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Simplifying life with God down to its essence

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Simplicity is about setting aside extraneous concerns and reducing things down to their essence. What if you could ask a great spiritual master to reduce things down to their essence? Let's hear how one such person would answer that question. There's nothing like a crisis in life to give you an urgent need to simplify things. Henri Nouwen was known as one of the great Christian spiritual masters of the twentieth century. At one point, he went through a period of intense personal and relational upheaval. During that period, he had to reduce his life with God down to its essence. It was a matter of inner survival.  If we could have sat down with him on an early spring day in 1988 and asked him to simplify the Christian life for us, he would have had a clear answer, born of his own crisis. Here he is talking to himself in his personal journal from that time... Your main question should always be whether something is lived with or without God. You have your own inner knowledge to ans…

It's simple: say the good thing you are thinking... a true story

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The Simple Way of Jesus is made up of many small decisions to bless people. Here's a story from last week of how one blessing led to another, and two of us walked away marveling over how delicious God's kingdom is.


My friend Dave Pabalate and I had a lunch appointment last Friday, and we decided to eat at the Chick-fil-A on Madison by the 80 freeway. (I'm telling you which Chick-Fil-A so you can bless the Mason family, who owns the place, with some business.)

As we ordered our sandwiches, the young woman behind the counter asked what the name was for the order. "David," I replied. She was courteous, looked us in the eye and smiled. In today's customer service world, those qualities are not to be taken for granted.

One of the habits I have gotten into as a way of living out Jesus' Simple Way is to find out the name of a server and try to use it at least once. So I looked at her name tag. "Emma." As we walked away to get our drinks, I made eye con…

What is the Simple Way of Jesus?

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In January 2015, after a PhD in theology and a decade of being a full-time pastor, I began a concentrated study of the person of Jesus. This study has been a complete game changer for me. I have read numerous books about Jesus and preached dozens of messages out of the book of Matthew. I feel like I have been completely reintroduced to Jesus. And the more I know Jesus, the more I want to know him. He's that captivating a person!

Along the way as I preached for week after week out of Jesus' great Sermon on the Mount, one observation kept popping up. It's one of the most important things I've learned about Jesus. He promotes a connection with God and a way of life that is stunningly simple. He cuts through red tape like he was born with a machete in his hand.


Here's an example. In the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said,

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecu…

Justice, political correctness and offending people -- what would Jesus do?

Justice, political correctness and offending people -- what would Jesus do?

In this week's news, it was reported that ESPN has removed Asian-American broadcaster Robert Lee from the Virginia football telecast because his name happens to be Robert Lee... you know, the same as the Confederate General Robert Lee. Defending their action, ESPN says they wanted to protect broadcaster Lee from all the "Robert Lee is marching into Virginia" jokes and memes he might suffer. Hmm. Methinks it has more to do with getting caught up in a culture where wanting to avoid offending people reaches the point of hysteria. As the Washington Post put it, "ESPN proves it is the worldwide leader in silliness."

The American gospel desperately urges us to avoid offending people. What would Jesus do?

Last week I spoke at Sanctuary about doing justice Jesus-style.
Fact: Jesus did not desperately avoid offending people. Fact: Jesus was constantly saying things that offended people. Fact: If…

Connecting with God when it feels like nothing special is happening

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I read recently that Facebook has been known to lead to depression. This person just enjoyed a vacation to Hawaii. That person's kids are cuter and apparently don't act up like yours. And that friend over there just won another award. If you're feeling sassy about your life, you join in on the bragging parade. If that little gray cloud is hovering over you reminding you of how things just aren't turning out, Facebook makes it worse.

Today I decided to raise my fist in protest by writing a post about the morning my walk with God was less like leaping forward and more like shuffling along. It's like getting on Facebook and posting, "Nothing special happened in my world this morning. You feel me?"


This morning I got up and made tea like usual. I sat in my chair like usual. I began my prayer time, like usual, with these words:
"You were [God’s] enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through…

Cultivating contentment

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Wherever you are, there are two ways to be there: discontent or grateful. For instance, when I work from home, there are two ways to be here.

1. I notice what's wrong. ("These carpets look horrible." "We need to gut the bathroom." "When am I going to fix the kitchen floor so we can have a fridge inside our house?")

--- OR ---

2. I notice what's right. ("There's a mockingbird that sits in the top of our tree and sings all day." "It's calming just to look at the pool." "I'm really digging our new couch.")

