Author Archives: Lazo

Reality’s Core Values: Jesus is our Senior Pastor (#1)

One of our rallying cries, and most basic values as a church is that “Jesus Christ is our Senior Pastor.”

What does this mean? Simply put, it means we believe that Jesus is the head of the church. Of course, this bears some fleshing out if we want more than a mere truism (we do). So let’s start with the primary passage of scripture where this core value comes from…

And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:4)

Right here, the apostle Peter tells is that that Jesus is a particular kind of shepherd.

He’s the chief, or in other words, he is the senior-ranking shepherd. This is an unequivocal title of leadership. So before we even get to what Jesus does, we need to understand a bit about what the Bible says about church leadership in general.

Scripture tells us that God gives authority to certain people in the church.

And there are two official kinds of offices within the local church to which Scripture explicitly refers: elder (1 Tim. 3:1-7) and deacon (1 Tim. 3:8-13). It’s the first one (elder) that I want to focus on in this blog post, because there are a few different labels that the New Testament uses interchangeably with elder. And we need to look at all of these labels to get a clear picture of biblical leadership in the church. One of the most clear examples of Biblical leadership is in the broader context of the passage we just quoted—all the labels I’m talking about happen in this one single passage! Here it is in full:

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:1-4; ESV)

Ok, I want to point out a few things.

(Disclaimer: this may get a bit complex and technical. But it is important to wade through this, because the implications are so important for how a church operates! Afterwards, I’ll do my best to summarize it all as succinctly as possible).

First, notice that “shepherd” is not an office ascribed to anyone but Jesus.

What is a shepherd? Well, it seems more of a function than an office (except for when it is used specifically of Jesus). For example, the function of a worship leader is to shepherd the congregation, mainly through music. Home group leaders are also shepherding their group discussions, and so on. But why does this small semantic joust matter? Because we get our popular modern-day church title pastor from what is often, and in this case, simply translated as shepherd (greek word poimainō). The words are the same in the Bible. A pastor is someone who shepherds others.

Second, notice that the words elder and shepherd are used here interchangeably.

See, while pastoring/shepherding is a function, the Scriptures show us that “elder” is an actual office in the church. So while not everyone who is shepherding someone else is a pastor, certainly everyone who is an elder is also called to pastor. All elders are supposed to pastor. They are the ones who are “keeping watch over your souls” (Heb. 13:17)!

Third, notice that these terms for pastor and elder are also used interchangeably with the word “oversight.”

“Oversight” in this context refers to the practice of leadership. Paul and Barnabas “appointed elders…in every church” (Acts 14:23) and “in every town” (Titus 1:5) whenever they planted churches, referring to them as those “who rule” in the church (1 Tim 5:17). So then, elders aren’t just pastors. 

Elders are called by Christ to exercise leadership over the local church.

That’s the complicated part. Let me give you a simple summary!

The Apostle Peter is telling us that God reserves the very specific roles of pastoring and leading in the church for the elders to whom He calls and anoints.

This is important to mention, because it is common practice for churches to have the pastors shepherd the flock, while selecting business people, entrepreneurs, a board of directors, or others with fiscal savvy, to lead the church. This may be a good way to run a business, but it’s not a good way to run a church. The Bible clearly mandates that it is the elders, not business leaders, who are to pastor and lead in the church. Now, Reality does have a board of trustees, in keeping with California law. But we certainly believe and maintain that it is the elders who lead in our church according to the Word of God. And we have never regretted that decision! [Who are our elders?]

Hopefully now the significance of that Scripture about Jesus being the chief Shepherd is starting to make sense. You see, while God does call elders to lead in the church, they also must do this in submission to Christ’s ultimate leadership. That’s why when the Apostle Peter calls elders to lead and pastor the flock, he only refers to Jesus as the “chief Shepherd.” This is synonymous with calling Jesus the senior leader, or in common church vernacular, the senior pastor.

This is exactly what Paul said when declared that God the Father “put all things under [Christ’s] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church” (Eph 1:22). Jesus, therefore, is the Senior Pastor of the church, both locally and universally!

Hence, this is our first and primary value as a church.

What does “Jesus is our Senior Pastor” actually mean in daily practice?

