Archive for December, 2011

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Spiritual Formation for Extraverts

December 31, 2011

I watched my friends wander by the lake, sitting with their backs to the trees, lying on the grass, looking up at the sky. Most had serene, angelic looks on their faces. I, however, wanted to explode.

Our leadership team was at a spiritual retreat, working on our own “spiritual formation”. There are many definitions of this concept, but most of them involve three ideas:

  • the work of changing the inner part of who we are
  • the process of conforming that inner being to look like Jesus
  • the outflow of this is to serve others.

We were spending the day in silence. We were encouraged to meditate, walk, read, think, pray; anything but talk. As far as I could tell, I was the only one about to have a fatal attack of the jitters (I later learned I was not the only one). I cannot go more than about an hour without wanting someone to talk to. I am an unashamed extravert. That means I can only live inside my head for a little while before I have to externalize my thoughts and interact with others. If I go too long without externalizing my thoughts to another person, I start to get morose, paranoid and even depressed. I need the rest of the world to help me keep my proper bearings.

When we gathered the twenty people together, we shared our experiences. I wanted to externalize my anguish, but I could quickly tell it would have gone against the stream. Several people were telling how this was a refreshing, renewing experience; they wanted to do this on a regular basis. I listened to their descriptions and decided I needed to get a deeper life with God before attempting this again. In the years since, I have certainly tried to spend hours in silence. I can do it, but I leave with no less anxiety and muddled head than I did years ago. I have also read many books on the subject of spiritual formation. These books fall into certain categories: Meditation, silence, Prayer, Scripture Reading, Listening to God, Confession of sins. The books are all saying things I completely agree with and try to practice. I have to say I do well at prayer, reading the Bible, listening to God. But recently, I noticed something about the practices of spiritual formation and the books that advocate these practices: They are written by introverts and are primarily designed for introverts. I have said this to many people and rarely do I find someone who disagrees with me.

Just as I have been critical of authors who write on outreach, evangelism and social justice from a strictly extravert point of view, so now I want to take to task those who neglect the extravert when it comes to Spiritual Formation. First, some definitions. I define an extravert in the classic Jungian framework: a person who gains energy by being around other people, who can think and feel more clearly if they use those thoughts and feelings to interact with others and who is not as comfortable living on the inside of themselves. An introvert is the opposite: Someone who gains energy by periodically getting alone, who can think more clearly and feel more confidently when by themselves or in a quiet place and who are not comfortable externalizing their life in front of others.

So, how can an extravert focus on the inner part of who they are when they are much more proficient in externalizing their thoughts and feelings?

For several years, I taught short seminars on spiritual formation for church planters. Generally, Church Planters are the entrepreneurs of church leaders. In order to get a church going from scratch, it takes people who are multi-relational, outgoing and interactive. Introverts can plant churches, but they have to take a more organic, one-on-one approach. Extraverts often get a church off the ground faster with more energy. Therefore, when I taught this course to extraverts, I noticed they were not terribly interested. I don’t blame them. I had approached the subject as if all of us were comfortable with reflecting deeply within. I now realize that is not how it works. An extravert will never be able to grow internally if they take an introvert’s approach. After getting polite but mundane response to my seminar, I revamped it with the extravert in mind. The first time I presented my Extraverted Version of Spiritual Formation, I witnessed a dramatic transformation. These church planters engaged immediately in the concepts. Even now, several years later, these church leaders come up and mention that seminar as foundational in their understanding of spiritual formation.

Here are the basic elements that form the fabric of a dynamic spiritual formation process for Extraverts:

  1. An extravert needs to have more times devoted to spiritual formation than an introvert, but they must be of much shorter duration. Rarely can an extravert concentrate on any inner discipline for more than a half hour.
  2. They need to have people in their life they can bounce ideas, decisions, thoughts and reflections off. These people must be instructed to know their role is to interact –  they don’t have to agree or disagree on principle. It actually works better if extraverts can have several other extraverts they speak to every week and possibly every day about the spiritual truths they are learning.
  3. An extravert should seek to pass on what they are learning through mentoring, teaching, writing or music as soon as possible after coming to an understanding of a new truth.
  4. Every truth has a corresponding action associated with it. An extravert should learn they must do something with what they are becoming and learning and not just accept new ideas as philosophical concepts.
  5. An extravert desperately needs to have safe people they can talk with concerning the things they want to eliminate from their lives. These people should not be judgmental in nature, but neither can they be soft. They must challenge the extravert to new patterns of living based on the way God is changing them on the inside.

