Book Review ~ Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazzero.

I looked at my therapist one morning and replied with a fresh wind of confidence,

“I think I know what’s wrong with me now: I’m spirituality mature, but emotionally immature. I have a lot of spiritual knowledge, but I’m not very good at managing my emotions.”

To give you a little background, I was in a season of my life where I was trying so hard to be spiritual and productive for God, yet feeling more stagnant and disconnected from him than ever.

His eyes widened as he replied, “You need to read this book right now.”

The book he recommended was Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (EHS), by Peter Scazzero.

Until this point, I’d never really heard about it, even though it’s been around for a while. I was curious about why the good doctor seemed so convinced I needed to read it. When it came in the mail, I took one look at the subtitle and laughed. It said,

“It’s impossible to be spirituality mature while remaining emotionally immature.”

Before cracking open the first page, I knew this book was written for me. Chances are, it’s probably written for you too.


You only have to look at the title to guess that EHS is all about emotional health. 

Broadly speaking, emotional health has to do with expressing or managing the emotions we feel. Practically speaking, it plays out in the way we interact with others. Scazzero’s entire premise is that without emotional health, you have no spiritual health either. The two are inextricably woven; really, the book is about both emotional and spiritual health. For a person to grow into a healthy disciple of Christ, they need to be concerned with managing emotions and cultivating their spiritual life (contemplative spirituality he calls it). The unambiguous diagnosis that emerges from the book, however, is that many contemporary Christians neglect either emotional health, or contemplative spirituality in the process of discipleship. But if you lack either of these, you aren’t growing in a meaningful way at all. What is absent in most Christian’s lives is not contemplation–otherwise, this would be a book about the spiritual disciplines. What’s missing is a Scriptural plan for managing emotions. Says Scazzero,

When we do not process before God the very feelings that make us human, such as fear or sadness or anger, we leak. Our churches are filled with ‘leaking’ Christians who have not treated their emotions as a discipleship issue. Grieving is not possible without paying attention to our anger and sadness. Most people who fill churches are ‘nice’ and ‘respectable.’ Few explode in anger—at least in public. The majority, like me, stuff these ‘difficult feelings,’ trusting that God will honor our noble efforts. The result is that we leak through in soft ways such as passive-aggressive behavior (e.g., showing up late), sarcastic remarks, a nasty tone of voice, and the giving of the ‘silent treatment.’ (143-144)

Scazzero’s book structure is simple.

In the first half of the book, he explains “what an emotionally unhealthy spirituality looks like” (p.2). You won’t get far in the book before you know whether the book is for you or not. In chapter three, he offers a clear solution: a marriage of emotional health with contemplative spirituality. This is the hinge of the book. The remaining half of the book offers a pathway to EHS. One that actually works.

Of the various pathways to Christian spiritual formation, there are two streams from which I have thoroughly benefitted: the Reformed tradition, with it’s panoramic view of God’s glory and emphasis on the Scriptures; and the Contemplative mystics, with their emphasis on the indwelling presence or God. One thing that always struck me about these two streams is their respective vernacular when it comes to growing in Christ. The Reformed tradition often speaks of looking outward to God who is holy other, and the contemplative stream often uses refers the believer inward to God who dwells within. One of the things I appreciated the most from Scazzero is that he marries these concepts together, as mutually compatible. He isn’t the first one to do this—there is a rich history of Reformed contemplatives at our fingertips who teach these things. Unfortunately, many of today’s books on spirituality are weighted in only one of these directions. It is refreshing to hear both “inward” and “outward” coalesce in Scazerro. For example, when he explains how emotional health keeps us from “self-absorbed narcissism” (61), while contemplative spirituality keeps us from getting exhausted as it “binds us to the living God” (155). In other words, emotional health keep us from imploding; contemplative spirituality keep us from burning out.

But it’s not for everyone.

The draw of this book lies in the problem it’s attempting to discuss. If you are emotionally stable, deal with conflicts well, have a rich inner life, processed your past hurts constructively, and are deeply self-aware of your own weaknesses, it’s probably not going to impress you very much. But if even one of these things rings a bell, you need to get this book.

As the beginning of my post betrays, I have experienced firsthand the frustrations that come with trying to grow in my relationship with Christ. In most cases, it’s because attention is brought to bear on only one area of life, such as the intellect, or habits. But the human personality is complex and beautiful. As the Psalmist said, “the inward mind and heart of a man are deep” (Ps. 64:6). While emotional health is not all that makes up a person, it is an important and deeply-encompassing part of the human soul, and ironically, one of the most neglected areas of discipleship in the church. For that reason, I highly recommend this book to anyone who feels spiritually dry, spiritually stagnant, or on the verge of burnout. I also recommend it for anyone that just wants to walk deeper with God and others.


Where to buy it.

Buy the book here!

10 Principles of Simplicity

In my last post I talked about the beauty and importance of simplicity

Now, a few suggestions for practicing this. In his acclaimed book, The Celebration of Discipline, Richard J. Foster offers 10 principles for simplicity. It was written a decade ago, and yet is surprisingly relevant. I will mention each one, followed by a fitting quote. Then I will punctuate each of them with a successful personal experience, or a personal failure. Since some of these points connected with me more than others, the length or brevity of my “punctuations” will reflect that.

