January 2021 Sabbath Challenge

Kick 2021 off with a strong start in your spiritual life! Join us for our first ever Sabbath Challenge!

Why a Sabbath Challenge to start off the year? Because in a hustle culture where we constantly feel pressure to do more, observing a Sabbath is one of the most transformative disciplines we can practices as Christians. Because we could all use a day to re-orient our minds, hearts, and souls to Christ every week. Because hustling is literally killing us.

Friends, there’s a better way. And observing a Sabbath is a key way to navigating Jesus’ better way of life.

Learn more about the Sabbath challenge here or go ahead and sign-up here.

You’ll receive a series of short video teachings and a planning guide to get you started. Afterwards, you’ll receive a short prayer and reflection guide each week to complete at some point during your Sabbath.

Want to know a little more about what I mean by “Sabbath” before signing up? Check out the blogs I’ve already written below:

Hope you’ll join me!

Tips for Observing a Sabbath

**If you need convincing of the need to or the biblical basis for observing a Sabbath, click here. This post is mainly concerned with the practical and logistical considerations for those who have determined to observe a Sabbath, but are unsure of how to get started.

The elephant in the room

Feel like you’re constantly on the go? You’re not alone.

Surveys indicate that Americans feel busier than ever. In actuality, we have more free time now than we have in at least 5 decades. The problem isn’t that we don’t have time to devote to hobbies, recreation, or spiritual development. The true problem is that many of us prefer our mindless distractions to intentional effort in any direction, including our spiritual lives.

I often tell students that spiritual growth, in some ways, is similar to any skill they want to improve in or discipline they want to practice. In contrast to the lackadaisical approach to spiritual growth to which many of us seem to subscribe, an active pursuit of Christ involves intentional effort, planning, and reflection.

There’s no way around it. If you want to observe a Sabbath and reap all its associated benefits, you’re going to have to plan for it. Taking an entire day off requires us to put more forethought into how we spend our time than many of us are willing to do. This one fact alone causes a hard stop in many of our minds.

Couple that initial resistance with another simple truth about our nature: we suffer from FOMO. Many of us will resist observing a Sabbath, not even because of what it will require us to miss out on, but simply from the fear of the thought of what it might cause us to miss out on. The challenge in this stage is for us to trust God’s goodness and wisdom enough to believe that saying “Yes” to a Sabbath, even though it will require us to say “No” to other things, will ultimately be better for us. As C.S. Lewis observed,

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Saying “Yes” to the Better Thing

Observing a Sabbath can transform your relationship with Christ. A Sabbath:

  • Prioritizes rest so that you aren’t always so stressed, anxious, and short-tempered.
  • Prioritizes reflection so that you can intentionally remind yourself of how God has worked on your behalf in the recent and far past.
  • Creates space for you to intentionally pursue activities and/or relationships that bring you joy.
  • Is a picture of faith in God in the midst of a hustle-culture.

Ok, ok. I said this was going to be practical. Here are my top 5 pointers for beginning to observe a personal Sabbath:

  1. Put it on your calendar. Whether it’s on your phone or you keep a physical date book, look ahead 2 weeks and commit to a single 24-hour period to keep clear to observe your Sabbath. And yes, I mean 24 continuous, uninterrupted hours. Fortunately, we have the freedom to determine where those 24 hours fall. You may find that keeping all of Sunday free for your Sabbath works best for you. Others may find that observing a Sabbath from 3 PM on a Wednesday afternoon to 3 PM on Thursday works best. When doesn’t matter. Just set the time aside!
  2. Make a list of all the stuff you have to do prior to your Sabbath. You may not be a list person, but trust me on this. The act of writing down the things that must be done is super-helpful. It will prevent something from slipping through the cracks that will come up just as you get in the zone on your Sabbath and you’ll be tempted to break Sabbath to go do it. Just make the list and be intentional about working through it leading up to your Sabbath.
  3. Decide what you’ll do. Options abound!
    • Sleep in.
    • Exercise or go to a park.
    • Call friends or family.
    • Eat out and take your time.
    • Take a prayer retreat.
    • Lengthen your devotion time for the day.
    • Journal.
    • Read a book.
    • Take a nap.
    • Etc.
  4. Decide what you won’t do. The whole point of a Sabbath is to abstain from work. So, instead of giving you an exhaustive list, I’ll say that if you consider it work, don’t do it. *Note*– I will caution you from performing any work-related function under the guise of “But I enjoy it.” If it’s related to something for which you are paid or could be paid, the whole point is to leave it alone for 24 hours.
  5. Resist the urge to work. Your first Sabbath is going to feel weird. We’ve been conditioned to think that taking time off isn’t an optimal use of our time. You will have to repeatedly remind yourself that rest allows you to more optimally use your time. As a Christian, rest is even more valuable because it permits space for you to weekly recalibrate yourself spiritually so that you can live abundantly in the settings in which God leads you throughout the week.

