Archive for the ‘spiritual formation’ Category

I was listening to a conversation on a podcast and the interviewer asked, “How do you say you know you are a Christian?” And so I want to ask the same question of this audience.  How would you answer that question?


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“And I, I won’t lie. I won’t sin.” – Letters To God, Box Car Racer

I resonate with that line.  It was in many ways an anthem of my childhood life.  When I was young I grew up in a church that told me that growing up meant, “not sinning”.  This mantra had a surprising affect of placing the dominant interest of my life on myself.  I was always worried that I was sinning.  And as wounded as I was from stuff in my life, I was deriving much of my love from others by being the “good” kid.  I truly didn’t want to sin.  I wanted goodness in my life.

“I won’t sin,” has a surprising way of destroying relationships.  It creates a strange paranoia that drove me to wonder if I had done something I shouldn’t.  I was always wondering had I said something or done something when someone gave me a look.  I was in reality a co-dependent, attempting to draw my identity and validation from those around me.  I was needy.

But as I grew older in age something didn’t jibe with what I had been told as a child.  Was life really about not sinning?  Or, could it be something else?  For about ten years I simply walked away from that statement.  Not sinning, simply didn’t work.  And truth be told, I sucked at it. In fact, the harder “I” tried, the worse I became, and the more I proved it out.  I couldn’t.

As I grew older I began to read the research of people like Piaget, Kohlberg and Erikson who suggested a far different interpretation of what maturity is.  Maturity is the ability to think outside the self and recognize the world around us.  It means to grow out of dependence to an interdependence.  Maturity was, in essence, love.  It startled me that scientists from Harvard could come to such a simple conclusion.

But what this means is that the primary assumption actually drove me to the exact opposite of what was intended.  Focusing on the sin created a myopic approach on the problem and not the solution.  I was destined to fail before I ever began.

And so I began to ask, “Is there something to this invitation to love?”  Could my own restoration be wrapped up in beginning to look outside myself?  Love calls us to maturity.  It calls us to the very essence of our humanity, which is to reflect the very nature of God: to love.  And at that moment, I began to see everything different.  The law, which always led to love was not about “not sinning”, but about embracing love as the defining act of my life.

Jesus’ command to love wasn’t just something I had to do, but something I got to do.  And if I followed, my own restoration was at hand.  But to get to love I had to surrender to the reality that I couldn’t.  At 37 that wasn’t hard to do.  I had enough evidence to convict me of my inabilities.  I was a fraud when it came to “not sinning”.

Much of my fear was always derived from the idea that God could not love me unless I was good enough.  But what I now realize is that God’s love is not defined by what I do but by who he is.  And that love was validated by the undeniable evidence of the cross.  This was incredibly good news.  He has never stopped loving me, even when I break myself.  And that left me with the question of whether or not I would accept his love.  Would I allow him to love me?

And when I surrendered to being loved, I realized a startling truth.  Love would change me from the inside.  And the more I received His love the more I could reflect that love to the world around me.  And the cool thing was there was no law against love.  It was extraordinarily perfect.  By loving, I could accomplish the very thing I had attempted to do my whole life.  And this love became my pathway to maturity.

Love called me to step over my obstacles and fight my way through chaos.  It called me to restore my broken heart and broken relationships.  It called me to the best of myself by finding those God was calling me to love.  It called me to be the Good News.


This post is part of a Synchroblog on maturity.  Below is a list of participants.

Phil Wyman asks Is Maturity Really What I Want?
Lainie Petersen at Headspace with “Watching Daddy Die
Kathy Escobar at The Carnival in My Head with “what’s inside the bunny?”
John Smulo at JohnSmulo.com
Erin Word at Decompressing Faith with “Long-Wearing Nail Polish and Other Stories”
Beth Patterson at The Virtual Teahouse with “the future is ours to see: crumbling like a mountain
Bryan Riley at Charis Shalom
Alan Knox at The Assembling of the Church with “Maturity and Education
KW Leslie at The Evening of Kent
Bethany Stedman at Coffee Klatch with “Moving Towards True Being: The Long Process of Maturity”
Adam Gonnerman at Igneous Quill with “Old Enough to Follow Christ?
Joe Miller at More Than Cake with “Intentional Relationships for Maturity
Susan Barnes at A Booklook with “Growing Up”
Tracy Simmons at The Best Parts with “Knowing Him Who is From the Beginning
Joseph Speranzella at A Tic in the Mind’s Eye with “Spiritual Maturity And The Examination of Conscience
Sally Coleman at Eternal Echoes
Liz Dyer at Grace Rules with “What I Wish The Church Knew About Spiritual Maturity
Cobus van Wyngaard at My Contemplations with “post-enlightenment Christians in an unenlightened South Africa
Steve Hayes at Khanya with “Adult Content
Ryan Peter at Ryan Peter Blogs and Stuff with “The Foundation For Ministry and Leading
Susan Barnes talks about Growing Up
Sound and Silence considers Inclusion and Maturity
Kaiblogy with Mature Virtue

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Skilled Incompetence: An individual who is highly skilled at protecting oneself from pain and threat posed by learning situations (Chris Argyris, Harvard)

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I’m reading what I think will be one of the more important books written in the next ten years. My opinion. It’s Walking With God by John Eldredge. For those who haven or haven’t read John before, this is almost a complete departure from his previous works in masculinity and a return to his earlier works. Much broader in terms of spiritual formation. I’ll post a review when I’m done.

