The Emotionally Healthy Church

The Emotionally Healthy Church

          Peter Scazzero is the founder of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York, which is a large, multiracial church with more than seventy-three countries represented. After serving as the senior pastor for twenty-six years, Scazzero now serves as a teaching pastor with a primary focus on a groundbreaking ministry that equips churches in deep, beneath-the-surface spiritual formation, and integrates emotional health with contemplative spirituality.[1] Scazzero takes real life experiences from both his own personal life and those from New Life Fellowship members, no matter how painful, and uses them to take the reader on a liberating journey of freedom found through emotional and spiritual healing. During a crisis of faith, Scazzero came to realize, “The sad reality is that too many people in our churches are fixated at a stage of spiritual immaturity that current models of discipleship have not addressed, [exposing] the link between emotional health and spiritual maturity, [which] is a large unexplored area of discipleship.”[2] This is a central problem because there is also a direct correlation between the overall health of a church and that of its leadership.[3] In addition, Scazzero demonstrates, “The starting point for change in any nation, church, or ministry has always been with the leader first.”[4] Scazzero then found people could not be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature, especially when conflict was involved. This profound realization came after Scazzero’s wife Geri said, “I quit” to New Life, but after a brief sabbatical and counseling, God restored and equipped the Scazzero’s marriage, to bring about real change in the culture at New Life, and now countless others have been impacted. Through this restoration process, Scazzero discovered the degree to which people live in truth is also the degree to which people are truly free.

            Scazzero breaks his strategy of discipleship into four parts: (1) discipleship’s missing link, which focuses on leaders initiating the change; (2) biblical basis for a new paradigm of discipleship, which shows the relationship between emotional health and spiritual maturity; (3) seven principles of an emotionally healthy church, which takes inventory of where the church finds herself and forces a hard internal look, by pulling back the multiple layers to uncover areas for potential growth; and (4) where do we go from here? This last part demonstrates, “In the same way, our growth into Christlikeness requires we get rid of our old, hard, protective shells and allow God to take us to a new place in him, [it also] calls for a commitment to do the hard work – one day at a time,[5] so Scazzero’s model shows love and listening as a core components.

       One of the most compelling areas of Scazzero’s work involves a new paradigm shift in the discipleship process. What made this section so valuable was its application to both the individual and the corporate setting. When New Life began to implement what Scazzero uncovered, the church moved from being “human doings to human beings, [but this process started first with] Scazzero’s understanding of what it meant to minister out of who you are, not what you do.”[6] The concentric circles of applying emotional health[7] properly demonstrate the necessity for change to occur from the top down in terms of leadership and influence. In a church setting, this would start with the senior pastor, then his or her family and spouse, staff and interns, elders and board, actively serving leaders, leaders in development, rest of the congregation, and the wider community influenced by the church.

       Scazzero then demonstrates the necessity of understanding mankind is created in the image of God, which encompasses much more than merely the spiritual dimension; it also includes the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual dimensions. Scazzero illustrates by “Denying any aspect of what it means to be a fully human person made in the image of God carries with it catastrophic, long-term consequences – in our relationship with God, with others, and with ourselves. Unhealthy developments are inevitable when we fail to understand ourselves as whole people, made in the image of our Creator God.”[8] Regarding this writer’s current emotional and spiritual health, there will always be areas to improve, as one of the best indicators of a good leader is being teachable and open to the guiding of the Spirit. However, being engrossed in fulltime ministry while also being a fulltime student has created a constant battle for time and priorities. The inventory and assessment of spiritual and emotional maturity illuminates strengths and areas for improvement, while also making sure the priorities in life are reflected in where time, talents, and treasures are spent. Scazzero’s principles can then be applied in the vision and mission of the church and for individuals, by affirming in all matters, God comes first. Scazzero also does a brilliant job demonstrating when people operate out of hurt or an underdeveloped character, he or she will not allow people to get close. Ultimately, past hurt leaves deep wounds, making it difficult to trust people. Scazzero concludes by showing how leadership is lonely, making it vital to surround oneself with like-minded individuals because another important part of being healthy is to surround oneself with healthy people. Unfortunately, this is not easy at churches, since the church is a place for broken and hurt people to come in order to find wholeness and restoration. As a result, Scazzero also lists self-care and forgiveness as challenges of anyone who serves, since forgiveness in not a quick process.[9]

Bibliography

New Life Fellowship Website, http://newlifefellowship.org/about-us/about-new-life/our-staff/  (accessed August 9, 2016).