A Quick Testimonial

I began observing a Sabbath in seminary when I was a full-time student, managing a coffee shop, and serving in a church plant. Needless to say, it was a pretty busy season of life! For that period of my life, school work was considered “work.” So, on my Sabbath, I didn’t crack a book. I didn’t study. I didn’t write a paper. I completely walked away.

Seminary had been almost an entirely academic pursuit to that point in my career, so I spent my Sabbaths investing in my own spiritual life. I prioritized time with friends. I prioritized time with my wife. I went to bed early.

Then, the next morning, I woke up early and was the first customer at my favorite coffee shop. I sat there for 5 hours while I read for the week, worked on assignments, and worked on my papers. I was more productive in that 5 hours than I was at any other point in time throughout the week.

Why? Because I was refreshed. Because my relational, emotional, spiritual, and physical batteries were all completely refreshed. Because I made the conscious decision to trust that God’s way was better even if it appeared to cost me in the short-term.

I’ve never regretted a Sabbath. You won’t either.

What Was That First Thing You Said?

Have you ever gotten so caught up in someone talking and found yourself agreeing so much that, later, you struggled to remember some of the first things you heard? It’s an odd sensation. In the moment, you may find yourself being greatly moved, feeling compelled or challenged, and sensing the gravity of the moment. Then, even just a few hours later, you find yourself struggling to recall what it was exactly that compelled you so.

I think many of our discipleship strategies suffer from this phenomenon, specifically related to Jesus’ oft-cited statement: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

The Life, The Truth

We’ve got The Life one down. Consider any evangelistic presentation. The emphasis is on life with God, going to Heaven, or, maybe abundant life through Christ. On occasion, abundant life with Christ may even be the emphasis of a discipleship emphases. At minimum, you’ve heard about it in a sermon in the recent path.

Check plus on The Truth, too. Particularly in evangelical circles, the truth is emphasized. The Bible contains the truth. Learn the Bible to know God. The Bible is innerant, infallible, and authoritative. Culture will attempt to deceive you, but we have The Truth to which we can and should hold.

Oh Yeah, That Other Thing

Unfortunately, our discussions of “the way” are often relegated to generic admonitions to pray and have a quiet/devotional time. Leading up to election time, perhaps a “Christian” way to vote will be intoned or blatantly stated. You may even hear admonitions towards being involved in a church as being important for a Christian way of life.

But that’s probably about it. As far as a “way” of life goes, these areas are pretty limited. Do we realize that our manner of life as Christians has implied that only about 3.5 hours (1 hour for worship services, 1 hour for small groups, about an hour and a half for personal spiritual disciplines) of our 168 hours in a week really matter towards our pursuit of Christ?

This is the Way

I don’t watch The Mandalorian, but I’ve observed with curiosity as I’ve recently seen scores of people repeating the line, “This is the way” from the show. What a tremendous opportunity for Christians to make a quick bee-line to Jesus’ way of life!

At least, it could have been. If we’d actually been living in and teaching others to live in Jesus’ way of life. We’ve been preoccupied on the eternal life He offers and the truth claims of our faith.

Hear me out: it’s not that these are unimportant or trivial. It’s just that focusing exclusively on them to the detriment of living in the way of Jesus is destined to distort the picture of Jesus we present with our lives. It’s destined to leave us pursuing a version of faith outside of Jesus’ intention. It’s destined to ring hollow to people outside of our faith who see no substance to the stands we make.

Far from an exhaustive list, here are a few observations I’ve made over the last several months from the life of Jesus regarding His way of life that we, as His followers, could stand to emulate:

  • Siding with the vulnerable— Jesus regularly spoke up for those considered the dregs of society. In doing so, He also exhorted them to repentance and holiness. His siding was not tacit approval of every aspect of their lives, but a prophetic meeting of justice and gospel proclamation. That meeting always started with a demonstration of radical, sometimes scandalous, grace offered.
  • Spending time in solitude— Jesus traveled with 12 disciples and, it seems, often had a retinue of other parties with Him during most of His 3-year ministry. Which is why He made space for regular retreats from others to be alone with the Father. Jesus got up early in the morning to pray and took all-night prayer retreats. Our pattern is the opposite. We’re so busy that we consider ourselves fortunate to find 5 minutes to mutter a few phrases we consider prayer and call it a victory.
  • Embracing interruptions— Have you ever noticed that many of Jesus’ miracles occurred while He was doing something else? Turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana? He was just there trying to enjoy a party. Healing the woman with the discharge of blood? He was on his way to the synagogue ruler’s house to heal his daughter. Healing the lame man whose friends lowered him through the roof of the house? He was in that house to teach others. It wasn’t His scheduled miracle-performing time. Even Jesus’ life teaches us that our greatest opportunities to serve and share with others often occurs outside of our calendar.

