The Great Need of Christians For Spiritual Fathers

Compared to Teachers, They are Rare

Finding a spiritual father has been a life-long goal of mine. One is not easy to find. They hide in solitude and silence. They are simple and unconcerned about publicity. They are among us yet we’re blind to their presence. I’ll not give up my search. However, I may need to adjust my expectations.  

My own biological father, Joel Kettenring, helped me know God by his example and by his preaching. He possessed a  great heart for God and a wholehearted dedication to serving Him. He probably had a lot more to offer me spiritually than I was looking for at the time. Yet, I was deeply influenced by his obvious desire to know God more deeply.

Perhaps his example stirred in me a desire for a “spiritual father” – a man whose ongoing experience of God is deeply transforming his life; a man being humbled as he struggles to die to self and live in Christ.  

Thankfully, I’ve had many fatherly men in my life. They were influential at a particular time moving me along in my journey to the Father. Pastor Joe and Pastor Bill, Drs. Wayne, Klaus, Dallas, and Tom were instrumental in showing me a meaning of Father whether as a shepherd, teacher, or unofficial mentor. I am eternally grateful that they showed me what a true father is and what he is not. 

I’ve learned two realities on this father-journey: 

  1. Only God the Father can be the father my heart longs for.
  2. The journey is about becoming a spiritual father as much as finding a spiritual father (even though I know I need one to become one). 

Apostle Paul 

The Apostle knew the crucial significance of a spiritual father in the life of the Christian. We need instructors and teachers. But our greater need is for fathers who live authentic Christian lives worth imitating. They are much more rare, harder to find, easy to miss. 

St. Paul writes (I Corinthians 4.15-16) – For though you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you have not many fathers…Therefore I urge you to imitate me. (in other letters he writes something similar – 1 Cor. 11.1 Imitate me as I imitate Christ, Phil 3.17, 1 These 1.6, 2 Theses 3.9)) 

True spiritual fathers have the credibility to say, “Imitate me” since they have the genuine life in Christ to back it up. 

Teachers 

Today we have a myriad (Gr. murious) of instructors (NKJV –  “ten thousand;” innumerable). Everywhere you turn, there are instructors. In church you have pastors, Sunday School teachers, small group leaders, elders or deacons. In schools there are professors, researchers, and teachers. There are countless books by instructors. Thousands of websites by writers. Hundreds of conferences loaded with speakers. Friends with advice. Well-meaning relatives who preach their opinions. People communicating through movies, books, brochures, CDs, radio podcasts, satellite radio, seminars, webinars, ebooks, and bumper stickers. Instructors are a dime a dozen. 

We have more than enough “paidogogos” (Gr.) – meaning: trainers, instructors, teachers, guides, guardians, tutors.  

These instructors pass on information. They appeal to the intellect. They want you to think better, make informed judgments, stimulate your brain, refine your reasoning, become smarter, grasp arguments, comprehend ideas, and sharpen your reasoning. They seek to persuade with logic and emotion. 

They don’t necessarily need to follow their own teaching. The idea is: as long as the information is good, they are good. 

Fathers 

Fathers may want all this for you, too. But they understand the real necessity to live what they teach so much so that they hesitate to teach truth unless they are living it. They know God relationally and experientially. They are more about experiencing life in Christ than trying to analyze and explain it. 

This kind of “spiritual” father can truly have authority and exercise responsibility because he/she lives God’s life – dying to self; repenting of wrongdoing; battling sin, flesh, the world, and satan; humbly submitting to a higher authority, and actually participating in God’s will. 

Above all, these spiritual fathers model life in Christ. They are real-life examples of living death, purposeful struggle, moment-by-moment communion with God, bold humility, loving kindness, joyful peace, faithful long-suffering, true wisdom, and beautiful goodness. They manifest the qualities of gentleness, humility, patience, compassion, discernment, and love. 

They are rare indeed. 

They are not interested in simply passing on information. They want to BE the information they pass on. 

Their goal? Again, we turn to the Apostle Paul: My little children, of whom I travail in birth until Christ be formed in you  (Galatians 4.19).

A true spiritual father wants nothing more than to see Jesus Christ in his children. Therefore, he wants nothing more than to see Jesus Christ in his/her own life. 

Today

Let’s be honest. We have plenty of Christian leaders who want something different than this. They’re devoted to building or maintaining their own little kingdoms (church, school, organization, online platform) and finding people to follow them into it. They’re dedicated to persuading people to a certain theological way of thinking. They’re committed to helping others become better people, changing the world to become a better place, or raising family members to be good. And they do this by instruction. 

