Polarizing Positions

I was copied on an email recently that was sent to a leader of an influential Christian organization. The author of the email (let’s call him Larry, not his real name) railed against the leader and the organization for not keeping the culture Biblical and centered in Christ. Larry went on to highlight similar issues in this organization dating back sixty years! In the email, Larry cc’d about 30 individuals, many of whom I recognized. Larry also mentions an upcoming meeting with this leader to discuss these issues.

What bothered me most about this email is that Larry has been a pastor for much of his life. I responded politely and asked Larry to remove me from his distribution list.  We all know that by cc’ing individuals it implies they agree with us or are “part of their camp.” I also privately emailed the leader and told him that I didn’t agree with Larry’s approach. 

I was also bothered because Larry sent this to 30 individuals as well as posted it on his Facebook account BEFORE he talked with the leader. In my communication with the leader, he was obviously hurt that this went public before Larry could seek to understand the facts from the proverbial “horse’s mouth.”

The really, really sad part of this scenario is that this kind of event is being carried out in Christian relationships on social media every day, tens of thousands of times! Throughout the New Testament, we are told to seek to resolve our differences by going face-to-face with an individual. Instead, we triangulate by speaking to others about the third party.

Here are three very clear passages that outline how we are to deal with others of faith with whom we disagree.

In Matthew 18, Jesus clearly gives us a process to deal with our brothers and sisters in the church with whom we have a difference of perspective:

15“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Matthew 18.15-17

In chapter 4 of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he is pretty clear about how we should deal with issues within the church where we don’t agree with each other…

15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work…

25Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body…

29Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4.15-16, 25, 29-32

In Romans 1, Paul includes “gossips and slanders” among some fairly serious other behaviors with which others that Christians wouldn’t identify:

29They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Romans 1.29-32

This is clearly not what is being practiced today by followers of Christ in the church and on social media.  Jesus was honest, transparent, and loving in all his communication. He spoke the truth even when it hurt others or when it eventually led to him being killed by those who didn’t agree with him. 

I find it interesting that this teaching, though ignored, isn’t new.  Stephen Covey wrote over 30 years ago that one of the seven habits of highly effective people is that they first seek to understand before being understood.

I ask myself, why do so many followers of Christ today become so polarized and almost belligerent? First, I think electronic communication and social media allow anyone to express anything with little sense of accountability. We say things electronically that we would seldom state face to face with another. So rather than communicate our perspective and/or concerns with someone in a loving and truthful manner and listen, we just dump, categorize and blame.

Second, I think many Christians today are more influenced by their own insecurities or narratives than by the Spirit’s transformational work of conforming us to the image of Christ. We are told repeatedly in the New Testament that we are to have the mind of Christ. That is, a mind centered on the attitudes and expressions we read of Jesus. However, too often, Christians are afraid of being honest and loving face-to-face with another. They gossip rather than express something face to face.  Or they simply say something electronically.

Ironically Paul writes to a church in Corinth that is struggling with this very issue. Their lives are not very transformed and therefore reflected the culture around them. They were divisive, gossiping, selfish, inappropriate sexually, and simply acting like the culture in the city of Corinth. He, therefore, writes them several letters on how their lives should be different when they are in Christ. 

In one passage where he intentionally deals with their ability to be people of reconciliation, he says:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

2 Corinthians 5.17

We are not to emulate what we see around us. We are not to allow the behavior of those around us to influence who we are. We are new creations, and therefore we need to deal with our old narratives in ways that neuter their power to control us. 

I am convinced if we who are in Christ would live like we are new creations, those around us would notice quickly. They would notice because we would be honest and loving in all our communications. We would not speak behind any other person’s back but rather speak with them. If we would act like we are created to be, there would be no need to preach on street corners or hold John 3.16 signs in the endzones. Because people would want this relationally transforming presence personified in their relationships.

I am saddened that we don’t stand out for our Christlike behaviors, so we have to wear signs, bracelets, or t-shirts that express our faith.

Preparing for the Rest of Your Life

I recently worked very hard on a project for a week and then completed it. I put my best effort into the design and definitions of this assessment instrument. And when I sent it off to our partners, I had a distinct sense of accomplishment. I felt good and fulfilled as I pushed that send button. This is the sense of accomplishment that we are intended to have when we do our work well. Work that makes a difference in the Kingdom. It has only taken me decades to figure out what can only I do which produces this sense. 