And that’s just the 3 that have been the greatest struggle for me.

The Way of Jesus will lead us to a rich, personal faith. It will also motivate us to intentionally engage and care for the vulnerable in a way that flies in the face of the models presented to us by others. It will also lead us to strive to develop the mind of Christ in us, which leads us to consider the very way we think as a means of discipleship– a much more comprehensive and holistic view of discipleship than the 3.5 hour model.

The Way of Jesus is vital for our flourishing as His disciples. It’s a way of life that is drastically “other” from other models we see. But as we take up the task of living in His way, we also discover the beauty and power in Jesus’ proclamation that “His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.”

A Thanksgiving Lament

Thanksgiving 2020 at my family’s house this year is completely different. For starters, we’re celebrating at our house. This is the first Thanksgiving in our marriage (12 years) that we’ve spent this particular holiday at our own home.

Like many, this wasn’t the plan. We were supposed to be celebrating with my parents in Texas. In years previous, we celebrated with my wife’s family in Georgia.

Instead, this morning we rolled out of bed, ate some waffles, and talked about what do to do with ourselves.

Not What We Planned

You may find yourself in a similar situation. COVID has changed so much for so many of us this year. Altered Thanksgiving and, potentially, Christmas plans might feel like another blow in the series of punches to the gut that 2020 has brought.

Pessimist that I tend to be, I’ve had to work hard this week to recalibrate my thoughts and heart towards gratitude. But an honest appraisal of our setting is necessary for us to move to Thanksgiving. Biblically speaking, this is called lament.

Lament isn’t negative doom and gloom. It is a realistic assessment that the world is broken, hurting, and often disappoints us as followers of Christ. Instead of just soldiering on, lament allows us to bring our hurt, disappointment, and frustration to the feet of God and recognize that He alone is able to answer the longing of our heart.

Struggle with the concept? Read through a few Psalms. It’s hard to complete 3-4 consecutive Psalms without finding a good lament.

An important note: biblical lament doesn’t stay in hopelessness or frustration. The full emotional weight of a struggle is brought before God, often in excruciating detail, probably with tears. Then, biblical lament always casts its eyes upward to God. Lament always ends in reminders of God’s faithfulness and affirmations of trust in Him.

We often struggle with this concept because our faith is rarely in the person of God. Instead, our faith is often in the things that God can do for us. If that’s your faith, you’ll struggle with lament. Lament recognizes that sometimes God doesn’t act in your favor, that often hurts, and yet He is still a trustworthy God.

I an neither a poet nor the son of a poet, but here’s an attempt at an honest-to-goodness Thanksgiving lament.

A Thanksgiving Lament

On an unusual day
We miss gathering with family.
We miss the laughs.
We miss the love.
We miss the time.

In an unusual year
Missing this time stings more than normal.
A year of missed:
Time, family,
School, "normal," moments,
worship, fellowship.

On an unusual day
I remember that, despite the hardships
You've been faithful.
You've provided,
You've reminded,
You've encouraged.

In an unusual year
Help Your people to remember
You are not surprised,
You have a purpose,
You work for good,
in all things.

On an unusual day,
In a most unusual year,
Help us to give thanks
In all things, not
For all things, for
This is Your will.

Observe a Sabbath

What do you think of when you hear the word “Sabbath?”

If you’re like most people, your first thought is likely negative:

  • Not required
  • Impractical
  • Not enough time

Outside of regular Bible reading/study and prayer, observing a Sabbath is the most transformational discipline you can undertake.

The problem

Sabbaths sound great. But we’re just too busy to take a whole day off… right?

An Atlantic article titled “The Myth that Americans Are Busier Than Ever” statistically demonstrated that Americans are working significantly fewer hours than we were in the 1950s and even fewer hours than when our economy was predominately agrarian. The problem is that we feel busier than ever.

The article lists 4 reasons why:

  • Irony of abundance— the fact that we have more free time means that we find more things with which to fill our time.
  • Fluidness of work and leisure— email, cell phones, the rise of working from home, and the gig economy have all blurred the lines between “work” time and “leisure” time.
  • Curse of wealth— we feel pressure to maximize our “free time.” Wasting time feels more wasteful than it used to, so we are less likely to prioritize leisure.
  • “Joy” of work— High pay is rewarding, so we try to find joy in working long hours.

For Christians, these realities press against our spiritual lives regardless of our life circumstances.

Even if we don’t feel like we have a lot of free time, by virtue of living in 2020 much of our life is automated. You have more free time just by living when you do than your parents did.

