Gut Discipleship

One of the major concepts behind the work of James K. A. Smith is that discipleship and formation is much more about the gut, or the complex world of intuitive motivations shaped by culture and liturgy, than it is about cerebral reflection and information acquisition. Culture eats Bible reading for breakfast in other words. Now this proposition has some allies throughout church history and is still advanced in many high church traditions which champion formation through very formal liturgy (the jury is still out on the long term effectiveness of such rigid liturgies).

An unexpected ally to Smith is Simon Sinek who in his book Start with Why, posits a mirror like vision for the business and leadership community. In Sinek’s work, he advances the concept that we are motivated by ‘why’ more than ‘how’ and ‘what’ in decision making. It is the ‘why’ which biologically connects with the region of our brain that shapes decision making. Sinek discusses the neurobiology of motivation and links that to his thesis that we must start with ‘why’ as leaders.

What I find interesting is that Sinek’s work, while not Christian or very theological in the traditional sense, makes a better case for Smith’s concepts than Smith. Because Sinek doesn’t attempt to make Christian formation all about the ‘why,’ he avoids the landmines which Smith encounters when he makes formation a linear causality of culture>will>intellect. While Sinek and Smith may actually be saying much of the same thing, Smith creates more problems than solutions in making the entire theological discipline dependent on cultural formation and liturgy. Sinek avoid this error by staying in his lane and makes a compelling case for his thesis.

All of this to say, both Smith and Sinek are on to something important when it comes to formation and discipleship: we must pay attention to how we are formed and what is motivating us. To believe that we are simply formed into Christ by intellectual information transmission is myopic. Many of us have tunnel vision when it comes to discipleship and as a result experience a truncated relationship with Jesus and his church. Sinek and Smith both seek to disturb the assumed norm that information leads to transformation and for that we should be thankful.

Theological Method

Dr. Don Payne is fond of saying that theological method is akin to clearing one’s throat before talking. That is to say, theological method is what gets you ready to talk theologically. According to Mary Veeneman, there are generally three things to be considered when deconstructing theological method. First, one should look at what the theologian uses for primary sources of theological reflection. Second, consideration should be made for what questions the theologian is answering. In other words, are the questions being answered by the theologian based on a “standard set of questions” or do they arise from contemporary concerns?  Third, the starting point of the theologian’s work should be examined.

A starting point in theology at this point for me is triperspectivalism grounded in the Trinity.  I view knowledge as being rooted triperspectivally such that one can discover knowledge from the normative, existential, and situational perspectives. A primary source for theology for me in this starting point is the Bible. The Bible is the guiding document for the theological enterprise as well as the main source for theological reflection. However, our reading of God’s word is always imperfect. Therefore, I never want to overestimate my own ability to fully understand what God says. Not only is the normative the Bible, the normative also contains rules and laws both natural and created in my mind and the world. My internal and subjective experience is an additional source of theological reflection. While my internal and subjective experience is not necessarily true, it is a source of theological reflection. The third perspective, or the situational, describes the context and embodied nature of my reality which I can utilize as a source for theological reflection. This situational reflection is the place in which theology gets played out. As I experience God and learn more about him, I attempt to obey him in my life. This is not to say that it is linear. The way I live my life can also inform what I assume to be true and how I read the Bible. 

I still maintain the gospel as a second starting point in my theological method as I did before this class. When seen through the lens of triperspectivalism, the gospel shows us what is true, good, and beautiful. I would align myself with a more centered set approach to theology with the gospel being the center. I find Michael Bird’s systematic theology especially helpful in seeing how the gospel can be a useful source for theological method. Bird provides a very robust understanding of how the gospel informs others doctrines.

My methods for organizing or relating doctrines would be to show them in relation to the Trinity with a particular emphasis on the centrality of the gospel as highlighted by all three members of the Trinity acting in concert. For example, in ecclesiology, I can highlight the particular relationship the church has to the Father, Son, and Spirit. The Father chose those in the church. The Son serves as the head of the church which is his body. The Spirit is the animating presence of God in the church. If I had to order a sequence for a systematic theology it would be: Trinity (General Revelation) (Father, Son, Spirit), Word (Specific Revelation) (Christology), Gospel, Anthropology, Sin, Soteriology, Pneumatology, Ecclesiology, Eschatology. 