  1. It means our leaders constantly strive to be under the authority of Jesus Christ.
  2. It means that in order for fallible human leaders to be under the authority of Jesus Christ, they must be diligent in prayer and repentance.
  3. It means church leaders must be desperate for the voice of the Lord to lead his church.
  4. It means that as a church, we primarily look to, and hope in, and cling to Jesus, way more than to any person called “pastor.” The pastor(s) is there to help us look to Jesus!
  5. It means that the church exists for Christ’s mission, not our preferences and comforts.
  6. It means that we intentionally and consciously choose to submit to the mission of Jesus Christ.
  7. It means that we do not call any pastor in our church the “Senior pastor” except for Jesus Christ to whom that title belongs!

What Are Reality’s Core Values?

I had a conversation with Britt Merrick on the subject of “values.”

Britt is the founder of the Reality churches. Someone recently asked him, “What makes Reality the way that it is?” They were basically asking, what are the things that define your church’s identity, culture, mission, DNA, etc? What makes you you? Britt and I had a good laugh, having never really sat down to think very deeply about such things over the last twelve years. But after going home and pondering the question again, I began to see the importance of identifying who we are as a churchSoon after, about fifteen identifiable things came to me in a stream-of-consciousness. Once I began to think about it, it was pretty easy to see who God made us to be. I showed these to Britt, and he seemed to agree. That list grew to about nineteen identifiable things, and is what some of us might refer to as core values.

A value is a deeply-held principle that governs your standard of behavior.

You live out of what you truly value. Likewise, a church (or any organization) operates based on what it truly values, not merely what it says it values, or what it writes down as its values. For that reason, I tried to the best of my ability not to superimpose values onto our church. I am aware that I have ideals that I hope and wish we could live up to. But those aren’t truly our values. Our values are underneath what we are already doing. They expose what is already important to us. Having observed and worked at Reality for over a decade, I tried my best to take an honest look at the principles that emerged out of our shared culture. The values that form us on a daily basis.

It’s worth noting that this really only describes the Reality churches here in the coastlands (Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, and Ventura), and specifically Santa Barbara. There are certainly many overlapping values that we share with other Reality church plants, since we were all birthed out of the same vision and family. But as each church has grown, they have also developed core values that are specific to their own context and identity as churches. We love and celebrate this.

Reality Santa Barbara, by my estimation, has about nineteen core values.

By core, I mean that out of the hundreds of different principles we have as a church, these nineteen are the ones that form our identity and drive us to do what we do. They are what makes us a Reality church. And we need to identify and codify them so that we can continue to realign ourselves with what God has created us to be. So…I will post nineteen of Reality’s core values one at a time in the weeks and months to come. Can you guess what any of them are??

Please feel free to interact, ask questions, or even offer cordial pushback in the comment sections as this blog series develops!

My favorite reads of 2015

My annual booklists are admittedly strange.

They’re usually written before the review year–sometimes much before. The list is spread across a wide spectrum of sporadic themes. Usually, it’s where my own soul happens to be at the time. For example, this year’s contains leadership development, historical fiction, theology, and even secular philosophy. They are varying degrees of comprehension.

In other words, for some reason, the books I read are all over the place. I’m not sure why, but I think two parts of the reason is that

  1. I need a wide spectrum to hold my attention. And…
  2. They are usually what I need in that particular season.

This year, I read a book a week for the year. (see all of Chris Lazo’s books read in 2015). Below, you will find my five favorites and the reasons I liked them so much. Starting with #5….

#5 – A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living. By Luc Ferry.

A Brief History of Thought is an introduction to philosophy. More than that, it is a narrative about how the biggest ideas in history have all attempted to prove their idea of “salvation,” either building on one another or tearing each other down. Of most interest to me, was the author’s treatment of Christianity. Luc Ferry, though a secular humanist, is sympathetic towards Christianity.

My favorite snippet: listening to Ferry describes how the juggernaut of Greek thought, after reigning for a thousand years, was quickly displaced by Christianity’s message of love and the afterlife.

Who should read it: If you want to a quick introduction to philosophy, or want to see how powerful the movement Jesus started originally was, this is a good one.

#4 – Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t. By Simon Sinek.

Simon Sinek’s first book, was based on a Ted Talk he gavewhich argued that people do not want what you do, so much as they want why you are doing it. Leaders Eat Last is the follow up to suggest how that concept plays out in teams. His argument is that leaders must create environments of trust and sacrificial service if they want their teams to move from good to great.

My favorite snippet: when Sinek explains the biological origins of “trust.” His major point is that trust is a chemical reaction–you cannot force it, you can only create an environment for it to develop.

Who should read it: If you lead anybody, even your dog, you need this book.

