Archive for November, 2012

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The Best Books on Spiritual Formation

November 30, 2012

There are thousands of definitions of Spiritual Formation, but here’s what I mean by it:

“The activity involved with becoming more intimate with God through disciplines, practices and knowledge, with the goal of becoming more Christlike”

In my 41 years as a Christ-Follower, I have read many books that sought to help me in this process of Spiritual Formation. Many of these were written centuries ago and some show up from year to year. When I find a book that impacts me, it is usually because it shows me a path to God that is both challenging and accessible.

I realize a list like this is subjective. I have not read a lot of Eugene Peterson, Henri Noewen or Timothy Keller, so their books are not on this list. Also, as a spiritually oriented counselor, I have added more books on how to have a healthy inner man than most other people. I tried to include books from every age.

My criteria for choosing books on Spiritual Formation include the following four characteristics:

1. Good theology, but not too much

2. Biblical basis but not a lot of quotations

3. Practical elements, but not a how-to

4. Personal reflections, but not a biography.

So, without further explanation, here is a list of the books I consider essential for any disciple of Christ.

The Bible: Because it shouldn’t go without saying this is THE BOOK.

cunninghamIs That Really You, God? by Loren Cunningham. This is the foundation for a missionary movement greater in scope than any other. And a simple book on Hearing God

Hind’s Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. This is the only allegory on the list, but it propels the reader to greater understanding of suffering and joy.

I Found the Key to the Heart of God by Basilea Schlink. Most North Americans need to delve into what one of the world’s greatest souls found as she lived out her Christianity in a rugged culture.

Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness by Jerry Cook. Jerry understands those things that we have to have to live for God in a broken world.

Intercessory Prayer by Dutch Sheets. He understands how to pray for others and expresses it more clearly than any other book on prayer. And I’ve read a lot of them.

wallisGod’s Chosen Fast by Arthur Wallis. If you have never fasted, or never got much out of it, this is the quintessential book on the subject. I love books of less than 100 pages that say this much.

How to Be Filled with the Holy Spirit by A. W. Tozer. Another short book that delivers what it promises.

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs by John Foxe. Many people will be shocked to see this one on here. But when you read it, the cost of what it means to follow Christ becomes clearer and clearer.

Ordering Your Private World by Gordon McDonald. This book has changed the lives of so many people.

When I Relax I Feel Guilty by Tim Hansel. Every intense follower of Christ needs this one to balance out Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

Between Heaven and Earth by Ken Gire. This is the best book by a man I consider to be one of the most thoughtful writers alive.

How to Study Your Bible by Kay Arthur. No one presents the principles of Inductive Bible Study better than Kay Arthur.

Healing Life’s Hurts by Ed Smith. This is a simple to read explanation of just about every mental and spiritual problem we face. And it lays out the simple solution.

Transformation of the Inner Man by John Sandford. The tri-fold nature of man needs to be understood and this book does a thorough job.

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Boenhoeffer. This is actually  not high on my list because it is difficult to read and not well written. But the concepts are foundational and may make this one of the greatest books in Christianity along with…

Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. Okay, here is another allegory, but it is so much more. Get a modern translation of it if you can.

NeeThe Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee. The greatest mind of Chinese Christianity and some of the simplest and profound practices of getting closer to God.

The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. If you ever wondered how the Enemy of our souls carries out his business, this might be the best book on the subject.

The Bait of Satan by John Bevere. This explains why most of us have trouble getting along with other people and shows how God can solve that.

The Divine Romance by Gene Edwards. When I first read it, I thought it was heresy. I have changed my mind and now consider it a great book. Read it more than once for full effect.

Don’t Waste Your Sorrows by Paul Billheimer. Have you ever grieved and mourned? Was it worth it? That strange question is the foundation for a powerful truth.

Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. In this unique set of daily prayers the Bible comes alive in a semi-private conversation between Jesus and you.

Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges. You need to understand real holiness and Bridges delivers in this simple book.

When Heaven Invades Earth by Bill Johnson. Though perhaps not as well written as some of the rest (from a technical standpoint), it is rich in a subject most Christians ignore: The power of God

The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. The so-called master of spiritual formation, this book is his best.

The Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. A good explanation of all the spiritual disciplines. Please don’t let this be the only one you read (as is true of most of these).

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. The scene about washing dishes radically changed my view of the sanctity of work.

chanCrazy Love by Francis Chan. I caution the reader to see this is one man’s passion and may not be every person’s calling. That said, this is a great depiction of God’s love for us and how we can live that out.