1. Buy things for usefulness rather than status

“Stop trying to impress people with your clothes and impress them with your life.”

This is cutting advice considering the city of Santa Barbara (or any part of Southern California). We are known more for image than we are for utility. And it’s hard to separate the two sometimes. I’ll admit, the jackets I wear to keep warm at night, also look really good! Rather than beat ourselves up over this one, I think it more helpful to rephrase this point in this way: “Do the things I own promote my quality of life or just my standard of living?” I hope for more of the former.

2. Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you.

“Remember, an addiction, by its very nature, is something that is beyond your control…How do you discern an addiction? Very simply, you watch for undisciplined compulsions” (91).

I gave an exhaustive sermon on Alcohol and the Christian back in 2013. It’s my most viewed sermon to date. I suspect the reason for its popularity is two-fold: Santa Barbara really likes their alcohol, and no one has ever given a full-blown sermon on alcohol here before. Now, there are countless Christians who can imbibe without sinning; there are also many other who cannot. I think it’s at this point that a careful distinction needs to be made about what we are free to do. Christian liberty means you have the gospel-freedom to partake (if you can), but it also means you have the gospel-freedom to abstain if you should! Some Christians drink too much (Eph 5:18), or against their consciences (1 Cor 8:12), or against their health (Isa 5:11), or against a weaker brother (Rom 14:21) when they, in fact, need to stop. They are deceived if they think drinking, for them, is a freedom. As the apostle Paul posits, “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12, NIV). If you are mastered by anything, it’s not freedom. It’s slavery. In this case, true simplicity prevents you from developing a bondage to an otherwise good thing.

3. Develop a habit of giving things away

“Masses of things that are not needed complicate life…most of us could get rid of half our possessions without any serious sacrifice” (92).

This is a hard one, because I like my stuff. But we are graciously forced to downsize periodically because of the size of living in Santa Barbara. There’s simply not enough five bedroom homes to accommodate our love for things. This makes life easier, and, well…simple.

4. Refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry

“Timesaving devices almost never save time.”

I was one of these guys. I stayed in lines during the Steve Jobs era, waiting to be one of only thousands with the next best thing in their hands. Even though I knew the feeling would dissipate in a month, it was worth it to be among the select few in the world that had something most others did not. Silly, I know. But I couldn’t shake it. Then one day, I took Abby into a pool. With my iPhone in my pocket. For forty-five minutes. I tried to resurrect that thing using every Pinterest solution imaginable. From sticking it in a jar of rice for seven days straight, to laying it on a bed of rice in an oven at low heat. Nothing. I looked up my contract to see if I had any upgrades available. Fall of 2015. Ugh. Someone graciously lent me an older version. And I’ve been learning to slow down. I had to cut out most of the apps that used to take up so much of my time, due to the lack of space. Social media stopped running as fast as it used to, and I found myself wondering if it was worth waiting five minutes to check Facebook statuses that I know are just going to be about food, ex-boyfriends, and photos of people’s babies. Because of the pool accident, my life has gotten simpler–albeit in a small way. However, the magic was in the two weeks before my friend lent me a phone, and I had nothing. No way to search social media. No phone calls. No texts. No email. I hated it at first. But within days, I felt like I had come alive. I know that sounds sensational, but it really was true for me. I spent more time in the Scriptures than I have for a long time. More time in a contemplative posture of prayer. More time with my daughter. And wife. And God. I’ve since gotten a phone back, but with some semblance of simplicity to go with it. And it’s been worth it.

5. Learn to enjoy things without owning them

“If we own it, we feel we can control it; and if we can control it, we feel it will give us more pleasure” (93).

No one owns much in Santa Barbara, so I have nothing to say about this one, haha.

6. Develop a deeper appreciation for creation

“Simplicity means to discover once again that ‘the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof'” (Ps. 24:1).

I’ve been surfing a block from my office. And there is nothing that will silence the unending flow of emails in the brain than being in the ocean. Catching a wave is pretty darn intoxicating too. What’s your “creation” experience?

7. Look with healthy skepticism at all “buy now, pay later” schemes

“They are a trap.”

When I was a teenager, I racked up thousands on a credit card, because I didn’t know any better. Those cards are payed off, but the memories remain. My friend, Gerald Torres once told me, “If you live within your means, you’ll be happy. It’s as simple as that.” I’ve found those words to be true.