I think this is the best method for doing theology because it allows for me to maintain a connection to tradition and to common questions addressed by people. The situational perspective of triperspectivalism allows for me to constantly be re-thinking my theology based on contemporary questions. The existential perspective allows for me to stay in touch with my story and how my feelings and perceptions affect my trust of God and others. Triperspectivalism allows me to not stay entrenched in tradition or context but utilize both in doing theology. It provides the benefits of both a bounded set and centered set. I can think in terms of what is true, how I experience what is true, and how that should play out.

This method plays out in my personal faith by shaping my prayer. My prayers have become much more robustly Trinitarian over the last few years. I find myself better to articulate and celebrate the various ways the Godhead has acted in the gospel. I find myself coming back to the reality of sin in my life and yet forgiveness in Christ because of the gospel. 

This method also plays out in my studies. I am constantly seeing triads connected to the Trinity. For example, in a class on May 2, we discussed coherence, consistency, and compatibility as three ways of doing theology biblically. I view these three as complementary instead of competing based on triperspectivalism. One could call the consistency method the normative perspective. The coherence method would be the existential perspective. The compatibility method would be the situational.

I see the gospel and the Trinity in various things in the world. In some ways, I understand how Edwards become so fixated on typology. Once I see the gospel and the Trinity as a central theme in the world, it is hard not to see every story and all of creation through those lenses. 

This method plays out in my ministry by allowing me to be patient with people when they are confused. Prior to having a more balanced theological method, I became frustrated when people would not understand or see the logical conclusions I was making theologically. For example, when I was teaching about Calvinism, I would become frustrated because the system makes sense and I couldn’t understand how people could not see that. Instead, I can now see that the logical ruthlessness of Calvinism can get in the way of people knowing God sometimes. I am still very Calvinistic in my preaching and ministry but now I am more sympathetic and understanding with people. 

When I look at the ministry we have at The Well, I am looking for the gospel to come alive in everyone through a triperspectival lens. I’m looking for people to grow in their trust of God with their desires and affections (existential). I want people to grow in their trust of God with what they believe (normative). And I want people to grow in their trust of God with their behavior and lived lives (situational).

This method plays out in my calling in many ways that are similar to when I wrote my summary of my calling for graduation in my M. Div. I feel called to lead God’s people (situational), to experience more of God’s love (existential), and to study more of God (normative). This allows for my calling to be well balanced. I refuse to embrace some kind of modern linear ‘being’ and ‘doing’ paradigm split when it comes to calling. I also feel that this triperspectival allows for flexibility in my vocation. I can lead God’s people in a variety of ways whether or not I am a professional minister. Ministry becomes an opportunity for gratitude rather than a begrudging ‘calling’ which I must suffer through. My experience of God is not determined by success in ministry but instead God’s love for me in uniting me to Christ and indwelling me with his Spirit. My mind does not become the only thing which must be redeemed and informed. It is one aspect of who I am called to be and something I am to steward rightly. 

What Is That Degree Called?

I think my dad has asked me 10 times what kind of degree I’m getting. It’s not his fault, it’s confusing. So here’s what’s going on. It’s 2019 and I’m wrapping up my second degree at Denver Seminary. I finished the first one in 2014 and it is called a Master of Divinity (M.Div.). The M.Div. is designed to be the standard degree seminaries and graduate schools offer for aspiring pastors. At the time I took the degree it was around 97 hours. They’ve sense reduced the course load to something around 75 hours to stay competitive with other seminaries. This degree was great at giving me a well rounded education on the Bible, Theology, ministry, leadership, etc. While I was wrapping up my degree I started to get this itch to study more about triperspectivalism. I found it really interesting and potentially important in the church’s mission to make disciples. So I started to look at my options.

I could try to self-publish a book working out my studies on triperspectivalism. But I’ve heard that his holiness Tim Keller say that writing a book when you’re young is foolish (I still might try to prove this wrong).

I could try to get a Ph.D. in theology. But I don’t feel like God is calling me away from my church right now to spend 6 years getting a Ph.D.

I could just blog on it. But I wanted some formal feedback on my ideas and concepts before I just put them out there.

I could look at other degree options. This is what I landed on.