The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer. A classic understanding of the intricate levels of our relationship with God.

Wild At Heart by John Eldridge. Like many of the books on this list, this one launched a movement of men to get closer and more intimate with God.

The Autobiography of Madame Guyon by Jeanne Guyon. This is a deep and reflective look at God by a woman literally locked up most of her life. This is not an easy book to read, but is extremely valuable.

Holiness and the Spirit of the Age by Floyd McClung. This is a glimpse in how to read our culture with a focus on how the people of God should live in that culture.

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Questions about Gay Conversion Therapy

November 27, 2012

Dear Reader:

In order to fully appreciate and respond to my observations below, it is essential you go to the New York Times article titled “Gay Conversion Therapy Faces Test in Court”. Read it and return.

My questions and  evaluations of this article are numerous. I don’t desire to get into the feedback loop on whether someone is born gay or chooses that option. I am not arguing over the philosophy or theology of homosexual marriage. I just want to respond to this article with a number of questions and interrogative statements.

1. From what I can tell, these four plaintiffs are suing because their gay conversion therapy didn’t work. Is that truly grounds for a lawsuit? Do we sue governments when they don’t keep their promises, record companies when their music sucks, doctors when the virus returns or physiotherapists when we still have back pain? Not all therapies work (more on that in a second)…does that make someone legally culpable? If it does, then this opens up a host of retributive lawsuits that will never end.

2. Does the success rate of a therapy measure its effectiveness? For instance, in this article in the New York Times, the authors correctly point out that sex offenders are more likely to re-offend if they go through Relapse Prevention Therapy than if they do nothing. Patrick Carnes, a noted sex offender/addiction therapist claims a success rate less than 5%. But no one is proposing we stop all therapy to sex offenders. What is encouraged is a better approach to therapy. But in this article regarding people who have asked to be treated for their homosexuality, the legal team (with backing from the Southern Poverty Law Center), is assuming that there is no reason to treat homosexuals for something that is not a disorder. Just because the APA removed homosexuality as a psychological disorder from the DSM-IV does not mean they are correct. As far as this article is concerned, these men asked to be treated for their homosexuality. Isn’t the answer for this an approach that looks for better treatments rather than say “make all treatment illegal”?

3. Isn’t this just a straw man argument? This particular therapy method is so ludicrous it made me laugh out loud. This is not what the majority of Homosexual conversion therapists do. Not even close. Picking out this marginal Jewish methodology to champion a court case is like showcasing a serial killer to prove why we shouldn’t allow people to lose their tempers.

4. The gentleman proposing the lawsuit says ““It becomes fraudulent, even cruel,” he said in an interview. “To say that if you really want to change you could — that’s an awful thing to tell somebody.” Excuse me?? Isn’t that what we tell everyone who comes for therapy? In his book “The Brain that Changes Itself” psychotherapist (and APA member) Norman Doidge relates case after case of people that can change every aspect of their brain. People can see with implants in their ears, can scratch phantom limbs. Our brains are plastic and therefore, there is no innate belief or function that cannot be changed. This has been scientifically proven. What this article is actually saying is that it is wrong to promise people they can change or to expect someone to change something that others don’t want them to change. Isn’t this simply a case of society wanting something to be acceptable (homosexuality) so badly that they reject any thought that someone might be able to change it?

5. In the article, a UC Irvine professor is quoted as saying ““The law is clear that the government can prohibit health care practices that are harmful or ineffective.” Really? Then why aren’t we prohibiting sex offender treatment, treatment for meth addiction, couples therapy (statistics prove that you are no better off getting marriage therapy than not), accupuncture for depression, Rolfing for anxiety attacks, prescriptions for Elavil and Amatriptoline, fad diets – all of which show little or no scientific proof that they work? The reason is that we want something to work for those problems, but society doesn’t want to admit there can be a cure for homosexuality.

6. One patient in the lawsuit, a mormon claimed “He tried to battle his homosexuality, he said, when he was a practicing Mormon who believed that only those in a heterosexual marriage could achieve eternal bliss.” Since when do the beliefs of Mormonism form the basis for a lawsuit? Just because the Mormons convinced him that a heterosexual marriage was better than a homosexual tendency, does this make it illegal to do therapy?

7. I personally believe the focus for treatment of homosexuals should focus on what a person believes about himself and not about who he/she is attracted to. I think that most conversion therapies miss the point. But I don’t think they are breaking any laws in doing so.

