Month: November 2015 (page 2 of 3)


How do we experience transformation? The last few months of year signal a time of evaluation. November causes us to look back at our lives in gratitude. December and January invite us to plan how we want to live next year differently. In a moment of reflection, you and I could make the list of changes we would like to see in our lives over the next few months.


Consider your list of changes or ask someone about their list. Many times those lists include such things as:
I want to lose weight.
I want to pray more.
I want to engage scripture.
I want to spend more time with my spouse and family.
I want to become a better friend.
I want to start a budget.
I want to manage my schedule more efficiently.

True transformation goes beyond our actions and behaviors understand our hearts. When we just deal with behaviors, we deal with the surface and symptoms. Searching our hearts brings us to ask the “why?’ behind our behaviors and to identify the reason the deeper desire to change.

Jesus in Matthew 23:25-26 illustrates this point. He speaks of cleaning a cup. You can clean the outside of a cup, but if the inside could still have filth and stains. When you clean the inside of the cup, you cannot help but thoroughly deal with clean the inside and outside. Dallas Willard in Divine Conspiracy make this comment about Jesus’ parable and transformation:

Actions do not emerge from nothing. They faithfully reveal what is in the heart, and we can know what is in the heart that they depend upon. Indeed, everyone does know. That is a part of what it is to be a mentally competent human being. The heart is not a mystery at the level of ordinary human interactions. We discern one another quite well…

It is the inner life of the soul that we must aim to transform, and then behavior will naturally and easily follow. But not the reverse… (pg. 144)

Jesus calls us to the Gospel in experiencing transformation. The Gospel starts with our hearts. Because of Christ’s redemption, reconciliation, and resurrection, transformation starts with our inner life moving to our behaviors. Understanding the Gospel not only helps recognize our deep motivations but invites the Holy Spirit to change our hearts.

What does this look like? Take, for example, you want to lose weight. Let’s say you successfully deal with your behaviors. You start exercising and dieting. The weight comes off, and your health increases. Soon you start looking at others with mild judgments of what they eat and their lack of exercise. You begin to compare yourself, and you have a level of pride. We can make the right behavior changes without actually experiencing transformation.

On the other hand, your hope to lose weight and you ask the Holy Spirit to search your heart. It might lead to asking about how you have used food as a source of comfort and security. Not exercising might be a result of fearing people watching you. When you recognize the heart issues, you can begin to see how others can support you. In the end, the transformation of your heart affects your behaviors. Then the grace you have experienced changes how you relate to others.

Jesus Christ invites us to experience a full life of transformation. Understanding the Gospel causes His grace to bring transformation starting with our hearts and moving then to our behaviors.

What transformation would you like experience in your life in the next few months? What might heart issues might the Holy Spirit reveal to you, where you can experience Christ’s grace?

Photo credit by Jakub Sejkora.

Reads of the Week | 11/14/2015


These five reads from this past week challenged, encouraged, and provided perspective for me. Check them out for yourself.

The State of Joy by Jamie K.A. Smith

Jamie K.A. Smith speaks of the missing aspect of joy in society. He outlines what blocks joy in our lives and moves to how to find joy.

3 Surprising Ways to Feel Less Busy by Christine L. Carter Ph.D.

Do you feel busy? Christine Carter provides three ways for us to dial it back on the busyness.

Walking in the Darkness with Jesus by Jeff K. Clarke

Jeff K. Clarke give a powerful post on how Jesus walked with others in darkness and in turn how He calls us to do the same.

The Rainn Wilson Guide to Success by Andy Meek

Fascinating exposé on the actor Rainn Wilson, who recently wrote the book The Bassoon King: My Life in Art, Faith, and Idiocy. Learn a little more about the man behind Dwight Schrute.

How to Avoid the Unhelpful Question by Shannon Gianotti

Shannon Gianotti processes with us when we ask the question, “Am I spiritual enough?” She offers some more helpful questions for us to grow.

What were your reads of the week? Share the links in the comment section below.

Photo credit to Mikhail Pavstyuk.

I Hear You, I See You

My wife and I started watching the second season of Parenthood. Zeke Braverman, the patriarch of the family and played by Craig T. Nelson, has a slight change of heart. The boisterous and confrontational man becomes more aware of his family’s reaction to him. In the middle of a conversation which could escalate, he stops and says, “I hear you, I see you.”


There’re people in our lives we would love to hear us say those words. On the other hand, how many people would love to hear us say those words to them?

Learning to listen to others has been an area of growth for me. When people begin to share a part of their life, their mostly looking to have a space to be heard. Instead, sometimes we…
Interrupt them with a question or even or own thought.
Challenge them on a minor point.
Formulate our response before they have completed their thought.
Fill the silence without thoughts as opposed to letting them process.

The challenge of listening goes even deeper for us personally, but also within community and small groups. We can miss a person moment of authenticity. Rather than acknowledging, “I hear, I see you,” we jump to the next question or conversation topic. Other times we insert a story about ourselves.

The Gospel points us to Jesus, who embodies “I hear you, I see you.” It was not merely lip service, but we see this in Him each time He stops for the children, the blind, those with questions, and those rejected in society. Hebrews 2:14-18 speaks of how Christ identifies with humanity so that we can pray to Him who understand us. Christ’s grace invites us to be seen and heard.

When we have experienced Christ’s grace in our lives, it moves us acknowledge and offer to others, “I hear you, I see you.”

Who in your life today do you have the opportunity to live out, “I hear you, I see you”? How can you better listen to others today?

Photo credit by Anthony Delanoix.


How do you fill space in your life? When a spot in our schedule opens up, we might add another event. A moment of silence ceases by adding music or podcast. Rather than sitting still, we pick up something to check or read. I wonder if many of us are programmed to fill the spaces.


Do nothing. Those two words can evoke a variety of responses. In certain situations, we thankfully take ourselves off the hook. Other responses to those words illicit anxiety. Surely there’s something we can do or an activity to fill the space.

I struggle with the verse in Psalms 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” Inaction equals unproductivity and activity equals productivity. Contrarily, the Psalmist invites to the stillness, the open space, and the nothingness. Ceasing activity creates space to connect with God.

Nothingness relinquishes our sense of control. We may not know what’s ahead. Stillness offers us grace by letting us “be” as opposed to producing. Thomas Merton says this about nothingness in No Man is an Island:

There are times, then, when in order to keep ourselves in existence at all we simply have to sit back for a while and do nothing. And for a man who has let himself be drawn completely out of himself by his activity, nothing is more difficult than to sit still and rest, doing nothing at all. The very act of resting is the hardest and most courageous act he can perform: and often it is quite beyond his power. (pg. 123)

Perhaps, in the nothingness we listen beyond the noise to the silence. Then we can begin to recognize God at work. Instead filling space or distracting ourselves, we remove the focus from ourselves to see Christ or even others.

Will you take time do nothing today? How can you experience stillness in your life today?

Photo credit by Anton Sulsky

Critical Perspective

How do you react to someone saying to you, “Can we talk?” Those three words bring our minds to wonder what we might have said or done. That questions usually signals for us a critique. It either makes aware of something we didn’t see or confirms a reality we already see.


Negative words seem louder. You can hear a thousand compliments but focus on the one piece of critical feedback. Our eyes can easily spot the flaw and weakness of not only ourselves but of others. When we reflect on our thoughts, how often do we think about what we want to say to others thinking that if they can only hear us they would change?

Usually, the most critical person of others has an equal or greater criticalness of themselves. People can live in the constant cycle of not only tearing others down but themselves. An overly critical perspective misses the gift of grace.

The Good News of the Gospel reshapes our perspectives. Jesus Christ has offered us grace through His forgiveness, love, and reconciliation of us. That changes the way we see ourselves and others. Transformation happens when we recognize what Christ has done for us and has done in others.

A critical perspective emphasizes self, but a view shaped by the Gospel begins to see the process of God working in us personally and in others. Understanding the Gospel for us and others starts with grace then works towards truth.

Dr. James B. Richards in How to Stop the Pain speaks of how our critical perspective changes to see God at work:

When I am delivered from a critical eye, I will see people as God sees them. I will always know that the Spirit of God can work in them to solve every problem and conquer every obstacle. You see, our confidence in people is directly related to our confidence in God. When we see the best in them, they will see, and live the best God has to offer them. (pg. 51)

Today, we can begin the process of moving away from a critical perspective and move to a Gospel focus, which starts to see the grace of Christ at work. What we say and think of others reflects the grace we have received from God.

How does the grace of God challenge a critical perspective? Who in your life do you have an over critical perspective rather than seeing them through God’s grace?

Photo credit by Dietmar Becker.

Stories We Tell Ourselves

You tell yourself a story. We view our situations in chapters; relationships with others as characters; struggles as conflicts. You and I have an internal dialogue where we interpret our lives. The stories we tell ourselves affects our reactions.


The other day, I began to tell myself a story. I assigned the characters motives and made rulings on their actions. Then the plot changed. A friend and I had a conversation. When I started telling my story, it became apparent that my interpretation of the events might not be accurate.

Our internal stories help uncover our feelings, but they may not accurately comprehend the truth.

Recently, my friend Joe spoke (Click here to listen) about the famous verse, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” Rather than stopping at that verse, he brought to light the rest of what Jesus said. First, Jesus calls us not miss our blind spots by removing the plank in our own eyes. Then we can accurately evaluate others so they can grow instead judging which has to do with final rulings.

Jesus goes straight to the heart, right into our internal stories.  When Jesus teaches us to pray for our enemies, forgive others, and not judge, He calls us to check the stories we tell ourselves. We do not always have the accurate view of others, God, and ourselves.

Our stories left unchecked distract us from experiencing and extending grace. Jesus challenges us to reflect on our inner conversations. We can make judgments and assumptions of others in our stories without having all the facts, leaving us blind to our areas of growth. The Gospel moves us from believing the lies of our own stories so that we can see life through Christ’s perspective.

Becoming aware of these stories invites us to evaluate.  Maturity means reinterpreting our stories. Attempting to see from someone else’s vantage point. Owning our part while not negating the wrong. In this process, God’s grace can transform us from the inside out.

What stories are you telling yourself? How might God’s grace challenge you to reinterpret your internal stories? How might this change the way you see others?

Photo credit by Dustin Lee.

Reads of the Week | 11/07/2015


These five reads from this past week challenged, encouraged, and provided perspective for me. Check them out for yourself.

Leaders Who Can See and Hear Others by Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers

This article shares the valuable perspective of observant leadership. Successful leaders learn how to listen and see from other people’s perspective.

Dorms for Grownups: A Solution for Lonely Millenials by Alana Semuels

Troy Evans of Syracuse, NY has started to pilot shared space apartments. This fascinating concept infuses our discussions about experiencing community together.

5 Mistakes You’re Making on Instagram by AJ Agrawal

Five insightful pieces of wisdom to help you post to Instagram. A list for all of us to keep in mind.

Why I’m a Pastor Who Stopped Giving Answers by Tom Hughes

Listen to what Tom Hughes points out about Jesus in the Bible:

Throughout the four Gospels in the Bible, Jesus was asked 183 questions. Of those 183 questions, how many do you think he answered directly? Four. He responded to the other 179 questions sometimes with a story, sometimes with an action, but most often with another question.

Perhaps, Jesus’ mode of teaching will help us connect better with each other.

How Suffering Saved my Faith by Shannon Evans

Evans provides a practical view of seeing suffering. She speaks of the process of removing some wrong assumptions about God in the midst of suffering in our lives.

What were your reads of the week? Share the links in the comment section below.

Photo credit to Mikhail Pavstyuk.

Into the Wilderness

When have you gone into the wilderness? I moved to Missouri in the middle of winter. The Midwestern brown fields had turned into a few feet of snow. Not the ideal first couple weeks. More than the weather, it took longer than I expected to adjust to a new community. I began to wrestle with God’s presence in my life; did I miss Him on this decision or did He, in fact, put me in this awkward place. Describing Missouri as a wilderness, fit in more ways than one for me.


Finding yourself in the wilderness causes you to have more questions than answers. Doubt swirls like a Midwestern tornado. Has God hidden from me? Will anyone who understands come along side of me? How do I leave this place?

Monotony tires our spiritual lives. Attending church requires effort. Engaging Scripture lacks illumination from the Holy Spirit. Prayer seems transactional rather than relationally connecting with God. We even fear to share about the wilderness to those closest to us in community.

The wilderness brought space in my life for new experiences. I began to reconnect with family and made new friends. The search for God caused me to find Him differently. Eugene Peterson in Leap Over the Wall talks about the wilderness:

I readily acknowledge that this circumstantial wilderness is a terrible, frightening, and dangerous place; but I also believe that’s a place of beauty. There are things to be seen, heard, and experienced in this wilderness that can be seen, heard, and experienced nowhere else. When we find ourselves in the wilderness, we do well to be frightened we also do well to be alert, opened-eyed. In the wilderness we’re plunged into an awareness of danger and death; at the very same moment we’re plunged, if we let ourselves be, into an awareness of the great mystery of God and the extraordinary preciousness of life (pg. 74)

I’ll never forget one of the extraordinary moments in the wilderness. Bill, a boss from college, came to Missouri for a conference. He called me and asked to meet for lunch. In theses seasons, you’re a little more attuned to God bringing the right people into your life. We talked about the difficulty and beauty of my time in Missouri. He began to share his story about the ups and downs. He related t me in such a way not just to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but see God’s presence in the moment.

The wilderness invites us to listen more intently especially to those who have gone through a similar season. This place causes questions for us because we need a new perspective on ourselves, others, and God. Our hearts grow in grace, humility, compassion, and joy. We lean less on having perfect circumstances or control to rediscover the promises of God.

You might find yourself in the wilderness. Embrace the questions. Listen well. Perhaps, this season might invite to experience God in different ways.

How has your life changed by going into the wilderness? Share in the comment section below.

Photo credit by Ahmed Radwan.

Slow Down

How do you navigate conversations with a large group of people? Early in our marriage, I realized my wife Robyn, and I had different approaches. She would engage one person at a time offering them her undivided attention. I tended to move from person to person five minutes at a time. What I began to notice, people left discussions with my wife feeling a sense of significance and value.


The way my wife engages conversations has a lot to do with the way she lives life. Unlike me, who either rushes 60 miles an hour or sleeps, Robyn takes her time, especially with people. She challenges me to slow down.

That means giving more time to people even when the conversation seems to go nowhere particular. Sometimes it means holding a question or comment back so a person can finish their story. Lots of time, it means being okay with silence because others might need a little more time to gather their thoughts.

We live in a time when we run towards the next best thing. Many people throw their energy into an activity without the patience to finish. I think we sometimes do this to people. If they don’t move fast enough for us, then we don’t take the time to get to know them. Instead of investing in deep relationships, we can find ourselves with a thousand acquaintances.

The Gospels record a fascinating aspect of Jesus. These writers record Jesus meeting with individuals. Often, the disciples think Jesus does not have time to talk with these people, yet He slows down for them. You can see Him with Nicodemus, the women at the well, stopping with blind Bartimaeus. The Pharisees have a conniption because Jesus has dinner with two tax collectors: Matthew and Zacchaeus.

Slowing down for others means recognizing the image of God in them. The practice of staying longer reminds us that often we can wait, and people take precedence in the view of Jesus. Grace causes us to recognize the patience of God in us so that we might give time to others.

Who will you slow down for others today?

Photo credit by Samuel Zeller.

Adding One Word to the Language of Spiritual Transformation

Process more. My professor used to write that on my papers. He did so especially on papers engaging scripture. It usually had little do with understanding the context or Greek, but had much more to do with applying the passage to my life. Biblical passages invite us to go beyond the surface of our behaviors and into our hearts. Not an easy task for us personally let alone in small groups.


The Gospel brings transformation from the inside out. Jesus throughout the Gospels leads people to engage their hearts. He constantly rebukes the Pharisees for their self-righteousness and pride even with a religious exterior. The Sermon on the Mount raises the stakes of not just acting in sin, but the heart behind it.

Talking about the activity of our hearts can seem foreign. Partly because we fear if people actually heard the internal conversations with had with ourselves and partly because it’s difficult to put to words to someone else what’s happening in our inner life.

We cannot escape talking about our hearts. Spiritual transformation through the Gospel starts with our inner life.

How can we cultivate conversations about our inner life? Author Joanne Jung in Godly Conversation suggests adding one word for spiritual transformation; soul. She says this:

Soul-shaping spiritual transformation is foundational for closing the gap between what we know and what we do. Even when knowledge is not the Christ-follower’s problem, responding to and acting on godly convictions remains a challenge. Disparities exist between intellect and character, between knowing, doing, and being (pg. 170-171)

Using the word soul speaks to the activity of our hearts and inner life. At times it might sound ambiguous. Yet, the simple act of referring to soul calls us to process more for what God has in spiritual transformation.

Jung goes on to provide examples of how adding the word soul can add depth to spiritual questions for ourselves and small groups. Here are a few examples she offers:

What are the words or actions that demonstrate your soul’s love for Christ?
What is your soul afraid of God knowing?
For what is your soul thankful?
What are your soul-doubts?
What keeps your soul form believing a particular truth? (pg. 171-172)

Questions like these start the conversation of spiritual transformation. As individuals and communities, we begin have a language for Gospel change in our inner life. Adding the word soul can help us become more aware of the work in the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Grace empowers us to grow by processing more the attitudes, thoughts, and feeling of our souls, so that we might experience transformation and help others grow.

Photo credit by Björn Simon.

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