I am researching these things and may develop this teaching into a series of articles. At the very least, these five principles can change an extravert from the core outward. For instance, let’s talk about intercessory prayer. It is too difficult for me to spend hours praying on my own. However, if I can gather two or three other people to join me in prayer, the things Holy Spirit says to me often blends beautifully with what the others are praying. What they say often jibes perfectly with my thoughts and propels me into a new thought pattern altogether. If I sat for two hours trying to pray for someone, I would out-think myself and second guess my inner thoughts. But as soon as they come out of my mouth, I am often surprised at what I just prayed. In this regard, it is helpful when I am alone to pray out loud. Even if no one else is there, I can externalize my thoughts and listen to them as if someone else was praying. It helps.

Stay tuned…I am forming these thoughts as I grow.

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Open Source Church – No Copyright

December 28, 2011

For those who follow my teachings on the podcast, in person or this blog, you’ll know I’ve been hawking the idea of Open Source Ministry for about 14 years.

I knew I should have written a book on it. Too late now.

At least someone wrote it. I will have to get a copy of it for my own edification. I will let you know when I am ready to review it.

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The Group Influence on Sin

December 27, 2011

I looked over at the car beside me. This was so stupid. It was 8 am on a Sunday morning and we are both waiting at a stop light that would not turn green. We were traveling on a major road and we were stopped at a red light for a minor cross-street. I assume it normally does not get activated unless someone is waiting to use it. As far as I could tell, there wasn’t a car on the road besides me and the guy next to me. We must have waited for four minutes and nothing was changing. Yet, like good law-abiding citizens we both sat there idling our engines.

I wonder how long we would have stayed there if the motorcycle had not pulled up. On the lane to the right of the guy beside me, a motorcycle came up and started to wait with us. But after 5 seconds, he looked both ways and bolted across the intersection. I was flabbergasted by this –  and offended.  Apparently, the guy beside me did not react the way I did. A few seconds after the guy on the Harley took off, so did he. They were both gone and left me holding up the letter of the law. On top of that, ten seconds later, the light turned green and I made my way – legally –  forward to my destination.

I have to say I felt a lot better when I came to the next light and they were both waiting there. But this scene touched off a spark of insight for me.

Many of our law-keeping ways have more to do with who is also keeping the law than our ingrained sense of right and wrong. I wish it weren’t so, but society proves over and over I’m right about this: You are more inclined to break the law if others are also doing so. Our mothers did have the question right: “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump off also?” We all know the answer has three factors: 1. How many friends? 2. How high is the bridge? 3. Will I get caught?

In times of chaos (such as riots, blackouts and Justin Bieber concerts) people will still abide by the law as long as enough people around them are also keeping the law. But as soon as we notice “everyone” doing something wrong, our baser nature kicks in and we often do wrong with the rest. That is really the test of how strong our moral values are: Will we keep them if everyone else is not? I am thinking of the London riots from last summer. People were looting stores and burning cars who just a few weeks before were criticizing those who did those things. In a fascinating interview, one girl admitted she was standing there watching people take appliances from one store and was crying about the destruction of her society. But, as soon as she saw her friends go in and take some items, she thought to herself “I could use a new television”. It took about two minutes to go from outrage to outright sin.

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem the week before he died, the crowds gustily voiced their approval of him. They shouted “Hosanna” and proclaimed him as the conquering Messiah. Did anyone imagine a week later they would be screaming for Pontius Pilate to “Crucify Him”? Mob mentality caused them to change their minds; nothing else makes sense. Jesus’ teaching was just as controversial and effective as it always had been (no more nor less), he did miracles that week,  and answered all their questions. Even up to the last minute, there were many vocal supporters. But as soon as the crowd began to turn on him, others followed suit. We don’t know how many people shouted for Jesus to be crucified, but it must have been a sizable majority for Pilate to go against his own desires out of fear for the crowd.