Even if the fluidness between work and leisure isn’t a huge problem for you, the reality that you carry around a cell phone connected to the internet, social media, email, and a million other things represents a challenge to your ability to be in the moment. FOMO might actually be leading you to miss out on what’s immediately in front of you.

Even if you don’t feel wealthy, consider the reality that you’re likely reading this on a phone or computer that you own that, at a minimum, costs several hundred dollars. Then, remember that nearly half the world survives on less than $5.50/day. If you’re reading this, you’re likely considered wealthy in a historical and global setting.

Even if you don’t have a job that you love, you’re impacted by “hustle” culture and likely feel pressured to work hard at something. Drive is good, but our obsession with getting ahead has poisoned our spiritual lives.

In the middle of all of that, we want to grow spiritually. But we seem to think that spiritual growth is random. Maybe there are one or two practices around which we build our morning or evening routines, but those seem to be designed to keep us from falling away rather than drawing nearer. Best case scenario: these practices keep us from moving backwards long enough for the next mountaintop experience that drives away our doubt for a short time before the monotony of our routine creates new doubts for which we wait for another mountaintop experience… and ’round and ’round we go.

We want to follow Jesus, but we don’t want to miss out on anything. We certainly don’t want to fall behind and miss our opportunity to get ahead.

This means we often also don’t make time for things that are important.

Why Sabbath?

Biblically, we can make a strong case for the benefits of observing a Sabbath.

For one, God rested. Genesis 2:2-3 notes:

“And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”

God didn’t rest because creating the world really wore Him out. His rest was an intentional action He desired the beings whom He would make in His image to follow.

After being delivered from slavery in Egypt, God led the Israelites to Mount Sinai where He spelled out what it would means for them to live as His people. Included in that covenant was the idea of observing a Sabbath.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shall you labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy”

Exodus 20:8-11

The Law outlined two reasons why the Israelites were to observe a Sabbath. First, Sabbaths demonstrated trust in God’s provision:

“‘Today is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till morning’”

Exodus 16:23

The Israelites were living as itinerant people in the desert sustained by the daily appearance of manna when this command was given. The only day that the manna didn’t appear was on the Sabbath. This presented a problem, because the manna generally lasted only one day. On any other day, if someone were to attempt to keep extra manna they would discover that it had rotted after 24 hours. And since gathering was considered work, this presented a problem. How were the Israelites supposed to eat if there was no manna to be gathered and storing the manna was fruitless? God made an allowance for the Sabbath. The people were to collect double the normal amount on the 6th day, prepare it however they liked, and set it aside. Unlike any other day, the manna would not rot overnight and the people could eat it on the Sabbath.

The Israelites’ Sabbath actively demonstrated their trust in God. That trust in God actually began the day before the Sabbath, when they did all they could do to be prepared to rest. Their level of trust involved what they would eat. Our level of trust falls on our desire to be productive.

Second, Sabbaths allowed space to remember God’s past action:

“‘You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (Deut. 5:15)

The Exodus was the highmark point of deliverance for the Israelites. No matter how far removed from the actual event they became, God wanted them to have active reminders of his action on their behalf. If we do not actively remember, we will often forget. Sabbaths allow us space to reflect on and give thanks for the many ways that God has acted on how behalf in the past. This action of active reflection and thanksgiving builds our faith for the challenges we will face in the week ahead. As God’s people drifted away from faithfulness to the covenant, it is no surprise that one of the repeated critiques of the prophet was the people’s failure to observe a Sabbath. They had not built in space to remember, so they had forgotten.

Beneficial, Not Obligatory

Every conversation I have about the Sabbath boils down to one question: do Christians have to observe a Sabbath? Essentially, is it sinful for a Christian to not observe a Sabbath?

No, I don’t think so. But something doesn’t have to be obligatory to be beneficial.

The New Testament contains no explicit command to observe the Sabbath. Neither does it contain instruction to abandon the Sabbath.

Consider how Jesus treated and spoke of the Sabbath. In one instance, Jesus and disciples pick from grain in field on Sabbath. Religious leaders accused them of breaking Sabbath. Jesus pointed out that David and his men did the same thing they did, saying:

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord, even of the Sabbath.”

Mrk 2:28

Jesus regularly healed on the Sabbath, a violation of how the religious leaders understood the Sabbath, but not a violation of the Sabbath itself.

Jesus never denounced Sabbath observance in and of itself. Jesus elevated the Sabbath by pointing out that “The Sabbath was made for man.” Jesus didn’t say that the Sabbath was unnecessary, not beneficial, an idol, or no longer relevant. He reminded people that the Sabbath was made for their benefit

The problem wasn’t the actual Sabbath, but all the rules that had been put in place around the Sabbath that left people so afraid of violating the Sabbath that they couldn’t observe the Sabbath as the Lord intended. They were more fearful of incurring the wrath of their leaders than they were of actively trusting in God’s provision and remembering how He had acted on their behalf in the past.

Our situation is almost the opposite. In a culture in which being productive and busy are values, we can’t fathom taking an entire day to rest. There’s simply too much to do!

Which is exactly why we need to reclaim the Sabbath. In our busyness, we have abandoned trust. In our hurry, we too often forget. In idolizing productivity, we diminish Jesus.

The Romans found much to be curious of Israel when they first interacted. But above all else, the Romans were dumbstruck to learn that many of these agrarian people left behind their work for an entire day every week. What could motivate a people to do such a seemingly ludicrous thing?

Here, our opportunity is similar. It is a people whose faith and trust is entirely in God that can forsake the cult of productivity, embrace their status as beloved, limited creatures, and walk away from it all for 24 hours because their trust is not in what they are able to accomplish. Their trust is in the Lord their God and His provision and care for them above all else.

Sabbaths are good for our souls. They give us an opportunity to remember what God has done on our behalf in the past, which we sorely need. They also give us a living testimony of our trust in God. They help us demonstrate a better way of life through Jesus that will speak volumes to the world around us.

You don’t have to observe a Sabbath. You get to observe a Sabbath.

There’s Got to be a Better Way

Have you heard there’s an election this week?

Perhaps you already know about it. News outlets are reporting historic levels of early voter turnout including an unprecedented rise in early voter turnout. Early voters, it turns out (see what I did there) are often more left-leaning than their older counterparts. This trend has been observed in the US over the last few years by Pew, among others.

The trend left-wards has been observed even among Christian young adults. Millennials have long been known to be more politically liberal than their older counterparts (with the early returns on Gen Z evidencing rather a rather similar mindset).

And before we assume that this move left-ward is evidence of the smaller percentage of Christians that constitute its numbers, consider Pew’s comparison of older evangelical Christians with their younger counterparts:

While the differences between older and younger Christians are notable, also worth noting is
that younger evangelicals are still more politically conservative than their peers.

Blind Spots

Political polarization isn’t going anywhere. With the advent of the 24 hour news cycle, the decline of trust in the media (at least, in some cases, all but 1 source of media), and the particularly conservative Christian susceptibility to misinformation, the short-term outlook suggests that we would be wise to learn how to live faithfully as Christ-followers in this cultural moment.

Which is where an inter-generational, multi-cultural group of people radically committed to life together, consensus building, the common good, and loving disagreement (like the church is meant to be) could be an overwhelming force for good during this season.

Could it be that older Christians could wisely guide younger Christians to avoid some of the political pitfalls they have experienced throughout their years of faithful engagement to help offset the zeal of youth? What will happen if we trade that voice of experience with sharp reprimands and insults? Do we really think that’s going to change anyone’s mind?

Could it be that younger Christians can lovingly point out areas which we feel like the faith taught to us hasn’t been applied consistently? What will happen if instead of choosing the path of love, even in the face of resistance, we walk away? Do we really think anything will change for the better if we simply abandon ship?

No one perspective or generation has all truth. Only God has all truth. And He has entrusted His church with His mission. As a reminder, His mission is not to ensure the emergence of any set of “Christian” legislation, or the promotion of any one candidate, or the propagation of any philosophy outside of the Gospel.

Social action is good and Christians should engage in advocating for justice, righteousness, and equity. But there is room at the table of the church for everyone regardless of political ideology.

My fear for the church is that we have allowed our polarized moment to create fractures that will cause breaks in time if not mended. We have no business hurling insults at brothers and sisters in Christ because they disagree with our politics. We have no business advocating for principles derived from Scripture and ignoring clear Biblical admonitions on guarding our tongues, avoiding insults, and avoiding divisiveness. We have no business alienating brothers and sisters in Christ, on either end of the spectrum, for the short-term, worldly gain of propping up imperfect, bound-to-disappoint-you, candidates or parties.

There’s a better way. There is no model for it. It’s not easy. We’ll mess it up plenty along the way. But unity in diversity, love amongst differing perspectives, and commitment to one another in spite of disagreement can be hallmarks of the body of Christ.

There’s a better way. My hope for this political season is that the divisiveness, nastiness, and blatant sinfulness of our rhetoric will lead to repentance and catalyze a new way forward. May God have mercy.

Sing Praises: Implement a Personal Worship Time

“You don’t want to hear me sing.”

That has been my refrain through the years whenever I have been asked, “Do you lead worship?” I’m not a terrible singer. I’m even an adequate guitarist. But as long as there are other options, I am convinced that you would rather not resort to inflicting my brand of worship-leading on any group.

Which is why I was surprised to find that incorporating a personal worship time to my existing devotional life would add so much to that time.