#3 – After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. By N.T. Wright.

After our church went through the Sermon on the Mount, and afterwards, a series on character and spiritual maturity, this was one of the books that lit the fire (besides Dallas Willard’s Renovation of the Heart which I read in 2014). Character is not the type of  This book is a primer but also a persuader about why you need to long for good character.

Favorite snippet: Wright’s story about a pilot, illustrating how it takes thousands of repeated behaviors to eventually do right what needs to be done right in the moment it is needed most.

Who should read it: you.

#2 – Sitting At The Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith. By Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg.

Lois Tverberg is a wonderful researcher and writer. I love her appreciation for the ancient Jewish roots of the New Testament, and her books have made my faith, and reading of the Bible, come alive.

My favorite snippet: her explanation of the Messianic significance of the tassels on Jewish garments.

Who should read it: if you have trouble relating to the Bible when you read it (perhaps it feels outdated or removed from your contemporary experience); if you want to grow in your understanding of the Scriptures, Biblical culture, and the world that Jesus inhabited; or if you simply want to deepen and enrich your faith…this is the book for you.

#1 – All The Light We Cannot See: a Novel. By Arthur Doerr.

I don’t even know where to start on this one, so I guess with a short description. Set in WWII, this Pulitzer Prize winner waltz around the separate stories of a blind french girl with a love for seashells and a young german boy with a love for radios. As the girl is swept into the arms of the resistance, and the boy’s talent for electronics brings him invariably to the Hitler Youth, the centripetal force of their combined stories, tragedies, and hopes work to bring them together. I have not read a book this gripping and beautiful in prose since The Great Gatsby. 

Who: readers of historical fiction, WWII themes, or magical writing.

Honorable mention: The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho.

 

Advent: The Arrival!

It’s the beginning of Advent!

I always think of Advent as stretching Christmas out for a month. Advent starts four Sundays before Christmas, in this case it began November 29. Though there are different traditions involved, generally each week focuses on different facets of Advent.

Advent is multi-faceted

Let me explain…

There is a Greek word that comes up several times in the New Testament: Parousia. The word means “coming,” or “arrival.” Here’s an example:

Matthew 24:27: “For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming (parousia) of the Son of Man.”
 

Parousia is often merely a reference to Christ’s Second Coming; the visible return of Christ from the heavens, to raise the dead, judge the living and the dead, and set up the kingdom of God.

What does this have to do with the Christmas season?

Well, parousia translated into Latin is adventus, or simply Advent. In other words, Advent starts with the arrival of Christ as a babe in swaddling clothes, but it also emphasizes an altogether separate arrival: his Second Coming!

Advent is about Jesus’ arrival(s)

That cute little nativity scene actually lurches forward in anticipation of a Great Story unfolding: when the Messiah will come again to renew and restore all things to Himself!

Prepare Him room!

As the Christmas carols start playing tomorrow, the tree farms turn on their lights, and shelf space fills with holiday memorabilia, let even these things serve as a reminder; let them stir in you that same anticipation which must have been in the original cast in the stable on that day. Jesus is coming back! The story is not over. He will return to renew and restore all things.


Prepare Him room in your hearts this week. As you go about regular activities, regularly ask yourself if you would do that said thing differently knowing Jesus was about to personally arrive right where you are any second!

Book Review ~ Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, by Adele Calhoun

I used to hate this book.

Someone gave it to me in passing a couple of years ago. I opened it the next day, skipped the introduction, and began reading from left to right, as quickly as possible.  The first chapter was on “celebration,” and the second was on “gratitude.” Since I felt devoid of both, reading about their explicit practice was too much for me to bear. I felt exhausted, and stopped reading the book altogether.

I know. Awkward way to start a book review.

But I’m reviewing the book because months later, a friend told me that I was not supposed to read it from back to front; and that reading the introduction was vital to my understanding the rest. So I sat back down with what I thought was a terrible book, and read the first twenty-three pages that night. Everything changed. That night.

What it’s about.

