Books

Be Still

2-be-Still-and-Know-That-he-is-GodThis past week I got to experience the wisdom of Psalm 46:10. It’s the verse, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

I remember the first time I was encouraged to practice the wisdom of this verse. It was the summer of 1986, while I was preparing for a summer missions project to the former Soviet Union. I was in New York and the project leads asked us to spend 30 minutes practicing the discipline of being still. Not praying. Not problem solving. Not dreaming. Just being still before God. Almost 30 years later, I still remember the awkwardness I experienced at Kings College that afternoon, as I tried to get my mind and body to be still. And true confessions, 30 years later, it is still hard for this Type A personality to be still. So to remove the distractions from my life, my family and I headed to the mountains this past week. Free from internet connectivity and out of cell phone range.

The Hebrew definition for “stillness” is to stop striving, to let go, to surrender. Whether it’s practicing Sabbath, or being still, the psalm reminds us that we can take comfort in letting go and resting in God to provide help, strength and safety in those times of renewal. Yet, this is tremendously difficult in our media rich, always-on, over-communicated society. It is not uncommon for the noise of this world to crowd into every empty space, leaving us spiritually, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. And that’s why it’s important to unplug and surrender to the One who ultimately provides.

One of those moments of stillness this past week, was during a hike to Eagle Lake. Our family left particularly early that morning in order to beat the crowds and the forecasted thunderstorms that afternoon. When we arrived at the lake that morning, we realized that we had the whole lake all to ourselves. It was a majestic moment of stillness. Just us, in awe of God’s majesty! As we took it all in, we watched a mother duck care for her ducklings. We witnessed fish feeding. We saw the reflection of the Sierra Mountains on the stillness of the water. We heard the birds chirping. We breathed the fresh forest air. And we couldn’t help but be still, to take it all in and then later take time to pray. It was a glorious morning being still before God.

This past week held many opportunities for me to reflect, renew and meet God in the stillness. And it got me thinking, “why don’t I do this more often?” So, as I reflect on the last week, I wrote down four good reasons why it’s important to be still. And I share these with you in hopes that you might also experience the joy of being still.

So here’s why it’s important to practice stillness…

  1. To remember that we’re human beings, not human doings. If our salvation isn’t based on what we do (Ephesians 2:8,9), than neither should our significance be based on what we do. Instead our identity needs to be in who we are in Christ. When we cease striving, we recognize who we are, what we were created for and it causes us to live a more balanced life. Now don’t get me wrong, God desires us to participate in His plan and do things for Him, but our doing must be the result of being in His presence. In other words, our works are the overflow of being with God. Remember this, we are human beings, children of God, to do good works; not human doings, doing good works, to be children of God. There is a big difference there.
  2. To understand our limitations. Let’s face it! We’re not God and we can’t save the world. By practicing Sabbath and stillness, we understand our limitations. Understanding our limitations allows us to let go and let God, be God! And this frees us up to truly rest in the arms of the One who has it all in control.
  3. To express our dependence and trust in God. When we pause to spend time with God, we really have to trust God to provide the time we desperately need. In God Calling, Sarah Young writes as if Jesus is speaking the following words, “Trust Me enough to spend ample time with Me, pushing back the demands of the day. Refuse to feel guilty about something that is so pleasing to Me, the King of the universe.” Sometimes it’s hard to make room for God in the busyness of my day, but it’s pretty amazing how God multiplies my time when I spend time with Him and honor Him in stillness. When we pause, we’re saying, God I trust you to fill in the gap!
  4. To hear God speak. Here’s some truth…we can’t hear the whispers of the Holy Spirit in the hectic pace of life. God often speaks out of the depths of His own silence. First to create the world, then to renew the world through the incarnation of His Son. And God calls us to silence as well. He invites us to go into our room, our chosen sacred space, and to shut the door and pray to our Father who is in secret, assured that our Father who is in secret will answer our prayer (Mt 6:6). It is in that silence that we can listen to God, hear His voice, and discern His plan and purpose for our life.
In considering the wisdom of this psalm, I wonder if perhaps God is asking you to seek His voice in rest and stillness, as you cultivate your relationship with Him. You see, as Christians, we often get the impression that growing in our faith means adding a bunch of spiritual activities to our crazy-busy lives. But lately, I’m finding that drawing near to God is more about subtracting, than adding. Yet for this Type A personality, I have to admit that this new paradigm is a difficult one to embrace, but I believe that as we do, we keep urgency from edging God out of our lives. And as we remain in Him, we will bear much fruit, for apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5)!