Scazzero, Peter. The Emotionally Healthy Church: A Strategy for Discipleship that Actually Changes Lives, Updated and Expanded Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010.


[1] New Life Fellowship Website, http://newlifefellowship.org/about-us/about-new-life/our-staff/ (accessed August 9, 2016).

[2] Peter Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Church: A Strategy for Discipleship that Actually Changes Lives, Updated and Expanded Edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 17-19.

[3] Ibid., 20.

[4] Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Church, 36.

[5] Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Church, 217.

[6] Ibid., 34.

[7] Ibid., 35.

[8] Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Church, 54 & 164.

[9] Ibid., 151.

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Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth Book Review

Move_1000 Churches

            Greg L. Hawkins is executive pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. For twenty years, he has assisted senior pastor Bill Hybels in providing strategic leadership and his prior management experience came as a consultant for McKinsey & Company. Hawkins received his undergraduate degree in civil engineering from Texas A&M University and an MBA from Stanford University. In 2011 he became co-author of Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth, which combines sound research with practical application on ways to improve the spiritual growth in churches. Cally Parkinson, the other co-author of Move… serves as the brand manager for REVEAL, an initiative within Willow Creek Association who utilizes research tools and discoveries to help churches better understand spiritual growth in the multiplicity of congregations. Following a twenty-five-year career with Allstate Insurance, she has also served as the director of communications at Willow Creek Community Church. Her diverse background and skills were formulated at DePauw University, where she received her bachelor’s degree and the American Graduate School of International Management, where she earned her master’s degree.[1]

            Facts on their own can be overwhelming, so what Hawkins and Parkinson set out to do was provide a model for any church, no matter the size, denomination, or location to become effective in producing spiritual growth within the congregation. After surveying one-thousand churches, Hawkins and Parkinson found that no matter the size, denomination, budget, or geography, the churches that were highly effective excelled in the following four best practices: (1) Getting people moving; (2) Embedding the Bible; (3) Creating ownership; and (4) Pastoring the community. This discovery was profound because for centuries, church leaders have known the primary goal of disciples is to produce more disciples, but the how has alluded many who have tried. Hawkins and Parkinson illustrate, “Jesus wants us to love God and love others, and it is pretty straightforward, making the what the easy part of church leadership… However, each new generation of Christian leaders has struggled to get a handle on the how: How do we foster the transformation of our people into disciples of Christ and how do we extend His love to others?”[2] Every church has a limited amount of resources, so it only makes sense to use those commodities in areas that provide the best return on investment. Move… provides the answers to these questions by utilizing thorough research, time-tested-principles, and by then providing sound practices to move people along the path to being more Christ-centered. There should be a deep desire in every believer to become more Christ-like and this book provides twenty-five high impact catalysts, which promote spiritual growth in the believer. In addition to the catalysts, there are numerous strategies, insights, models, and patterns to help any church become effective in producing spiritual growth within the body. The book is nicely divided into three parts focusing on: (1) The Spiritual Continuum: moving people from exploring Christ, to growing in Christ; (2) Spiritual Movement: identifying the spiritual catalysts, needed in the evolution of becoming Christ-centered, while also illustrating potential barriers to spiritual growth; and (3) Spiritual Leadership: defining best practices, analyzing spiritual vitality, and preparing leaders to get the body of Christ moving and doing what God has called them to do.