8. Obey Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech

Passive aggression. That’s when you are indirectly hostile towards another person. Perhaps through a backhanded remark, an irritated comment spoken below the breath, or a Facebook status that doesn’t name anyone yet is clearly intended for a specific person to see. This is not how Jesus ever spoke. He was clear, direct, and honest. The reason we are not, is because we are too insecure with ourselves to be honest in conflict. Or because we fear. We fear the tension that will escalate when we deal with the hard issues in an interpersonal relationship. So we cover the truth, mask our feelings, and don’t say anything. Then we attach some level of piety and self-righteousness to our (in)action, thinking we took the high road. But we didn’t. This is evidenced by the fact that we cannot let it go. At least in our minds. We play the scenario over and over in our heads, thinking of what we could have said, or should have said. And we get angry while we do it. All of this anger is directed towards that person who originally upset us. We could have dealt with it at the beginning, but not it’s building up steam. Then when said person enters the room, we release a little passive-aggressive steam, couched in a note of sarcasm. And both sides of the relationship suffer for it. All of this can be prevented by being honest and forthright. Go figure.

9. Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others

Welp, that’s almost everything in my kitchen, my closet, my car, and my office. To do this with any shred of integrity, you’d have to make your own clothes, ride a bike instead of a car, buy organic veggies, free-range meat, and American products. Guess how much that would cost? Do any of us do this? Why or why not?

10. Shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the Kingdom of God

Imagine a life that looks like this. Not an individual life, but corporate. Imagine everyone in your church free from status-envy, addictions, stinginess, the race to be cutting-edge, the obsession with belongings; or if we all developed a care for our surroundings, an aversion to debt (except to owe love); if we were easy to understand, and said what we meant, and if we all worked together to free the oppressed, and ran from anything that did not look like God’s will. I think our church would start to look set apart in Santa Barbara, yet, strangely alluring as well. Why? Because we don’t need anything except what we already have. What a glaringly different and attractive way to live. Such is the power of simplicity. No wonder Paul’s quirky instruction…

“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.” 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (NASB)

A life of radical simplicity

I need to preface this post with a disclaimer: I do not have a life of simplicity. My life is really complicated. But I hope to change that someday. I’m writing now with that longing in mind.

I came across a passage in our Bible reading schedule that stopped me cold.

“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.” 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (NASB)

I’ll come back to this passage in a paragraph or two. But first a question for anyone who has gone to a church.

Have you ever noticed the pressure in evangelical church culture to live an activity-filled life? 

I’ve talked to more than one individual who felt this pressure. And as a result, condemnation, albeit indirectly, by their fellow Christians, for not being as “on fire” as the critical mass of worshippers in their church. Now a second disclaimer: No blame should be left at the feet of those who are passionate about their faith. Especially if they are excited about following Jesus. Passion is needed in the church. All I’m suggesting here is that not everyone is in the same place that you are, spiritually speaking. And they don’t have to be. Everyone has their own pace at which they grow in their spiritual walk. All that really matters is that you’re growing. We shouldn’t quench the fire of the zealous ones among us; neither should we quench the smoldering wick of the Christian who is just trying to make it through the day without screwing up. For that reason, I can’t stop going back to Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. Specifically, those two verses in chapter four.

Paul’s instruction are a blatant contrast from the now overdone trend in Christian youth culture to be radical, sold-out, and influential.

There is this prevalent idea among Christian (evangelical?) millennials to live in a manner that is unparalleled by their peers. In a way that stands out. There is an external pressure to wield as much influence, power, and connection in the world as possible. After all, this is the “next great generation,” as they say. And we have a hefty expectation to live up to. “Ahem”…for the glory of God, of course.

Now, I do believe God’s call on our lives is radical in itself. Jesus changes our innermost being, relationships, worldviews, social structures, and then sends us as disciples into the world to repeat the process with others. Just the nature of our salvation, involving the mysterious union we have with Christ is beyond the scope of imagination. Consequently, anything we do as Christians, if the presence of Christ is in us, is by association, of a radical nature. To share the gospel with a non-believer, if done with the Spirit of Christ in us, is a radical commission. To open our doors in hospitality to our neighbors, when infused by the Spirit of Christ in us, is radical. If we are one with Christ, then talking to a cashier at the local grocery store can be radical. If, by radical, we mean, “far-reaching or thorough” in its “affecting the fundamental nature of something.” You can see how talking to a cashier in a grocery store about Jesus can have “far-reaching affects” if you are speaking by the power of Christ’s indwelling presence.

So then why are millennials so unsatisfied with their jobs, homes, churches, environment, and callings? It’s not the technical definition of “radical” that we seem to be after. For then, we’d already be satisfied in the seemingly mundane, as long as God is present with us. But we’re not satisfied. We’re the unsatisfied generation. I lost count of how many restless friends I’ve known who left the town they initially thought they were “called to.” It’s like they’re always on the run to find the next best thing “God has for them.”

I wonder, why don’t I ever hear of millennials staying in the same place, for years and years, faithfully ministering to the same people, day in and day out? Why don’t I ever hear stories about that twenty-three year old who worked for twenty years at a job she hated because of the uncontrollable burden on her heart for a co-worker? Why do I less stories about millennials counting the cost to obey Christ, and hear instead about “chasing my dreams”? Why do I see young people hopping from “calling” to “calling”–as if God keeps changing our minds (or His) on what He’s called us to?

Could it be that we have turned an already Great Commission into a romantic expectation? 