In the Name of Jesus

12596_w185Three words best describe Henri Nouwen’s book, In the Name of Jesus, “simple but profound.” Using stories from Jesus’ temptation in Matthew 4:1-11 and Peter’s call to ministry in John 21:15-19, Nouwen blends the scriptural truths of these passages to discuss the essential qualities for Christian leadership in the 21st century. In the book, Nouwen identifies three temptations facing Christian leaders today, and addresses the disciplines needed within ones life to counter these challenges.

In looking at the temptation account of Jesus in the desert, Nouwen discusses the temptations for relevance, popularity, and power. In defining these, Nouwen relates that leaders are tempted to know if what they are doing is: 1) making a difference (relevant); 2) winning great applause from men (popularity); and 3) influencing people and advancing their agenda to the degree they desire (power).

As a leader in the church, I have to be honest that I often find myself facing the same temptations Jesus faced in the desert. It is a constant struggle to not look to ministry for relevance, popularity and power. I don’t think any of these things influenced my desire to be in the ministry, but I find that I often need to die to my own wants and desires, and realize that ministry is not about me, but about God and His kingdom. I have seen this in my response to the emotional highs and lows of ministry, by sometimes wondering if what I am doing is truly making a difference (relevance. I have seen this in my hesitancy to speak the truth for fear of not being popular. And I have seen it demonstrated in my anger and frustration, when a goal becomes blocked or doesn’t live up to my expectation (power).

While in the text, Jesus dealt with the temptations by quoting truth from the Scriptures, Nouwen suggests that the antidotes to these three temptations are: 1) contemplative prayer; 2) confession and forgiveness; and 3) theological reflection. For those whose temptation is to be relevant, Nouwen advises that we practice the discipline of contemplative prayer, which can keep “us from being pulled from one urgent issue to another and from becoming strangers to our own and God’s heart” (p.28), because contemplative prayer keeps us connected with our first love. For those who struggle with the temptation to be popular, Nouwen suggests practicing the discipline of confession and forgiveness within the aspect of community, because this discipline keeps “our ministry communal and mutual” (p.65). And finally for those who wrestle with the desire for power, he suggests the discipline of theological reflection because it “allows us to discern critically where we are being led” (p.65).

If Jesus was tempted in this way, who are we think that we will avoid such temptation? Plain and simple, our biggest temptations as leaders in the church will definitely be the ones Jesus encountered. Therefore we would be wise to be prepared when it comes our way, by embracing and practicing the “simple, but profound” qualities for leadership that Nouwen discusses in his book.

Breakfast with Boykin

This past weekend I got to hang out with LTG (Retired) Jerry Boykin, one of the original members of the US Army’s Delta Force. He was privileged to ultimately command these elite warriors in combat operations. Later, Jerry Boykin commanded all the Army’s Green Berets as well as participated in clandestine operations around the world. Today he is an ordained minister with a passion for spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

General Boykin recently spoke to 400 men at our Men’s Breakfast. Below is the video from the breakfast, where he spoke on the 4 Pillars of Biblical Manhood.

Top Posts of 2012

Best of 2012Hard to believe that it’s almost been a full year since I posted my first entry on this blog! So in following the mainstream media, I thought it would be fun to do a recap of the top posts of 2012. These are based on the number of hits as calculated by Google Analytics. Each post’s title is hyper-linked to the actual post if you want to check it out…

1. People Grow Better in Grace – Not sure what it’s been about this post, but I’ve had 4,731 hits on this article since I published it! Referred by search engines, I often get a few hits a day. Such a simple subject, but it’s not so easy to understand the concept of grace in today’s world. The goal of this post was to help others understand that because of God’s grace, one can enjoy favor with God, not because of what they have done, but because of what God has done.