Too often, I would get mired in work that simply doesn’t fit the way I am wired. I would find myself working for hours at things that others could do so much better than I. In fact, only several months ago did we realize that I am very good at psychometric work but mediocre at best at project management. So now I have hired someone to manage the whole instrument creation process. That is what bogged me down so often. So, I am still learning what I am good at and how to focus specifically on those kinds of activities and allow others to shine in their strengths.

I know that most people my age are slowing down and retiring. However, as I just illustrated, I am more productive and enjoying it more now than ever. Why would I slow down? One of the reasons Mary Kay and I are so enjoying our lives at this stage is that we actually prepared for this stage for most of our lives without really thinking about it. 

One of the aspects that helps maintain our healthy and happy outlook in life has been our sleep, diet, exercise, and spiritual centering over our lifetimes. From early in our twenties, MK would insist on going to bed early and being consistent in that discipline. I adapted to her practices and adopted her habits. The same has been done in our eating and exercise. We joined a health food co-op in the 1970s. I was always one who tried to stay in decent physical shape, albeit differently in every decade. For spiritual centering, I have journaled for over 40 years.

It wasn’t always like this. I started eating healthy in my early twenties because I lost a bet with a guy over whether there was sugar in Morton’s salt. I ate junk food all the time and drank sugared soda with almost every meal. As a result of losing that bet, I could not eat sugar for 30 days, and it radically changed my eating habits for life. 

If you want to make a significant impact in the next decade, you must choose to live that way in this decade.

If one wants to enjoy their 50s, 60s, and beyond, one must live in their 30s and 40s in a way that prepares for it. Too often, we only decide to address something when it becomes a problem, this is the problem. Because by the time an issue is a problem, it very well may be too late to rectify the problem. This isn’t just true of the physical body but also your emotional, mental, and even social life. And let’s not forget that all these areas directly impact our walk with Christ, our impact on the lives of others, and our ability to labor for a lifetime.

It is interesting how I accused those in the church I grew up in of hypocrisy because they would criticize those who smoked, and yet many were obese and saw nothing wrong with that. I told them that their weight was as much a strain on their body as smoking. They didn’t listen. But obviously, I was mindful of physical health while in my teens, even before I was a follower of Christ.  It appears I have always felt it was important. Only after coming to Christ did I see my body as a place where the Holy Spirit resides. Therefore it was best for me to present him with a useful abode.

In my twenties, I began a ruthless evaluation of every area of my life. I began to read a lot and widely. I began to work on my emotional health through mentors. I began to build into my life small habits that, over five decades, would produce significant dividends. Because I am not an especially disciplined person, many of those habits had to be built on a solid Why.  For me, the why was to be a sharp tool in the hands of my Maker for his purposes.  Little did I realize those same small habits in diet, exercise, sleep, and mental/emotional acuity would pay significant dividends later in life.

I have maintained this lifestyle for the past almost 50 years. I could die tomorrow of cancer or in a car accident. I must commit my life and the timing of my death to God. However, as much as it relies on me, I will provide him with good tools (body, mind, soul, and spirit) to use in his Kingdom.

So don’t wait until the future to take of yourself. Take care of your future by creating habits today.  If you want to make a significant impact in the next decade, you must choose to live that way in this decade.

What is Education?

I had an interesting dream a few weeks ago. I dreamt that I went to high school. The odd thing was that while I was in the physical body of a high schooler, I had my current mind of a 68-year-old. It was odd as I was attending the school for the first time as a new student, so I didn’t know where or when my classes were held. It was as if I had been taking the classes online and was now transitioning to the real classroom. The other students had been there all along. It was disconcerting being in the new environment but reassuring because I was 68 years old. I wasn’t panicking like a teenager. 

In fact, it was fun because, in my head, I felt I knew more than most of the teachers and administrators because they were so much younger than I was. But I still looked like a teenager, so I couldn’t act haughty. I had all kinds of thoughts about what and how we were learning in high school and, more importantly, why we were learning many things. I distinctly recall thinking through the whole educational approach of our culture during this dream.

It was a lucid dream, and I when woke up, I continued to think with a passion through the purpose and process of education for the next hour. Obviously, I lost some sleep that night but enjoyed the dream and the resulting processing.

I came up with this definition of education: Learning to Comprehend Reality Well.

I word-smithed each word in this definition during my time awake in the middle of the night…

For my time thinking through this, here is what I came up with:

  • Learning is understanding the concepts and incorporating them into one’s life.
  • Comprehending is integrating concepts across cognitive, affective, social, and physical domains.
  • Reality is understood as the material world (cosmos), the experiential world (what we experience with our senses), and micro (quantum mechanics), as well as the immaterial world (spiritual, ethereal, values).
  • Well means in ways that benefit oneself personally as well as their immediate or greater world.