It morphed from a book about trying harder to a book exposing my innermost self. Calhoun spends the first few pages carefully articulating a theology of desire; that is, how our desires work, how sin distorts our desires, and how God heals them. Against this, I always thought of spiritual disciplines as pietistic acts of self-hatred—-means and methods for suppressing desires, not listen to them. Now, there is a clear thread of self-denial woven through all biblical disciplines; but self-denial is not self-hatred. As Calhoun explains, the process leading to self-denial must inevitably start with a degree of honesty and vulnerability. This means listening to our desires. It doesn’t mean they are right desires. It doesn’t mean God won’t change those desires. It just means they are true, and that they tell us something about ourselves. This makes the beginning of any spiritual discipline fairly straightforward: “We simply desire. We bring our ache for change, our longing for belonging, our desperation to make a difference” (19). All of this then sets us up for any spiritual discipline worth its salt: “they simply put us in a place where we can begin to notice God and respond to his word to us” (19). That’s just from the first few pages of the introduction! The rest explains how our desires help us find what discipline is necessary for spiritual maturity in any given area of our lives.

After reading this introduction, I felt a hunger in me begin to simmer, and skimmed through the various disciplines Calhoun lists to discover what I needed to single out the most in my life. The result has been spiritual, emotional, and even physical health; the thing I’ve learned the most through this process is that time spent alone with God is the best thing I can do for myself and others.

Book structure.

The structure of the book is easy to follow. After the introduction, Calhoun offers sixty-two disciplines (!). This large swathe of practices makes up seven larger groupings: worship, opening self to God, relinquishing the false self, community, hearing God’s Word, incarnating the love of Christ, and prayer.

Each discipline is given a page or two of summary, along with simple, practical instructions, Scriptures, and questions to not only discover which disciplines are right for each person’s desires, but also to guide the process of practicing them once the right discipline is found.

Why you should get it.

If you have ever felt a longing inside for something deeper in your spirituality, this might be the book for you. If you’ve ever felt a disconnection between your heart and your actions, this might be the book for you. Or if you just want to wake up every day and “train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim 4:7)—in other words, to live everything Jesus taught and did at every moment of every day…this might be the book for you. Over the last two years, I have felt all of these things to the point of frustration. And this was book really helped me. It is the single most comprehensive, simple, and practical book on the disciplines I’ve ever read. I would probably still be depressed, teasing burn-out, and closed off to God (I share about that here and here) had it not been for the compassionate wisdom and simplicity of Calhoun’s writing. Needless to say, this book comes highly recommended by me.

It’s important at this juncture to know at the outset that spiritual disciplines are the means, not the end. Spiritual transformation is the end. Things get out of hand when these get mixed up. What transforms a person is not disciplines, but the Spirit of God in Christ indwelling the human heart. What disciplines can do is posture that person, already desiring God, to then receive from God and live for God; not just in moments of spiritual prosperity, but in the tedium of normal life. It’s this consistent Spirit-fanned flame of devotion, even if small at first, that causes the Christian life to soar long and true through circumstances and setbacks of any kind. Isn’t this the Christianity we long for? It is available to you. You just have to want it bad enough.

Purchase Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us, by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun here.

Read the Bible in 2015

2015 is three days away! 

This is that time we tend to redo or accumulate plans for the new year: financial budgets, diets, exercise regimes, even plans to take a vacation later in the year.

Just about the only thing we don’t plan for is our spiritual life! But if there is anything more important to the Christian, it is the health of their inner being. The apostle Paul once said that “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come” (1 Tim 4:8, NLT).

The Bible speaks a lot about planning. By all means, get physically fit. Plan a good budget. And find time to rest with your family, or get away. But don’t forget the part of you that needs the most care.

Make a plan to feed your spirit!

One of the most basic and far-reaching ways to do this is to be in the Word of God daily. I give an extensive sermon about the value of God’s Word here. In fact, the prophet Jeremiah was so sustained by the Scriptures, that he compared them to food: “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jer. 15:16). Jesus would take this even farther, saying that God’s Word was able to sustain us even more than bread (Matt 4:4).

We may find this agreeable. But if you’re like me, it doesn’t just happen automatically. There are too many other things in our lives that want to compete with our spiritual well being. That’s why we need to have a plan. And for some of you, it may help to have a little bit of structure for reading the Bible.

Here is the whole Bible broken up into quarters for readability:

January – March.

April – June.

July – September.

October – December.

Every day it will take you through portions of the Old Testament and portions of the New Testament. You don’t have to use this for your “spiritual plan,” but if it helps, by all means use it!

There will probably be times when you skip a day or two, or ten.

When that happens, it’s easy to feel guilty about missing chapter readings, and fall even farther behind trying to catch up. Inevitably, people stop reading all together because they are discouraged. Please don’t let this happen to you! It is not about reading every single word, or filling out a quota, or saying you read the whole Bible.