Rare is the leader who, out of their own Christlikeness, influences others in becoming like Jesus as they follow their example.  

What we have are scores of teachers who, on occasion, act like fathers. What we need are fathers who, on occasion, act like teachers. 

Let’s make this really practical for a second. A big mistake often made by fathers to their children is to focus on instructing them rather than being a father to them. I write from personal experience. Ugh! It’s much easier to tell our children what to do, or demand it of them, than guide them gently, lovingly, and patiently. Our heavenly Father relates to us as a Father who lovingly guides by example and patience. We need to do the same. If you’ve blown it in the past with your children, there’s no better time to become more fatherly than now. Ask their forgiveness for being so demanding and begin building a Christ-like relationship with them as you become more like Christ. 

I’m confident there are true spiritual fathers out there. They’re hidden in their humility and total devotion to Jesus and His ways. They are not popular or even well known. 

I’m also confident I’m not close to being one. I’m far too worldly, self-absorbed, judgmental, and unloving to qualify. To find one, I look through a window not into a mirror. 

I”d love for us all to find a spiritual father here on earth. Perhaps, while we’re searching, we can seek to imitate Jesus Christ and the Apostles. 

Are you up to the challenge? Few are. I hope you are an exception. 

Share your thoughts about spiritual fatherhood below. 

Dr. K 

An Invitation to Real Apostolic-Like Living

The Challenge of 1 Corinthians 4.9-16

From some corners of evangelical Christianity come the cries for apostolic ministry – ministries of authority, physical healing, signs, words of knowledge, prophesy, and the “supernatural.” The desire is for apostolic results. But, what about the apostolic kind of life that goes with it? These results did not come through empty vessels but through men shaped by asceticism, hardship, resistance, and prayer. A modern apostle might say, “It doesn’t matter. The supernatural is God’s work. It matters little how I live or who I am.” The Apostle Paul would disagree.

In 1 Corinthians 4.9-16, the Apostle Paul, from first hand experience, describes what being an apostle looks like: 

  • last of all
  • sentenced to death
  • a spectacle to the world, angels and others
  • a fool for Christ’s sake
  • weak
  • held in disrepute
  • hungry and thirsty
  • poorly dressed
  • beaten
  • homeless
  • involved in manual labor
  • reviled yet blesses
  • persecuted yet endures
  • slandered yet speaks well of the slanderers
  • the scum of the world
  • rejected like garbage

Contrast this with the modern-day “apostle,” who is trying hard to be:

  • relevant
  • distinguished
  • privileged
  • popular
  • successful
  • influential
  • diplomatic
  • well-liked
  • recognized
  • powerful
  • comfortable

Paul’s description could easily be dismissed as only applying to first century apostles. If only he had not gone on to say,

 I admonish you because you have countless guides who want to tell you how to live but not many fathers who are actual examples of how to live. That’s why I say, “live as I live; imitate me.”

You and I are not apostles. But we are to become apostle-like Christians as Paul describes. This is at the core of our journey with Jesus Christ and his apostles.

It is a journey to nothingness.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle writes, “Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies”  (4.10). Nothingness is the place we experience everything good. 

It is only in dying that we experience real life.

Do you know much about the Apostles? Unfortunately, I don’t. 

Today, let’s find out more about these men who changed the world in their living and in their dying.  

Spoiler alert: with one exception, they all died as martyrs. How did they live? How did they die? Let’s do some research. Then, let’s do some self-examination in light of what we find. 

Share below a gem that you discover and how it impacts you. And share this post with others. 

Dr. K

Getting Serious About Knowing God in Prayer

Learn from Those Who Pray

Since starting to establish a online platform, I receive 10-12 email messages everyday from people eager to inform and sell me their insights on how to have a successful internet platform. They’re telling me how to blog, podcast, use Facebook and Twitter, write, develop online courses and ebooks, publish, do webinars and videos, and build a recognized brand. But, none of these successful entrepreneurs help me know God better. None of them teaches me how to commune with God. Why would I think they could? That’s not their purpose or goal. 

Jeff Goins, a successful writer and internet entrepreneur, doesn’t help me to refurbish an antique desk. He’s a writer who helps other writers. Jeff may know some furniture restoration techniques. Yet, he’s not the “go to” guy on restoring antique furniture.  