2. A New Adventure – I sat on this big announcement for 10 days before going public with the news of our move back to Northern California! However, even with this very public announcement, which was shared in church, and through social media like Facebook and Twitter, people are still just hearing the news of our move back to Sacramento.

3. Do Not Be Afraid – We’re reminded in Scripture 365 times to fear not! That’s one exhortation a day for an entire year.  It seems that God knew we needed to be reminded to have faith, for by nature, we’re fearful people. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of the unknown consume us and prevent us from living lives of freedom in Christ. This very simple entry reminds us all, that God is with us!

4. Celebrating 19 Years of Marriage – I wrote this post as a way of recalling the wonderful moments of 19 years of marriage to my wife Jennifer! Even one of my missionary friends paid me a complement, by copying the idea in a prayer letter to his supporters, in celebration of he and his wife’s 19th wedding anniversary.

5. Bible Apps – Nothing really profound here. Just a recap of some of the free resources for on the go Bible reading.

So there you go! The top 5, which broken down can be summarized by three posts about spiritual matters, and two entries of a personal nature. And here’s the funny thing! I don’t think any of these entries would necessarily be in my personal Top 5 list. In fact, some of my favorites, are the least read articles. Oh well! No matter what the stats say, blogging this past year, has been therapeutic for me and for that I am grateful!

Why Does It Matter?

A look into Week #3 of our Why? series curriculum…

Most people think that Christianity is irrelevant to their life. They wonder how these ancient documents written over 2,000 years ago could really apply to them today. They ask, “How is following Jesus’ teaching really going to make me a better person?” They wonder if it’s for real, and how it will really improve the quality of their life. But the reality is, the God who we worship is the same yesterday, today and forever and that His plans and purposes don’t change. And that same God has given us the Scriptures to instruct us in the ways of Him.

Nothing shapes your life more than the commitments you make. Your commitments can develop you or destroy you, but either way they will define you. Many of the hardships of life occur because we base our choices on unreliable authorities: culture, tradition, reason or emotion. We justify our actions with phrases like, “everyone else is doing it”; “this is the way we’ve always done it”; “it seemed logical” or “it just felt right.” However, these reasons are flawed by the fall. Therefore, we need to be committed to God’s final authority in our life, the Scriptures. For as Paul states in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

If you want to be prepared for every good work that comes your way, you need to decide to make the Scriptures the ultimate authority in your life and determine to first ask, “What does the Bible say?” when making decisions. For the Spirit of God, uses the Word of God to make us like the Son of God.

Here is what Pastor Doyle had to say…

Experiencing God

I recently reread the classic book Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby about how to live a life of adventure with God by knowing and doing His will. I was first introduced to book in the early 1990’s, but the truths are timeless and it was a fresh remember to me of God’s invitation to join Him where he is already at work. Here are some of the stand out quotes from the book to peak your interest in reading it as well as to remind you of how God works:

• If you want to know God’s will, you must respond to His invitation to love Him wholeheartedly.
• “What is God’s will for my life?” is not the best question to ask. I think the right question is simply, “What is God’s will?”
• What God initiates, He completes.
• God speaks by the Holy Spirit through the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church to reveal Himself, His purposes, and His ways.
• The Holy Spirit reveals truth. Truth is not just some concept to be studied. Truth is a person.
• When God speaks to a person, revealing His plans and purpose, it will always cause a crisis of belief. What you believe about God will determine what you do and how you live.
• The kinds of assignments that God gives in the Bible are always God sized.
• The world comes to know God when they see God’s nature expressed through His activity.
• No one can sum up all God is able to accomplish through one solitary life, wholly yielded, adjusted and obedient to Him!

If you haven’t read this classic, I strongly encourage it.

The Life You’ve Always Wanted

John Ortberg’s book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, is not just another book on spiritual disciplines. Choosing to focus more on the goal of internal transformation than the externals of the spiritual disciplines in the Christian life, Ortberg challenges the status quo on the subject, by discussing what this spiritual transformation looks like, and how we can obtain it through the power of the Holy Spirit.

