Spiritual Formation Part Nine – The Crucible

Crucible

  1. a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures.”the crucible tipped and the mold filled with liquid metal”
    • a situation of severe trial, or in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new.

A situation of severe trial…. What does severe trial and spiritual formation have in common? Perhaps everything! But severe trial, seriously? Yup, you got it!

How? Why? Because it leads to the creation of something new. As we grow spiritually we become a new creation in Christ. When we become a new creation in Christ it becomes a game changer for all – not just us but for all those in our lives. It’s not just a gift to us but to other’s as well.

So back to the crucible. What might be the one thing that we might consider the crucible in the Christian church? For me, I would say it’s church membership, or as I like to refer to it, church partnership. Why? Because it provides a place of accountability. And if you’ve never been held accountable for your spiritual formation then it could feel like a severe trial!

Accountability isn’t welcomed by most. We’d rather others not know where we are spiritually. And that’s a problem. You see you can go through the christian motions – Life Groups, Sunday School, Revivals, Worship, etc… and remain in a stagnant place spiritually if someone isn’t holding you accountable. Basically this is the Christian version of phoning it in. All show and no go. Now don’t read what I’m not writing. All of these offer wonderful opportunities for spiritual formation – if you’re serious about following through with what’s taught. But there may be no substitute for accountability.

That accountability in the Christian church comes in the form of church partnership. When one partners with the church in the United Methodist tradition one says that will be faithful in their prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. When you partner you are saying I give you permission to hold me accountable in these areas.

To quote Richard Rohr, from his book Falling Upward – A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (p74), “A crucible, as you know, is a vessel that holds molten metal in place long enough to be purified and clarified. Church membership requirements, church doctrine, and church morality force almost all issues to an inner boiling point, where you are forced to face important issues at a much deeper level to survive as a Catholic or Christian, or even as a human. I think this is probably true of any religious community, if it’s doing it’s job. Before the truth “sets you free,” it tends to make you miserable.”

The key to church partnership is that you take it seriously and stick with it long enough to, as Rohr notes, that you stay in place long enough to be purified and clarified, so to speak. That means being intentional about your accountability and that perhaps is best done by partnering with the church.

If you decide to consider partnership with the church and take on serious accountability or consider allowing others to hold you seriously accountable for the first time, it might feel like a severe trial.

A situation of severe trial…. What does severe trial and spiritual formation have in common? Perhaps everything! But severe trial, seriously? Yup, you got it!

Work/Life Balance – Really?

I began working when I was around 10 years old at my uncle Harold’s Ann Street Gulf gas station. It was a full service station if you can remember those. I would make a dime for every car that would allow me to take a small whisk broom and sweep out all the floorboards. The thought of work/life balance was a foreign concept to me then.

But over time things changed. I got married and had kids. As an adult I realized the importance of work/life balance. My mentor, Barry, instilled in me that no church was worth losing my family over (I’m a United Methodist minister). I’ve never forgot that. I try to take care of myself physically, take my days off and take all of my vacation time each year.

But over the years I have started to notice a trend in lives that are out of balance. It seems its become a bragging right to note how many hours a week one works. Some seem to wear it as a badge of honor. While burning the candle at both ends, as they say, other things can become just a memory that we can never get back. Often that sacrifice comes at the expense of our health, spouses, family and perhaps the most crucial, our faith.

This out of balance situation is often veiled under the premise that it’s just for a season. Once the season is over things will get better and life will balance out. I’ll get back to my health, spouse, family, and faith. But often this starts to look like seasons in the South. They all start to run together. Before we know it we’ve lost that time that we’d worked so hard for – to be with our kids, families, spouses and with Christ. It’s as though the season never changed.

I recently read an article by Michael Hyatt called – What No One Ever Told You About Work Life Balance. In that post he noted that: 1. Balance is not the same as rest, 2. Balance is Dynamic, 3. Balance is Intentional.

I want to encourage you to get a handle on your work/life balance before the things that matter are a memory and you spend your life wondering what might have been.

I want to encourage to read Michael Hyatt’s short post mentioned above by clicking here – you’ll be glad you did.