Let’s apply this to praying.

Isn’t it fascinating that we look to and trust people to teach us about prayer who don’t know prayer? They take a stab at it now and then. They read a book about it and pass on some ideas they glean from their reading. They talk about a passage of scripture on prayer. They cry out to God when they’re desperate enough. 

However, communing with God in prayer is not their daily, ordinary, regular way of living. They have too many other, more important, things to tend to. 

Yet, we try to learn prayer from people who are inconsistent, somewhat ignorant, and less than committed to real communion with God. 

Why should we expect to learn how to pray from a pastor who struggles to find 15 minutes a day to meet with God?

Is this one reason why our prayer lives are so anemic? We have many teachers but no one who genuinely models for us a life of prayer whom we can follow. 

A Typical Approach to Prayer, Unfortunately

I recently read the book entitled Prayer by Timothy Keller. While I appreciate much about what he writes on prayer – “[Prayer] is the way we know God, the way we finally treat God as God. Prayer is simply the key to everything we need to do and be in life” – he falls far short of exploring the fullness of knowing God in prayer. By focusing on the prayer writings of Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Calvin, Keller objectifies prayer as this “thing” we do rather than the way we live. I imagine that’s how he approaches prayer himself – academic not experiential. 

Prayer seems to be an object of study to Keller. As helpful as this might be, he totally misses the reality of prayer. Prayer is participating in the life of the Trinity not an object that’s dissected for comprehension.

I grew weary of his constant referencing of “prayer styles” into categories like, “communion-centered” or “kingdom-centered” prayers. This “straw man” dichotomy must be destroyed. Prayer is God-centered or it is nothing. I use the word “communion” for prayer since it best reflects a participation in the life of the Trinity which is our privilege and responsibility as Christians. When we commune with/participate in God, categories mean nothing. The relationship is everything. 

And that is what’s missing in most modern approaches to prayer – relationship. I’m talking intimate union with Mercy and Truth. In 321 pages of Keller’s Prayer, I don’t recall seeing the word “relationship” even once.

Keller illustrates that most teaching on prayer we’re exposed to comes from people who read books about how others pray or exegete passages from the Bible about how others pray. They rarely pray themselves. Keller only referenced his own experience of prayer a couple times. One has to wonder why. 

Just because Christian leaders may know a lot of theology or Bible information doesn’t automatically make them proficient about knowing God in prayer. They may be able to help you know more about God. However, your heart seeks to actually know God. 

Knowing God Means Experiencing God in Prayer

The Psalmist David writes of seeking the Lord (prayer): “This is the generation of those who seek Him, who seek the Face of the God of Jacob.”

He then poetically exclaims:

Lift up your gates, O you princes, and be lifted up, O everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall enter. 

Who is this King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle!

Lift up your gates, O you princes, and be lifted up, O everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall enter. 

Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory! (Psalm 24.6-10)

David knows that our heart yearns to know God. To know the might of his power and glory in us. To know his strength in our weakness. To know his might in our struggles. To know his glory in our mundane.

Our role is to open the door of our heart and let Him enter. 

More than knowing the Bible or how to do certain spiritual disciplines, we want to truly experience the reality of the Trinity in our life. 

Greater and Lesser Lights 

Do you know there are men and women who devote their whole day to communion with God? They have learned and continue to learn what it’s like to abide in Christ every moment. 

Why do we ignore the brilliant rays of enlightenment beaming from holy men and woman and rely on “lesser lights” to guide us? 

  • We’re unaware of their lives. 
  • We’ve been told they are extremists, other worldly, with whom we cannot relate. 
  • We reject them because they don’t fit into our theological framework. 

When someone who has devoted their life to God in prayer says something about prayer, we need to pay close attention. Such is the case with the abbot of a monastery on Vashon Island in the Puget Sound, Washington. Abbot Tryphon says:

We all need a good dose of silent prayer each and every day. Finding that perfect place in your home that can become your cave or your prayer closet gives you that space where you can go deep into the heart and connect with God…The Jesus Prayer is that perfect prayer for it is a place of adoration and praise and a place that proclaims Jesus is Lord who can grant you mercy. The simple prayer which evokes the holy name of Jesus can transform your life and take you into the very heart of God. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”…This prayer accomplishes St. Paul’s admonition that we should pray always. It is a prayer that takes you out of yourself and into communion with Christ. It is a prayer that can change your life… (from Ancient Faith Radio podcast, May 2, 2018)   

When a man of prayer speaks about prayer, we need to listen and follow his instruction. 

