3 reasons you should be observing the Christian Calendar

As a kid, my family participated in Advent through a liturgy that I assume my father created, drawing from various sources and scripture. Each Sunday night in Advent, we would turn off the fluorescent bulbs in our dining room, light a candle on the Advent Wreath, and pray together through Scripture. As we did this we traced the biblical prophecies of the coming Messiah, culminating in their fulfillment in the birth of Christ. From the first time we did this on, something about the liturgy—and especially the Church Year—stuck with me.

There are a multitude of reasons that all Christians would benefit from engaging with the Christian calendar, but here are the Big Three for me:
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Notes on Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer

Although the Internet Monk went to be with the Lord just a few months ago, he continues to be a spiritual mentor to me. Michael Spencer’s book Mere Churchianity (published posthumously) is a gem that aptly confronts the need for evangelical Christianity to stop with the nonsense and get back to what he calls “Jesus-shaped spirituality.” This book is for those tired of church, those wondering where Jesus is in the landscape of contemporary evangelicalism, and those that just want a better understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. I loved this book, and I plan to re-read it many times—I hope I can give some copies to those that would benefit from it. Here are some quotes to whet your appetite:

Behind the Jesus Is Here sign is a health, wealth, and prosperity “gospel” that removes God from the status of sovereign Lord and turns him into a convenient vending machine…I wonder if Jesus mentioned promises of earthly goodies to the repentant criminal hanging on the cross next to him. (p. 23)

The Christian life isn’t a denial of the prodigal son parable, with the prodigal suddenly becoming a good boy and making his father proud. It is lived at the point where the empty-handed, thoroughly humbled son kneels before his father and has nothing to offer. (p. 126)

I’m looking for a spiritual experience that looks like, feels like, sounds like, lives like, loves like, and acts like Jesus of Nazareth. It’s that simple. (p. 69)

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Becoming a Minimalist

Photo Credit: Ben K Adams via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Ben K Adams via Compfight cc
Many of you (even those that know me pretty well) wouldn’t characterize me as a minimalist. I don’t have a modern-style home, my desk is sometimes pretty cluttered, and I tend to buy more stuff than I really need. Yet, I am becoming a minimalist. Minimalism as a philosophy has really stuck with me lately, and I am genuinely trying to apply it many areas of my life. A few things that I’ve been keeping in mind:

  • Minimalism isn’t necessarily about a chic decor or ridiculous extremes that limit you from living life to fullest. It’s about appreciating what you have and learning to identify what you really need.

  • Minimalism is a process. No one can just a flip a switch and become something they’re not. Minimalism is another part of life’s journey that I’m embarking on. I’m not the perfect minimalist, and I’ll never be the perfect minimalist, but I’m getting better at it, and I’m looking forward to where it takes me.

  • Minimalism has a spiritual component that is highly compatible with Christianity. In fact, my decision to intentionally pursue a simpler, more minimal life flows directly from my Christianity. I don’t want to be defined by materialism. I want to make time to sit in silence before God. I want to never lose sight of the “mere” basics: That we are saved by grace through faith in the resurrected Jesus, and that we are called to love God and love people. I want to make Proverbs 30:7-9 my prayer.

My current favorite places to learn about minimalism:

Everyone Has a Calling

I’ve struggled a lot over the years with the idea of calling…that very specific sense from God as to what you’re supposed to do with your life. I’ve never had a “light from heaven” moment where my grand purpose in life was revealed to me. Rather, I feel like God teaches me slowly and methodically as I strive for a life of daily obedience.

Although I think God has been faithful to communicate his will for me in this way, it is sometimes discouraging when you hear all of the talk in evangelical circles regarding everybody else’s “call”…especially when you’re in vocational ministry. You start wondering if there’s something wrong with you, because you didn’t have a dramatic, ecstatic experience of divine communication.

Because of these struggles, I’ve become fairly recently interested in doctrines of vocation. Who knew Christendom even had such a thing? But as I learn about the historical Christian perspective on calling and vocation, I’m deeply encouraged, and I feel confirmed in my sense of how God is revealing my vocation to me.

One Sunday, my pastor preached on this idea, and his statements really resonated with what I’ve already been thinking. He said that in general, your calling from God probably exists at the intersection of your greatest passion, your gifts and abilities, the world’s need, and God’s glory. What a great way to think about vocational purpose.

How have you discerned God’s calling on your life?

Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller’s seminal work: a review

This book is getting old now, but I just read it for the first time. I’m glad I waited, so I could separate it a bit from the hype that surrounded it on its first release. I found it to be a remarkably easy to read, beautifully written collection of essays on what Christianity is all about. Miller has a way of disarming you with his gentleness and wit, and then stabbing you with the cold, hard truth when you recognize yourself in his portraits of those that have missed the real and simple message of Jesus regarding sin, grace, and redemption. I  alternately laughed (like, out loud) and became very serious.

So much of this book is worth reading and re-reading…and I can’t even begin to talk about all of it here. The part that hit me like a freight train was the section on how we talk about love, beginning on page 218 in the paperback edition. Miller notes the economic language with which we discuss our human relationships: we invest in people, our relationships can become bankrupt, and people are priceless. He says,

“The problem with Christian culture is we think of love as a commodity. We use it like money….This was the thing that had smelled so rotten all these years. I used love like money. The church used love like money. With love, we withheld affirmation from the people who did not agree with us, but we lavishly financed the ones who did.”

As he explained how this is played out on both the church and personal level, I felt my heart sink. This was me. For the past 2, 3, 4 years, I’ve withdrawn from many human relationships—with Christians and non-Christians, family members and friends—because I didn’t think it was worth the effort. I didn’t think it worth the effort because I believed no one would really put in the same kind of work in the relationship as I would…and if they’re not going to be equally as “invested” in the relationship, why even have one?

As I pondered this part of the book out loud with my wife after reading, I had to struggle to keep my emotions in check as the full weight of my own selfishness hit me. Even if my grossly unfair assumptions about other people were true, this is no reason to withhold Christ’s love and grace and commitment to them. After all, it’s not my love to withhold. Any love I can give comes by grace through Christ anyway. The more I thought about it, the more I found this mindset of love and commitment as a trade good to be deeply ingrained in my worldview. I am honestly ashamed, because I can look back now and see why many of my relationships have failed, how I could have been a better husband, and the impact it had on all sorts of personal ministry. To make matters worse, all I had to do was take my cue from the clear example of our Savior, who loves us so much—despite anything we have done—that he died for us, so that we would be redeemed and have life.  I believe this is the kind of unconditional love I should be sharing with all people.

I’m uncertain as to the specifics of what this means going forward—all this happened about 9 a.m. this morning. I know I need to stop withholding friendship and commitment based on a perceived level of reciprocity, and I really need to mediate anew on Ephesians 5, which begins this way:

…walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God...”