I think it is time to rethink our approach to education.  Are there benefits to the multiplication tables, yes. Is it worth the effort to commit them to memory, maybe? I fully appreciate my ability to think today is rooted in the skills I learned in school, but I am convinced penmanship was not one of them!

I need to continue processing this. By the way, it was much easier to be in high school with the mind of a 68-year-old rather than that of a 16-year-old!  So many of the things that I was concerned about when in high school didn’t produce a bit of concern in my current state of mind. I think this would be true of most of life. The tough experiences of growing up give us a different perspective, called wisdom.

What is Holiness?

It is interesting reading about the individuals that are highlighted in Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians*. I am challenged by their commitment, passion, and submission to Christ; while at the same time bothered by some of their apparent lack of emotional health. Do they have to go together? There are cultural and/or centuries of time differences that may make it difficult to understand some of their distinctives.

Most of the saints highlighted over the centuries are part of the tradition that led up to the founding of the Methodist movement. I can understand the reaction that encompassed them from the state churches at this time. Yet, we stand here almost 300 years later, and the landscape has changed so much. The Methodists are not the fiery preachers claiming to have conquered death, disease and were dead to sin. They are not the ones seeing miracles and life transformations in their midst, as did their founding heroes. They are now quite tame and formal and not very distinctive from the culture, which gives little acknowledgment of God.

The same would probably be said of the Quakers, who were originally called “quakers” because they shook so much in their worship and manifestations of the Spirit. Now, they too are tame, quiet, and subdued.

Obviously, Lawson highlights from each of the lives and writings of these followers of Christ what he serves his purpose in this book. He also selects people who manifest the traits he desires. But one can clearly see that most of these individuals were sold out to Christ. They truly sought to honor His name, often in conflict with the established church and political powers of their time. This caused significant persecution for each of them.

From my perspective, it is tough to understand them because I don’t understand the culture in which these actions are described. I think they are a little odd from my view. Like the guy, Fletcher who was described by others as one of the most mild-mannered, godly persons of his day. He taught that he was free from sin, and so should others. And yet, in the last paragraph written about him, he is quoted in his journal as having a violent temper and such serious suicidal thoughts that they would keep him up all night prostrate on the floor fighting these temptations. This sounds a little disingenuous. It sounds like he was repressing a whole lot of unhealthy emotions to appear to others as “godly and mild-mannered.”

It is enlightening to see how many of these saints defined sin as something much different than I do. They talked often of their “failings,” which led to some pretty outrageous behavior, but to them, it wasn’t sin, as noted in Fletcher’s life above. I am not sure they are entirely wrong, just very different from where we are today. I have learned that temptation is not sin. But one has to only look at how their followers became quite rigid as they defined what was and was not sin very legalistically. These individuals didn’t deny their failings but were careful not to call them sin. It seems to me to simply be semantics.

It is also intriguing to see how evangelism was emphasized over discipleship during this era. I continue to read about salvation professions from one big meeting to another. But there is never a follow-up emphasis on discipling these new converts. Knowing what I know about the Methodist societies, those who were engaged in these were discipled.

It is so easy to look back 300 to 400 years ago and be puzzled by how those who were entirely sold out to the Lordship of Christ behaved. I would think the followers of Christ a century from now will also be puzzled by our current peculiarities of behavior today. In spite of our sincere attempts to conform our lives to the teachings of the New Testament, we surely have glaring inconsistencies in our behavior.

This historical perspective humbles me from judging believers’ behavior in the past or in the present too harshly. I think Jesus said it best, love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. The way that looks has not changed much over the last 2ooo years since he said it.

*Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians: Gleaned from Their Biographies, Autobiographies and Writings, 1911,  by James Gilchrist Lawson 

Is five years too long to wait for an answer to prayer?

fashion hand hurry outfit

At the end of the year, I try to go back and read from the last several years of my journal to gain perspective and wisdom. On the last day of 2022, I read a journal entry from January 10, 2018 (almost five years prior), which mentioned having several conversations with a pastor from Nashville…then it continued:

“…could you (God) use that relationship?  I think so. I am not sure what you are doing with all of these relationships, but I give them to you for you to use as you see fit.  I would ask you to bring me to people who you know I can help and serve for your Kingdom.  Then give me clarity on what that means…”

Unfortunately, it turned out I spent the next 12 months developing multiple proposals for this guy, and nothing developed from it.  He went silent on me.