But in the Summer section he highlights an intriguing dialog on two traditional camps.

“The first is the the holiness or “righteous” crowd. They are the folks holding up the standard, preaching a message of moral purity. The results have been…mixed. Some morality, and a great deal of guilt and shame.”

This is the group I grew up on. Suck it up, dig in your heals and just do what is right. It was deeply shameful and full of a tremendous amount of hypocrisy. When someone falls (my pastor was caught in an affair) restoration is virtually impossible.

The other camp is the grace camp.

“Their message is that we can’t hope to satisfy a holy God, but we are forgiven. We are under grace. And praise the living God, we are under grace. But what about holiness? What about deep personal change?”

These two camps appear to mimic the fight or flight responses we see throughout humanity. One posits an unreasonable burden that we cannot possible accomplish on our own. The other simple abandons any responsibility for the self.

But as John points out, neither is wholistic. He points to a third way found in whole restoration that embraces grace but seeks wholeness. This is for me true spirituality, a grace that seeks restoration found in surrendering to His Spirit.

Which camp did you grow up in?

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This is Kara Powell. You probably don’t know Kara but you should. She’s Executive Director of the Center for Youth and Family Ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Kara gets it.

She’s presenting at Shift, Willow’s Youth Ministry Conference. She has what I think is a killer observation.

“She says that a lot of what students are fed is a guilt based gospel—what Dallas Willard calls the “gospel of sin management.” Powell compared it to a diet of Red Bull. It’s fast, energetic, and easy, but not very nourishing. And after the rush is over you deflate. We’ve fed students a gospel of rights and wrongs, but nothing nourishing that they can internalize and grow from. No wonder they fall away shortly after graduation. The buzz is over.” (More at Out of Ur)

Love it.  Listen up people.

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The shortest distance between you and your wholeness is through your obstacles.

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good_will.jpgJR Woodward posted a great post on the subject of brokenness and healing and it got me all stirred up…in a good way. Much of the “work” we do in Thrive groups is restorative. We’re not just filling up on truth but we’re also removing the obstacles to truth. And Good Will Hunting is for me on the best examples of this simple spiritual formation practice.

In the beginning of the movie we meet Will Hunting. He’s a math genius with a penchant for destroying himself. And his genius attracts the attention of Professor Lambeau who want to use his gift for their agenda. But as a condition of the courts, to “use” him, Lambeau must help him. And so he sends Will to all of the “best” psychiatrists around Boston, hoping that he will get “fixed”. Each of these professionals focuses on “fixing” Will, who is so brilliant that he refuses to play their game, and even makes them look foolish in the process. He calls their bluff and destroys each relationship before it gets started.

As a last resort, Professor Lambeau calls his old college roommate Sean. It’s obviously a last resort. But Sean is broken too. And during his first encounter with Will, Sean refuses to play his game, even pushing back…a lot. He’s not trying to fix him. He’s willing to love him, even in spite of all his crap and childish games.

And this is the brilliance of this movie. Love earns the right to be heard. It begins with brokenness and the willingness to walk through the chaos, not for the sake of chaos but to get through it. Over the next hour of the movie we see their interactions in relationship. Over and over again, they test each other asking, “Will you fight with me in this restoration process? Will you help me get past this brokenness?” Sean appeals to his heart, not just the mind. And it isn’t just Will that has a problem. Sean does to. And by stepping into this space of brokenness they find a willingness to help each other. Restoration is a shared endeavor. It’s not about fixing but about partnering.

It is only at the end of the movie, when Sean has earned the right to be heard through love that he can confront what is paramount to restorative, spiritual healing. Will knows all the right answers better than anyone in the room. But what he can’t see is his own dignity. And his wounds have created a deep seated lie that he is not worth it. Only in love can Sean break through his defense mechanisms to help him see the way out.

He actually shows him pictures of the wounds of his past and tells him, “It’s not your fault.” Will has arrived at that key moment where he is confronted with letting love in.

How many times have we all said, “It must have been my fault.” The wounds of the past have erased our dignity. And if we’re not worth it, why are we surprised when we destroy ourselves. Not consciously, mind you, but we do. And it is only when we allow love in that we can be restored. “Will God really, really, really love me if I tear down these walls I’ve created to protect my heart?” And, “Will you show me love so I can see the way out?”

And this to me is the key to spiritual healing. We must remove the lie before the truth can really enter. But we can only let go of the lie in the presence of love. This is the redemption process, when we trade in our lies for the truth. And we can only let go of the lie in the presence of love.

So will we be love?

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