Tuesday, February 22

Spiritual Consumers


“Unfortunately, the consuming spirit of our age has taken possession of most Christians in North America, and as a result, they too find it difficult to imagine another way of life. They assume, along with virtually everyone else, that the primary purpose in life is to make choices that will satisfy their own interests and desires in every sphere allotted to them by the commercial institutions of society. Numbered among those spheres is religion. It thus seems natural to talk about our relationship with God as yet another lifestyle choice, another good or service for our enjoyment. Unless we are careful, ‘meeting needs’ simply becomes another way of saying, ‘satisfying the customer.’”

- Storm Front: The Good News of God, by James Brownson



What do you think …


How do you find consumerism sneaking in to your spiritual life?


Do you evaluate spiritual opportunities by what you receive rather than what you give?


As a Christian leader, where do you feel tempted to compromise your call and purpose to appeal to the desires of spiritual consumers?


As Christian leaders, how do we free people from the grip of spiritual consumerism and release them to the joy of true discipleship?

Tuesday, February 8

Interesting News from the World of Sports


Some odds and ends from the world of sports over the past few months.


The reason that we should all be fans of Wake Forest University’s baseball team: Their coach is donating a kidney to a freshman on their team.


Last week was the NCAA’s National Signing Day. Though most of the attention goes to football, who are really the best recruiters among college coaches? ESPN rates the Top 20 recruiters in college athletics. If you can’t access the ESPN site, here is the list on Texas A&M’s site (which may give you a clue to at least one name on the list).


For you track and field fans, here is one person’s list of the Top Eight Field Event Athletes of All Time.


With so many athletes forgetting what sportsmanship is all about, here is a great story about an act of sportsmanship by a high school is Ashland, OR.


I mentioned this post a few months ago, but it is so fascinating that I had to mention it again. Here is a great article on the highest paid athlete of all time. I bet no one has his poster on their wall!

Friday, February 4

Spiritual Jazz: Syncopation


A few weeks ago, I began a series of posts on jazz as a metaphor for the Christian life. Many think of the Christian life more as a marching band than a jazz ensemble. It is about marching together and staying in step and in line. It is structured and rigid. And though it can be beautiful and amazing, the lines are clearly drawn and everybody knows when you get out of step. It is about making music as a unit and in a way that typically doesn't emphasize the individual.


There is nothing wrong with those things. But when they are applied to the Christian life, it can become stifling. There is a freedom that comes from a life lived in step with the Spirit. There is discipline and there is structure, but there is also freedom to improvise and follow the call and leading of the God. Many are missing that. I would encourage you to go back to posts from September 24, October 1, and November 12 to see where we have been.


In his book, Finding the Groove, Robert Gelinas writes:


“Jazz swings. That is, it picks up momentum, presses forward, and searches for what is to come. Syncopation is the technique that creates that characteristic. Simply put, syncopation is accenting the offbeat…. You accent that which has always been there but hasn’t been heard. Syncopation is not limited to musicians; it just requires an eye and ear for that which goes unnoticed and unheard in life.”

Robert Gelinas, Finding the Groove, p. 31-32


Syncopation is a shifting of the accent, usually by stressing the normally unaccented beats. It’s emphasizing the things that aren’t usually emphasized. I think Jesus’ life and teachings are great models of spiritual syncopation. He accented things that neither the secular nor religious cultures of his day emphasized. His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is a great example of this. Jesus shifted the accent – the emphasis and perspective – of both cultures.


* He did this with the religious culture by changing the accent from “You have heard that it was said …” t0 “But I tell you …” He changed the accent from public displays of religious acts to giving, praying, and fasting in secret.


* He did this with the secular culture by changing the accent from laying up treasures on earth to laying up treasures in heaven. He changed the accent from worry over food and clothing to trust in a Father who knows and cares.


Even Jesus’ actions were marked by syncopation. He noticed the unnoticed. He made time for those who were on the margins in society. Jesus would take time to listen to those others told to be quiet. When Jesus was on his way to other “appointments” (such as healing a dying child), he would make time to minister to those he met (a woman who touched him).