100 Questions – How do Trains Pull So Much?

Maybe this is just a guy thing but… In the city I live in we have a train that passes through town several times a day, usually stopping me going somewhere important! As I watch these, sometimes long, trains with multiple engines facing both forward and backwards… Made me wonder?

How does a locomotive ever get moving without its steel wheels just spinning out? How does it ever get any traction? And what’s up with the locomotives facing forward and backwards? We’ll it was time for me to solve this childhood mystery as part of my 100 Question Challenge.

The answer was a lot simpler than I had ever imagined… It all had to do with the difference between kinetic and static friction. Static friction has everything to do with the friction created between the wheels and track. While Kinetic friction has everything to do with the motion of two surfaces working together. In the case of a train this would be couplings between the locomotive and each car.

In an easier explanation… All the locomotive needs to do is to get the first car started. Then the power of the locomotive and the first car creates the energy to get the third car moving. So, at that point you have a powerful locomotive, plus another fully loaded car creating momentum to just pull one car. So that domino effect just continues. So, by the time the last car starts rolling it has the power of an entire train needing to get just get one car started… That’s why there is space in between the couplings. This allows each car to get a little momentum to help pull the next car. Theoretically, if all the cars were tightly connected the locomotive alone couldn’t generate enough momentum to pull a long train. In that case the wheels might just spin out if it could get them turning to begin with.

Now for the locomotives going both forward and backwards. As it turns out, the way the locomotives are designed it doesn’t care which way it’s facing. It seems to have the same amount of power regardless.

Due to the physics involved, it’s harder for a locomotive to get 5 cars moving than an entire train.

As an added bonus, how do they stop? Easy, each car has brakes. But even with brakes, it takes a long time and distance to stop all that momentum.

If you want a more scientific explanation then read more here.

Spiritual Formation Part Eight – Meditation

Meditation often gets a bad rap! Why? I believe that many associate it with other religions and never realize that Christian meditation has been around for ages. And may be the one Spiritual Discipline that changes your life!

To quote Nathan Foster (The Making of an Ordinary Saint), “The main distinction of Christian meditation is a focus on filling rather then emptying.” (of the mind)

Christian meditation is often done in silence and solitude where you can just be still and listen for God’s often quiet voice and sometime loud scream!

Here are some great quotes from Richard Foster on this meaningful spiritual discipline: “Prayer is the interactive relationship we have with God about what we and God are working on together. Christian meditation is the listening side of this interactive relationship. God speaks and teaches and we listen and obey.” “Christian meditation is the spiritual discipline that helps us to listen well and to hear correctly.”

Christian meditation has become one of my most meaningful spiritual disciplines that I practice. At first it was a struggle. You would think that just sitting in silence and solitude would be easy. But oh how the mind can wander. At first I struggled with just settling my mind down from whatever was happening in my day and redirecting it to the listening of Christ. At times it was like the old saying – it was like trying to heard cats! I would be in a sweet spot of listening to Christ when all the sudden a stray thought would take me somewhere else. But with all the disciplines, the more I practiced the easier it became. Now when I sit to practice Christian meditation it doesn’t take long to settle in. Now don’t get me wrong, I still have my days when my mind will wander, but nothing like it once was.

With all the spiritual disciplines you may go through seasons on what works and what doesn’t. With some spiritual disciplines you not give them the due time to let them work for you – they are called disciplines after all. So don’t write any of them off until you’ve really worked through them.

I would highly encourage you to give Christian meditation a serious look as it may do wonders for your spiritual formation.

100 Questions – How do Water Towers Work?

Last summer I enjoyed riding my motorcycle on a local country road. Part of that ride would take me past a water tower that was being repainted. I was mesmerized by the men who were slung over the side of the tower repainting it. Never thought much about the tower itself. But recently I realized that they seem to be all over the place – I practically have one in my backyard. I’ve heard rumors that they just hold water but it has to be move sophisticated than that. So I’ve added that to my 100 question challenge – How do water towers work? My research proved that it was a little more interesting than being just a storage tank. If you want to watch one of the most informative short videos on how the towers work then look no further – just click here!