Critique

            Reading this work was very similar to reading something by George Barna, but Hawkins and Parkinson go a few steps further, by providing real-life-application and strategies to employ in order to bring about spiritual growth in any church. These premises are bold, but the statistics presented are frightening for any western church. To think, “The longer someone attends church, the less likely they are to become Christ-followers”[3] is terrifying. Hawkin’s and Parkinson’s research actually found, “people who have attended church for more than five years are far more likely to become spiritually stalled or content with their spiritual growth.”[4] This only shows the importance of engaging people in ministry as soon as possible because the longer an individual is classified in the getting to know Christ stage, the less likely he or she will feel compelled to serve in ministry. This is enlightening, especially since believers find so much about themselves and God through serving in some form of ministry or outreach. Hawkins and Parkinson have termed a church, which is only exploring Christ as being stalled in the rust belt. This is because the majority of the congregation is stuck on the spiritual fringe, investigating, but undecided about the claims of Christianity, attending, but not involved in church, and possibly a long-tenured churchgoer.[5] This is spot on and evident in all generations of church attenders, as the Abrahams feel any dues have already paid: monetarily or service oriented, the Isaacs are too busy with life to commit any more time to the church, and the Jacobs have a sense of entitlement, where everything should just be provided. All of these warped perceptions are wrong and indicate just how many churches are still stuck in the first stage of exploring Christ. Once someone truly begins to know Christ, the next logical step is to grow in Christ, which represents the largest segment of people surveyed at thirty-eight percent.[6] Hawkins and Parkinson provide valuable information as to exactly what this largest segment is looking for from the church: (1) Help in developing a personal relationship with Christ, (2) Help in understanding the Bible in greater depth, (3) Church leaders who model and consistently reinforce how to grow spiritually, (4) Compelling worship experiences, and (5) Challenge to grow and take next steps.[7] A problem many churches make is babying new believers, instead of issuing challenges and showing them how to find God and answers to life’s questions in Scripture. It is also crucial for church-attenders to see the leadership embodying Christ-like character in word and deed. Those considered to be growing in Christ are: on board with core beliefs, are comfortable with spiritual practices, and are poised for great spiritual advances and impact.[8] As the largest segment, Hawkins and Parkinson do a good job illustrating how to move this group closer to Christ, by teaching them how to love God and others.[9] Hawkins and Parkinson explain this is so crucial because those who are close to Christ engage in a deeper level of personal spiritual practices.[10] The next stage of evolution involves the, “Christ-centered believer emerging from a battle between two sets of values: the secular values that define personal identity, happiness, security, and success for much of the world, and the spiritual values of selfless love and dedication to others that characterize a life centered on Jesus.”[11]

Application

            Hawkins and Parkinson do a wonderful job explaining the “what and how” behind ministry, by pointing out the importance of each member taking ownership. This principle is true in many business models, as those who are involved during the inception of something, or feel a sense of being needed will have a much stronger commitment to see it succeed. It also follows the 80/20 principle, where twenty percent of the people do eighty percent of the work. Sadly, this is also the case with giving in the church. For these reasons, this is an area this writer will be focusing on. If twenty percent of the people are doing all the work, this eventually leads to burnout. Hawkins and Parkinson suggest three ways to create ownership are: (1) To empower people to be the church, (2) To equip people to succeed, and (3) To hold people accountable.[12]

            Another area of importance is evangelism outside the four walls of the church. Terry Inman once made the comment, “I do not pastor a church; I pastor a community.” Hawkins and Parkinson use this illustration to explain the flocks pastors are called to shepherd over are actually all the people in the local community. For many churches, this is a huge paradigm shift, but for this writer’s church, this is an area that has already been targeted. Hawkins and Parkinson found, “best practice churches pastor their local communities by bringing the same inspirational energy… to outreach strategies and initiatives that they bring to designing and executing weekend services.” Hawkins and Parkinson break this strategy down into three strategies: (1) Set a high bar for serving the church and the community. Often the senior pastor will set the tone for this model; (2) Build a bridge into your local community. This will develop strong and long-term relationships, which will also help address any immediate community needs; and (3) Make serving a platform for the gospel. Hawkin’s and Parkinson’s research shows there is a natural affinity between evangelizing and serving those who are struggling and broken.[13] Love and compassion are the best motivators for evangelism and by meeting the most basic needs of the community; the outreach initiative will poise the church to not only gain new people, but also advance the gospel at the same time. This book is a great resource for any church or individual looking to grow spiritually. In life, if something is not living, then it is dying and for many churches, they have essentially become stagnant cesspools, but by applying these principles and models, churches will experience real growth, as the result of the development of the congregations’ spiritual formation and desire to be more Christ-like.