This last year (2022) was a financial challenge for Healthy Growing Leaders (HGL).  In August 2022, I received an email from a couple of Christian businessmen who asked me to develop an instrument for a book they had written.  I had many meetings and worked on five different proposals for them as they changed their desires and expectations.  As with other projects we worked on through the year, they had great potential, but they didn’t produce much. As we approached the end of the year, I was significantly behind in my compensation and pension. In December, these businessmen re-engaged and said they wanted to sign the contract before the end of the year and pay the entire amount in 2022. We received and deposited their payment on December 30, 2022! I was paid all my compensation on December 31, 2022!!

So what does this have to do with my journal entry from five years ago? These two businessmen had heard of me through their friend and pastor…yes…the same pastor I journaled about five years prior.

I don’t think it was purely coincidental that I would read that journal entry on December 30, the same day we deposited the check.  I didn’t even remember writing this five years ago.  I offered it as a prayer, and then five years later, it was answered big time. 

This isn’t a big deal for God. He used this relationship from five years ago to meet a need we had this year. And that relationship five years ago came through a guy reading a book I had written years before that.

My engineering mind is befuddled about how God can orchestrate relationships, contacts, and events to bring honor to him years in the future.  I know he does; I just don’t understand how.  Someone has said that a coincidence is just a situation where God chooses to remain anonymous. 

I know there are individuals who refuse to believe in God because they prayed and didn’t receive the answer they requested.  I can’t answer for our God. I will let him do that from his perspective in eternity. But I do know there are many situations where he works in ways in which we don’t have a clue.  Had it not been for my journaling and then reading that entry from 5 years ago, I, too, would have totally missed his gracious hand at work providing the answer as we needed. 

Five years wasn’t too long.

Broken or Being Tested?

red coupe on flatbed trailer

Last week I discussed being broken. Last year (May 5, 2022), I wrote about how we grow through seasons of faith. In that blog, I also give a link to a brief description of the six phases of faith development, which approximate the journey most of us take throughout our lives.

Now, I would like to think more deeply about this fourth stage of faith development which has been called “the wall,” “the dark night of the soul,” or the “breaking” stage by numerous authors. It appears to me that this stage is often misunderstood because we all go through difficult or very challenging times in our lives. When in such seasons, it is easy to ascribe these events as constituting this fourth stage in our faith development. Let me suggest one caution and three factors that help us know when we are in the process of the fourth stage and not just facing difficult struggles.

Caution: every part of maturing faith comes through struggles.

Ironically, in the fourth stage, our faith falters, which is not necessarily true of many of our struggles. In many situations, our faith grows because we mature through difficult times. It is during tough situations that we learn to trust God more deeply. So it stands to reason that God allows challenging times into our lives for our faith to mature. Paul states it this way:

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. 

Romans 5.3-5

James says it this way:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1.3-5

Not only does God allow us to face situations beyond our capacity to cause us to grow, but also gives us the wisdom to help others grow in their faith. Again, Paul gives the reason for challenging times:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.

2 Corinthians 1.3-6

By the way, Paul is referring to literally facing death and depression as his troubles here, so this is very significant suffering. So the first reason we can’t assume we are going through the wall when we seriously struggle in life is because struggles are a normal part of every stage of our growth. We grow through tough times.

1. The ABSOLUTE bedrock of our faith is questioned deeply and resolved ultimately.

When we are in the fourth stage of faith development, we question the foundation of our faith. Often this comes in the form of giving up the notion that we can earn God’s approval.  Up to this point, we fully acknowledge that salvation is by grace, but our inner spiritual journey is often still rooted in doing things which please God. These are things like serving others, spending time studying the Bible, praying, worshipping, journaling, and whatever else your spiritual tradition highlighted. 

These are great disciplines for developing deeper faith, but gradually they become the foundation of our faith rather than the practices that lead to the foundation of our faith, which is the totally undeserved love of God. During the fourth stage, we question our faith so deeply and become so disillusioned with our faith that we finally accept that God loves us so deeply and so intimately that we are freed up to respond to his love no longer by obedience but by desire.

There is a deep abiding faith that results that is no longer swayed by circumstances or events. The byproduct of this faith journey is that we are also freed up from feeling the need to please others through our conformity to their expectations of our faith journey. In other words, we are growing in the ways and directions we desire before our Lord, not in the ways others think we should. 

2. The BASIS of our call or reason for living is settled resolutely. 

When we process the fourth stage of faith development, we realize that our life will be lived as a fulfillment of our call, not by the many pursuits which occupied our lives up to that point. Pastors, they no longer are concerned about maximizing their gifts but become secure in understanding their call as a way of life. There is peace that typifies people who know why they are on this earth, and the rest of their lives are lived in this unswerving freedom.