Even if I still wanted to get a Ph.D. one day (which I am unsure about), I would need a degree that shows I can do extensive research (something the M.Div. didn’t require other than 40 page papers). So I started looking at Master of Theology (Th.M.) programs. Denver Seminary was offering a new Master of Theology program and some scholarships to go along with it. The Master of Theology degree is only 30 hours (so not like an Master of Arts which is typically more) and generally requires you to already have a masters. It is doctoral level work whereas a M.A. is not. It allows you to choose a speciality area of research for a thesis. It allows you to take seminar style courses. It also qualifies me to be a full member of the Evangelical Theological Society.

Think of a Th.M. like a modified doctoral degree which qualifies you to teach at seminaries and graduate schools (even if you probably wouldn’t be a full time professor without a Ph.D.). Even if I wanted to get a Ph.D. one day, they would require me to get this degree first. So that’s what I did and why I did it. I was considering Westminster Theological Seminary because of it’s reputation and connection to John Frame but it’s distance and cost was a deterrent (even though they sent me a Greek NT with my initials on it with my acceptance letter). My time at Denver Seminary has been such a gift and was a great fit for what I wanted to research and the type of people I wanted to get feedback from.

Thesis

My thesis at Denver Seminary is entitled “An Analysis of James K. A. Smith’s Theology of Christian Spiritual Formation in Light of John Frame’s Triperspectivalism.” That’s a mouthful so here’s a synopsis.

James K. A. Smith’s writings are very popular right now within church leadership and Christian education circles (worship leaders seem especially excited about his emphasis on the importance of liturgy). His writing style is approachable (if dense at times) and engaging. He critiques what he believes many evangelical organizations practice as formation, the transmission of propositional truths to people. I find his arguments compelling and helpful but also overstated and incomplete. In order to analyze Smith’s proposals, I use the triperspectivalism of John Frame.

Triperspectivalism is a theological method based in the Trinity. It approaches knowledge from three perspectives; the normative, the existential, and the situational. From the normative perspective, we engage the standards, norms, and rules of God’s world (the Bible is considered the norming norm). From the existential perspective, we engage the affections, desires, and emotions of one’s internal world. From the situational perspective, we engage the world by looking at the context and embodied situation we find ourselves within. By using triperspectivalism, I hope to point out where deficiencies exist and improvements could be made to Smith’s argument. I also hope to show that triperspectivalism is a legitimate way to think about Christian spiritual formation. Not only this, but I think triperspectivalism could be used to create a philosophy of formation or discipleship (much like we do at The Well through Dig Groups) for churches and ministries.

If you’re not bored yet, check out my thesis here (copyright pending). The reading can be pretty dry so if you ever want to chat about this stuff more, connect with me.

What are Spiritual Gifts?

Bernini, Alabaster window from  Cathedra Petri  (1647-53), St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican

Bernini, Alabaster window from Cathedra Petri (1647-53), St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican

Spiritual gifts are something of a curiosity amongst most Christians. Most are not sure about the parameters of the gifting (where, when, and with whom they should be utilized) and the difference between them. Many Christians are confused as to where spiritual gifts come from and seek out spiritual gifts inventories or assessments to bring clarity. This summer at The Well, we’re preaching a series on spiritual gifts. Here’s some of what we’ll be working through.

1 Corinthians 12:1 “Now concerning spiritual gifts: brothers and sisters I do not want you to be unaware.” Thomas Schreiner defines spiritual gifts as “gifts of grace granted by the Holy Spirit which are designed for the edification of the church” (Thomas R. Schreiner, Spiritual Gifts: What They Are & Why They Matter (Nashville: B&H, 2018), 16). In his work he shows 15 gifts mentioned between Romans 12:6-8, 1 Cor. 12:7-10, 1 Cor.12:28, and Eph. 4:11. Based on 1 Peter 4:11, Schreiner divides the groupings into two categories: gifts of speaking and gifts of serving. A question that must be addressed is the nature of spiritual gifts. Are spiritual gifts something which are inherently within people (a talent such as teaching which is then renewed and considered a spiritual gift when done with the Holy Spirit) or are spiritual gifts totally devoid of personality?