8. Why is this California Law only being enacted against members of the APA and does not apply to religious therapists? If something is illegal, it should apply to everyone? If it only applies to APA therapists, then shouldn’t this be an action by the APA and not the courts? I believe this is being brought to the courts to maximize public attention not to correct a legal wrong.

These are my observations as a counselor and as a member of society. Since I don’t practice conversion therapy I have no horse in this race.

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Christian Child Star Has a Tough Decision

November 27, 2012

Angus T. Jones, the child star who is the “half” in the CBS sitcom “Two and a Half Men” now says he can’t stand the show and counsels viewers not to watch it. Here’s part of what he says in this article:

“Please stop watching it,” said Jones. “Please stop filling your head with filth.”

Jones has been on the show, which used to feature bad-boy actor Charlie Sheen, since he was 10, but now says he doesn’t want to be on it anymore.

In a video posted by the Forerunner Christian Church in Fremont, Calif., Jones describes a search for a spiritual home. He says the type of entertainment he’s involved in adversely affects the brain and “there’s no playing around when it comes to eternity.”

Jones has become a professing follower of Jesus and can no longer stomach the degradation that the show champions. At the same time, in the article he both says he wants out and says he is going to stay.

He is facing the dilemma that most people have when they become followers of Christ. There are things from our old life that we don’t feel like we can reasonably let go of. I can think of hundreds of things we cling to, but they usually fall into these categories:

  • Friends
  • Commitments
  • Habits
  • Money
  • Power
  • Lifestyle

In the article Jones says he has no choice but to continue on with the series due to his contract. But is that really true? I mean, on one level you could argue that he needs to fulfill legal obligations and that it would not honor God to just walk out.

But there are a number of ways he could approach this. First, he could be willing to forgo his salary, even if they force him to do the show. Second, he could meet with them and ask to be let out of his contract, perhaps with a fine. Third, he could negotiate changes to the script. Fourth, (and perhaps most importantly) he could ask God to help him get out.

His statement of resignation that there is no way for him to leave the series is not accurate from a moral standpoint. Many people around the world have faced jail terms for their moral and ethical stands. People in countries like Syria and Burma have given their lives to throw down oppressive regimes. He has made 8 million dollars a year on this show. I think perhaps, as a young follower of Christ, he is still fighting several of the common problems all young followers face: a desire to be liked, to keep life relatively the same and to act like an innocent party.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think I would have done any better as a young believer. I have never made 8 million dollars and I don’t know how hard it would be to give it up. But Jesus did call the rich, young ruler to sell everything and come follow him. And as far as i can tell, that guy was new to his relationship with Jesus.

Here’s the takeaway: I am not trying to aim darts at this actor. Rather, I want each person reading this to ask this question: What do I need to let go of in order to follow Christ with more integrity?

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Why Men Should Not be Ordained

November 21, 2012

Asbury Professor, Ben Witherington nails this truth in a recent blog entry on why men should not be ordained.

This is how we often approach the logic behind excluding women from certain ministry positions. Well written.

Top 10 Reasons Why Men Shouldn’t Be Ordained

10. A man’s place is in the army.

9. For men who have children, their duties might distract them from the responsibilities of being a parent.
8. Their physical build indicates that men are more suited to tasks such as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be “unnatural” for them to do other forms of work.
7. Man was created before woman. It is therefore obvious that man was a prototype. Thus, they represent an experiment, rather than the crowning achievement of creation.
6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. This is easily demonstrated by their conduct at football games and watching basketball tournaments.
5. Some men are handsome; they will distract women worshipers.
4. To be ordained pastor is to nurture the congregation. But this is not a traditional male role. Rather, throughout history, women have been considered to be not only more skilled than men at nurturing, but also more frequently attracted to it. This makes them the obvious choice for ordination.
3. Men are overly prone to violence. No really manly man wants to settle disputes by any means other than by fighting about it. Thus, they would be poor role models, as well as being dangerously unstable in positions of leadership.
2. Men can still be involved in church activities, even without being ordained. They can sweep paths, repair the church roof, change the oil in the church vans, and maybe even lead the singing on Father’s Day. By confining themselves to such traditional male roles, they can still be vitally important in the life of the Church.
1. In the New Testament account, the person who betrayed Jesus was a man. Thus, his lack of faith and ensuing punishment stands as a symbol of the subordinated position that all men should take.

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Old Mega-Churches Vs. New Mega-Churches

November 20, 2012

There is a difference between the church that grew slowly over 60 years from a handful of followers of Christ, through various stages of rise and fall, and the group that became a phenomenon overnight.