This Bible reading plan is about posturing yourself in the presence of God to receive from His words!

So if you skip a day here and there, or fall behind, it’s ok! Don’t try to catch up, just take it back up where you left off. The point of all this is not perfection, but consistently opening up the Scriptures. After a year of training yourself to hear and read God’s word, your life will be significantly transformed. But it’s hard to do that sometimes, isn’t it?

That’s why we need a plan for our spiritual lives going into 2015. If you need one, I hope this will bless you next year!

Again, click here for the first quarter of the Bible reading series.

My five favorite reads of 2014

Let me define “favorite” and “of 2014.”

By “favorite,” I just mean impactful. But there are other things I consider too: if it was well written, if the author was able to carry me from beginning to end, if the ideas and concepts in the book were cohesive and well-developed, and if the writer has something to say that is worth reading.

What I mean by “of 2014” is not published in 2014–some of the selections are a decade older. They are simply books I read in 2014. I’m such a latecomer to books!

As a side note, this list is not written in order of importance. I’m lining them up as a narrative. I hope that storyline pops out in the descriptions about what has been most formative for me this last year. Without further ado…

The Divine Conspiracy, by Dallas Willard

It’s about time I read this one. The late Dallas Willard is one of the greatest thinkers of our day. I hesitate to say “Christian” thinkers, because he can flex his philosophical muscles with the best secular intellectuals of the century. Willard’s books often mix his mastery of the human personality with a deep admiration for the believer’s union with ChristThe Divine Conspiracy is his magnum opus. And what a great work it is! Taking the Sermon on the Mount as his cue, Willard pokes holes in flimsy, modern assumptions of Christianity that leave the confessor void of transformation or commitment. His premise is that being a “Christian” is to live vastly different in every area of life, because of the indwelling life of Christ. What follows is a four-hundred page juggernaut to convince you. By the time I was half way through this tome, I wasn’t just convinced, I was desperately hungry for change in my own life. One that can only be described as discipleship.

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazzero.

Emotional Health is a discipleship issue. Unfortunately, a lot of “discipleship” in the church consists of teachings and other knowledge gathering, with a dash of volunteering. Essentially, read more, do more. Scazzero opens with stories peppered throughout (both Biblical and personal) of why that doesn’t work. He immediately follows with examples of emotionally unhealthy habits (in case you are tempted to drop the book and think, “I’m emotionally good-looking”), before he explains what an emotionally and spiritually healthy person looks like, and how they become so. I found myself hooked. Mostly because the person he was describing so well, was me. He ends the last half offering a way out of the nightmare of emotional and spiritual immaturity. His solution involves getting mystical and contemplative, in a non-creepy sort of way.

Here is a more extensive book review I wrote on EHS.

The Five Disfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni.

If Scazzero revealed how detrimental emotional immaturity can be to an individual, then Lencioni shows you how it can unravel a team, community, or even a simple group project. Lencioni is a fascinating writer who takes two seemingly opposite concepts–business and narrative–and combines them. What you have left is a masterfully told story that drives home principles of team health and dynamics. The storyline is so captivating that you never even know what hit you. In the final chapters of the book, Lencioni steps out of his storytelling role, to explain what just hit you. Even if you are not a leader, per se, so much in this short read will enlighten you to why things didn’t work very well on that project you were working on with so-and-so. It will also prepare you for how to work well with others. A necessary component in today’s world of team-oriented everything.

Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun.

Contemplative spirituality and spiritual disciplines can sometimes scare Protestant evangelicals, because it reeks of a mystical nature. I really appreciated Calhoun’s ability to break these practices down with clarity and brevity, supporting them with Scripture, and showing the differences between Christian acts of spiritual discipline and the counterfeits offered by other world religions. Each discipline warrants no more than three pages, including an inspirational explanation, a tutorial, appropriate Scriptures, and a litany of ways said discipline can transform your life. As good as each of these are, the gold is in the introduction. Nowhere, in all of the titans of contemplative spirituality and disciplines, have I witnessed such an clear and enlightening vision for why a Christian should practice them, or how to practice them effectively. If you get this book (and you should), DO NOT READ IT WITHOUT FIRST READING THE INTRODUCTION. It is that good, and that necessary.

Sacred Reading, by Michael Casey.