Last summer, when Casey Anthony was found not guilty in the drowning death of her daughter, people started a web page called “I hate Casey Anthony”. On that page, people were passing ideas around about how to kill her, lynch her or threaten her until she committed suicide. Here is one comment from that page: “Me either…I do not hate…it is wrong…but I do love this page.” Seriously, this person knew that participation in this page was wrong, but she valued being part of the crowd more than her own moral values.

What this really comes down to is a deep-seated need to belong. We will do almost anything in life to feel like we are a real part of a group of people. That includes sin. It would not be stretching it to say that most sin has some intrinsic element related to a desire to fit in, belong and have what others have.

Ask yourself this question? What would you consider doing if everyone you knew were also doing it? What would you do that is currently illegal if it was suddenly declared legal? Smoke pot? Commit adultery? Steal?

The answer to those questions is the real bedrock of our morality; or lack of it.

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Take That. Lexus.

December 21, 2011

For those of  us who think the Lexus Christmas commercials mark the end of decent civilization as we know it, some more insanity. Literally.

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Inductive Bible Study #3 – Discovering the Train of Thought

December 17, 2011

Bible_study4Unless we are joining together random thoughts and experiences, we tend toward a logical rhythm to our written ideas. In a letter, one sentence unfolds to reveal the need for the next. In a book, words are shaped into phrases, joined with like ideas to form sentences, lumped together to build paragraphs, strung in line to create paragraphs. When studying a selection of verses in the Bible, it is wise to note the flow of ideas also known as the “Train of Thought”. Once the inductive observations have been made, this is the formative step to create a helpful and accurate interpretation.

To illustrate this, let’s return to the passage we originally looked at to showcase observational skills – John 2:1-5. The story of the Water turned into wine marks the first recorded miracle Jesus did in the Gospels. As the forerunner, it teaches us much about his approaching public ministry.

1 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there,2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”4 “Woman  why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Because this paragraph is telling a story, we can discern the train of thought without much effort. John’s idea flow goes something like this:

1. A wedding
2. Jesus mom attends
3. Jesus and his disciples attend
4. They run out of wine
5. His mother tells Jesus they are out of wine.
6. He tells her about his mission.
7. She tells them to do what he says.

That’s all there is to it. So what is the purpose to laying out the passage in this design? It is impossible to interpret meaning until you can take random ideas and string them into something you recognize. For many people, the writing of the Scriptures are treated like ancient heiroglyphics, dutifully read but little understood. When we have to restate simply the stream of ideas, then our mind engages the truth. It is at this point we can then take the observations and tie them into the train of thought.

If you re-examine the list above, one of the points stands out from the rest. Most of these ideas are straight-forward, mundane details of life in a village. The real point of the passage is the point that jumps out. Can you see it? It is the statement of Jesus about his mission. It is this statement that colors all the other elements of the story. Next time, we’ll determine how you can merge your inductive observations with this discovered Train of Thought.

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How to Do Inductive Bible Study #2: Special Observations

December 13, 2011

 With Inductive Bible Study, you simply observe what is there before drawing any conclusions. This is different than other methods of studying the Bible that people use where they go looking for verses that back up what they already believe. So how do you do Inductive Bible Study?

When you are observing anything, you often do two things. First, you use your senses to determine what is happening. In this case, the writers of the Bible have already done that. They have used their senses to record what was happening, where and when it happened and who said what (including God). The second thing you do when you observe is to ask questions: who, what, where, when and how. (Why is also a question, but that doesn’t come in until you are ready to interpret what you’ve found). This is exactly what a scientist does in an experiment. They observe before they interpret.

In the first lesson, we saw how you can use your basic observation skills and the “reporter’s questions” to milk meaning out of the Bible section you are studying. But sometimes, just looking at the words will not give you enough of the meaning to build an interpretation. There are four special observations that also need to be made and in this lesson we’ll go through all four using a parable from Luke chapter 11:5–8:  The parable of the Friend at Night.

 5 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ 7 And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

From this passage, let’s see the four special observations that we need to make while studying a passage.

1. Contrasts: The easiest way to begin building meaning and interpretation out of any story or teaching is to look at the elements that contrast. There are easy contrasts to spot that use language (eg. “Not this…but that” and “He said…but she said”). However, sometimes the contrasts are not all that easy to spot at first glance. In this passage, there are several contrasts:

  • A friend has come…I have no food
  • Don’t bother me…I can’t get up
  • Lend me three loaves…a friend of mine has come on a journey (a contrast of roles: one supplies food, the other is traveling)
  • My children and I are in bed…you go to him at midnight
  • even though…yet because of the shameless audacity he will get up

The purpose of the contrast is to show the flow of ideas, action, character and plot. If you can spot where there is a contrast, you will know where the critical points of meaning are found.