1. Older Mega-Churches (MC) have diverse age groups. I attended an MC last weekend and noticed this 50 year old church had many people in every demographic. Attending an MC a month ago that is 10 years old, everyone was in the under 40 crowd.

2. Older MCs have more defined outreach programs. Older groups look at more diverse ways to reach their community through feeding and clothing programs, reading and educational outreaches and service-oriented approaches. Newer MCs do not have the visibility to achieve this yet./

3. The preaching in an older MC is usually more exegetical and leans less toward contemporary issues.

4. The worship/singing time in  older MCs combines many different musical and age-related tastes. Last weekend, in the same service, we sang songs as new as today (10,000 reasons) and as old as Christianity (Holy, Holy, Holy) with Refiner’s Fire thrown in for good measure.

5. The staff of an older MC always includes children of the leadership team . Why? Because the older an MC, the more chance that children have grown up in the culture of that church and can articulate the values without having to think about them.. Who would you rather have leading your church than someone with that pedigree. It is like having a professional sports star coaching a team he used to play for.

6. The older MC has weathered many days of crisis and personal conflict and therefore is not easily thrown off path by the vagaries of personal failure. You aren’t going to see an older MC crash and burn easily.

7. The older MC has an influence in local politics, education, media, community arts, homeless programs, law enforcement etc. that the newer church is only at the beginning of trying to create. Because of this, the older MC has resources for those in need and in trouble that the newer MC can only dream of having.

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Selfish or Self-absorbed?

November 8, 2012

Many people say, “I think there is some good in all of us”.

I’m never sure what they mean by that. I think it is a wish that even though we see tragic living and unhealthy decisions, there is still a chance that even a sociopath can get it right occasionally. I would love to believe this sentiment also.

Unfortunately, history and experience tell me that many people are just plain rotten to the core. Read about Darfur, Iraq, the slaughter of Native American women and children at Grand Junction Colorado, the Rape of Nanking by the Japanese soldiers in World War 2 – or just about any evening paper – will confirm what I’m saying.

What may be more accurate is to say that all of us have some evil in us.

There are many who suggest that all our ways are perverted and even when we do something right it is for the wrong reasons. I don’t think history and experience can back that up either. I have seen inexplicable moments when truly evil people have done things that cannot be explained by selfishness or malignant motives.

Here’s what I think is going on: We all have a problem with occasionally seeing ourselves as the central focus of the universe. And from what I can tell, it will usually get expressed in our lives (in those awful moments we wouldn’t want recorded in Heaven) in one of two ways:

Selfishness, or

Self-absorption.

I define selfishness as an innate desire to achieve what you want instead of what others want.

I see self-absorption as an inability to understand what others want or what they need.

To see this more clearly, let’s draw up a chart of some of the characteristics of each:

Selfish: Self-Absorbed
Tends to be an extravert Tends to be an introvert
Does not want others to win Doesn’t see that others are losing
Sees needs but doesn’t care Cares, but doesn’t see
Not kind but usually straight-forward Kind, but hides what they think
Listens to others to gain advantage Does not listen
Anger problems Depression problems
Hurts others Is hurt by others
Dominates Manipulates
Like people but hard to tolerate Doesn’t like people, but easy to tolerate
Like the effects of drugs and alcohol Hate feeling out of control
Spends freely on themselves Wants others to spend on them
Annoyed when others want their time Doesn’t realize others want their time
Has job that will fulfill their goals Has job that makes them feel better
Many acquaintances and few close friends Few acquaintances and no close friends

All of us have a default position when we give in to evil. It is usually selfishness or self-absorption. When we do not give in to evil, we are much more complex. Evil motivations make us simpler and more predictable. No one is easier to anticipate than someone who is selfish or self-absorbed.

Which one of these are you when you are living poorly? 

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November 7, 2012

The Gates are Open

Kathy and I stopped to stare at the snow drift across the highway. It was 5:30 p.m. and the snow was drifting 8 feet off the ground in places. More snow was predicted for the rest of the night and into the next day as well. This was Highway 93, the major artery through northwest Montana and we were cross-country skiing down the middle of it. We feared no cars coming up on us; not even the snowplows were going out in this horrendous storm. So what were we doing out here?

My wife worked as a nurse on a heart Telemetry unit at the Kalispell Regional Medical Center. They worked 12 hour shifts and hers started in a half hour. The phone lines were not working, so Kathy couldn’t call the hospital to find out if they were expecting her. But after looking at the closed highway, we were fairly certain…

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