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”                            (1 Peter 2:9, NIV).

Make Peace – by Happy Robin Shaw

shawpallikan

Matthew 5:9

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.  

Peace-MAKERS. My pastor, Bruce Bradburn, emphasized this almost prophetically two weeks ago. He took great pains to emphasize that the scripture doesn’t applaud peace-KEEPING, peace-LOVING, or being peace-ABLE, it specifically blesses peace-MAKERS. This was seriously NOT good news for me, a person who prides herself on being conflict averse – letting things go, going with the flow, and not making waves. When I do run into conflict, I back up – FAST. So how, exactly, was he suggesting that I MAKE peace? Isn’t that Jesus’ job???

Well, no.

This “incident” came to mind.

A few years ago I was minding my own business in the hallway of my children’s elementary school when someone shouts out (in a crowded hallway mind you), “Your hair looks different every day!” Sensing the taboo about to be trodded upon by the white father who had dared to call attention to this fact, another mother turned around and said, “You don’t ask a black woman about her hair!” Yikes. What started as a joke landed him right in the cross hairs of two black women – a dangerous place to be.

We could have walked away and left it there. Or it could have become a major situation calling for meetings, task forces, and sensitivity training but instead I said, “It’s okay. I can recommend some books and movies. Let’s get together and talk about it!” Our families had dinner. It turned out that this father had many questions, comments, and thoughts (and no filter) so we had a great conversation. One conversation turned into many – always with open minds and open hearts. And so the battering ram of racial reconciliation was born! Our families became the close friends and our children are betrothed (or so we hope, as racism will most certainly be erased when everyone is black/white/hispanic).

Each of us can do what our two families did because each of us has what Paul referred to as a “ministry of reconciliation” in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19.

“Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us a ministry of reconciliation, that is that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.”

Therefore, according to this scripture we should be constantly reconciling – people to God and people to each other. It sounds so simple but, of course it isn’t. When tempers are running high and real hurt has been caused by things said or done, it can be the most difficult thing in the world to reconcile. Consider our recent election. Everyone felt the rage and venom coming from the other side and everyone was shocked at the outcome. Yet, now it is time to move forward, accepting the verdict, and looking hopefully toward the future knowing that God never leaves or forsakes us, that love conquers all, and that we have this “ministry of reconciliation” – we were called to this.

I know what you’re thinking. But, how? How do we get past some of the things we have seen and heard recently? God never leaves us without a plan. The “how” is right there in the scripture……”not imputing their trespasses to them”. Not judging, or blaming, or holding past wrongs against the offenders. Choosing the path of grace and mercy, choosing to see the good, and choosing to search for the answers.

A friend from church shared an article describing what life is really like for much of middle America and a heartfelt explanation that there is a group of people out there who are really (and validly) hurting, demoralized, and angry. I’m not saying that spewing hate is right, but I am saying that there is real pain behind the venom. You don’t have to agree with someone to acknowledge that they have feelings too, even if you don’t understand them. This simple affirmation (without forcing the acknowledgment of who’s pain is worse) goes a long way toward reconciliation and forgiveness.

Oh, and Pastor Bruce mentioned that reconciliation would be messy, and sometimes painful. Peace-MAKING is active – not just being peace-ABLE but actively bringing people/family members/political parties/races together. Invite someone to coffee, explain your point of view and listen to theirs remembering that it is as difficult to hear truth as it is to speak truth. These won’t be easy conversations but God, through the power of His Spirit, will strengthen us, help us understand each other, and help us find the path to reconciliation.

After all, we believers are the recipients of the greatest act of reconciliation that the world has ever known. Wouldn’t it bring great glory to God to see us all out there exercising restraint and making peace instead of fueling the flames of war? If we do, we shall be called “children of God” (and hey, who doesn’t want to be friends with the children of God?)

Access to the Divine

michael-casey-ocso

If I had to say who my favorite author is today, I would enthusiastically put forth the Cistercian monk of the Tarrawarra Abbey in Victoria, Australia–Michael Casey.

I urge you, if you have time, read anything this wonderful man writes. It’s all gold. His is about the most insightful, poignant, and meditation-provoking writing I’ve yet encountered. His understanding of the human condition is off the charts.

I’m slowly working my way through his masterful work Fully Human Fully Divine for the second time, and I just wanted to share this excerpt from it with you today. I have found this so foundational and representative of The Ripple Effect core:

The act of contemplation, although it occurs within a spatio-temporal shell, is not of this world. It is like a glimpse into eternity.

It is, as we have already remarked, too easy to reduce Christian existence to its cognitive and ethical components. These are important because they provide the kindling and fuel by which the fire of devotion is initiated and sustained; but it is the flame that is the irreplaceable heart of religion. Without ongoing access to the invisible world where God dwells, all the other aspects of Christian discipleship lose their savor. Contrary arguments seem more convincing and the attractions of loose living more powerful. Rebellion seethes. Without personal experience of the divine, there is a danger that our spiritual life will become mere semblance without substance, keeping up appearances.

 

Unceasing Prayer

desert-fathers-sayings-of-the-early-christian-monks

The brothers asked Agatho, “Abba, which virtue in our way of life needs most effort to acquire?” He said to them, “I may be wrong but I think nothing needs so much effort as prayer to God. If anyone wants to pray, the demons try to interrupt the prayer, for they know that prayer is the only thing that hinders them. All the other efforts in a religious life, whether they are made vehemently or gently, have room for a measure of rest. But we need to pray till our dying breath. That is the great struggle.”

-from The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks