It’s Been an Honor to Join You in Prayer

2018 Lenten Prayer Report

From February 18 – April 7, 2018 I had the honor to pray for almost 200 people every day. Names were given to me by readers of The UnCommon Journey and friends who receive the Homestead House Ministries newsletter.  

Most of the names were from people I know personally. A few I’ve never met.

Names came from close friends and long-time acquaintances as well as people we’ve only recently met. 

Names were submitted from folks living in: California, Tennessee, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Alabama, Indiana, North Carolina, Texas, Arizona, Michigan, and even London, Ontario Canada and London of the UK. 

Sometimes I knew the need or situation that prompted the request. Often I did not. 

Some needs were family situations like estranged or “wayward” children. Some requests focused on personal or family decisions. A few were personal struggles – spiritual and/or physical. 

I kept these needs in mind as I brought these names to God. The names were listed on a 81/2 x 11 sheet of paper because I have such a poor memory and wanted to make sure every name was mentioned every day. Of course, when I say name I mean person. (I have the gift of forgetting (no joke) which makes the list necessary. I need to write about this special gift sometime.) 

Along with asking God’s mercy on every person, I prayed this prayer for every person: 

O God, our Heavenly Father, who lovest mankind and art most merciful and compassionate, have mercy upon thy servants (here I would mention your names) for whom I humbly pray thee, and commend to thy gracious care and protection. Be thou, O God, their guide and guardian in all their endeavors, lead them in the path of thy truth and draw them nearer to thee, that they may lead a godly and righteous life in they love and fear; doing thy will in in all things. Give them grace that they may be temperate, industrious, diligent, devout and charitable. Defend them against the assaults of the enemy, and grant them wisdom and strength to resist all temptation and corruption of this life; and direct them in the way of salvation, through the merits of the Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

The prayer might not mention the specific need of the person, yet it focuses on the essentials like walking in truth, living a godly and righteous life; the need for grace, protection from evil, to resist temptation, and live the way of salvation. These are “big picture” items that, if realized, would meet the more specific need. 

For 50 days, I prayed like this for every person. That’s not a statement of pride or piety. It’s a statement of commitment and tenacity. I told you that I’d pray for the people you mentioned to me and I was able to keep my word. 

In actuality, I was simply joining with the Trinity and the saints gone before us who pray for these people at all times.

Also, I was joining you as you prayed.

I have no special magic formula that produces answers. God’s work in each of these lives is ongoing. I was trying to participate in that work. 

Thank you to all who submitted names. I found an ascetic pleasure and reverent tenderheartedness by joining you in your prayers.

Let’s do this together again during Lent of 2019. 

If you’d like to share anything from this experience, please do so below. 

Christ is Risen! Truly, He is Risen! Thanks be to God for all things! 

Dr. K 

How to Have A Fuller, Flourishing Relationship with God

It Can't Get Much Simpler Than This

Living more fully into your life with Christ takes place by taking small steps. If you sense that God is inviting you to a better, closer relationship, how can you effectively answer the invitation? You cannot keep doing the same things and expect different results. That’s a description of insanity, right? If you need to know God better (who doesn’t?), then new habits must be implemented. 

Living more fully into your life with Christ takes place in the normal routines of everyday life. One of the mistakes made in urging folks to know God better is to only recommend practices that isolate them such as, solitude, retreats, or silence. I’ve made this mistake often because these practices are so challenging yet good for the soul.

Popular Christian formation writer Dallas Willard differentiates various spiritual practices as disciplines of “abstinence” or “engagement.” As helpful as these categories are, he sets up a false dichotomy. Most of the disciplines of “abstinence” are actually practices that engagingly battle against deep issues in our life. This kind of dualistic thinking leads to confusion. We may hesitate to begin practices that are truly helpful.

We need to begin more simply yet fully.  

Though I may sound like a broken record, I want to invite you to a practice that includes many of the “disciplines” all in one simple, package. Its practice is also “biblical” and in obedience to Christ’s teachings. 

As the saying goes: “You eat the elephant one bite at a time.” or “The journey of a lifetime begins with one step.” 

Here is one bite towards fullness and one step towards a deepening journey with God… 

Say the Lord’s Prayer at least three times every day.

Our Father in heaven, hollowed beYour name. Your kingdom come; Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. 

Simple. Doable. Effective. 

This can be done in the quiet of your own home. The prayer can be said while driving. The words can be spoken out loud or silently. You can say them before you get out of bed in the morning and when you get into bed at night; during a boring meeting or in the middle of a traumatic event. Saying these words can ward off anger and lessen frustrations. A good suggestion is to say the prayer before you eat. 

Set an alarm on your phone to remind you – 6:00am, 12:00 noon, 6:00pm; or 9:00am, 12:00pm, and 3:00pm. Whatever it takes to make it a regular part of your day, do it. 

Don’t be concerned with “feeling” the words or even understanding their full meaning. Say them with sincerity of heart and mind, focusing your attention on Jesus Christ. 

Most commonly, saying the Lord’s Prayer will move your heart into a much different place. At the least, it will move your mind to a better place. At the most, it will move your heart into the heart of God – communion. 

Trying to carve out 30 minutes for morning devotions might be too much for you. Reading your Bible for 10 minutes might be too hard right now. But, this prayer is simple, doable, and effective. 

When you engage the Lord’s Prayer like this, your life and relationship with God will become fuller and more flourishing.

“You will show me the paths of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16.11) 

Why not start today.

Share your experiences of putting this into practice. 

Dr. K 

Today, Christ IS Risen

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ Now, Forever, and Everywhere

Acknowledging the resurrection of Christ need not stop at Easter.  It certainly did not abruptly end for the disciples and friends of Jesus at sundown Sunday night. They dealt with the reality of the resurrection for the rest of their lives. Jesus Christ, once dead now alive, delighted and disturbed them every moment of every day. 

For us, the resurrection of Christ can be a daily acknowledgement. At the very least an every Sunday celebration. At most, a moment-by-moment participation in the life of Christ. 
 
That’s why the present tense: Christ IS risen is preferred over the past tense: Christ has risen. The resurrection is always happening in us and around us. 
 
Christ’s resurrection is not just a past, historical event that we remember once a year. It is to be a daily reality in which we seek to participate. 
 
Jesus told Martha in the moments leading up to Lazarus’ resurrection: “I am the resurrection and the life.” He always is and always will be the Resurrection. In Him, we live also.
So let’s celebrate with our brothers and sisters in Serbia…

The lyrics invite all creation to rejoice – stars, mountains, woods, winds, oceans, beasts, bees, birds, lambs, angels, and all humanity. The life of Christ gives life to all creation. And, all creation responds in joy and thanksgiving.

A note on the red egg in the video: In the Orthodox tradition, Easter eggs are dyed red to represent the blood of Christ, with further symbolism being found in the hard shell of the egg symbolizing the sealed tomb of Christ. The cracking of the egg symbolizes His resurrection from the dead.

Here are the lyrics in English:

 
People rejoice, all nations listen:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
Dance all ye stars and sing all ye mountains:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
 
Whisper ye woods and blow all ye winds:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
O seas proclaim and roar all ye beasts:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
 
Buzz all ye bees and sing all ye birds:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
O little lambs rejoice and be merry:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
 
Nightingales joyous, lending your song:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
Ring, O ye bells, let everyone hear:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
 
All angels join us, singing this song:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
Come down ye heavens, draw near the earth:
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
 
Glory to Thee, God Almighty!
Christ God is risen! Let us rejoice!
Glory to Thee, God Almighty! Christ
God is risen! Let us rejoice!
 
Christos Voskrese! (Christ is Risen!)
 
Voistinu Voskrese! (Indeed, He is Risen!)
 (The song is written by Saint Nikolai Velimirovic of Ochrid.)
 
Enjoy the video and the celebration. I hope this will help all of us live into the resurrection of Christ today and always.

Dr. K 

How Your Expectations May Be Subverting Your Relationship With God & Others

#16 UMBC 74 – #1 Virginia 54. The first ever #16 seed to defeat a #1 seed in the NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship Tournament happened last week. No one saw that coming. Many sports experts picked Virginia to win it all. UVA was ranked the #1 team in the nation; UMBC ranked #112. Virginia was favored to win this game by 20 1/2 points. They lost by 20. Virginia’s record coming in was 31-2, UMBC: 25-11. Number one seeds in the tournament were 135-0. UMBC scored 74 points, the most allowed by Virginia who played powerhouses like Duke and North Carolina. Honestly, how could a retriever take down a cavalier, anyway. Surprise!

Virginia fans were expecting an easy victory. They were deeply disappointed by a resounding defeat. 

UMBC fans were probably expecting a defeat. They were greatly elated by a resounding victory. 

Lesson: Expectations are not reality. 

Yet, expectations can fool us into thinking they are reality. 

Peter Bregman, leadership “guru,” writes: 

 [It is easy] to mistake our expectations for reality, the past for the present, and our desires for fact….There’s a psychological term for this: confirmation bias. We look for data, behaviors, and evidence that show us that things are the way we believe they should be. In other words, we look to confirm that we’re right. 

How are we fooled by our expectations? Often, it’s due to our expectations coming true, being right. That makes us feel good, safe, and certain. We conclude that our expectations can be trusted. 

But when expectations are wrong, we don’t like to admit it. We’re often blinded by them. We only want our ideas to be confirmed. We struggle with releasing expectations that are not real. We’ll hold to them tenaciously even when it means broken relationships or huge frustrations. 

A couple weeks ago I had a conversation with a friend who was leaving a group I started and that he’d been a part of from its beginning. His expectations had not been met. His idea of what this group was about went unconfirmed. In disappointment, he was leaving. The group hadn’t measured up. I had not measured up. 

I’m a master at disappointing people. But, it’s not always my fault. Their expectations don’t match reality. And, they can’t see it. 

I’m told that Alcoholics Anonymous says of expectations: “expectations are the seeds of resentment” or “expectations are just future resentments waiting to happen.” Seems there’s a lot of good insight there.

Apply that to relationships with people and to God and you can see how important it is to deal with our expectations. If bitterness, cynicism, anger, or malice take hold because our expectations are not met, we’ve stymied ourselves in a web of sin. 

Expectations and God

The Jews were expecting a different kind of Messiah than Jesus presented to them. Goliath was expecting an easy victory over a lowly shepherd boy. The Egyptians expected to destroy the Israelites until God, through Moses, split open the waters of the Red Sea. Paul expected to fulfill his mission of persecuting the Christian sect until God intervened. 

God can do the unexpected very well. We like that kind of God when it works in our favor. But what about when He doesn’t perform as we expect? In those times He’s probably trying to break out of the little box of expectations we have Him in.  

It’s also possible to expect too much of God. We fabricate scenarios of how He should act, call it faith, then expect Him to do what we want. Like the genie out fo the bottle, we expect Him to make our wishes come true. 

The Apostle Peter is on the housetop praying. With his stomach growling, he has a vision of a sheet containing all kinds of “unclean” animals. A heavenly voice tells him to rise, kill them and eat them. He refuses since he’s never done that before and doesn’t believe it should be done that way. This command did not meet his expectations so he refuses to go along. This happens three times. 

Thankfully, Peter did receive the message and became open to sharing the gospel with Gentiles as well as Jews. If he had not been trapped by his expectations, perhaps he’d have received the message sooner. 

Dealing with Expectations 

How can we avoid the trap of being fooled by expectations? 

1. Do the opposite of what got you trapped. 

  • Expect things to be different rather than the same. 
  • Seek evidence that shakes up your perspectives.
  • Expect to be wrong instead of wanting to be right. 

This is not easy to do. We’d rather be right than wrong. Ironically, the more you look to be wrong, the more likely you’ll end up right. (These thoughts adopted from Bregman)

When you look at your spouse, ask yourself what’s changed? Instead of focusing on what he/she is doing wrong, find something he/she does right you never noticed before. Do this with your boss, children, neighbor and co-workers. See what a difference it makes to your expectations. 

  • When others disagree with you, listen instead of arguing. 
  • Ask, what do I not want to hear?

2. Move towards having fewer or no expectations of others including God.

Is it possible to have no expectations? If it is, that’s how I want to live. Simply accept what’s in front of me as reality and live into it as deeply as possible.

Expectations mimic control. And when we seek to control others and God, we get ourselves in trouble. 

Besides, my expectations are not reality, not truth, so better to give them up.

A life of no expectations is not a life without hopes or goals. It’s a life of striving towards these goals while acknowledging there is more we don’t know than we know. Restraining our ego, recognizing our limited viewpoint, admitting our ignorance,  trusting God more fully, not judging others, and keeping silence will go far in helping us reach our goals. 

There is One Truth, however. He is Reality. If most of life is lived in our own ideas, thoughts, imaginations, and feelings, most of which are not reality, then we need Him to consume us and rid us of our own expectations. 

Could this be what Jesus was getting at when He taught: “Do not be anxious for your life…?” God provides. Period. If He can take care of the birds, he can take care of humans. Do birds have expectations? I doubt it.They just live in the present moment in reliance on God. 

Do your expectations include awakening in the morning, living until you’re 90, having godly children and a happy marriage, succeeding in business, or overeating and not gaining weight? Do you expect God to heal you physically, always protect you from harm, give you what you want, or repeat Pentecost for you? If so, you’re setting yourself up for a world of hurt. He probably has other plans for you than meeting your expectations. 

3. Focus on developing humility and thankfulness. 

The antidotes for any kind of expectation are humility and thankfulness.Think back on the last time you got frustrated because your expectations were not met. Were you thankful for what was happening? Was your ego being confronted and you didn’t like it? 

Humility gives you the freedom to be wrong, release control, and esteem others rather than looking for your own desires to be met and trying to control outcomes.

Thankfulness allows you to accept everything with joy and a gentle spirit knowing everything is for your good, even that which might look bad. 

4. Stay in constant communion with the Trinity.  

When the heart is in sync with God’s heart, there is peace, joy, satisfaction, and goodness. I doubt God gets frustrated over unmet expectations. I wonder if He even has expectations. Certainly they wouldn’t be like our human ones.

I know from personal experience, when my expectations go unfulfilled I’m not at peace, feeling joyful, satisfied, or particularly good. Other negative emotions are usually in control. My heart is far from God. 

Bible Support

“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore, humble yourselves…casting all your care on Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5.5-7). Live in God in such a way that humility results.  

“whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think on these things” (Philippians 4.8). These are not the things we think about when expectations are unmet. 

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4.6-7).  These verses say it all yet they are almost impossible to practice. Only living deeply in Jesus Christ makes this doable. 

I hope this post gets you thinking about your expectations and where God fits into them. 

Share your thoughts about your own struggles with expectations and what has helped you. 

Dr. K 

15 Truths No One Will Tell You About Being a Christian

I’ve been trying to figure out God since I was a little kid. I messed around with Christian “stuff” until confronted with my selfish ways during my teens. That’s when I began to be serious about God. Now, 47 years later, He’s become an obsession of mine. I’m thankful for this journey and for what I’ve learned. Today, I share a few insights about this Christian adventure.  

For newbies or veterans, these truths will help you navigate your way. 

1. The Christian life is a mystery.

When it comes to knowing God, don’t be surprised that you can’t figure Him out. How God saves us, transforms us, relates to us, and lives in us is experienced over a life-time. None of this can understood by pure intellect. Resist the temptation to put God in a box of your own making or in the box of some theological system. 

2. The Bible is a means to know God. 

It’s important to know the Bible. But, it is not an end in itself. Acquiring a lot of Bible information does not guarantee that you’ll know God. Approach the scriptures with a heart and mind to experience God through them. 

3. Being a Christian involves becoming humble. 

Getting the right information or feeling the right emotions might be how some Christians understand Christianity. Jesus wants you to come to Him and learn humility and restful faith as you learn to relate to the Father as He does. 

4. Christians can be mean as well as supportive.

There’s no excuse for behaving unkindly when kindness is to be a Christian trait. But many do not act like Christ or value Christlikeness for themselves. Keep your eyes on Jesus who will never let you down. 

5. Salvation is more than getting to heaven.

You may have had a conversion experience. But, in actuality, you will have many conversion experiences and opportunities to become someone who is saved. Salvation is about life in Christ and Christ’s life in you. Learn what that’s all about for now and all eternity. 

6. Being a Christian is difficult but fulfilling. 

It’s not easy to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus. Yet, fullness is found only in Jesus Christ. There are joys and struggles on your Christian journey. The Triune God is with you every step of the way filling you with His mercy. 

7. Your church leaders often care more about their agenda than your soul and your relationship with God. 

Unfortunately, well-intended Christian leaders can get sidetracked from their main calling of shepherding souls. Often, their own soul is malnourished. Ministry success is a dangerous and subtle demon. So, be cautious about who you follow and hunger for Jesus Christ above all. 

8. Community is good but has limitations.

Keep your expectations in check. People cannot meet the needs that are designed to be met by God alone. 

9. Being a Christian is about union with the Trinity, about participation in the life of the Trinity.

You won’t hear this from too many people except Jesus, the Apostle Paul, St. Peter, all of the NT writers, and most traditional Christian thinkers/writers before the Reformation. There are huge implications to this simple statement. Take the rest of your life to explore those implications.   

10. Being a Christian means continual repentance. 

Living in repentance is a good thing since it means you’re dealing seriously with your ongoing sin and finding forgiveness with God. You are able to turn from your sin and to Christ at all times. Repentance is a regular activity for the Christian. 

11. Being a Christian is an invitation to be like Christ.

Sadly, modern Christianity makes being a Christian about morality, political stances, believing certain doctrines, supporting some cause, or being accepting of everyone. Who Jesus is and what He asks of us is easily forgotten. Don’t forget: you are about Jesus Christ. 

12. Learn to commune with God. 

You are now in a relationship with the Triune God. Relationships take time to develop. Spend time with God. Get to know Him. See how He operates in various situations of your life. Don’t do all the talking but be quiet when you’re with Him. Be attentive to His will. 

13. Finding a Christian group to belong to can be troubling. 

What group should you belong to? Charismatic, Fundamentalist, Adventist, Calvinist, Methodists, Roman Catholic, Church of Christ, Church of God, Church of the Holy Spirit, Non-denominational, Baptist (which kind?), Anglican, Missionary Alliance, Episcopalian, or some home group? They all claim to be based on the Bible and yet differ in so many ways. Don’t settle. Be wise, teachable, and always exploring. 

14. Being a Christian is like walking a journey (or dancing down the street) rather than standing at a destination.

You have not arrived yet. Not only are you a Christian, you’re becoming one. Talk to a person who’s been married one year and a person who’s been married 50 years. Who knows more about being married? Learning to be a Christian is a life-long adventure. 

15. Being a Christian is about BEING as well as doing.

Be Christlike. Be loving to God and neighbor. Be like God. Be filled with the Holy Spirit. Be at peace with God, people, and yourself. You’ll be told to get active, get involved, get busy, and use your “time, talents, and treasure.” However, strive to bring about both being and doing. Think of your doing as an expression of your being. It’s not “either/or” but “both/and.” 

I hope these truths will help you on your way. Enjoy your travels with God. 

Dr. K 

Can The Possibility of Dementia Be Motivation For Developing Inner Prayer?

A Brief Exploration into Prayer of the Heart & Brain Function

My grandfather spent the last few years of his life confined to a bed seemingly oblivious to the world around him. I wonder what he experienced lying there all day. He died at 90.
My father experienced the last few years of his life lost in the darkness of dementia unable to function as he had most of his life. Over the span of 5-6 years, his memory, along with thinking and communication skills, gradually diminished. He died at 86 (due to heart issues).
I have every reason to believe that I will also spend the last years of my life with greatly diminished brain function. OK. I can hear you laughing. It’s probably already happening, I’ll admit. 

What can I do now that will actually help me when this happens? Puzzles? Memory games? Medications? Healthy eating? Exercise? How about learn interior prayer? Huh? 
This may sound weird, but the real prospect of developing dementia is one practical reason why I’m trying to develop an ability to commune with God from my heart verses thinking about God with my brain. I want to know God in and from my heart so that when my brain ceases to function properly, I can still have a vibrant, deepening relationship with God. Does that make sense? 
This kind of treatment for dementia would include a united heart, mind, and soul in unity with the Trinity. When the brain no longer “works,” communion with God can continue. There is no cure for dementia. However, this may be the way for Christians to keep experiencing God no matter their physical and cognitive limitations. 
Explore this in light of what St. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4.16-17: So we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and temporary affliction is producing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs our troubles. 
In other words, outward afflictions manufacture inner flourishing in God’s grace. Place loss of brain function as an outward affliction (it is when compared to the soul/heart), and you can see where motivation to develop inner communion with God comes from. Constant inner renewal produces unending splendor now and forever. The brain can’t stop that from happening. 
Dementia 
Dementia is described not as a specific disease, but as a group of conditions characterized by impairment of at least two brain functions, such as memory loss and judgment.
Symptoms include forgetfulness, limited social skills, and thinking abilities so impaired that it interferes with daily functioning.
The Alzheimer’s Association website reports…
While symptoms of dementia can vary greatly, at least two of the following core mental functions must be significantly impaired to be considered dementia:
  • Memory
  • Communication and language
  • Ability to focus and pay attention
  • Reasoning and judgment
  • Visual perception

People with dementia may have problems with short-term memory, keeping track of a purse or wallet, paying bills, planning and preparing meals, remembering appointments or traveling out of the neighborhood.

Many dementias are progressive, meaning symptoms start out slowly and gradually get worse.

Treatment of dementia depends on its cause. In the case of most progressive dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease, there is no cure and no treatment that slows or stops its progression.

A Spiritual Treatment 
Since there is no physical cure or treatment that stops the progression of dementia, an alternative approach needs to be explored. How about a spiritual one?
Would it be possible to spiritually circumvent the brain allowing our heart to control our life?
Could we ever come to the point where our mind and heart are so united that we could function well even though our cognitive faculties are diminished? 
Here’s what I’m thinking (while I can 😉): Let the prospect of dementia work in your favor – learn to know God from your inner being not your brain. Know God not as an idea you think about but as a person with whom you relate, heart to heart. Learn to relate in silence and quiet since that’s probably where you’re headed. Learn to commune with God from within your heart. 

Training for Inner Communion

St. Paul encourages his son Timothy to train himself in godliness because godliness, compared to physical exercise, is good for now AND eternity (1 Timothy 4.7-8). Godliness is not primarily a thinking process. It is possessing the heart of God. And, surprisingly, our interior being only develops through intentional, bodily training. 

In C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, Uncle Screwtape chides his understudy demon, Wormwood, for allowing his “patient” to become a Christian. But take heart, he says, “There is no need to despair; hundreds of these adult converts have been reclaimed after a brief sojourn in the enemy’s camp and are now with us. All the habits of the patient, both mental and bodily, are still in our favour.” Screwtape knows that if a convert’s habits remain the same they will experience little of life in Christ. 

Later, Screwtape advises Wormwood how to effect the prayers of his “patient” by keeping them spontaneous, informal, unregularized and definitely without using the body. “At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls.” 

That’s what I’m talking about….training the heart, soul, and spirit to be like God so when the brain malfunctions, we can still flourish in knowing God. (According to Jesus, this “knowing” is actually “eternal life”  – a God-life we can live now and forever; see John 17.3). 
What bodily exercises are good for your spiritual being? Start with the basics and let them teach you about God and yourself. (Here’s what’s fun: You can do these even with limited brain function.) 
Prayer – learn to commune with God 1) in silence: with a quiet mind and attentive heart and 2) liturgical prayer: as Jesus taught his disciples and as has been practiced by Christians for 2000+ years. 
The Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” is a time-tested way to commune with God at all times. I’m training myself to continually say this prayer so that it becomes the prayer of my heart. It will then be the primary means of communing with God when I have dementia. Thanks be to God! 
Fasting – learn to commune with God by pulling away from activities that distract your heart so that you grow in experiencing God’s love with your whole heart, mind, and spirit. 
Almsgiving – learn to commune with God by dispossessing your stuff, including money, and giving to those in need. With actions of sacrificial giving you develop a heart like Jesus who always lived like this. 
Sometimes during my father’s last years on earth, we would sit together on a small bench outside his apartment. There he’d commune with God in creation watching birds fly and feeling breezes blow. He’d notice these same things every time and comment on them as if he’d experienced them for the first time. In sweet childlikeness, he simply experienced God. I wanted more for him and, to my shame, from him. Yet, he was content. God was enough. 
I am not happily looking forward to years of living with dementia. I’m actually not going to have much say in the matter. Yet, I never want to stop experientially knowing God no matter how fuzzy my brain becomes. I don’t even know if what I’m writing about will “work” then. It doesn’t really matter. It’s working now. I’ll just plan on it working later as well
What do you think about my proposal? Share your thoughts below. 
Dr. K 
 
P.S. The best book I know to introduce yourself to this kind of praying is Prayer of the Heart by George Maloney. It’s pure inspiration for the serious inquirer.

A Look at Faith: Beautifully Destitute & Pleasing to God

Would You Know Genuine Faith If It Was Different From Your Faith?

The best Christian you’ll ever meet might be the homeless guy you ignore and despise at Exit #8 on your way to work. She might be the down syndrome child that irritates you with her guttural outbursts during the sermon. He might be the tatted, long-haired, artsy-fartsy moron neighbor who drinks too much. When it comes to recognizing people of faith, we’re probably clueless, though we may think we’re keenly insightful. 

Euphrosynos was a disrespected, simple monastery cook. One night, the monastery’s abbot had a dream of heavenly paradise. Surprisingly, there he met Euphrosynos who gave him three beautiful apples from a tree. Upon awakening he found three apples lying on his pillow much to his amazement. He located Euphrosynos and asked him where he’d been last night. He responded, “Where you were, Father.” The abbot was astonished. How is it possible that this despised yet humble cook could actually be a saint? 

Reading scripture and the lives of saints in church history, I’m beginning to see that holy people are formed out of struggle. They step into the unknown and deal with the challenges of uncertainty and conflict. They persevere in their fears and pain as they experience God. Knowing God seems to be enough to carry them as they advance through carnage and battle inner demons. 

These warriors are described in Hebrews 11: 

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (v. 1). (Be careful not to interpret “assurance” and “conviction” as what you think should happen.) 

And without faith it is impossible to please [God}, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (v. 6). 

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.…But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one (vv. 13-16).  

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated — of whom the world is not worthy — wandering in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect (vv. 35-40). 

The miracle was not God getting them out of their suffering/affliction/mistreatment but God being present with them no matter how long or how deep the pain. Many were never rescued. Yet, they knew God, becoming aware of Him, even when God seemed nowhere to be found. Knowing God was their reward.  

Where did we get the idea that real faith means we believe God will always rescue us, take us out of trouble, free us from pain, heal our physical ailments, and make our lives better? 

Modern Person of Faith

I don’t know what this kind of Hebrews 11 person would actually look like today. But I have a sneaking suspicion our modern Christian sensibilities would find him/her off-putting. Our family faith album is filled with smiling, clean-cut, healthy-looking people who don’t seem to have a care in the world. God forbid a photobomb by a destitute and tortured grandchild. 

Though held up as great examples of the faith, these kinds of people wouldn’t make it past the greeter at your church. By the look of things, they would not be considered Christians at all – odd clothing, destitute, beat down, tormented, plagued, disorderly, foul-smelling, sick. It doesn’t look like they have any faith in God at all or they wouldn’t be in their particular predicament, right? 

Some churches don’t allow children into their morning service let alone someone like this. I’ve heard of ushers not allowing an autistic child into a service because he would be too disruptive. 

What kind of screwed-up understanding of a person’s faith is this? 

Imagine a Christian guy’s response to news of stage four colon cancer. On Facebook he writes, “Yesterday I got the news that I have colon cancer. But, I’m trusting God. Nothing is a surprise to him. It’s all OK. God’s got this! No worries! God is good all the time!” His friends might respond, “What incredible faith!”

But, doesn’t this actually come off as a form of denial? “Folks, it’s not really bad news because I have a rock-solid belief in God.” Sounds to me like his faith is in his faith. 

What if he’d written: “Yesterday I got the news I have stage four colon cancer. I’m devastated and not handling this well. I’m emotionally and physically spent and yet this cancer journey has just begun. I don’t know how I’m going to make it. I need God now more than ever. Without His mercy and help I have no hope. I’m pitiful. But God is able.”

This sounds more like genuine faith in God. “Folks, I don’t have what it takes in this situation, but God does.”   

Struggle On…

Take an honest look at Hebrews 11 and compare the kind of faith these folks have to your own. Do you see how destitute you really are and how badly you need God’s mercy? 

The Christian life is the journey into a more genuine faith in God. The struggle to believe God is a good struggle. Don’t be discouraged if you think your faith is small. The amount of faith you have is not the issue. The source and object of faith is the issue. 

Keep looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of the faith (Hebrews 12.2).

Without faith we cannot please God. (Hebrews 11.6)

If whatever we do is not in faith, we sin. (Romans 14.23)

I believe. Help my unbelief. (Mark 9.24)

Looking at these scriptural reminders, we’ve got a long ways to go on this journey.

Trust God now…then now…then now. Each moment of every second. No matter what’s happening to you, around you, or in you.

It may not be all that impresive, but at least it’s real. 

Dr. K 

Teachableness: You Can’t Live The Christian Life Without It

Wisdom and Teachableness

Yesterday while reading Proverbs chapter 3, it hit me how readily I rely upon my own abilities to navigate life.  “Trust in God with all your heart and do not exalt your own wisdom. In all your ways know wisdom that she may cut a straight path for you, and your foot will not stumble. Do not rely on your own discernment but fear God and turn away from every evil. Then there shall be healing for your body and care for your bones.” Trust God. Fear God. Know wisdom. Don’t rely on your own wisdom or discernment. But, I think I know better.

You see, one of my problems is that I’m often not teachable. Wisdom comes to those who trust God rather than their own thinking. I’m not good at that.

It is essential that we be teachable. 

Teachableness

Here are some definitions of “teachable” a) capable of being taught. b) able and willing to learn. c) favorable to teaching. Are you teachable? 

I’m talking about a general attitude of desire or willingness to know. Since you can’t learn about everything, you need to limit yourself to what is most beneficial. This is where it gets dicey for Christians who may spend their whole lives learning about things that are relatively useless for their spiritual life. Interests like cooking, auto mechanics, sports, politics, hobbies, or travel can distract from spiritually substantial matters. 

St. Paul points this out to Timothy when he writes that physical exercise is slightly beneficial but godliness benefits all of life – life now and life eternally (1 Timothy 4.8). 

So, why aren’t more Christians interested in the condition of their own souls? Or, in their own relationship with God? Or, in the healing of their sin-sick heart? Or, in their lack of Christlikeness? 

I wish I had a good answer. It would be the key to unlocking the door of stubbornness and ignorance that comes with being unteachable. 

  • Are you teachable about knowing God? Your eternal life depends on it (John 17.3).
  • Are you teachable about experiencing union with Jesus Christ? Jesus prayed for it (John 17.23, 26).
  • Are you teachable about participating in the life of Christ? It is your calling (1 Corinthians 1.9).
  • Are you teachable about the Church? It is the means of your spiritual life (Acts 2.42; Ephesians).

Wisdom & Teachableness  

Being teachable is really a journey of learning wisdom. 

Do not reprove a scoffer or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight (Proverbs 9.8-10).

Get wisdom, get insight…do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight  (Proverbs 4.5-7).

Whoever heeds instruction is on the path of life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray (Proverbs 10.17).

Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future (Proverbs 10.17).

God is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our WISDOM and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Corinthians 1.30). 

Wisdom is not pure intellectual knowledge but an ability to live as God designed us to live. Bible scholars Curtis and Brugaletta describe wisdom: 

Wisdom’s method is to stimulate thought and reflection rather than provide exhaustive answers; it encourages the kind of life application of the material that both allows the exploration of the broader dimensions of the principles and generates skills in living. The goal is to produce a craftsman who can respond to the circumstances of life in a fallen world in ways that reflect Yahweh’s order and move a person toward godliness. (Discovering the Way of Wisdom, p. 10, Kregel Publications)

Characteristics of the Non-teachable 

  • Want current beliefs to be affirmed. They refuse to learn anything that challenges existing beliefs, practices or prejudices. 
  • Lack curiosity. They rarely ask questions seeking to further their understanding or gain new insights. 
  • Don’t desire wisdom. They have convinced themselves that they don’t care or wisdom doesn’t matter.
  • Are over-confident in their abilities. 
  • Have difficulty in accepting correction. 
  • Are not part of a learning group or relationship.
  • Are lazy. They want to stay within their intellectual and spiritual comfort zone.
  • Possess a pervasive pride. They’ve convinced themselves that asking questions makes them look ignorant, stupid, or uncertain.

Being unteachable demonstrates an unwillingness and arrogance that has the potential to thwart God’s work within. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. 

If you are stubbornly unwilling to consider God’s workings in a way different than your own ideas, then you are more committed to your ideas than you are to God. 

I don’t mean you must be open to every new idea about God that comes down the pike. (I’m not convinced God has any “new” ideas.) But, He does have significant realities that you and I have not discovered – have not participated in – into which He desires us to go. 


In 10 years you’ll be the same person you are now except for the books you read and the people you meet. 


Characteristics of the Teachable

  • Are aware of their limited abilities and understanding.
  • Consistently seek out help, instruction, guidance, and wisdom. 
  • Are open to learn from any source.
  • Possess the ability to see God in everything even what seems to be “bad.” 
  • Are thankful for all things especially those ideas and people they do not currently understand.
  • Have a humility to admit error and wrong along with a willingness to change ideas and opinions .
  • Are willing to try something different, make mistakes, and ask questions. 
  • Listen attentively to others in curiosity. 

Curtis and Brugaletta provide great insight on teachability and wisdom. The first sentence is priceless… 

A wise person is teachable, and this as much as any single characteristic distinguishes the wise person from the fool. The wise person is open to instruction in all of its forms (teaching, correction, rebuke, and discipline), and he learns from it, whereas the fool rejects it and continues to pursue his own self-destructive course. Discovering the Way of Wisdom, p. 51

Ask yourself, “Am I really teachable?” From whom am I learning true information and practices?  From whom am I learning real wisdom and humility? 

How to be(come) Teachable 

  1. Come to Jesus, commune and walk with Him daily. Since He is wisdom and humility in bodily form, learn from Him. 
  2. Embrace your struggles and let them work their transformative powers in you.
  3. Read and meditate on the truth of scripture, living it as you are able. Allow scripture to light your path instead of your own ideas. 
  4. Listen to others around you aware of your own spiritual and emotional condition. 
  5. Ask more questions, express less opinions. 
  6. Ask God constantly for wisdom and then observe what happens in the days and weeks that follow. 

Being a Christian involves learning wisdom and truth. To learn wisdom and truth, we must be teachable. On a scale of 1-10, how teachable are you? 

Dr. K

Your Children Are Here for Your Sanctification Not The Other Way Around

Learning to Be Like Jesus From Your Children

Rhonda and I got married in 1977 in Portsmouth, VA. I was just entering seminary so we weren’t too concerned about having children. In 1983, we accepted our first full-time pastoral position in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Enough cold nights and long winters might help us get our first little bundle of joy. But Rhonda’s battle with endometriosis kept conception at bay.

So, we had a late start to the the whole procreation thing. I told people that I kissed my wife good-night every night but nothing happened. Huh? Anyway, we were married 9 years before our “gift from God,” Nathanael, made his appearance. After almost 10 years without children, we had to make some major adjustments. Yet, we loved it. His blond hair and blue eyes (and latent musical talent) qualified him to be a member of the Beach Boys. So, when he was 18 months, we moved to Southern California.

Maybe it was the warmer weather or the new digs, but a year later our beautiful daughter Jenna blessed our family. She was a cute little spit fire ready to tackle whatever was in front of her (still true).

Our family was complete but we were far from finished.

I had the mistaken idea that one of the primary reasons Rhonda and I had children was to make good little Christians of them.

But, in reality, they were here to help us become Christians. 

Misplaced Expectations

Do you have children? Were they raised in your “Christian” home? You probably attended church together, made sure they went to Sunday School and AWANA then got involved in the youth ministry. You prayed before meals and perhaps had “family devotions.” Did you homeschool, public school, or Christian school? You probably prayed for them every day.

You may have read Dobson, Campbell, “Growing Kids God’s Way,” or other books by parenting “experts” and thought you knew what you were doing. Your children did not dance, listen to rock music, watch crap on TV, or go to R-rated movies. Good job!

How did all that work out for you…and them?

How they turned out isn’t the point of this post. How they have challenged you to be like Jesus – actually be Christian – is my point. Your children have been, and are even now, teaching you your shortcomings and your need to become like Jesus. You may have thought you were here for their spiritual good. Nope! They’re actually here for your spiritual good.

No child turns out like you expect or imagine. They challenge your preconceptions, your presumptions, and your expectations.  And, that’s all good for you. They challenge you to love in ways you didn’t think possible. They teach you patience, kindness, and how to speak the truth in love.

If you’ve missed their lessons and are pretty much the same person you were when they were born then something is wrong with you. You’re blind to your own faults. Your children are not, however.  They see you for what you really are…like it or not. Their evaluation of you may be more accurate than your understanding of your own self.

If you believe you are here to make your children walk the straight and narrow, be morally upstanding, and be all you want them to be, you’ve got much to learn (from them!).

Your role as a parent has probably been reduced to loving, supporting, praying, listening, and modeling. Real simple, right? Hardly! The simple things are the hardest.

If your children are not what you want them to be and they know your disappointment, then maybe you are not the person they need you to be. They are not the problem. You are.

Helps to Enhance Your Relationship

  1. Become more like Christ every day. Learn to love – sacrifice, give, empty yourself like Jesus did. He gave Himself for people who rejected him. He loved those who resisted Him. He showed mercy to those who did not deserve it. He humbled Himself for the sake of others. Get closer to Jesus and let Him rub off on you.
  2. Pray for your children without expectations and without trying to control outcomes.
  3. Ask for your children’s forgiveness. In humility, recall mishandled instances, bring them up with your children, and ask them to forgive you.
  4. Be attentive to your children. They are God’s messengers to help you know yourself and become more like Jesus.

If you have children, learning how to parent never ends. Because, learning how to be like Jesus never ends. The two go hand in hand. Your children are here to help you become more like Jesus. Love them for it.

Dr. K 

P.S. This is my first cross-over post from the Motley Christian website. Check it out and subscribe. Thanks! 

The Single Most Important Habit for Growing, Thoughtful Christians

Questioning is the Art of Learning

Recently we had a delightful young couple in our home for dinner. They told us the story of serving in a discipleship school in Italy. With high hopes they had raised support and moved to the school. Quickly, it became a difficult situation mainly because they asked questions which were not “allowed.” After two years of trying to make it work, they returned to the States wounded and broken by a Christian organization that didn’t know how to deal with genuine questions.

I have a friend who also asked too many questions of the leadership of a Christian nonprofit organization. Conflicts arose not because questions were asked but because certain people did not want to deal with the questions themselves. He is now working a “secular” job and loving it.

You may have your own stories about asking questions when that sort of activity was not welcome. It seems to be prevalent in Christian organizations and churches. Growing up in a fundamental Baptist atmosphere, I was not encouraged to ask questions except the kind that would advance an agenda like, “What do Baptist’s believe?” If it ever turned into something like, “Why do they believe that?” “Where did that idea come from?” or “What is the real meaning or consequence of that idea?” then the discussion turned into a debate about who’s interpretation of the Bible was right. It was better not to ask.

So, most of my Christian friends never ask tough questions of their church, denomination, leaders, or even the Bible. They just go along with the prevailing teaching of the moment. As a result, they get stuck, stagnant in their Christian walk.

However, good questions need to be asked. Good questions are a mark of an eager learner. When we stop being a learner we stop being a Christian. Good questions make us good Christians. Like children, it’s the simplest and most effective way of learning. Yet, it is frequently forgotten as one gets older. Maybe this was an aspect of faith Jesus was addressing when He challenged His followers to have a “childlike faith.”

What is a Question?

  • a sentence, phrase, or word that asks for information or is used to test someone’s knowledge
  • a matter or problem that is being discussed
  • a subject or topic
  • doubt or uncertainty about something

This is one of the challenges of raising the issue of asking questions. The listener may not know what kind of question is being asked. They may see the question as a threat when it may simple be introducing a matter for discussion. The question may be due to doubt or not. The question may be for clarification not to be confused with a personal attack.

He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever – Chinese proverb

WHY is good?

Simon Sinek has made a career of helping people ask “Why.” He writes:

Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. When I say WHY, I don’t mean to make money – that’s a result. By WHY I mean what is the purpose, cause or belief? WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? and WHY should anyone care? (Start With Why, 2009, p.39) 

WHY do I exist as a human being? WHY am I a Christian? WHY does the Church exist? WHY do I interpret the Bible the way I do? WHY do I sin? WHY do I believe? Don’t settle for pat answers. Keep asking WHY.

Yet, this is only the beginning.

Good questions lead the learner on a journey in which there is a balance between content (who, what, when) and process (how, why).

What is good Questioning?

Nicola Watts, freelance strategy and research consultant, highlights how to master the art and science of asking effective questions. We can learn from her — 

1. Create an environment where curiosity is welcomed and rewarded.

2. Become a keen observer of everything you see, hear, and experience.

3. Look at the world with fresh eyes, question the familiar, assume nothing is obvious.

4. Understand the power of different types of questions – how they should be used and when.

5. Keep asking why until you can go no further.

I’ll add #6: Truly listen to the answer to your question. Do you really understand the answer? Does the answer create more questions? Ask those as well. Keep asking. Keep learning.

Christian organizations and churches would do well to heed #1. Individual Christians need to apply #2-5, especially #3: “assume nothing is obvious.”

Why don’t we ask questions? 

What makes this difficult for churches and church leaders is that they may assume too much when a question is asked. They think a question is asked because a person is being disloyal, rebellious, or obstinate. They may fear the person is doubting God or their “right” understanding of God.

A big problem for the person with questions is that they don’t know what questions to ask or how to ask them. But usually, they don’t ask for fear of being labeled, dismissed, or “blackballed.”

Paul Sloane, innovative thinking expert, asks the question: Why don’t we ask questions? Here are his answers:

  • Laziness – people assume they know all the main things they need to know. Why bother to ask more? They cling to beliefs and remain certain of their assumptions. Dr. K: Is this not THE main reason most Christians do not ask questions? They already know what they believe. Don’t confuse them with the facts!?!
  • Perception – people don’t want to appear weak, ignorant, or unsure. They like to give the impression that they are decisive and in command of the relevant issues. In fact, asking questions is a sign of strength and intelligence. Dr. K: Been here; done that! This is really a pride thing.
  • Busyness – people don’t slow down to ask, research, or study. They rush headlong because life is short and things need fixing. Dr. K: We’ve got to do ministry. People need Jesus. That’s all that matters. Questions distract us from our real mission of winning the world to Jesus.

And, I’ll add:

  • Fear – for two reasons: 
  1. People are afraid of the answers. They might find out they are wrong or have been misguided. That means they would have to change. They don’t want to change. 
  2. People fear being labeled, dismissed, or “blackballed.”

What are good Questions?

  • Open vs closed – they inspire discussion and reflection  – How can kindness be expressed in everyday life? vs. Do you express kindness everyday?
  • Essential vs superficial – they seek to elicit deeper issues – Why do you think you react to disagreement like that? vs. What disagreements do you have with him?
  • Genuine vs accusatory – Almost any question can be accusatory. It’s the tone of the questioner more than the question itself. These questions could be asked either way: Why do you believe that? Are you sure? What is the problem?

It’s unfortunate that asking too many questions can get you into trouble especially with Christians. Yet, ask you must. When good questions, even those outside the box, come to you search out answers. You’ll grow as a Christian that way. Don’t settle for the status quo and the pat answer. Keep asking why. 

 Intelligent questions stimulate, provoke, inform and inspire. — Paul Sloane

Be a catalyst for change, for yourself and/or for your community or family, by asking good, effective questions.

Dr. K