100 Questions – How can I become a better resource to my adult kids?

This is part of my 100 question challenge. If you’re not familiar then I’d encourage you to stop and read why I’m trying to answer my 100 questions in 2019 here.

First, I thought about ways that my wife and I have already been a good resource:

  1. We taught them to be debt free except for their house.
  2. We made them pay for half of their first car. Whatever they saved we matched.
  3. We had a rule that nothing good happens after 10 pm. So there was no just hanging out after 10 pm. without a reason and permission. This was not as appreciated as I thought it should be! 🙂
  4. We taught them to give 10% of their income to the church.
  5. We taught them that church attendance and serving are uber important. You’ll never regret either.
  6. Being polite will go a long ways with others.
  7. Have a great work ethic.
  8. Paid for their college – undergraduate. One daughter went to grad school but on her dime!

But all that happened before they were adults – and it paid off! But, as part of my 100 question challenge I wondered how I might continue to be a resource for them and their husbands now that they are adults and married… So the search began…

Psychology Today noted in a post that you need to be careful about not becoming a codependent parent… How can you tell if you’re a codependent parent? Here are 3 red flags according to Psychologytoday.com:

“Psychology Today’s Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein, who has written about the topic several times, says the question of whether you are a codependent parent is a topic that sparks heated debates. The three red flags he says you should look for are: (1) shouldering debt for an adult son or daughter caught up in a pattern on non-productivity, (2) their habit of borrowing money from you because they can’t sustain consistent employment, and (3) disrespect is the rule and not the exception to it, but you use the excuse that your grown kid has “problems” — giving you the leeway to let them off the hook. In the real world you would never permit another grown adult to treat you similarly.” You can read the rest of the article here, if you think you might be a codependent parent. Or in denial….

Sounds like a great answer but it was only the beginning… After doing a lot of “Googling” I realized there wasn’t a ton of info dealing with being a positive resource for your adult children. Most were related to dealing with problem adult children. Well, that ‘s what we’re trying to avoid – right?

So I decided to go with my gut. My wife and I seemed to have had a pretty good start at preparing them for life, so I began to think, and here are a few things that I came up with.

  1. Create an atmosphere where they can come for opinions but understand they are adults and capable of making their own final decisions. Even if it’s not the one I would’ve made.
  2. Help them in understanding the importance of financial investments early in their careers. Warren Buffet, one of the world’s richest men, was once credited with this conversation: When asked what his secrets of financial success, replied, I lived to be old and compounding interest! Teach them about compounding interest.
  3. Even Einstein is rumored to have weighed in with this statement : Albert EinsteinCompound interest. Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it … he who doesn’t … pays it.
  4. Encourage them to live within their means and resist the temptation of competing with the “Jones'”
  5. We have always encouraged “weekly date nights” and family vacations and continue to encourage them to do so.
  6. Always have insurance on the important stuff in your life.
  7. Always be in the process of learning something new. You’ll never regret it.

Well these are just the start of ways that I hope to be a better resource for my kids.

If you have one you’d like to share then please do so in the comments.

100 Question Challenge

So another “life experiment” begins… If you’re not familiar, I periodically try something new in my life as an experiment – just to test myself to see how things shake out. This time it’s more of a mental experiment.

So let’s tee this one up before moving forward… I once read that over time, as adults we lose our curiosity. As small children we seem to be curious about everything. We are constantly asking questions – “What is this? How is that made? What does that taste like? What does that mean? How are babies made? Who is Santa? Where did God come from? Why can’t I wear that? Etc…” Insert your own childhood question – we all had one, or 1,000!

But over time we seem to lose the curiosity of those questions that once mesmerized us, and engulfed our lives. Some of those questions we simply figured out, while recently…. Recently I was challenged with this thought – somehow as we grow older we seem to lose our curiosity. We no longer ask the questions thus we fail to seek answers…

So, recently I decided to take a 100 question challenge. The book I was reading challenged my curiosity again. The challenge was to write 100 questions in one sitting about ANYTHING you were curious about. So I did!

I will be posting those questions and answers as another life experiment. Some may be incredible boring while others will be things you’ve also considered but never sought answers. I will mostly reference other material while providing my own commentary.