The terrible singers amongst us have often been reminded that Scripture only commands us to “make a joyful noise to the Lord” (Ps. 100:1). But our worship gatherings are led by individuals who have often studied music or are at least gifted in some aspect of playing and/or performing music. The rest of us are encouraged to sing along with the group at the appropriate time where our “joyful noises” can be swept up in the wave of worship and (hopefully) be mostly indistinguishable from the crowd.

A Limited Theology of Worship

I wonder how you reacted to the idea of a “personal worship time” when you saw this blog’s title. When I incorporated a personal worship time into my devotional life, I called it all kinds of other things. I labeled it “song of the day,” “reflection song,” and a few other things before determining to call a spade a spade. This was a time of personal worship.

Why did I resist? In part, it’s because I’ve been conditioned to think that worship through song is something we do collectively as the church. Yes, there are all kinds of ways that we worship and worship is ultimately our lifestyle. But that particular kind of worship is reserved for corporate gatherings with other believers.

But should it be? The Psalms are full of exhortations to worship the Lord, ascribe glory to Him, praise Him, and thank Him. Some of those are corporate exhortations. Many are an individual’s statements of praise and worship that were later incorporated into corporate gatherings.

Corporate worship is good, but if your theology limits the use of musical worship to corporate gatherings then, like mine was, your theology of worship is limited.

Putting it Into Practice

The basic formula through which my devotional life has functioned for most of my life has been:

  • Opening prayer
  • Scripture reading/study
  • Reflection
  • Closing prayer

This is by no means the only way to structure a devotional life, but I’ve found that it’s given me a lot of freedom to experiment with different components along the way. For me, the easiest place to slot in a personal worship time was in response to what I read through Scripture for the day. My worship time initiated my reflection time but flowed out of what God said to me through Scripture for the day.

I made a Spotify playlist of worshipful/meaningful songs. Each morning, after my Scripture reading, I found a song that elaborated on something that stood out from my Scripture reading for the day. Sometimes it was a song of praise. Sometimes it was a song of remembrance. Sometimes it was a song that expressed sorrow or longing.

Every time it was worshipful.

I still enjoy corporate worship, but these times of personal worship that are directly tied into what I feel in my heart each day and what God has directly said to me through my reading of Scripture have become some of the more meaningful moments of intimacy and connection with the Father that I’ve had in a long time. In this season when many of us are either restricted from or choosing to not attend worship gatherings for safety considerations, cultivating a personal worship time could be a revolutionary development in your faith.

*Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

Dear White Christians: Your Black Friends Are Tired

For us white folks, the wave of protests and conversations that have swept the country over the last month started with George Floyd. We learned about Breonna Taylor. We added Ahmaud Arbery. Then, we saw a movement.

For our black friends, the wave of protests and conversations that swept the country go back years. At least for a decade. For them, the above list of three expands rather quickly to include names like Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, and on, and on, and on.

Our (white people’s) willingness to engage in conversations about police brutality, systemic racism, and white supremacy now has many of even the most optimistic of our black friends wondering, “Why now?” For us, the last month has represented a watershed moment. For them, it’s another horrible reminder of the day-to-day realities of systemic racism.

This experiential divide is exacerbated by many white Christians’ lack of black friends. While evangelical churches have grown in diversity in recent years, many are still not representative of their communities or their communities are racially homogenous. The practical result is a very small pool of black Christians who are regularly engaging with a large number of white Christians, probably for the first time, on racial issues.

I’ve made it a practice to educate myself on such issues over the last month. Last weekend I hit critical mass. The amount of information I had taken in was overwhelming. The shame that I felt was palpable. The horror I experienced shook me. I had to take a break.

That was from a month of intentional learning. These realities face our black friends every single day.

They’re tired.

And somewhat skeptical. While George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery represent a tipping point for many white people, they are, sadly, drops in a long-overflowing bucket to most black people. Are we paying attention now because something has changed or because we’re bored? If something has changed, why has it taken so long? The George Floyd video, as horrible as it was, in many ways resembled the video we saw of Eric Garner in 2014.

And that’s just on the subject of police brutality! We have yet to even bring up the school to prison pipeline. The war on drugs. Housing inequality. Income disparity. Predatory lending practices. Microaggressions.

And if reading the list makes you somewhat roll your eyes or sigh as a white person, imagine your entire existence being wrapped up in and colored by those realities every single second of every single day. Imagine not being able to, as I did, just take a break from thinking about it. Imagine being asked ad nauseam about your opinion/experience as a representative of everyone who looks like you.

White Christians, your black friends are tired.

It’s not their job to teach you about racial issues, police brutality, systemic racism, housing inequality, police brutality, income disparity, or any other issue colored by racism.