This is an introduction to Lectio Divina, one of my favorite contemplative disciplines. It is the ancient practice of praying and meditating on the Scriptures, in a way that allows the Word of God to permeate, not just the intellect, but the heart. It is a slow reading of Scripture. It allows the reader of the Word to be read by the Word. Casey is filled with deep reverence and knowledge of Lectio, and his admiration for God’s word catches fire to the reader. A word of caution, it is not a manual for practicing Lectio Divina; for that, refer to Calhoun’s book on Spiritual Disciplines mentioned above; Casey’s Sacred Reading is a glimpse into a lifestyle of communion with God through His Word. It is meant to captivate you to a different way of reading.

The favorite of the favorites?

My number one book of this last year was Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Scazzero. It’s affect on me was no doubt due to the journey I had been on at the time (which I talk about here). But as Scazzero points out, and as the experience of many other people I’ve talked to over the last couple months confirms, this is a topic that is as neglected by Christians as it is crucial for their maturity. This short read is a breathe of fresh air on a long pathway. So for all these reasons and more, this was the most impactful book on me in 2014.

What were your best reads of 2014, and why?

Book Review: Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, by Jeanne Guyon

Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ is a classic approach to contemplative prayer. It’s shaped by a longing to experience the indwelling union of God. Written in the 1700’s, it was banned by the church, and Jeanne Guyon was imprisoned. The sheer impact of Madame Guyon’s approach throughout the centuries at least demands our attention. John Wesley, Count Zinzendorf, Fenelon, Hudson Taylor, Watchman Nee. They were all influenced by this unassuming little pamphlet.

Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ (EDJC) sounds like a devotional, yet it functions like a manual–with progressive steps, each leading to new levels of experiential maturity. That was the greatest draw for me—few books on prayer are written with such practical vitality. Guyon’s entire premise is based on experiencing union with Christ, so the subsequent chapters involve some added measure of surrender. I found myself easily drawn to her style of writing. It felt less like a theological exploration of prayer, and more like sitting at the feet of an older woman teaching me to pray. There were several chapters where I had to put the book down and practice what I read. Some of her instructions were as rich as they were simple, and I would get stuck on one page for several days, enjoying the journey those few words would take me. I think the power in this book lie partially in its audience. Guyon is clear in the intial chapters that she is writing to people who don’t know how to pray—basically illiterate believers of her time. I think it caused her to trim the fat, so to speak. What’s left is a powerful example of contemplative-style praying.

At times, her terminology has a Roman Catholic feel. This makes sense, as Guyon is apparently a Roman Catholic. I tend to veer away from Catholic books on contemplation. A Catholic might practice the same discipline as observed by a Protestant, and yet with entirely different motivations. Catholic contemplatives often practice spiritual disciplines believing that their asceticism will impact their salvation in a positive way. Protestants firmly reject this. We engage spiritual disciplines, believing that all we receive from God we receive by grace. And so the purpose of the disciplines is not to twist God’s arm, but to posture our restless hearts to experience his grace. That alone is a big difference between these two theological titans, and reason alone to generally reject Catholic books on contemplation. I think this is a healthy apprehension, summarized best by the late Lutheran theologian, John W. Doberstein,

It is not true that prayers and books of devotion, even the so-called “classics of devotion,” can be used indiscriminately. Many of them are infused with a mystical tradition which is completely alien to the gospel and can only be confusing to the evangelical user of them. Prayer and liturgy are realized dogma, doctrine which is prayed; but if the doctrine is false, putting it into the form of devotion does not make it any less false. The Roman Catholic forms of spiritual exercises can never be a pattern for us, though they have crept into many popular Protestant manuals and discussions of prayer and meditation. The difference that separates us is that all Roman Catholic meditation rests upon the dogmatic assumption of synergism. (The Minister’s Prayer Book, XIV-XV)

The Catholic influence alone would put up my defenses with this book, but Guyon kept evading many of my fears. In certain places she spoke of God’s gracious sovereignty with such brazenness, that I actually began to wonder if she was a closet Calvinist! For example, she asserts, “You can be sure you would never consent [to union with Christ] if it were not that God takes it upon Himself to act upon you…God must take responsibility for bringing man into union with Himself” (130-131).

I wonder if it were quotes like–usurping the works-based theology of the Catholic church–that resulted in her imprisonment. I can certainly understand. She said many things that initially rubbed me the wrong way. But was I simply biased and unteachable? So I tried to read it with an open, but discerning mind just to be sure. Unfortunately, some books have so much to “discern” that I wonder if they are worth reading at all! However, with EDJC, I’m torn. If it’s the case that Guyon was veering from her Roman Catholic roots, my opinion of this book would change drastically, and I would feel free to recommend it. At the moment, I don’t think I could give this book to a believer who was weak in their faith, or lacked sound theology or discernment. It’s one of those. But for Christians who have been trained with discernment, there are few books on prayer that were as exciting for me to wade through as this. It may be worth the effort for you.