In the meantime consider the challenge yourself. Write 100 questions in one sitting and inspire your curiosity once again.

Consider leaving one of your 100 questions in the comments.

Spiritual Formation Part Seven – Fasting

As I write this, Christmas is fast approaching. Christmas brings with it a lot of traditions. One of those traditions is FOOD. And we tend to eat a lot of it. No diets are started in December by any sane person – just my opinion! Many devise creative ways to rationalize the quantities we’ll devour.

So I’ve chosen the spiritual discipline that my be the most despised but perhaps one of the best – Fasting! Fasting is the spiritual discipline of limiting food intake as a way to focus on Christ. Ever been hungry and deprived yourself of food? You will  get focused quickly. But due to our addiction to eating we may neglect this powerful spiritual formation tool of fasting. As we continue to explore this discipline it’s important to note that if for any reason you feel you need to see a doctor before trying this then by all means do so.

Now before you freak out and think I’m suggesting that you starve yourself, just stick with me. What many are unaware of is that there are many different forms of fasting.

Regular Fast – Refrain from food but still drink liquids. You pick the duration but be careful if you choose an extended period.

Partial Fast – Refrain from certain foods and still drink liquids. Shorter in duration.

Intermittent Fast – This one is probably my favorite. It seems to work for me. This, as the name states is, well, intermittent. For instance, skip lunch and supper and break the fast with breakfast. Or skip and entire day but break the fast the next day with breakfast or lunch. Experiment with what works best for you.Click here to read a recent Harvard Medical School article on Intermittent Fasting.

Goggle search for even more fasting possibilities.

But food isn’t the only item you can fast from. You choose what might work for you. You can even try fasting from these: Cell phone, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, News, Fast food, Favorite T.V. series, etc…

Whatever you choose to do, remember the goal as one definition stated is:

a. Fasting is when we voluntarily choose to sacrifice something of value for the purpose of seeking God with more intensity. b. Usually it’s food because for most people food is the most difficult thing to give up.

Again, choose a spiritual discipline that works for you. But don’t let the harder ones scare you away. They can all be hard to start with. But with a little practice the harder ones could become the best spiritual formation tool for your spiritual growth. Remember , it’s a discipline!


Deathbed Clarity as a Way of Life

In my opinion, most people would say that life should be about what really matters. As I was reading something Tim Urban wrote I was challenged with something he calls his Epitaph Test. He notes “When he finds himself with an opportunity, I ask myself whether I’d be happy if my epitaph had something to  do  with this project. If the answer is a clear no, it probably means it’s not actually very important to me.” He notes, that while as morbid as it is, it’s a great way to cut through the noise.

He says for his “Social life “yes” list, a similar test could be called the Deathbed Test.” This test focuses on the studies related to what people on their deathbed regretted most with their life.

We all know the one thing that never makes the list is, “I wish I had spent more time in the office.” We can all insert something else other than “office”.

As a minister I have been beside many deathbeds. But the one thing I’ve never heard is, “I wish I hadn’t spent so much time in church.” You’ll never regret time spent in church with family and friends.

Life is short. Enjoy it more by getting engaged in your church. Not just on Sunday but in other ways too.

That’s something I don’t think you’ll ever regret.

Something I hope you’ll think about.

Spiritual Formation Part Six – Spiritual Burnout

Whenever we talk about  spiritual formation it’s wise to address spiritual burnout and what to do with it…

I was reminded of this as I read about Cary Nieuwhof’s well known burnout described in  his latest book,  Didn’t See It Coming – Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences.

He had some thoughtful insights on how to come back from burnout that I thought I’d share in random soundbite fashion.

  1. “Because God seems silent doesn’t mean he’s absent.”
  2. “I never gave myself permission to  quit my faith.”
  3. “I just kept reading Scripture, praying, and trusting even on bad days.”
  4. “Lean in and lean hard. (on God) Even if you feel nothing.”
  5. “Eventually the feeling of intimacy returned.”
  6. “Just because you can’t feel  God’s love doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you.”
  7. “So don’t give up.

Hopefully this  will help you now  or in the future.

Leave a comment if you’ve ever been spiritually burned out and how you made the comeback.