Those who have had other careers (other than pastors), begin to think of their lives in terms of what they want to fill their lives with during their remaining days. They sense a call beyond fulfilling a role for the company that pays their wages. They begin to understand their call in a new and fresh way.

For all are called, regardless of who pays our wages or whether we have Rev. or Dr. before our names.  And for the first time in this fourth stage, we begin to understand our call as so much more than a role we fulfill. We often rethink our call, and it looks much different after this stage than it did leading into this stage. 

3. The CORE identity of who we are is concretely answered

I would suggest as we come to terms with the Absolute certainty of grace and the Basis of our calling or reason for living, then our Core identity of who we are is a natural result. This person really can say, as Paul does in Philippians 1.23, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” The absolute bedrock of his faith was resolved, his calling was settled, and his identity was secure. So it didn’t matter whether he lived or died. He was ready to live for Christ. 

I find it interesting that he didn’t start at this place in his faith. Read about his adventures of faith in chapters Acts 9-11 and the rest of Acts. He ended up at this point in his faith development by the time he wrote his letter to the Philippians which was within a few years of his death. When he wrote this letter, he had been growing in his faith for about 30 to 35 years! So many people want the faith of Paul, but they don’t want to go through what he went through to get there. Suffice it to say, he had gone through the fourth stage of faith development before he wrote this letter, and it expresses these three principles in this letter. 

My prayer is that you grow through all the struggles in your life, and when you get to the point of questioning your faith, your call, and your identity, you will know you are in good company.  If you do the work that the apostle Paul did, and millions of followers of Christ since have done, you too will end up here.

I need some help…I have been working with Northpoint Church in Alpharetta, GA, on an instrument to assess one’s spiritual health on 4 scales and 19 subscales across all six of these stages. As you would expect, it is complex, but we are doing a lot of work to simplify the process. However, we need about 150 more people to take this instrument to help us do so. If you would help us by taking this instrument, I would greatly appreciate it. Here is the link where Reece Mashaw explains the process via video:


Send it to as many people as you can to help us get across this deadline.

Thanks much

Broken or Dead?

One of the aspects of growing older is that things which confused or frustrated me in my earlier life often become clear. This isn’t always the case but usually does. One of the most frustrating times in my life, without exception, was the 14 years I spent starting a church in Orlando. I was 32 and had:

  • an engineering degree and experience with General Motors,
  • I had worked on my MBA and understood leadership,
  • I had a seminary degree and experience on a good church staff in a large church, and lastly
  • I had taken a medium-sized church and grown it dramatically as well as daughtered a successful new church from it.

With these kinds of credentials, I felt I was the best spiritual gift God could give the Northeast suburbs of Orlando. Little did I know that God has so much more in mind that simply planting another mega-church there. During the next fourteen years, hundreds of lives were changed for eternity, and God did some amazing things. However, the church never grew beyond 200, and I felt like a failure. No matter how much prayer, bible study, spiritual disciplines, strategic planning, disciple-making, emotional processing, goal setting, leadership development, or systems analysis I practiced, people came, and people went.

I have never tried so hard to accomplish anything in my life, and we struggled financially, emotionally, and finally, I had no energy left. It seemed like no matter how much of myself or pleading with God I put into the church; we never gained momentum.

So I resorted to going back to school because I had learned the more effort you put in, the better grades you get. And I got my PhD in Psychometrics. I ended up on faculty at the University of Central Florida and loved it. My students and fellow faculty loved me as well. I thought I had found my niche. Then, new leadership came into the college, and all the non-tenured faculty were let go. Again, I found myself a failure. 

Looking backward, I can now see what I couldn’t see at the time. I was going through a well-worn path of spiritual growth. God’s caring hand, which had built me up carefully in the disciplines of my earlier faith, was tearing down all that I valued. I had read about spiritual stages of growth and leadership1,2 before this, but until you experience them, it is only head knowledge. 

God wanted to do something much deeper in my life. Early on, he wanted to teach me disciplines and boundaries, and principles to live by; he was building the container of my life3.  But as I entered the second half of my life, God wanted to build an inner life with which to fill the container. I never “lost” my faith in God; throughout the entire time, I was trying to turn toward my Heavenly Father. But to be very honest, at times, he didn’t seem to be responding in a manner I appreciated. I remember telling a friend that I felt like I was banging my head against a brick wall which really hurt, and the brick wall was God. I couldn’t get over it or go around it. I had to sit and be faithful in the little things.