Maybe our dream is of big venues, great movements, and the prestige that will come when God uses us. Perhaps we daydream about the connections we’ll make, the book deals we’ll sign, or the influence we’ll have. We see non-profits, CEO’s, celebrity pastors, entrepreneurs and kind-of-famous musicians. Even if we can’t be that big, we at least dream of being as happy. We feel as though our right as Christians is to serve God doing what we want to do. We have passionate ambitions. We cannot imagine serving God in anything less than our dream job, with our best gifts, on our terms, and according to our schedule. I fully support dreaming big. But sometimes big dreams emerge from small beginnings.

I remember visiting the Sistine Chapel six years ago. The swell of global visitors in that room was astonishing, as everyone stood on tip-toes clamoring for a blurry shot of the famous ceiling frescos that were too far away to promise any photographic detail. Greatness. We want to be the Michelangelo of our day. But Michelangelo was primarily “gifted” as a sculpter. In fact, it’s said that he had a low opinion of painting. How many of us would turn that opportunity down because “our gifts are not being used,’ or “it wasn’t my dream job!” But Mike faithfully undertook the commission. Four years later, a masterpiece was born. That’s true greatness. But lying on scaffolding, with paint leaking into your eyes after the 10th hour on your back is certainly not romantic. Greatness rarely is. And according to the apostle Paul, the greatest ambition we should be pursuing is an invisible one.

What if God never intended for you to be legendary? What if you never made the paper, the TV, or even Youtube? Are you ok with being insignificant in the eyes of culture, to be obedient before God’s? What if God just wanted you to be faithful to your classmate, your friend, your neighbor, your kids? What if the inner change that occurred over the slow months of investing into them was the world-changing venture God had in mind for you? What if God just wanted you to teach others what you were once taught? Would you be ok with that? Because Paul’s verse to live a quiet life, not bother anyone, and have a good reputation would also certainly dovetail with his calling to make disciples. Paul is consistent. Maybe we’re the ones that have it skewed.

In Hebrews 11:32-40, aptly nicknamed the Hall of Faith, some of the most faithful believers don’t even get named. To be sure, some of them “stopped the mouths of lions” (33). But others were simply mocked, flogged, or imprisoned (36). How unglamorous. All of them went down in history nameless and unknown to us. Yet they are unforgettable to God. In fact, the author of Hebrews describes them as people “of whom the world was not worthy” (30). A backhanded jab at prevailing culture’s adulation for celebrity, fame, and power. The irony is that most of us don’t even know any Greek pagans from that time in history–the ones with honor and prestige. But our churches exist because of the nameless in the Hall of Faith. The explosion of the early church was founded on the faith of such men and women. So yes, history yields a radical result. It’s just not worthy of the world’s fame. Or even a headline in a blog. But God is thrilled. Is that enough for you? To be praised by God, if not by the Huffington Post?

I think that Paul is calling us to a life of simplicity and obedience.

This grinds in the face of what many of us think we want (try sitting in a chair for 20 minutes without having to look at your phone). In fact, Paul seems to correlate the overall health of our relationships with non-believers to a simple and quiet life: “lead a quiet life and attend to your own business…so that you will behave properly toward outsiders”

I have recognized the glaring absence of simplicity in parts of my own life.

As I mentioned at the beginning, my life seems anything but simple. The times my life is the most complicated, sometimes also happens to be the most lacking in true, heavenly power. And I wonder if there’s a correlation. I long for simple power. To not be dominated by my calendar, technology, bills, emails, and urgent-but-menial tasks. I’m guessing that for a lot of you, it’s the same. That would make simplicity a discipline that we must enter into and practice if we’re going to take seriously God’s Word. It won’t just happen. But the discipline we enter into is not some spiritual form of self-flagellation. It’s a pattern by which we subvert dangerous cultural norms that threaten to derail us from true peace of mind. It’s a discipline by which we experience and reflect God’s power in our lives regardless of the external pressures of our world. It’s a way of saying, breathing, and living a simple motto: my union with Christ is enough. It lies latent in every believer who can slow down enough to trust and obey their Lord. It will cause us to slow down and refocus our inner life on the indwelling presence of Jesus, if we let it. But since acts of simplicity are an enigma for many of us, it might help for me to spell it out for the sake of clarity. Since I am still a novice at it, I’ll offer direction from one of the great modern-day contemplatives.

So my next post will bring with it ten acts of simplicity, by Richard J. Foster. A guy who knew where the radical nature of Christianity lied: the interior life of every Christian.

Ken Ham is not my spokesman…well, I wish he wasn’t.

This is a piece in the Atlantic, “Debating Dinosaurs With Creationists,” interviewing Ken Ham at his famous Creation museum in Kentucky.

I figured from the title that it probably wasn’t in the Creationists favor. Surprisingly, it was a cordial, lighthearted, and honest article—not loaded with vitriol as these often are. And there were even times I resonated with Jeffrey Goldberg. However, reading it still saddened me. And my issue is not with the author. I’m upset that Ken Ham’s view of cosmology is often the only one covered or presented by the media (I’m thinking back especially to the debate between Ham and Bill Nye). For those who are unaware, Ham is one of the biggest proponents of the Young Earth view of Creation (YEC), which means he believes the planet began around 6,000 years ago. Though I am not a YEC proponent myself, I don’t mind others who hold that view—many people I love, respect, work with, and learn from do. Again, it’s the sheer volume of exposure it gets.