Overall, it was refreshing. It is leaps and bounds more impactful than many modern books that opine for chapters on end about the technique and beauty of prayer without ever actually praying.

My final verdict: proceed with both caution and curiosity.

Get the book on Amazon.

Union with Christ

If I were to ask you to explain what it meant to be a Christian, what would you say?

Many would say it involves mostly rules. Others think it’s doing good things for other people. Or maybe church attendance. Perhaps intellectual belief. But how does the Bible define following Jesus?

Overwhelmingly, we hear descriptions about being in Him.

  • Paul says “in Him” 11 times just in the opening chapter to the Ephesians.
  • The same phrase, “in Him,” occurs 73 times in the New Testament [1].
    • Just a couple tantalizing examples,
      • In love He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:5-6)
      • Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

We also hear descriptions about Christ being in us.

  • To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)
  • I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
  • So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13)

So frequent are these terms used to describe the Christian, and so extensive is the scope of each, that for simplicity’s sake, the entire mystical endeavor is often simply called Union with Christ [2].

What is Union with Christ?

Christ put it rather succinctly, “In that day you will know that I am in My Father, you are in Me, and I am in you” (John 14:20, HCSB). I think Wayne Grudem’s definition is helpful here: Union with Christ is “a phrase used to summarize several different relationships between believers and Christ, through which Christians receive every benefit of salvation[3]. In other words, everything noteworthy about salvation–from start to finish, from conversion to glory–is inextricably tied to our union with Christ! We do not have any Christianity apart from our union with Christ.

It underlies all the works of God in our lives: election, calling, regeneration, faith, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification. To study union with Christ is to explore all of these particular blessings, and therefore the vast range of meaning in that little word in. – John M. Frame[4].

Why should you care?

Some of you may think of union with Christ an abstract doctrine, useful only for arm-chair theologians who like to spend endless hours nitpicking ethereal concepts that never touch the human experience. I hope to relieve you from this state of indifference!

There isn’t anything in the Bible that touches the human experience more than this. [5]

When a person becomes a Christian, they are not merely brought into a new set of beliefs, a list of behaviors, or a social club; it is a mysterious, all-encompassing, multi-faceted relationship and realm involving a divine Person. God himself invades our mess in the most literal way possible. Divine beauty and sinful flesh converge in a miraculous display. That mystical relationship has tremendous implications. I’ll just share from my experience of life in union with Christ.

It explains who I am.

  • I’m justified in Him (Rom 3:24; 2 Cor 5:17,21; Phi 3:9)
  • I’m identified with Him (Eph 2:6,10)
  • I’m adopted by Him (Eph 1:5-6)
  • I’m brought near to Him (Eph 2:13)

To name a few.

It fuels how I live.

To name just a few.

It shows where I want to go.

Perhaps you answered my original question by saying, “Christianity has to do with following a set of rules,” or “It is mainly about being a good person.” I would say Christianity may include or overlap with some of those popular definitions of religion—I certainly hope Christians can be identified with good people, who are consistent in their beliefs and convictions. But I would also suggest that being a Christian is more. It’s about being the version of humanity that God originally intended. But for that to happen, you must be indwelt with the Divine (2 Pet. 1:4).

In his Magnus Opus, The Divine ConspiracyDallas Willard suggests that a person cannot keep Christ’s law by trying to keep Christ’s law. That person must aim for something higher. “One must aim to become the kind of person from whom the deeds  of the law naturally flow” (142).

I believe our Lord put it this way: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4, ESV).

Back to my point, where I want to go. 

Well… I want health in my entirety. A healthy Christian is someone who is made more like the Christ who indwells them. Paul said that God’s good purpose is that we would be “conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:28-29), which is also to “mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28). This involves the health of the whole person. To love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matt 22:37). It’s what Jesus said was the most important command; the one to write home about, certainly, the one to remember if you are prone to forgetting such things.

I’m sure you’ve heard of nominal Christians. Perhaps judgmental Christians. Or [fill-in-the-blank] Christians. But my obsession is with healthy Christians.