I appreciate Ortberg’s perspective on training vs. trying, in which he states, “spiritual transformation is not a matter of trying harder, but training wisely” (p.47). If we have it as our goal to become more like Christ, and grow in our ability to love God and love His people, than we should choose wisely which activities or disciplines we need in our lives in order to fully demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit. As Ortberg states, the disciplines are not a way to earn favor with God, but are simply a “means of appropriating or growing toward the life that God graciously offers” (p.51). This is a helpful paradigm, because it starts with our motivation, and removes the sense of legalism that is so often associated with the disciplines.

Unfortunately for many, we tend to compartmentalize not only our lives, but the disciplines as well. Forgetting that Christ wants all of who we are. This is why I also appreciated Ortberg’s thoughts on the well-ordered heart, because it takes the emphasis off the externals of our faith and puts the focus on becoming more like Christ.  In placing our focus on the goal of transformation, we begin to think like the apostle Paul who did all things for the glory of the God (1 Cor. 10:31). And in turn we allow God to impact every aspect of our lives.

Ortberg’s book challenges us to shift our paradigm as it relates to the spiritual disciplines, reminding us to place the emphasis on transformation instead of on obedience to Christ and God’s Word. While certain disciplines are commanded of us, they are not there to get us extra credit, or for us to demonstrate how much we love God, but they are simply there to help me live a more fruitful life for Christ. By removing the law, we experience freedom, which as Ortberg states “is the life we you’ve always wanted” (p.153).

Bible Apps

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 79% of American church goers are internet users and 86% are cell phone users. These numbers are actually higher when compared with those of non-church goers. Yes, we truly live in a digital age and there is an app for much of what was once print. The same is true for the Bible. In fact, there have been over 40 million downloads of the YouVersion Bible App since it’s inception, allowing millions to read the Scriptures on their smartphones, iPads and other digital devices.

I have to admit that it’s been hard for me to read the Bible digitally, but I have to say that I have enjoyed the tremendous resources that a Bible app brings. From reading plans, to the availability of different translations at the touch of a finger, to my recent discovery of the audio playback function, I have begun to slowly adapt to its use in my day-to-day life. And I believe I’m just skimming the surface, when you compare the free resources available for on-the-go Bible reading.

If you haven’t downloaded or discovered these amazing apps yet, here are a few to check out:

YouVersion: Created by LifeChurch.tv to be a free resource that gives people a tool to integrate Bible reading into ones mobile lifestyle, YouVersion offers a great variety of translations, languages and Bible reading plans. In addition, there are integrated platforms to bookmark favorite verses, take notes and integrate your Bible reading into social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

 

Bible360: This amazing new app combines resources from the Glo Bible, Zondervan and Survivor producer Mark Burnett. Featuring the NIV translation, it offers 360 degree virtual tours and animated maps, as well as a journal option and integration with social media.

 

 

Bible.is: Featuring video footage from 61 segments of The Jesus Film Project, Bible.is also includes daily Bible reading programs, interactive tools and the ability to take notes as well as share socially.

 

The Cure

Some of my favorite books over the years have been on the topic of grace. However, none has offered the profound insights in such a quick and engaging read as The Cure. In this book, the authors paint a beautiful picture of grace that is greater than all our sin. And it’s the way the authors unpack this subject that gives the reader the freedom to drop their masks, destroy their illusions and simply trust that our life and identity in Christ is enough.

Here are just a few of the nuggets in this life changing book…

    • We will never please God through our efforts to become godly. Rather, we will only please God and become godly when we trust God.
    • God is not interested in changing you. He already has. The DNA is set. God want you to believe that he has already changed you so that he can get on with the process of maturing you into who you already are.
    • God’s ultimate goal is maturing us into who he says we are and releasing us into the dreams he designed for us before the world began.
    • Trusting God’s perfect love for us pushes away our fear and teaches us to embrace the love that heals our wounds.
    • In the Room of Grace no one is above anyone else. No one brags about his or her accomplishments. No one keeps score. No one is shunned. No one can lose membership for blowing it. The room is not a utopian ideal. It is a home where people live together.
  • Chalk full of rich biblical truths, this book is a gem! In fact, I would say this is probably one of the best books I have ever read! So get one for yourself. Get one for a friend. And let some of the gems in this profound book transform you and those you love.
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