2. Conflict: Conflict is a contrast where two things are actively ( or in some cases, passively) opposing one another. In this scene, there is the conflict between the friend at the door and the man in the bed. There is the conflict between the friendship and the audacity. There is the conflict between the need to eat and the need to stay in bed and sleep. Conflict often tells us what we are supposed to be watching for. They are like beacons telling us that something needs to be changed, or needs to be addressed, or needs to be heeded.

3. Repetitive Words: Often this is an observation made more easily in a longer passage of Scripture. For instance, it is often necessary when studying an entire book of the Bible inductively to see the key words that flow all through the book. But in this passage, we see a couple of words that repeat. Obviously the word “friend” is mentioned numerous times. When we come back to interpretation keys later in our lessons, we’ll return to this passage and we’ll see the word “friend” is the key to a proper interpretation of this parable. “Bread” is mentioned a couple of times, as is the phrase “get up”. These are also key ideas that will come out in the interpretation.

4. Unusual Concepts: This passage contains a concept which at first glance may not seem obvious. But when you are asking questions of the passage (as we did in lesson #1), you often make observations that raise other questions. For instance, in this passage we read about a man traveling at night. Was this a practice they did a lot in those days? Was it safe to do so? Why did this guy need to be fed in the middle of the night? Asking questions like this will go a long way in solving the meaning of the Scripture you are studying. If you don’t ask those questions, you may find that the Bible is just a collection of sentences that don’t form any real ideas in your mind. Or, you may have wondered why it is significant that they guy can’t get up because of his children. Is he afraid of waking them up? What were the houses like back then? How would the father getting up affect the children? These questions form a great backbone in the future interpretation.

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How to Do Inductive Bible Study – Step One: Observe

December 6, 2011

Bible_study4There are several legitimate ways to study the Bible. Most people just read it the way they look out a window on a road trip: They’re going somewhere and want to see if anything long the way interests them. If that describes your normal way of studying the Bible, would you be willing to learn a different way?

Inductive Bible Study is a method built around the idea of “inducing” something. Inductive reasoning is the process where we observe, interpret and discover something rather than figuring it out before observing. With Inductive Bible Study, you simply observe what is there before drawing any conclusions. So how do you do it?

When you are observing anything, you often do two things. First, you use your senses to determine what is happening. In this case, the writers of the Bible have already done that. They have used their senses to record what was happening, where and when it happened and who said what (including God). The second thing you do when you observe is to ask questions: who, what, where, when and how. (Why is also a question, but that doesn’t come in until you are ready to interpret what you’ve found). This is exactly what a scientist does in an experiment. They observe before they interpret.

Let’s give an example of how you might observe something from the Bible. It is often good to start with a section of Scripture that is narrative (meaning that someone is telling a story or relating an historical event). In this case, let’s start at John 2:1–5. This tells the beginning of the story where Jesus turned water into wine (every wine lover just had their interest piqued).

Let’s make a few observations using the five questions:

1. Who: make a list of all the “whos” in these five verses:

  • Jesus’ mother
  • Jesus
  • His disciples
  • the servants.

2. What: This lists all the nouns in the passage:

  • third day
  • wedding
  • wine
  • “my time”
  • “whatever he tells you”

3. Where:

  • Cana in Galilee
  • “there”
  • “to the wedding” (note: sometimes a place is implied..the wedding is both a thing and a place)

4 When:

  • On the third day
  • “when the wine was gone”
  • “my time” (this is both a what and a when)

5. How: (this will be a list of all the verbs and action ideas)

  • wedding took place
  • mother was there
  • had been invited
  • wine was gone
  • mother said to him
  • they have no more
  • why…involve me?
  • my time…not come.

As you’re making the list, you are building the stones together to form your interpretation. The more thorough and clear your observation is, the more opportunity you have to get the interpretation correct. If you skip over the observations you will make glaring errors of assumption and application that will be regretable. Next time we will talk about another element of observation: Setting.

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