Schreiner at length: “Gifts such as teaching, helps, leading, giving, mercy, and exhortation are not as remarkable to the human eye, though they are still supernatural in the sense that they are animated by the Holy Spirit, and any good effect is also from the Spirit. It seems likely that some of the latter gifts are stitched into one’s personality in a way that gifts like tongues and miracles are not. But the supernatural character of the gift is not thereby denied, for even in this case the gift comes from God. And the good that results from the exercise of the gift comes from the Holy Spirit, not our native talent.” I personally believe that Schreiner paints too stark of a different between native talent and personality being so abjectly empty. I agree that we need the Spirit’s animating presence for our ministry to be effective however, it could be argued that because we are indwelled with the Spirit (all Christians are from conversion), that the Spirit animates my personality to be a life giving presence to others (Cf. The Relational Soul).

On this topic Sam Storms makes note that the lists in the New Testaments vary and are probably not the extent of the gifts the Spirit gives. Regarding personality he says “the lists contain an amazing mixture of what we might regard as supernatural and natural gifts.” (Sam Storms, The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2012), 38). Paul however doesn’t make a distinction between natural and supernatural gifts even if some “appear to be more overt expressions of divine powers than others.” Storms makes clear that “if there are other gifts that God gives, they must conform to the same principles and rules of practice set forth in the Bible by which all gifts are judged.”

Because we read the Bible through the lens of a more scientific and enlightenment perspective, we expect the lists to not only be the boundaries of the gifts in terms of the quantity of gifts distributed, we also expect to clearly differentiate and measure each gift listed. This is not necessarily helpful or an accurate picture of the gifts biblically. 

In determining the value and healthy expression of gifts, Schreiner comments that “the lordship of Christ is the criterion by which gifts are assessed.” The gifts must be centered, grounded, and tethered to the reality of the gospel. The gifts are given for the building up of the body of Christ, the church. Gifts should lead to a greater understanding and knowledge of God. Love is listed by Paul as a standard by which gifts must be exercised in order to be useful and effective for ministry.

Every believer has at least one spiritual gift (Rom. 12:6; Eph. 4:7). More than taking a spiritual gifts inventory or assessment to determine one’s spiritual gifts, “we will discover our spiritual gift when we pour ourselves into the lives of other believers, when we get involved in the life of the body” (Storms, 203). Storms suggests that spiritual gifts inventories and assessments are not as useful and that practice is most important in discovering your gifts. As he says “if you’re still wondering what your gift(s) might be, act first and ask later.”

We should have a realistic assessment of our own giftings and potential. This comes through feedback in community and through trial and error. “Our gifts come from the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, showing that the source of our gifts is the Triune God” (Schreiner, 37). Here, Schreiner is referencing 1 Cor. 12:4-6 where Paul is highlighting the Trinitarian equality and differences in the distribution of gifts. “Some gifts are better functionally, in that they build up and strengthen the body, but it doesn’t follow from this that the persons with such gifts have more value, dignity, and worth than those who don’t have the same gift.”

Sam Storms sums up spiritual gifts in the following way: “They are the manifestation and power of God the Holy Spirit through which he intends to lead the Church into the fullness of its ordained end.” “Spiritual gifts are not God bestowing to His people something external to himself. They are not some tangible ‘stuff’ or substance separable from God. Spiritual gifts are nothing less than God Himself in us, energizing our souls, imparting revelation to our minds, infusing power in our wills and working His sovereign and gracious purposes through us.” “Knowing what the gifts are is only half the story. We have to possess the practical wisdom, the spiritual skill, in knowing how and when and for whom the gifts are designed to operate.” Discernment is an essential component of a healthy expression of spiritual giftings. Discernment itself is something we must seek from the Spirit.

Everyone has spiritual gifts not just people in official ministries positions or with certain experiences. “Spiritual gifts are not roles. Roles are those opportunities for ministry common and available to everyone.” Everyone is called to evangelize even if not all have the specific gift of evangelism. Paul commands the church at Corinth to pursue spiritual gifts. What makes a gift spiritual? That it is done in the Spirit. They are gifts animated by the Spirit. Boyd Hunt says that “Spiritual gifts are God empowering His people through the Holy Spirit for kingdom life and service, enabling them in attitude and action to live and minster in a manner which glorifies Christ” (Made use of in Graham Cole’s He Who Gives Life, 249). Cole warns that “there is no reason for thinking that the lists of gifts in the various passages are meant to be exhaustive.”