It takes no effort to notice what's wrong. It takes intentionality to notice what's right.

There is discontentment and misery in noticing what's wrong. There is gratitude and joy in noticing what's right.
Wherever you are and will be today, simply do this: "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is exc…

How to enjoy spending time with God

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Spending time alone with God should be the most natural, enjoyable thing we ever do. But for a lot of Christians it's awkward and frustrating. There's a better way, and it's simple. Today I want to give you the all-important starting point to enjoying time with God.

If you've been around Christian circles, you know we value spending time alone with God. It's one of those things all Christians should do. ("Should" -- I've come to look sideways at that word. It is the source of much evil.) The problem is, if you're like a lot of people, you don't enjoy spending time alone with God. You likely feel that you don't know what to do. You try it, but all the while, you fret that you probably aren't doing it right. But dutiful you, you plow through devotions -- at least a handful of times. But it's confusing, feels like work, and makes you anxious. Soon and very soon there comes that day when you decide to walk past your Bible and pick up t…

How to pray the words, "My body longs for God" (Psalm 63:1)

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Psalm 63:1 says, "My body longs for you." What does it feel like to physically long for God? How might longing for God contributes to your happiness? And how can you engage in this kind of prayer? Here are two realizations I came to over after meditating on "my body longs for God" for just fifteen minutes.



Realization #1: "My body longs for God" can feel like a Great Calm. 
I have prayed "my body longs for you" many times, and most often I have thought of it as a longing for God that is like frantically searching for a lost wallet. Indeed, sometimes bodily longing for God has a sense of guttural desperation. But not today.

This morning "my body longs for you" didn't like desperation. Instead I unexpectedly drifted into a Great Calm. And I realized that being embraced by the Great Calm was not the opposite of longing for God. It was longing for God. And that's why I wanted to tell you about it. This is great news for those of us …

How more money might not make you happier

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In last week's post, I talked about how J. D. Roth's book, Money: The Missing Manual starts out with a discussion of happiness. Here is the graphic that has stuck with me: The Fulfillment Curve.


Here's how it works.

When you spend money on survival needs (food, clothing, shelter, safety), that money delivers you a great deal of fulfillment. When you buy basic comforts (a chair, a pillow, a second pair of pants), these items bring you fulfillment but not as much as your survival needs. Eventually, especially if you are an American, you likely get to spend money on luxuries (a house, a more comfortable bed, a wardrobe of clothing that is stylish and functional enough to make you feel pretty good). This puts you at the top of The Fulfillment Curve. 
The mistake many people make is that they keep hungering to spend more. Here's how Roth describes the plunge over the top of The Fulfillment Curve:
Buying a sofa made you happy, so you buy recliners to match. Your DVD collectio…

Connections between money, possessions and happiness

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I am gearing up to lead a discussion this Sunday at Sanctuary about possessions and happiness. Jesus warns people not to make too much of money. For the typical American -- even the typical American Christian -- this message falls on deaf ears.


I will argue that Jesus wasn't out to require his followers to live in poverty. Rather, he wanted them to be acutely aware how a desire for money and all it can buy us can worm its way into our hearts and become the key by which we make decisions. Be free, and you can live free -- and this can happen for both the poor and the rich.

Personal finance write J. D. Roth holds a fascinating discussion of the relationship between possessions and happiness in the first chapter of his book, Your Money: The Missing Manual. He makes the argument that whereas money can help bring you limited happiness, money's impact on happiness is actually much smaller than we usually think. After you have gained the basic necessities of food, safety, clothing an…

Loving others and loving self

A couple days ago I posted a collection of quotes from Don Richard Riso on "real love." One of those quotes -- a proverb, really -- led me to think more deeply. 
"Real love seeks nothing for itself but is not self-forgetting."
There is so much wisdom in this proverb that it is worth its own post. I have spent my adult life seeking to grow in real love. Much of what I have done has focused on the first half of the proverb: "seeks nothing for itself." This has meant finding ways to lay down my life for the good of others. As a spiritual leader, I am always looking to influence people to love in this way. 
Lately I have been learning that the second half -- "not self-forgetting" -- is just as important as the first half. Believe it or not, this has come as a bit of a revelation to me. I come from a family that leans toward seeking the good of others, even sometimes at the expense of self (and family). For some folks, it can be difficult to give ou…

A call to real love