Young Earth Creationism is the only Christian view of origins that seems to get discussed in popular culture.

It’s the Left Behind of cosmology. To be fair, I don’t think journalists, bloggers, and debate coordinators are necessarily to blame for this (though they are to some degree, as they do not invite Creationists with varying positions). I, respectfully, lay a bit of the blame also on Ken Ham. In his writings, in this interview, and in debates, I’ve seen his view of creation presented, not merely as a contending viewpoint for Christians, but as the only valid viewpoint for Christians to believe. See, I wouldn’t mind Ham’s views if he were a little more charitable towards Christians who disagree with it. But when you combine his staunch views on cosmology with what Goldberg described as “marketing genius…his ability to shape a conversation on his terms“–you soon end up with Ham’s quotes—and only his quotes—filling the blogosphere, twitterverse, and news channels, as seemingly the only representation of what Christians believe about the origin of the universe from the book of Genesis! But it is not. It’s not.

There are many scholars who have devoted their lives to studying the Book of Genesis, who believe in the authority of the Bible, and yet hold to an entirely different interpretation of the first two chapters of Genesis than Ham.

Great scholars like John Walton, Johnny Miller, and John Sailhamer have unearthed the backdrop of the ancient world against which the first book of the Bible was written. They provide contemporary readers with historic context, linguistic insight, and alternative interpretations that should be considered before developing any serious conclusions. Unlike Ham, they do this all without having to pit science against Scripture.

A common objection to this is,

“That’s letting modern science form your belief about the origin of the universe and not the Word of God.”

I suppose this could be rephrased in the reverse: “YEC’s let their cultural literalism form their belief about the origin of the universe and not the Word of God.” Objections like this tend to be unhelpful to the conversation; both sides in the Young/Old Earth debate believe in the authority of Scripture, and it brings a robust debate to a screeching halt to throw out elementary attacks like this.

Another objection:

“If science and Scripture seem to contradict each other, Scripture is right, and science is wrong.”

But this fails to take into account another variable: the reader! See, if science and Scripture appear to “contradict” each other, there’s still a chance that neither are “wrong.” Perhaps it’s your understanding that’s flawed. Science, after all, is the study of the natural world through observation and experiment. Creationists often (rightly) posit that the scientist-observer is wrong. But we shouldn’t stop there. You see, theology is also a field of study–the study of God. And this study also involves a certain amount of interpretation. So…perhaps Christian interpreters have gotten Genesis wrong? This is the basis for many of these OEC’s. Their overarching statements about understanding Genesis are based on the belief that Young Earth Creationism has a faulty hermeneutic, and is therefore, a wrong interpretation. Now, whether you agree with that assessment or not, can we at least agree that these other Creationists, who disagree with Ham’s Young Earth position, at least deserve a platform?

As a college pastor for four years, and a pastor of a “young” church–I’ve seen students walk away from their faith over these issues.

Christian college students are forced to bifurcate the Bible and science as if that were the only way to follow Christ. That’s the real issue that upsets me–they don’t have to do that. Of course, when YEC–or a caricature of it–creates a monopoly on hermeneutics, it’s only a matter of time before students feel a disconnect between their faith and real life. And each time, it seems like I can trace those stories back to a parochial, if not militant, view of Genesis 1 and 2 that teaches younger generations that they must choose between science and the Bible. Consider this red flag by the Barna Group:

One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries (Barna)

I’m so thankful for the flood of authors, scholars, professors, and conversationalists who have expanded the conversation. I hope we can continue to cultivate humble, open dialog around these issues.

Some of the ones I already mentioned take, I think, a more honest exegetical approach to the texts in Genesis, and the results—surprise—never force one to choose between science and Scripture. Sadly, most people, if exposed to Creationism at all, will only hear slivers of a particular view that in turn gets filtered through a magazine, a TV documentary, or the unforgiving comment sections of social media. I’m not asking YEC to change their centuries-long view; I’m asking that other experts on the Biblical account of creation get the same amount of air time as Ham. I’m also asking that the rest of us listen to them as much as we have listened to Ham. He doesn’t represent us all.

Well…yes he does. Unfortunately.

What are your thoughts on Creation and science?

The Good Life: A series through the Sermon on the Mount

The “Good Life” is the life that everyone is after. It’s a vision of well-being that we’ve been taught to create or chase. Yet it’s usually on the other side of the fence where grass always appears greener. It’s the dream that captivates our imagination, and just as often breaks our hearts. Many of us might agree that the Good Life is as evasive as it is alluring.

But the Bible presents us with a far more satisfying picture. Jesus explained that a taste of the Good Life is here with us right now. In his famous Sermon on the Mount, he gave supernatural examples, situations, and case studies of the breaking forth of God’s kingdom in the present age—the Good Life of Heaven coming down into our world. All of this is now on display in Jesus’ most famous and memorable sermon.