Read a book. Listen to a podcast. Reflect on your experiences in light of what you learn.

“let every person be quick to hearslow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

-James 1:19-20

In a day and age in which we have so much access to so much that can aid in our education and edification, may we heed James’ admonition now more than ever.

Joy: How I So Badly Misunderstood Something for So Long

There was a knock on the door of our small, third-floor seminary apartment. My wife and I had moved into the on-campus dorm a couple of months earlier and had not had much interaction with our neighbors, so the knock was uncommon.

We were not prepared for what met us on the other side of the door. A couple, newly moved-in a few doors down, enthusiastically greeted us and introduced themselves. They were very friendly. Suspiciously so for my skeptical personality. We introduced ourselves, shared a little about who we were, what we were studying, etc. The other couple stayed incredibly up-beat and chipper the entire time.

After several minutes of chit-chat we closed the door. “Wow,” I remarked to my wife. “Someone’s working hard to appear really happy.”

I Was The Problem

My skepticism over the overly friendly couple proved false. A few months later I found myself working alongside the husband on campus. Our wives became friends. We spent a lot of time together. They weren’t trying to appear happy. They were just joyful.

And they were joyful in everything. Their joy didn’t shrink in the face of hard things. They weren’t blindly optimistic. One of the more amusing moments of my life was watching her cheerfully get upset when she felt her husband had been mistreated.

It took a little time, but our friendship with this couple made me re-consider my whole concept of joy. Joy wasn’t acting happy even when things were difficult. Joy wasn’t the product of forced effort in spite of authentic feelings. There was something else to it.

Joy wasn’t the product of forced effort in spite of authentic feelings. There was something else to it.

Eureka

I’m not sure how I missed it for all the prior years, but suddenly passages of Scripture that referenced joy began regularly jumping off the page at me:

  • “You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” –Psalm 16:11
  • “For You make him most blessed forever; You make him glad with the joy of Your presence.” –Psalm 21:6
  • “Let those who delight in My righteousness shout for joy and be glad…” -Psalm 35:7
  • “With joy you will draw waters from the well of salvation.” -Isaiah 12:3
  • “Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.” -Jeremiah 15:16
  • “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” -Habakkuk 3:18
  • For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.-Romans 14:17
  • “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; against such things there is no law.” –Galatians 5:22-23

Examples are aplenty, but the theme jumped out at me over and over: joy and regularly experiencing God’s presence are inseperable.

Down Go the Defense Mechanisms

“Yeah, but I have a quiet time. I read my Bible. I pray… more regularly than most. I must be missing something.”

That’s what I told myself for a while. Surely I was doing everything I was supposed to be doing and the problem was external. I checked all the boxes, so why wasn’t I experiencing this kind of joy? It must just be my personality.

That all came down one faithful day as I heard a teaching on abiding in Christ that I had heard a million times before. In John 15 as Jesus probably strolls through a vineyard on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane He said:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.

John 15:4

Then, the lightbulb moment. Joy is a fruit.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is… joy”

Galatians 5:22

I was struck with the conviction that I wasn’t experiencing joy because, in spite of all the perceived “spiritual” activity I was engaged in, I wasn’t actually abiding. My prayer times were formulaic instead of conversations. My Bible-reading was ritualistic as opposed to breathing in the Word of God. I allowed myself to dwell on the difficult instead of intentionally rejoicing.

The Rubber Met the Road

The most drastic change I made after that eureka moment was in how I resolved to answer a simple question everyone is asked multiple times a day: “How are you?”

Prior to that moment, my default answer centered on how busy I was, how something had happened that did not meet my expectations, or some other generally negative response. Now, I resolved that whenever I was asked some version of “How are you?” I would instead think about one thing that had recently gone well and share that.

Several months later I was in a conversation with a student I had known for a brief time. During the course of the conversation I confessed to not being in a great mood. The student was taken aback. Shock filled his face as he exclaimed, “But you’re always so… happy!”

I couldn’t help it. I burst out laughing. “No, no, no, no, no,” I said. “I’m generally a pretty miserable person.”

“Are you kidding? You’re one of the happiest people I know,” he replied.

Dumbfounded, I thanked him and walked away to consider what just happened. Then, I remembered that I had only known this student since I had made the simple decision to answer every version of “How are you?” with a positive answer.

It had worked. I still saw myself the same way. I still had many of the same thought processes. But joy was evident to others in a very tangible way.