The Holy Spirit is essential in mission. There is no mission of God in the world without the Spirit working. “Without the gifts, guidance and power of the Spirit, our mission is mere human effort” (“The Cape Town Commitment” 1.5, March 27, 2011, www.lausanne.org/ctcommitment). This is not to downplay effort but to emphasize that effort must be informed by the Spirit’s work. “God’s Spirit has a penchant for using God’s people to accomplish God’s purposes” (Gary Tyra, The Holy Spirit in Mission: Prophetic Speech and Action in Christian Witness (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2011), 12.).

If there was any doubt about the essential nature of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church, Gary Tyra has made the following list for the ways that the Holy Spirit fills or indwells human beings:

  • Convicting them of sin and their need for a savior (Jn 16:7-11)

  • Enabling them to experience the “new birth” (Jn 3:3-8)

  • Assuring them that they have become God’s children (Rom 8:15-16)

  • Leading them into a deeper understanding of Christ (Jn 16:12-15)

  • Serving as a guarantee of their heavenly inheritance (Eph 1:13-14)

  • Inspiring among them a vital, joyful, prophetic worship experience (Eph 5:18-20)

  • Manifesting his presence and power in their lives in. Various edifying, community-building ways (1 Cor 12:4-8)

  • Empowering them to actually obey God’s moral commands (Rom 8:1-4)

  • Producing within them the very personality and character traits of Christ himself (Gal 5:22-25)

  • Enabling them to pray according to the will of the Father (Rom 8:26-27)

  • Empowering them to boldly and effectively bear witness to their risen Lord (Acts 1:8)

  • Providing them with an amazingly precise degree of ministry guidance (Acts 16:6-10)

  • Enabling them to stand firm in the faith and to intercede for others in this regard (Eph 6:10-18)

  • Enabling them to experience a dynamic, despair-defeating sense of hope (Rom 15:13)

A missional church must be a Spirit filled church. It must be. In fact in could be argued that what makes a church a church, is that it is filled with the Spirit. The hope of this series is that people would have a better understanding of spiritual gifts. This better understanding of spiritual gifts will enable people to love and serve one another and our community. By placing a consistent emphasis on the Spirit’s work preceding and informing our efforts, we hope to see our church grow in being Spirit led. 

Using Personality Profiles

Understaning You.

Getting to know yourself.

Personality profiles are helpful tools to grow relationally. They can help leaders become more effective. They can help people have more grace and understanding with one another. They can help individuals understand their calling more. A particular assessment, the Enneagram, seems to be very popular right now with business leaders and church leaders alike. Because we've been using this at The Well for a few years now, I wanted to share some perspectives on utilizing it, and other personality assessments, well.  

1. Personality profiles can be useful to explain who you are but they should never be used as a means to excuse bad behavior. They might explain bad behavior but once we start down the path of excusing our bad behavior based on our personality, we are essentially hardening our hearts to sin. We shouldn't lord our personality profile over people expecting them to understand us more or to give us forgiveness for true offenses.  

2. Another helpful way personality profiles can be useful is by painting a picture of who we are. Every profile has different categories and types. It gives you a more full idea of the complex and sometimes complicated people we are. However, it is not helpful to view yourself and others myopically within the type or profile. You see this when people talk about being introverted or extroverted as if that is the end all be all of their personality. Or, when speaking of the Enneagram, they will refer to themselves with only one style instead the of the multifaceted picture that the test provides with each style. Don't get fixated on the type as being a sort of aspirational person you need to become. Let the type or style that the profile generates for you be a helpful tool to reflect upon how God has wired you.

When we cast-type ourselves or others in certain styles, we box them in and limit the way God can work through people. Boxing people in doesn't honor the image of God in them and the beautiful way we are all individually made. 

3. A third way to misuse the profiles and assessments is to take them as the gospel for your life. It's common to get profiles and assessments back and give them more credit than they deserve. At the end of the day, personality profiles are taking your answers about yourself and filtering them into categories. Your perception of yourself can be badly mistaken. You can have a very idealized distortion of who you are. It's even worse if we take the test multiple times because we can learn how to make the test generate the type of person we wish we were instead of who we actually are.

What do you think? How have you found personality profiles helpful?