Join us as we begin a series through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, starting September 21st.

Here is a list of the sermons we’ve done so far.

For what to expect, check out the schedule: The Good Life Series.

Book Review ~ Sacred Rhythms: Arranging our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, by Ruth Haley Barton

“I cannot transform myself, or anyone else for that matter. What I can do is create the conditions in which spiritual transformation can take place, by developing and maintaining a rhythm of spiritual practices that keep me open and available to God” (12).

Sacred Rhythms is an introduction to spiritual disciplines. It’s about creating space and cultivating rhythms that allow you to enjoy God.

I know this an older book–it’s from 2006–but it so resonated with me because of its personal effect on my soul. I am a pastor–which assumes, to some degree–that I am being spiritual quite often. That’s open for debate. I know one thing for certain: I can keep myself busy. But is business necessarily spiritual? Is productivity? Success? Barton argues that those things can actually be harmful to your spiritual health when they are able to wield control over your life (a condition she calls Christian fatigue syndrome). As a “minister,” there were many opportunities to get involved with spiritual activities, a lot of opportunities to make myself busy, and even a heightened knowledge of the Bible that I developed over time.

But something was still missing.

I made the process too intellectual, too rushed, too goal-oriented. Some of this led to a feeling of disconnection in me from the very God who lives inside of me. That’s probably why I loved this book. It clearly explained what was wrong with me for many years, and offered a simple invitation back into the arms of Christ.

If you have enjoyed the recent series here on the blog, Contemplative Approach to Spirituality, and want to know and learn more, you’re hard-pressed to find a better place to start. Here’s a bit of what to expect in the outline–three basic parts.

1. Introduction to Spiritual Transformation

I felt like Barton was talking to me in the introduction. I put my highlighter down when I realized that I wanted to highlight every single line on the first three pages–it really defeats the purpose of highlighting when you do it on every line. After the first three pages, the rest of the introduction is preparing you for what to expect in the writing: book outline, practical instruction, group suggestions, etc. But it’s in the next chapter when things really get rolling.

2. Invitation to Spiritual Transformation

This is, in my opinion, the fulcrum of the book. Barton spends some time here whetting the appetite of the reader, exposing our need, and pointing us towards our truest desires. Since disciplines can seem a laborious drudgery to the uninitiated (or the badly initiated), this chapter is valuable in dispelling myths, and revealing our deep spiritual thirst, as well as the value in posturing ourselves to receive from God’s endless wells. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book. But it gets better.

3. Seven different types of disciplines

This section on disciplines are pure gold. Each of the remaining chapters explain a spiritual discipline. Collectively, they form a well-balanced diet of the Christian life. The disciplines are solitude, Scripture (lectio divina), prayer, honoring the body, self-examination, discernment, Sabbath, and The Rule of Life.

The flow of the chapters are what drives each discipline home.

Instead of bombarding you with practical instruction or ancient sayings, Barton appeals to your deepest desires, and pulls you into a story that you want to be a part of. The danger in plunging into spiritual disciplines is two-fold: You don’t realize you need soul-care, and are cavalier with it; or you approach it as another to-do list, and end up more exhausted than ever. However, I think Barton pirouettes around these issues gracefully.

Each chapter begins with her personal experience to draw your attention. Then she explains the inner desires the practice effects. After she persuades you of your need, the practical steps for getting started are laid out to be received. There is no chance of getting lost in some author’s convoluted sayings–Barton offers detailed, clear explanations on how to engage each particular discipline. Peppered throughout are historical insights, careful attention (and mercy) on our weaknesses, and expressions of the practice from Scripture. By the time I finished each chapter, I wanted to put the book down and seek the face of God.

I’ll conclude my review with eight quotes from the book…

This is fundamentally what spiritual disciplines are all about: choosing a way of life that opens us to the presence of God in the places of our being where our truest desires and deepest longings stir. (13)

A prayer welled up from the depths of my being, a prayer so full of desire that it was barely articulate: “O God, give me more moments like this–moments when I am fully present to you and to others in love.” (21)

Your desire for more of God than you have right now, your longing for love, your need for deeper levels of spiritual transformation than you have experienced so far is the truest thing about you. (24)

Solitude is an opportunity to interrupt this [vicious] cycle by turning off the noise and stimulation of our lives so that we can hear our loneliness and our longing calling us deeper into the only relationship that can satisfy our longing. (36)

We need a way of approaching Scripture that will move us very concretely from our over reliance on information gathering to an experience of Scripture as a place of intimate encounter. (54)

One thing I know for sure about prayer these days is that we do not know how to pray. It is only the young in Christ who think they know how to pray; the rest of us know we are beginners.(63)

One of the deepest longings of the human heart is to be known and loved unconditionally (91)

Sabbath keeping is a discipline that will mess with you, because once you move beyond just thinking about it and actually begin to practice it, the goodness of it will capture you, body, soul, and spirit. (133)

I think every Christian should familiarize themselves with spiritual formation and the practices that cultivate it.