Where We Miss the Mark

Many of us conflate joy with optimism. I am no optimist. But I have learned that joy can be cultivated to an extent that even my pessimistic, pragmatic, realistic self can display Christ-centered joy to students who don’t even know Jesus. Reflect on these two questions as you evaluate your joy meter:

  • Are you abiding in Christ? I don’t mean are you having a quiet time. I mean are you actually connecting with Jesus in real, meaningful ways? Are you allowing Him to minister to the deepest parts of your heart and soul on a regular basis? If not, what is preventing it?
  • Are you looking for joy? The Bible talks a lot about remembering the Lord and what He’s done for us. Do you have an intentional practice to “forget not all His benefits?” (Ps. 103:4) It can be as simple as my practice of choosing to respond to “How are you?” in a positive manner.

Life Rule Check-In, 2 Weeks In

From time to time I’d like to give an update on how I’ve done living according to my newly established life rule. Hopefully this can be an encouragement to you as you consider developing or adapting a rule of life to help you follow in Jesus’ path and/or align your life patterns with your stated values.

Overall

In a macro-sense, this experiment has been incredible. My wife noted yesterday that in the last few weeks I’ve been much more at ease, my stress level is way down, I seem happier, I’m much more attentive to her and my kids, and my presence is more calming. I’ve been able to keep all of my rules regarding phone usage and have been vigilant that, once I step away from my work for the day, it stays away. Since the phone was such a hindrance to my faith by making me buy-in to the lie that I always had to be available and by enabling my desire to escape rather than engage, putting it down and removing distractions from it has been a vital step. I’m happy to report that, after the first week of my life rule, my screen time report informed me that my usage was down 61% from the previous week. In the second week, it was down another 13%. This is while still needing my phone to text, call, and FaceTime students and ministry leaders for at least an hour a day. Putting the phone down has been incredibly freeing and life-giving.

The Specifics

  • Before I open my phone in the morning, I will first do my devotion time. With the exception of the morning that I overslept and woke up to needing to get breakfast ready and get to work before I had a chance to stop, this has been a success. Previously, I would have spent 30-45 minutes on social media or playing games before I did a quick devotion time. Now, I make a cup of coffee and have a nice, leisurely devotion time. Stepping into the day in better communion with the Father has made a world of difference.
  • Pray a Psalm a day. With the same exception as listed above, this has been a success. I love praying the Psalms!
  • I will put a weekly Sabbath on my calendar. Yes, and it’s great.
  • Part of my Sabbath will include a weekly reflection journal. Nope, haven’t done this yet. I’m terrible at journaling, but know this will be we welcome and helpful addition. I’ll do it this week.
  • Call a friend once a week. Yes, and it’s been great to catch up with people just because.
  • Arrange to do something fun with someone I’m not related to once a month. There hasn’t bee much of an opportunity to do this yet (social distancing and all), but I’ll figure something out in the next two weeks.
  • Find a way to go on a date with Jenna at least once a month. Again, this has been difficult because of social distancing, but I’ll figure something out, especially with Mother’s Day approaching.
  • Have an activity that I do with Ava and Caleb individually at least once a month. Ava has an activity. Caleb does not yet. In the next two weeks, we’ll find something.
  • After 6 PM, put my phone down for work-related purposes. This was amended to 8 PM pretty quickly because I was having some meetings that started at 8 PM. It’s hard to put your phone down for work-related purposes when you’re getting texts about the Zoom link at 8:05. However, I do have all the apps on my phone except calling and texting locked after 7 PM until 7 AM the next morning.
  • No phone in the bathroom. Take time to pray. Some yes and some no. Haven’t done as great with this one as with others.
  • Limit TV consumption to 10 hours a week or less. I went a little over this past week because we introduced our kids to the original Star Wars movies over the weekend.
  • Limit podcast consumption to 1.5 hours a day. I didn’t realize how hard this would be. I generally listen to podcasts while I work. I’ve had to filter down the ones that I listen to pretty drastically. Some days I hit this and some days I go over. Still in progress.
  • No multi-tasking. Ugh. I love multi-tasking. I’ve done better at being present with my family, but some of those Zoom meetings…
  • No social media on my phone (IG ok, since it has phone-only features that I use for work). This was actually pretty easy. Everything has stayed off my phone and I installed a strict 15 minute a day limit on IG. I even managed to do a 5 minute IG live one day and still stay under my limit.
  • No email on my phone. Done. Don’t miss it or the incessant bings.
  • Begin to systematically appraise purchases based on how products are produced. I mostly intended clothing when I wrote this, but I am beginning to wonder if I should include food and other goods, too. It will be a matter of prayer over the next few weeks.
  • Utilize the Daily Office to guide my devotion time. Love, love, love the Daily Office. This was a great decision.

In Summation

I don’t want to go back to the way things were before this. Obviously, I’ve got a few areas to shore up on my plan, but overall this has been faith-affirming, life-giving, and a much needed change. I fee like my habits (those small decisions you make minute-to-minute without even really thinking about them) are beginning to align with what I say I value, what is eternally important, and bring me nearer to the heart of Jesus.

Nope, not going back.