Emotional Ignorance

Emotional Intelligence has received an abundance of attention over the last few decades within leadership circles. It has been sold as a bill of goods that can make you more effective, increase productivity, and help you be more satisfied at work. Sounds good. When we think of emotional intelligence as followers of Jesus, it is important to remember that the gospel frees us to admit our faults and invites us to grow in grace. An aspect of the gospel is it's effect on emotional intelligence. So here's some helpful ways to think about EI:

Emotional Ignorance

Emotional Ignorance looks like experiencing something you don't like or that hurt you and promising to never let it happen again. This is not bad but it leads to the next phase where the ignorance takes root. You vow or promise to yourself that you will not behave in the same way without acknowledging your own inability to do so. This is how you begin to blind yourself. For example, you see someone boast about their work performance. You hate it. You have contempt for that person. You determine to never be that person. BUT, you don't acknowledge that you have your own struggles with pride and boasting in other ways. 

So then you develop an internal set of values which on its face seems good but is contrary to who you are. For example, let's say you are a gifted salesperson. Salespeople can tend to view the truth like a cake, you can shape it and craft it in different ways. It's malleable. So if you have an internal value of honesty but your natural gifting is sales, then you will invariable have self-contempt and you have started down the road to ignorance (blindness). You will eventually do one of two things: 1. You will expect other people with the same gifting to hate themselves like you hate themselves (and if you're a Christian you'll mask it with the phrase 'killing sin'). or 2. You will attack in others what you hate in yourself. You will do so violently and with reckless abandon and with the same distaste, displeasure, and disdain for the gifting that God has given you. This is at it's core hypocrisy. The sin that Jesus loved to highlight and destroy. This is why emotional intelligence matters. 

Emotional Intelligence

On the other hand you can be emotionally intelligent. You can acknowledge that you had a bad experience and suffered pain. You can recognize that this has shaped you without becoming a reaction to the pain. We are all formed by are pain and woundedness but it is the narrative we develop that shapes our emotional intelligence. You are able to admit and own up to the reality that your own value system is both a nurtured and natural wiring that is invariable affected by sin. Then you work to live out of God's calling for you so that you are consistent and not a walking contradiction. This enables you to give grace upon grace to those who you recognize have the same proclivities and woundedness as you rather than attacking them.

Emotional Intelligence looks like living authentically with your past which informs your present efforts to live out your future calling. You are aware of what has transpired and are able to admit it and walk with humility for how it might affect your calling in the future. 

A Well Balanced Meal

It has been well understood that a healthy diet consists of a variety of meats, vegetables, grains, etc. I really don't know because most of my diet consists of as many burgers as I can eat without feeling guilt and Chick-Fil-A. When thinking of being an online participant (of which you are if you're reading this post), it can be helpful to think of having a well balanced diet. You don't want to just consume what you like otherwise you become lazy and obese (unless you like vegetables, then the analogy breaks down and I'm not sure how to help you). 

You want to participate with a reasonable diversity of opinions to have a well balanced understanding of topics at hand. This the heart of the educational process and the opportunity afforded us who participate in the internets. That doesn't, however, mean force feeding yourself diverse opinions because somehow online participation necessarily dictates that you consume any and all forms of communication and information regardless of source. Discernment must come in to play at some point and so the question is how does one discern what to read. There is no rule that "one must follow 5 people with whom you disagree with on Facebook in order to be a good participant." So here are some helpful guidelines if you care about discernment. If not, have fun reading The Blaze and HuffPo.

1. Does the source, regardless of agreement with your positions, represent your positions fairly and accurately such that you would nod your head "yes" when reading? If no, then it's probably not worth your time. 

2. Does the source, regardless of agreement with your positions, represent your opponents position fairly and accurately such that your opponent might nod their head "yes" in agreement when reading?

3. Does the source display any regard for the truth being ascertainable? If no, then the source and body of content is meaningless because for them truth is inherently meaningless which leads to other questions such as why they would choose to participate in communication at all when grammar and language necessitate an agreement to definitions and said truth. But nonetheless, if the source shows an inability and outright denial that truth can be found, you might as well go clean a toddler's room during playtime because it'll be that productive. This last point could venture down the terrain of pre-suppositionalism (of which I am a fan but not a follower) but regardless feel free to use a pitcher of water on that four alarm fire but chances are you won't put it out and the fire will just get worse. 

As the search or even semblance of truth disappears, so does the ability to have any type of respectable and rational dialogue. If we were to argue about the best breed of dog, and yet you insisted that the wild cat roaming my neighborhood was included in the species canine, then we would not have a great deal of success. Rational discourse and dialogue must occur in the search for truth and believing it can be found. This is why our society continues to fragment and seems unable to even stand one anther's company. We cannot even discuss if men are men and women are women. 