So, I learned to slowly trust in him when things didn’t go the way I wanted. I noticed several attitudes and behaviors inside of me that I surprised me. I read God’s word and prayed differently. I learned to be faithful in the little things and not worry about the big things.  I finally became content in my life of obscurity. Eventually, I experienced what Willard identifies as the four stages of brokenness4:

  1. Surrender (the situation to God)
  2. Abandonment (my whole life to God)
  3. Contentment (experiencing the peace of God)
  4. Participation (involved in the work of God, often much different than before)

This was over 20 years ago, and today I am amazed at God’s grace through this whole process. What I now know is that there are several stages of spiritual growth which have been identified throughout the ages, but every generation or individual must learn and experience them to understand them.

In fact, the earlier stages have little appreciation for individuals in the latter stages and judge them as naïve, simple, or “checked out.” However, the latter stages can look back at those in the earlier stages with grace and understanding. It is ironic to me that the latter stages can graciously look at those in the earlier stages with compassion, but not the other way around. I judged those in latter stages when I was young in my faith, and I now experience it from those who are still caged in earlier stages.

Simply stated, we spend a lot of effort working on our security in the first half of our lives, spiritually and otherwise. We work hard to make ourselves spiritually sound and people of significance. Then through being broken, we discover that this isn’t enough. Only through being totally exasperated and resigning our expectations and control do we enter the second half, where we get to experience God’s grace in our depths for the rest of our lives.  Unfortunately, far too many people get caged in the first half, where performance and production reign. They don’t experience true grace and freedom that is found through being broken and restored.

Some describe the spiritual development as simply two halves of life, while others identify 4,5,6, or 7 stages of spiritual development. Next week I will share how my six stages of spiritual growth fit into these two halves of our faith-life.   See you then.

1 The Critical Journey of Faith by Guelich & Hagberg

2 The Making of a Leader by Bobby Clinton

3 Falling Upward by Richard Rohr

4 Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard (my synopsis, structuring, and paraphrase of Chapter 8)

Let Me Study Your Psychology

sea of clouds during sunset

In college, I came to faith in Christ and became part of several hundred other collegiates who were also growing in their faith. As I grew deeper in my walk with Christ over the next few years, I noticed an interesting phenomenon. Often the way individuals grew and expressed their faith was related to their personality. For example, those who were accounting or engineering majors were much more black-and-white in their beliefs and behavior. They often matured in linear and predictable ways. On the other hand, the art or literature majors were much more expressive and nonlinear in their behavior and beliefs. 

Over the last 50 years, I have seen this repeated in many different but similar ways. I have known people, pastors, and scholars who come from a wide variety of theological persuasions, and there is a similar pattern.  I am convinced that:

If I study your psychology, I can tell your theology.

In other words, how you think, feel, act, express yourself and relate to others clearly informs your theological beliefs. Those people who are analytical in their thinking often adhere to theological systems that are rigorous and have God all figured out. They have their doctrines defined and refined such that their view of God and his expectations of them are stated in clear and delineated ways.

While others who are more artistic are often more comfortable living with the gray and a more unstructured view of God. They often see doctrine as dry and academic. They are often more relational in their view of God and the way he relates to his creation. 

With some analytical and some artist inside me, I can understand how people are drawn to different conclusions from the same scriptures because of their a priori perspective with which they approach life and God. I am not saying that there isn’t absolute truth; there is clearly reality based upon God’s truth. However, our limited capacity may impede our ability to fully grasp His Truth at some points. This is as true of me as it is in each one of us, and it should keep us humble and continuing to learn from his Word, his people, and his creation.

CS Lewis said that all truth is God’s truth. So we have no fear in pursuing truth. God is Truth, which is ultimate and infinite reality. As we continue to grow in our walk and understanding of Him, we will continue to grow in grace. None of us, this side of heaven, have a complete understanding of God,

Let me give an example of what I am talking about. How did God create the cosmos? I know there are some who feel he did it in seven 24-hour periods, which I have trouble comprehending from scripture because, in Genesis 1,14-19, God didn’t even create the sun and moon with circadian rhythms until the fourth day. 

And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

Genesis 1.14-19 (NIV)

Now, if God chose to bring everything we see into existence in 24 hours, he could surely have done so. But there is nothing in scripture that suggests that is a necessary or even admirable position to hold. 

Here is where one’s psychology will reflect how one views this issue. I am okay with different positions because I am both analytical and an artist at heart.

According to Hebrews 11.3, God didn’t create something from nothing, as is often said (about the Genesis 1 account); but rather created what is seen from what is not seen. God created matter that we can see, touch, smell, and taste from his words. Think about it. His words are energy. God is often described in the OT as a consuming fire and in the NT as baptizing people with fire, so it could be a natural conclusion that through his energy, he brought all of creation into reality.