I also believe the person who would experience immediate benefits from this book are those who are spiritually dry, fatigued, or just burnt out on the church, God, or Christianity. Sacred Rhythms takes advantage of the Christian’s existing union with Christ–not by shaming you into to trying harder–but by posturing you in your weaknesses towards the One who already lives inside you.

And as a result, this may be my favorite book I’ve read all year–I’ll let you know in December. Until then, get this book, and drink so deeply!

You can find the book on Amazon: Sacred Rhythms.

How the automobile maimed community

Not only is the appreciation, knowledge, and care of any particular “place” literally left behind in the exhaust fumes of the automobile, so also do the civic virtues necessary for living together in community evaporate in a car-dominated society. Who needs to develop neighborliness if one lives in a detached house accessed almost exclusively by the automobile? If one never walks down the block to buy a loaf of bread, then one never notices the new rose bush in Mr. Albert’s garden five doors down, nor does one ever meet the single mother and her three kids who live above the local bakery. In fact, with the dominance of the car and the shopping malls that have been built to accommodate its culture, there are hardly any local bakeries to walk to anyway. Civility assumes proximity. We develop civic virtues in the context of societal relationships. But the automobile enhances individuality and reduces proximity to the traffic jam. Civility gives way to road rage. ~  Steven Bouma-Prediger and Brian Walsh (Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, 257)

Journaling to hip-hop, a guest post by Christina Blackwell

This is part five in A Contemplative Approach To Christianity, a series dedicated to introducing the quieter side of Christian practice, featuring a new writer every week. These are all from men or women who have been able to connect with God in the middle of the noise–often using spiritual disciplines that are very similar to those found throughout historical Christianity. I’ve asked these authors to share details about what their practices look like, to include us all in the opportunity to take part! As far as the blog series goes, you can speak up at anytime. Ask questions of the writer, or of me. Add your experience. Your apprehensions. It’s an open place. We’re all exploring. And may you be refreshed as you return to first things.


So far, we’ve looked at Contemplative Prayer, and Cultivating a Lifestyle of Listening, and Meditating on God’s Word. Now, we’ll witness a mix of ancient church practice with a bit of the arts.

When I first learned that Christina married the tenured practice of journaling with hip-hop music, I must admit, I was intrigued. I know a few people who express their thoughts and prayers, examine their hearts, and confess their sins to God through journaling, but to intermingle this spiritual discipline with music is unique. I wanted to hear what she had to say, but I knew it would be too good to keep for myself. So we present it to you for your joy. For those who want to learn how to engage the soul in the disciplined art of journaling, Christina will, of course, lay out some helpful steps; much of this can work with or without music. But what I love about her approach is that you don’t have to constrain yourself with rigid formulas. Who’s to say you have to practice the presence of God exactly like Brother Lawrence, or balance your life just like Benedict of Nursia, or enjoy Lectio Divina only as outlined by Guigo? The point of any spiritual discipline is to connect your soul to the Christ who is already in you. It is not to fill a quota, check off a spiritual to-do list, or feel righteous about one’s ability to replicate someone else’s regimen. And for Christina, well…it seems her combination of writing mixed with the infectious sounds of a beat have done what was needed to help center her soul on God. I hope it greets you with refreshing intensity. I also hope it opens your eyes and heart to a world of spiritual creativity.

The rest of this post is in Christina’s words…

***

I am currently transitioning out of full time ministry that I have been engaged in the last two years.  I am moving towards being used as a vessel of the Lord to be catalytic in the awareness and participation of African- Americans in global missions work.  I am originally from Southern California but now I live in Orlando, Florida.  Graduated from UCSB in 2012.  Studied black studies, minored in applied psychology and education.  I’ve known and loved Jesus as much as I knew how since I was five years old, but I’ve truly and wholly been walking with the Lord for the last six years.  I have five siblings ranging from ages twenty-five to three.  I am an auntie of one sweet baby girl who will be one soon.  I have lots of friends in California that I love and dearly miss.  I love all things creative and cozy.  I enjoy cooking, eating, writing, singing, dancing, and Spotify.  I am thoroughly amused by dry and corny humor.  It’s the best when I am the only one laughing at a joke in a large group setting.  I especially love word crafting like that expressed in spoken Word, poetry and Hip-Hop music. 

Hip Hop, dare I say, is the language of my soul.

These wordsmiths say what I would say in a way they thought of first.  My first experience with hip-hop that exalted the God of Heaven and preached the truth of the Gospel was through a friend of mine, Barry Moore, my senior year in high school.  He met Jesus; gave his life to him and renounced all things against the Lord.  For him, part of that meant throwing away his extensive music collection and replacing it, to which we both benefited from during rides to and from school.  Then my freshmen year in college when I said no more to my divided heart, the Lord used this Hip-hop, alongside a church I love, to take my understanding of the Gospel from a hundred to about a thousand!  Yet, it is ever increasing even now.  I love Hip-hop music because artists can use such a small amount of time to say so much, and when you are speaking of an infinite God with infinite love, I say what better way than through a few 16s (or verses) over some incredibly engineered beats.