What about you? How do you decide what to read and "consume" online?

 

Remembering Well

Remembering our past has the potential to erode our confidence in the present or strengthen our resolve. Nostalgia can make us feel shameful, bitter, and full of regret. However, thinking back on our lives can also breed insight and confidence for what is here and now. 

Kim and I at my granddad's cabin.

Kim and I at my granddad's cabin.

Gratitude

When we think back on where we've come from and what we've gone through, we can see God's grace at work in our lives. Even though we may not understand why we suffered in a certain way or went through a particularly difficult experience, we can see that it has made us in to who we are today. God placed friends or mentors in our lives during those times for whom we can be grateful. He has seen us through to today. Trails tend to produce character and dependence on God. We can chose to be thankful for God's grace in our lives.

Humility

When we think back on our lives, it should produce in us humility. We've all made mistakes and we've all strayed from the truth in someway (that's what sin is). We didn't get to where we are today because we've had it figured out but because God has worked in our lives despite our failures. We can look back on our lives and be humbled by all the help we've received along the way. Even when we were babies, we were dependent on someone else to take care of us; whether it was a grandparent, a mom or dad, a brother or sister. This should produce humility in us. 

Perspective

As we look back at what we've been through, we should be able to gain perspective for today. Perspective allows us to think outside the box and not get tunnel vision. Many times the trials of today and this week seem pressing. This is what is commonly called the tyranny of the urgent. The demands in front of us seem crippling and force us to make decisions that may not be best. Looking back at what we've been through gives us hope and patience for the task(s) in front of us.

An Example

One of my favorite family traditions growing up was going to my granddad's cabin in the mountains. It was a place of retreat and peace. We also had a lot of fun. I think about these trips a lot. Many times, I can feel sad and depressed that I'm not able to go to the cabin as often as I'd like. I can become frustrated that I can't live the life I lived at the cabin every day. But instead of becoming bitter and full of regret (see Naomi) because of not having that, I can let that memory inspire me to plan well for future trips with my family, I can thank God I had those experiences, and I can be humbled by God's grace in providing such a wonderful place to retreat. 

Back Then

This time of year is acutely nostalgic for me. July meant Kanakuk, summer sports wrapping up, avoiding yard work, days in the pool, and trips to my granddad's cabin. So every year around this time, I begin to listen to music (see Dashboard Confessional and Michael W. Smith and Jimmy Buffet [don't ask me why we listened to tropical music at a cabin in the mountains]) that I had forgotten about. I begin to lag on yard work around the house. I start looking at Priceline deals.  I long to go somewhere else with a taste of life that's refreshing.

Me circa 2003 at aforementioned cabin. 

Me circa 2003 at aforementioned cabin. 

Remembering life back then can be both painful and healthy. God often calls his people to remember what he has done and remember from where they have come. Remembering is a godly thing to do. As disciples of Jesus, there are at least a few ways nostalgia can derail our lives rather than energize it. 

Shame

When we look back at our lives, whether it was this morning or last decade, we can give in to this feeling of shame. This sense that we screwed up or made a fool of ourselves. I'm not talking about healthy repentance; this is self-destructive condemnation. It's the feeling of embarrassment over who we were or what we did or what we thought that makes us say to ourselves, "you're so stupid." This is not a godly way to remember our past.

Bitterness

Looking back, we can see that there were a lot of hard times. Trauma and pain are unique to every individual and we all experience it. Remembering our lives can lead us to believe that God was not good to us. That he wasn't around. That he abandoned us. That kind of thinking leads to present actions grounded a false narrative. We will begin to think that we need to defend ourselves, protect ourselves, or attack others. We begin to believe that God doesn't care.

Regret

Many of my friend's parents, right before we all went to college, said that the next few years would be the best of your life. I remember feeling so sad about that idea. These were a bunch of adults living with the regret that their lives were, at that time, not as good or memorable compared to what it used to be. This sense of regret or loss over what we had back then adds nothing to life now but insecurity and frustration. For many of us, we have good memories of 'back then' but the goal isn't to get back then, the goal is to let the goodness of the days gone by energize us to live today to the fullest before the face of God. 

Nostalgia can erode life today, but it can also kick-start life. That's coming up next...