I’m obsessed with how Christians can become healthy. So far, I’m convinced that it has to do with our union with Christ. So I obsess about that too. Mostly because I want to be a healthy Christian. And I want everyone I know to become one too.

What this blog offers

This blog exists in great part to take this far-reaching, all-encompassing, glorious doctrine of our union with Christ, and show it’s daily implications in everyday life. Union with Christ is not for the armchair theologians.

It’s for you. And it’s for me.

How do you experience Union with Christ?

The apostle said, “When you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed in Him, you were also sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13). That’s a great place to start.

Your experience of Jesus starts by believing the truth about Jesus. As J. Todd Billings writes, “Full humanity is humanity in complete union with God” [6]. So most of these posts will explore the realization or practical application of this truth. Even if it’s subtle. For example,

So, stay tuned!

Works Cited… Read the rest of this entry

Happy Thanksgiving!

The pilgrims of Plymouth, MA, were almost decimated after the Winter of 1620 killed half their community.

The remaining colonists formed relationships with neighboring Wampanaug tribe who taught them to hunt, fish, and plant. Less than one year later, the colonists had collected enough food to feed the community through the coming Winter. They ended up joining the colonists for a three-day feast in honor of their bounty. This is what we celebrate today as “Thanksgiving.” (1)

Historically, Thanksgiving refers to a kind of absurd generosity.

A coming together against the current of the times to break bread and show gratitude. It moves beyond giving to a friend in need, or donating for a roundabout benefit, like tax write-offs. It extends to those who could be perceived as enemies–what Miroslav Volf referred to as the “other.” The Wampanaugs and the colonists had plenty of reason to hate each other. Had the tribe turned a blind eye, their inability to sustain themselves and lack of resilience would have wiped out the colonists. Instead, the Wampanaugs empowered the “other” to thrive. No wonder the colonists threw a three-day party to give thanks.

Thanksgiving comes from generosity.

But it comes out from another party’s generosity. The colonists were thankful after being shown tremendous compassion. It’s charming to me that between the fear-mongering of Halloween, the consumerism that surrounds Christmas, and the debauchery that accompanies New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving, of all the holidays (with the ironic exception of Black Friday) is somewhat free from the madness. For many, it stands out as a reprieve. Yes, Christmas should too. But culturally speaking, Christmas is entrenched with a materialistic message. Thanksgiving is still “safe” as far as most people are concerned. I wonder if it’s because of the generosity associated with it. Even the most self-centered persons will take a break from their self-indulgence to be thankful for something, even if it’s being thankful for all their stuff. In other words, thankfulness is still culturally engrained in the holiday. And it’s historically tied to generosity. Of course, it all disappears the next day when the stores open! But if you want to see a longer-lasting generosity, one has only to search the Scriptures.

When Paul wrote his very emotional second letter to the Corinthians, he kept attributing the church’s thanksgiving to the generosity of Macedonians (2 Cor 9:11-12). Earlier, he described them as being “in a severe test of affliction,” and yet that “their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” (2 Cor 8:1-2)! To rephrase, the poorest of the poor were the most generous, and it was “overflowing in many thanksgivings to God” (2 Cor 9:12). See that? Thanksgiving comes from generosity. But these people were very poor! Why did they give so much, when they had so little? And why, especially being poor, did their giving bring them so much joy?

Paul says that true thanksgiving comes not from our generosity, but from God’s.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9, ESV).

This is the generosity that lasts the longest, and goes the deepest.

This isn’t to say people who don’t know God can’t be generous; we can all do acts of generosity—even self-sacrificial ones—without knowing God. Rather, the gospel changes our deepest motivations, and loosens us from our most prized resources. We loosen our grip on things that matter less. And as seen in the Macedonians, the gospel makes everything we own seem less important than it used to be.

Thanksgiving is born in people who have experienced life in Christ.

And these have the most to be thankful for this week. In fact, Paul states earlier, that the reason you are given anything at all is so that “you will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.”

So when you enjoy the food, the family, the solitude, the air you breath this week–let it be a constant and thrilling reminder of the wealth you’ve received from God in Christ.

I leave you with a prayer of intersession from John W. Doberstein’s prayer book,

O God, who givest daily bread without our prayer, even to all the wicked, we pray thee that thou wouldst give us to acknowledge these thy benefits, and enable us to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

1- History of Thanksgiving. (2013). The History Channel website. Retrieved 12:56, November 22, 2013, from http://www.history.comhttp://www.history.com/videos/history-of-the-thanksgiving-holiday.

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