Journaling is gathering your thoughts, processing your feelings, remembering, dreaming, celebrating, etc., by writing these things down in a notebook. Read the rest of this entry

Meditating on God’s Word, a guest post by Jason Lomelino

I’ve been looking forward to to this weeks post in A Contemplative Approach To Christianity.

This series is dedicated to introducing the quieter side of Christian practice, featuring a new writer every week. These are all from men or women who have been able to connect with God in the middle of the noise–often using spiritual disciplines that are very similar to those found throughout the history of ancient Christian church. I’ve also asked these authors to share details about what their practices look like, should any of you wish to partake. I hope this series has been as refreshing for you as it has for me! 

So far, we’ve looked at Contemplative Prayer, and Cultivating a Lifestyle of Listening. Now, let’s move on to a personal favorite of mine–and one which I believe all others to hinge on–the meditation on God’s word.


I don’t think I know a better person to share about meditating on God’s word than my friend, Jason Lomelino.

Jason is a pastor at Isla Vista Church, where he, his wife, Holly, and their five kids live and do ministry together. They are a compelling presence of God’s love in a city that never slows down. I’ve heard many testimonies of transformation in people from Isla Vista and UCSB by God through the Lomelino family. (You can read some of their stories in Jason’s book, Jesus Burgers). I experienced this “presence” during a public worship night on the UCSB campus in the aftermath of the much publicized shootings that took place there. Jason addressed the crowd of hundreds with fatherly love, brotherly tears, and the mercies of God that night. I wondered how he was able to pour out so much love during a time when his heart was so broken. But now I understand. After reading his essay, you’ll understand too.

The rest of this post is in Jason’s words…

***

I am originally from San Diego and every year in Carlsbad these extraordinary colorful flowers bloom on a fifty-acre hillside that overlooks the Pacific Ocean.  It is breathtaking, even from your car as you drive by the hillside.  However, the majority of locals are content with just viewing them from their car as they drive by.  They don’t want to spend the time to slow down and get out of their car to view this work of art up close.  But in order to really enjoy the flowers, one must slow down and go walk amongst them.  Meditating on the Word is a similar experience. 

There is something special about slowing down, turning off distractions, and opening your heart and life to God through His Word.  There are many ways to grow deeper in our relationship with God; some may call them spiritual disciplines.  Yet I have not found any of them to be richer or more rewarding than meditating on the Word of God.  Many Christians know we are called to meditate on the Word, though in my experience few actually know how to do it, and even fewer actually do it.

Meditating on the Word is not about how much you read but the way you read it.   Read the rest of this entry

Cultivating a Lifestyle of Listening, a guest post by Samantha Miller

This is the third post in our series, A Contemplative Approach To Christianity, dedicated to introducing the quieter side of Christian practice, through historical practices and personal testimony. The goal is to hear from different Christians ways they connect with God–these are very similar to ancient practices of the Christian church–and to share a few details about what that looks like for anyone who wants to dip their feet in a more quiet spirituality. We’ve already started with Contemplative PrayerNow let’s move on to listening.

Listening may sound repulsive to the ear at first. We are not much of a listening culture. But the pathway of Christ beckons us against the grain to a lifestyle that resembles Samuel’s innocent posture to the Lord: “Speak, for your servant hears.” (1 Sam. 3:10, ESV). There is no shortage of noise in our lives. But there is lacking a word from God in our ears. Perhaps there’s a connection between the noise of life and the shortage of God’s presence. Amos’ warning resonates with many of us,

The days are coming— this is the declaration of the Lord God — when I will send a famine through the land: not a famine of bread or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord (Amos 8:11, HCSB)

Do you experience this famine? Then read on, friends.

My friend, Samantha Miller serves in our local gathering in the areas of prayer and biblical counseling. It is because of the inner joy that she so gracefully wields despite the heaviness that sometimes accompanies intercessory prayer and counseling that I believe Samantha has some worthwhile things to share. So I asked her to share about the practice and importance of listening to God. The rest of this post is in her own words…

***

In my life with God, I have consistently encountered him in the secret place.

Christians often talk about “the secret place” like this magical land where all your problems go away and you experience perfectly undistracted unity with God. Honestly, my secret place is pretty messy! All it is, is placing a value on time with God and positioning myself to receive from Him. On some days I may need to deal with some heart issues before I can really connect with Him, or I need to plan a little extra time in my schedule cause I know its going to take a while to quiet my distracted mind. Yet whatever it looks like, I am simply setting aside a time and a space to sit in solitude, surrender my emotions, thoughts and needs, and let God show me who He is.

Jesus says in Matthew 6:6 “And when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret will reward you” (ESV). We find the Father in the secret place. When we separate ourselves, go into our room and close the door, he rewards us in secret. However, learning to sit in solitude and quiet is very counter-cultural, so it can be hard work to develop this type of lifestyle. But let me tell you, when you seek Him, you will find Him.

Spending time alone with God is a process. Read the rest of this entry

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