Jesus, totally living his life here on earth in communion with the Father and Spirit, can teach us a thing or two about prayer. The Apostles who learned from Jesus how to pray, write what we need to read. Men and women who answer God’s call to a life of prayer can teach us much about relating to God in prayer. Why would we go to anyone else? 

Though we cannot live as these lived, we can accept some of their ways and benefit from their experiences of knowing God in prayer. 

  • We can read the saints who devote hours each day in private and communal prayer. 
  • We can take the scriptures on prayer to heart. Wrestle with Jesus’ teaching, Paul’s example, and James’ writings. 
  • We can read and pray the Psalms which is the prayer book of the Church. 

Helpful Books 

Books can be of some benefit depending on the author. But the best way to commune with God is to commune with God even when you don’t know what you’re doing. Because it’s not so much about doing the right things as being with God. 

I can recommend two books on prayer that will challenge you to pray, written by men devoted to God in prayer. These are not easy books because they confront our ignorance and invite us to real prayer. They are also written by authors who are probably outside your tradition. All the more reason to read them. 

       Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (Richard J. Foster)

Foster is a good writer. In this book, he draws from centuries of prayer literature and praying people to compose a masterpiece on prayer. Though I don’t endorse all that he writes, there is certainly much more good here than not. I appreciate his referencing real ancient writers like Gregory of Nyssa and St. Symeon the New Theologian. Distinguishing 21 “types” of prayer is unnecessary. But if you ignore the labels and focus on the content, you’ll benefit from this book. 

       Prayer of the Heart (George Maloney) 

If you’re ready for it, this is the one book that comes close to presenting prayer in all its fullness. Maloney, a Roman Catholic priest, explores the Eastern Orthodox approach to God in prayer. Don’t let that scare you off. Take from it what you can and then keep coming back for more when you’re hungry again. There is so much available here for the good of your relationship with God. If you possess a burning to know God in prayer, this book will feed the flame. 

Skip the superficial prayer drivel (Lucado, Omartian, Wilkins, Hybels, Yancey) and take seriously your desire to know God in prayer. The best help comes from those who’ve devoted their lives to knowing God in prayer. Find them. Listen to them. Let them lead you into the heart of God. 

Share your thoughts below. 

Dr. K 

Trying to Help Those Who Don’t Want Help

A Brief Discourse on Helping

People who have a heart for people desire to help them. Yet, people you care about are not always receptive to your help. What do you do then? When it comes to helping others, it takes two to tango.

Seeking help is scary and sometimes difficult. To admit you have a problem along with the prospect of personal change often keeps you from seeking help. You’re blinded by shame, pride, fear, and anger. Therefore, you can’t clearly see reality or your true self.

There’s the story of the two young fish swimming along. They happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning boys! How’s the water?” The two young fish swim on for a bit. Eventually one of them looks over at the other and says, “What the hell is water?”

The truth can be right in front of us but we can’t – or choose not to – see it. It’s easy to become blinded to the realities of who we are and what’s around us – like the fish clueless about the water.

Help means someone “invades” our private space challenging us to rearrange some things, get rid of the junk, clean out our closets, and stop messing up our lives.

It’s easy to see how seeking help is rarely easy.

Offering Help

According to my 10 pound New Oxford American Dictionary, “help” means to: 1) “make it easier for (someone) to do something by offering one’s services or financial or material aid; improve (a situation or problem); be of benefit to; assist (someone) to move in a specified direction; assist someone to put on or take off (a garment); relieve the symptoms of (an ailment); 2) to serve someone with (food or drink); to take something without permission; 3) an appeal for urgent assistance

Basically help is assistance. We don’t like to see people in pain. We have resources they need. We offer the resources.

Unfortunately, this kind of assistance may be unwelcome, unappreciated, faulty, or misunderstood,

It Takes Two to Tango 

First, there’s the “help-er” who seeks to ease someone in a difficulty PLUS the “help-ee” who receives the help and benefits from the help.

Help is a two-person dance. Sure, you can try to help yourself on your own, but rarely with any level of success. You’ll keep tripping over your own clumsy feet. The best way to help yourself is to accept the beneficial help from others who have insight and experience related to your situation.