Spiritual syncopation accents the things that society and the religious “establishment” often overlook. It is in tune with the values of God and the leading of the Spirit more than the values of culture and the voice of the crowd. Though it is lived out “in the world”, it demonstrates a value system that is definitely – and obviously – not “of the world.”


Does your life emphasize and value the same things as our culture? Or do you accent and value the things that God values? Are you just going along with the religious flow, or are you accenting things that often go unnoticed in the structure and busy-ness of American church culture?


Spiritual syncopation – shifting the accent to the normally unaccented, noticing the unnoticed, valuing the things of God and not our secular or religious culture. It adds a dimension to our lives that makes them move to the rhythm of God.

Thursday, February 3

Needed Environments For Growth


One of the highlights of the summer months are the Farmers’ Markets in Arkansas that sell some of my favorite things – sweet corn, tomatoes, and watermelon. The varieties that you can buy in the supermarket during the winter months just don’t measure up to the fresh home-grown produce you can get during the summer. Recently, I had a desire for some watermelon, so on January 16 I tossed a handful of seeds on the floor. As of today, there is still no sign of watermelon. Why? Because the carpeted floor isn’t the right environment for seeds to grow! For seeds to mature, certain “environments” have to be present.


It’s the same for spiritual growth. For us to mature spirituality, we have to put ourselves in environments that are conducive for growth and that provide the elements God uses to bring us to maturity. The longer I follow Jesus, the more I’m convinced that there are four:


God’s Word – The Bible is God’s primary tool to give us direction, wisdom, and correction. It is how God has chosen to reveal himself, his plan of reconciling the world to himself, and his will for our lives. (See Psalm 119.) We have to put ourselves in environments – corporately and personally – where we are studying God’s Word, meditating on God’s Word, and applying God’s Word to our lives.


Prayer – Prayer is a trait in the lives of all whom God has used greatly. Not the “out-of-habit” prayers that we say at meals or in religious services, but honest communication that is based on a relationship with our loving Father. We are called to “pray without ceasing”. (I Thessalonians 5:17) Prayer is to be the atmosphere in which we live.


Community – “Community” and “fellowship” are words that Christianity has cheapened to mean such things as eating together or taking part in some fun activity. The type of community that we need to grow is one that sharpens us and makes us better, that picks us up when we fall, that “spurs us on” to better things, and that defends us from the attacks of our enemy and our world. (See Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.) It involves relationships that are marked by devotion, openness, transparency, honesty, and accountability.


Mission – God has called us to join him on his mission to reconcile all things to himself and to bring all things under the leadership of Christ. One of the greatest traps of modern Christianity is our tendency to get wrapped up in prayer and Bible study and “community” and forget that we are to be a community on a mission of restoration and reconciliation. We have come to measure spiritual maturity by how much we know and how many Christian meetings we attend. But if we aren’t involved in God’s mission of restoration and reconciliation in our communities and in our world, we’ve missed the point of God’s call on our lives. (See II Corinthians 5:16-21.)


I believe that an absence of any of these environments in our lives will keep us from reaching maturity – being conformed to the image of Christ. A lack of God’s Word can lead to a subjective religion where we pick the “truths” that fit the life we choose to live. A lack of relational prayer can leave us with a “rational” belief system that doesn’t engage our hearts. A lack of community can leave us unaware of where we need to grow and people who know us well enough and care about us deeply enough to help us mature. A lack of mission can leave us self-absorbed and inwardly focused as individuals and bodies. I’m less concerned about the exact “methods” we use in these environments than I am making sure that each of them is present in our lives and in our Christian communities.


We each have different personalities and our lives have different rhythms. My way of studying the Bible and praying may look different than yours. The community that I am committed to will look different than your community. The places where I am involved in God’s mission of restoration and reconciliation will be different than the places where you are involved. Regardless of your preferred method, get yourself in the needed environments. Commit to studying and meditating on and obeying God’s Word. Make prayer as much a part of your life as the air your breath. Commit yourself to a community of godly people. Stretch yourself to be a vessel of restoration and reconciliation in the world you live.


When you do, God will produce fruit in your life that will be much sweeter than any found in a Farmer’s Market and that will last through eternity.