I wonder how this perspective fits into evolution? In other words, how does this align with his creative will guiding our world’s creation into what we know today? Did he use his energy to guide all of creation’s direction? I understand that this would be heresy for some people.

There are many things I have yet to understand, despite many great thinkers who have everything already figured out. Obviously, I am not one of them. I have many questions to ask God in eternity. However, I feel they won’t be that important then.

By the way, this is why I enjoy reading authors like Dallas Willard, CS Lewis, Richard Foster, and others because they portray the truth about God, creation and mankind as it is shown in scripture in all of its contradictions. So often, individuals or schools of thought tend to portray these truths as how they fit into their theological framework. In other words, they tend to have truth figured out by their systematic theological statements and therefore read the truths about God into the scriptures that support their view. Whereas these authors simply describe God as the scriptures show him, and therefore their view of Him is bigger than any one theological system. This is what attracted me to DL Moody’s systematic (The Word of Truth) in seminary. This also represents my view of theology in general and God in particular. This keeps me from fitting neatly into any one camp, but that fits into my psychology anyways.

But you all knew that because you understand my psychology.

Who are you called to become?

selective focus photography of black rotary phone

I’ve had to [learn that] the important thing is not what I accomplish but the person I become. What God gets out of my life is not what I accomplish; it’s what I become…Dallas Willard*

I recently read this quote from a talk Dallas Willard gave about 9 years before he died, and it rocked my boat. In my October 10th, 2022, blog, I wrote about becoming rather than just either being or doing. This quote really brought that thought home for me. I find it interesting that Dallas said this later in life, and he had learned it. 

He was a professor of Philosophy at USC, an accomplished author, sought-after speaker, astute thinker, husband, father, and mentor to many of today’s great leaders and thinkers.  Yet, after accomplishing all of this, he says God is more interested in what he becomes rather than what he has accomplished!

If you really believed this, how would it change the priorities, plans, and principles by which you live?

So often, this time of year, I review my previous year and plan my goals for the following year. In Dallas’ book Life Without Lack. He has so much to say about our job, our work, our call, and our reason for existence. They are the things that I have had to learn but need to be reminded of every year. Rather than me summarize what he says, let me share with you some quotes from the book which obviously inform why later in life, he made the statement above:

​God created us very like himself (in his image), but every one of us is unique. An original, not a copy. We each are made to assume the role of a particular child of God, and our uniqueness ties in with our unique purpose. God has ensured us a special place and purpose, giving us tasks that he specifically wants us to accomplish in our time and in our place.​

p. 57

Our challenge is to fill our hours, minutes, and actions from day to day with the appropriate amount of love for God’s creation and creating, and then work to produce more of the good he has put in this world. This is every person’s calling.

p. 57

Your work is the total amount of lasting good that you will accomplish in your lifetime. That might include your job, but for many of us, our families will be the largest part of the lasting good we produce.

p. 57

​Today much that is called work is not the use of energy to produce good. In our fallen world we must distinguish between a job and work, because many “jobs” can produce evil. Your job is what you get paid to do, and it might or might not contribute to lasting good. Of course, some of you may be at a point in your life where you do not have a job or do not want one. That’s all right. You still have work to do; you still have the opportunity and responsibility to produce good in the world.​ P57

p. 57

I have a lot of students who do not want a job that requires work; what they want is a position. A position is where you have recognition and get paid whether you do anything or not. Additionally, many people base their identity on their work and their job—that is, they think they are what they do. This is problematic because they will identify their jobs with their lives and their personal sense of worth. Then they are apt to draw terribly mistaken conclusions, such as, “Since I do not have a job, I am a nobody.”

p. 58

Our work may be of many kinds. It might include having and raising children, developing good personal relations, being artistically creative, leading politically, working in the church of Jesus Christ to spread the truth, building houses, running trains, doing all the necessary work available to human beings as they live together in this world to produce what is good. But regardless of our specific work, the real challenge to every person’s faith is that we do everything to the glory of God, even in the smallest actions of our days. And this will certainly entail making sure we do not sacrifice our families to our ministry or jobs.​

p. 59

Here is a truth you must never forget: God is more interested in your life than he is in any of the other things listed above. He’s more interested in the person you are becoming than in your work, or your ministry, or your job. And the surest way to realize the full potential of your God-designed self is to live in eternity while you are in time, conscious of the loving gaze of your all-sufficient Shepherd, in whose care nothing of the good you do is lost. It is stored up in your own self and in the lives of others you have touched.

p. 60

Thanks, Dallas…well said.