What do you do, then, when your help is not wanted? Here are five suggestions:

1. Press forward anyway no matter the consequences. Force your help on them. This reminds me of an intervention. I’ve only heard stories of this method’s success. The few times I’ve been involved in something like this, it failed. The human will plays a significant part in change. As Benjamin Franklin taught: “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

2. Pull back and find another way to persuade. When done with genuine sensitivity, love and kindness, this method is effective.

An Aesop’s fable illustrates:

The Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveller coming down the road, and the Sun said: “I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveller to take off his cloak shall be regarded as the stronger You begin.” So the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveller. But the harder he blew the more closely did the traveller wrap his cloak round him, till at last the Wind had to give up in despair. Then the Sun came out and shone in all his glory upon the traveller, who soon found it too hot to walk with his cloak on.

“Kindness effects more than severity.”

However, there are human beings that will use this method to manipulate people. Instead of a direct assault, they’ve learned the art of “putting on airs,” treating people nicely, so they can get their way.

Real help doesn’t manipulate people. Discover options that will make a difference.

3. Wash your hands of it. You care for the person by letting them carry on blinded by their own insanity. This seems to be what the father of the prodigal son did. It’s what God does to some of his creatures driven by sin. It seems a crazy way to love. But we’re not God.

There are some people whom you cannot rescue. It’s a hard reality to admit. You cannot help every individual no matter how much you try.

4. Pray for God to help while waiting to participate (or not) in that help. As a Christian, this is a great option. Commit the person to God’s mercy constantly. Then, seek God wholeheartedly as you wait on Him to direct your desire to help.

5. Most importantly, be an example of a person being transformed by the mercy and grace of God. The trouble this person is having may be God’s way of changing YOU and your ability to love others. Your ability to help flows from who you are.

Insight from the Psalmist

Read how God helps those in need:

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob; whose hope is in the Lord his God….The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the sojourners; He upholds the widow and the fatherless; but the way of the wicked He brings to ruin. (Psalm 146.5-9)

  • The person who looks to God for help will usually be open to receive help from others. He/She has some idea of God’s ability to assist.
  • The person who doesn’t trust God for help may struggle with trusting others who offer help. That kind of person may find God assisting them to ruin.
  • With God there is always hope and help. Yet, we are responsible to learn to trust Him and His help. We can just as easily  rely on ourselves.

Insight from Psychology 

Victoria Maxwell who writes on the Psychology Today site, reminds us of these steps in helping those who don’t want help:

  1. Remember the journey to accept there is a problem to deal with is theirs alone. We can offer genuine help and listen with an open and compassionate heart. But, we are not responsible for their health and happiness. Let go.
  2. Ask your loved one to humor you and go to see someone who can help. Offer to go together.
  3. Build trust and rapport. If your trying to help creates more frustration and anger, do not get frustrated or angry in return. This is easier said than done. Do your best to keep communication open no matter how difficult it becomes.
  4. Evaluate whether you are really the best person to talk to your loved one right now. This may really be true of parents toward their adult children. Another person who is wise and loves people, may be the better option to meet their need.

When Help may not Helpful

  • When help is given only to correct a perceived wrong. Care for the individual is not important. The only issue is fixing the problem.
  • When help comes from a less-than-credible person or someone not respected; an unreliable source. Of course, the one needing help determines this. If they want to dismiss a person as untrustworthy, then they’ll miss the help they need.
  • When help comes from a haughty, proud person. This person may be more interested in looking good than actually helping.
  • When help creates more problems. For example, the person becomes even more dependent on the aid of others.

Making it Personal 

A major frustration of ministry is directing our desire to help people towards those who don’t see their need for help. People who are complacent or self-satisfied, don’t see their need for help. Unfortunately, this describes most people who sit in church pews Sunday after Sunday.

It also describes most church and ministry leaders. Their problem is more ego-related than complacency. Their expertise, training, position, or charisma exempt them from needing assistance. This is a dangerous place to be.

Though life always includes a good dose of struggle (it’s designed that way), we make it more difficult on ourselves when we try to go it alone. Truth is, we don’t have what it takes to make life “work.” We need help.

Also recognize that help is available to you. Ask God for help and see where that takes you. Wisely receive the help that’s offered and be open to benefit from it.

Lastly, become a person who genuinely helps others in kindness and love. Draw close to the Helper of us all and learn from Him. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all know what help is and how to do it. Follow their lead and heart.

Share a story of help below or share something you’re taking away from this post. 

Dr. K

 

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.