*Dallas Willard, “Streams in the Desert and Wells of Living Water,” For Such a Time as This (Baylor University, Waco, TX, February 23, 2004), MP3, 44:00.

**Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23 Hardcover, 2018, Dallas Willard

People Who Polarize

child in polarized mask in countryside

Over the holidays, we had a great day with some friends. One of the reasons it was so much fun was that there was no polarizing. We had great discussions on several in-depth subjects, but no one sought to persuade anyone else to their position. We talked about a lot of things, but nothing was controversial. I find this contrary to so many discussions today. We currently live in polarizing times.

So why do people polarize? 

I don’t mind talking about Christianity or politics or abortion or LBGTQ+ or vaccines with people who I disagree with if there is a sense of mutual respect and appreciation of differences. However, if I differ in my perspective on an issue with some people, they challenge me with a sense of me being ignorant or small-minded for taking that position. They speak as if they are trying to convert me to their position rather than trying to understand my position. If I try to understand their position, often I can see the merits or reasons they would take one position over another. Most often, I don’t agree with their assumptions, and they probably wouldn’t agree with mine. So we just need to appreciate each other’s perspectives as different.

How often do people far from faith feel that way about us? Just as I described above, they feel as if we are trying to convert them to our view rather than trying to understand their view.

Both Tim Harford* and Adam Grant** arrive at the same conclusion from their totally different methods of research. They both conclude curiosity or asking the why question is key to being open to others with whom we disagree. I find very few people today actually engage in conversations with this as a premise. If I am trying to understand their position, I should be able to state their position with their reasoning. People who tend to polarize implicitly behave as if they know all they need to know and that there is nothing new that could change their minds. That is why they struggle to see anything from a different point of view.

Often, I feel people don’t understand me. What is my problem? I think there is an assumption on most people’s part that I am in their camp. If they are Christians, then they think I hold all (or at least most!) of the positions they hold, which is not true in many cases.  The same is with those who are highly educated or white or over 65 or whatever category I may fit into with another. Because we make assumptions about where others are, we fail to understand them.

This is an important point. 

Because we make assumptions about others, we fail to understand them. 

In all of life, assumptions are necessary as they allow us to function throughout our lives expeditiously. Assumptions are essential and healthy. I assume people will drive on their side of the road, the chair I am going to sit in will support me, the checkout person in the grocery will not intentionally cheat me, and so forth. But, at some point, some of these assumptions are violated. So they work for us most of the time, sometimes all the time, and allow us to function without living in fear or investigating the soundness of every piece of furniture before we sit in it. 

But these same assumptions in the relationships we have with others that we just met, or haven’t seen in a while, or look like us, can be very dangerous. The alternative to assumptions is to ask questions. Don’t assume; explore. In many of these areas of differences, we must create safe spaces for exploration to take place. One way to state it would be, “I know there are a lot of valid and varied perspectives on this, but what do you think/feel?”.

Obviously, in the statement I included the words “valid and varied, “ which connotes safety for taking any one or more acceptable positions. This hopefully would create space for the person to honestly state their position despite their assumptions about where I would be.  From there, it would be fun to simply explore why this person feels or believes this way and how they arrived at this position. The “how” would be to explore whether they have always believed this way, and if not, why not?

Now, these would be fun discussions to have. 

Jesus does this throughout scripture. He always gives the person a safe place to share their position,

  1. The woman caught in adultery,
  2. Many of the people he healed,
  3. His disciples in Matthew 16, “who do people say that I am?”.  I wonder if he was curious about who the disciples thought that he was but put it in the context of “other people” to provide a safe place for them to state their position. 
  4. In Luke 10, when asked by the expert what must he do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him an open-ended question back, giving him an opportunity to state his position.

Most chapters of the gospels reveal this approach of Jesus. He was a master at getting people to share what they really believed. Jesus always met people where they were, but he didn’t leave them there. As with the Good Samaritan story, he shared a story that illustrated the truth to an “expert of the law” without confronting him and condemning him for his position. But, this expert was able to appreciate the truth of loving others without Jesus antagonizing him.

It would appear the only individuals that Jesus directly challenged and condemned were the Pharisees, who came after him to find reasons to kill him. Most of them were polarized and not open to understanding him. They were threatened and therefore wanted him gone. 

My prayer is that I will explore further this year, assume less, and appreciate conversations with others more.

*How to make the World Add Up by Tim Harford
**Think Again by Adam Grant

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