Bibliography

Hawkins, Greg L. and Cally Parkinson. Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

 


[1] Greg L. Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 6.

[2] Hawkins and Parkinson, Move, 12.

[3] Hawkins and Parkinson, Move, 37.

[4] Ibid., 38.

[5] Ibid., 44.

[6] Ibid., 50.

[7] Hawkins and Parkinson, Move, 55.

[8] Ibid., 61.

[9] Ibid., 75-77.

[10] Ibid., 75.

[11] Ibid., 84.

[12] Hawkins and Parkinson, Move, 231.

[13] Ibid., 239-240.

Hawkins, Greg L. and Cally Parkinson. Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011, 286 pp. $21.99 (Hardcover).

What is the Gospel? (gǒs’pəl) & From Dust to Destiny Book Reviews

gilbert-what-is-the-gospel

            Greg Gilbert is currently serving as the senior pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He earned his M.Div. from Southern Seminary in 2006 and his B.A. in History from Yale University in 1999.[1] Gilbert’s writing is based on the premise of two ideas: (1) the local church is far more important to the Christian life than many Christians today perhaps realize [because] a healthy Christian is a healthy church member; and (2) local churches grow in life and vitality as they organize their lives around God’s Word. God Speaks. Churches should listen and follow. It is that simple.[2]

            Gilbert’s primary goal is to demonstrate a church and a people who listen to God will begin to reflect His love, mercy, and forgiveness. He also seeks to demonstrate what the gospel of Jesus should look like. The very notion that there is a book needed to explain what the gospel of Jesus looks like is troubling and the fact that it is needed is only validated by the current state of the church. Through his roundtable discussions and extensive research, Gilbert found it was extremely difficult to find any consensus to this question. Gilbert thus demonstrates how Paul’s letter to the Romans is a great place to find the most basic explanation of the gospel. In the opening chapters, Paul first wants his readers to know they are accountable. Gilbert then illustrates, “We are made by Him, owned by Him, dependent on Him, and therefore accountable to Him.”[3] Secondly, Paul tells his readers that their problem is that they rebelled against God. This applied to Jews and Gentiles alike because every single person in the world had sinned against God.[4] Thirdly, Paul says that God’s solution to humanity’s sin is the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Gilbert then demonstrates, “Having laid out the bad news of the predicament we face as sinners before our righteous God, Paul turns now to the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ.”[5] Lastly, Paul tells his readers how they themselves can be included in this salvation. This is where every individual must decide if the gospel is good news for him or her or not. Gilbert summarizes these four points as: God, man, Christ, and response.[6]

            The bad news for everyone is the presence of sin in his or her life and the fact God is the Judge. Ever since Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden, there has existed a separation between humanity and God. The good news is the gospel of Jesus has sought to bridge that gap and bring God’s children back into communion with God. The fact that creation is born into sin is a hard pill to swallow and the notion that forgiveness is needed only adds salt to the wound of this cultures’ need for independence. Humans are selfish by nature, so coming to understand God gave mankind His only Son to restore fellowship with Him, as a living sacrifice for all who would believe, is a revelation. It is also important to understand why Christ came and why He had to die. The atonement of sin required the shedding of blood and because man was and still is rebellious by nature, there remains a constant need to sacrifice. However, when Jesus was crucified as the spotless Lamb, He became the atonement for all sin. As a believer, it can be hard to forgive others for their wrongs and sometimes it is even harder to forgive one’s own sin. Conversely, forgiving others is necessary to receive the same forgiveness from God. This principle is crucial to maintaining a healthy relationship with others and with God. The final part of the gospel is becoming Christ-like and impacting others with the divine revelation of the salvation message.

What is the Gospel? (gǒs’pəl). By Gregory D. Gilbert. Crossway Publishing, 2010, 127 pp. $12.99 (Hardcover).

From Dust to Destiny

            Greg Faulls is the Pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church and has worked in Christian Leadership for over twenty-eight years, serving as Pastor of three churches in Texas and Kentucky. He earned his BA in Religious Studies and Speech Communication from Western Kentucky University and his Masters of Divinity and Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His vision of helping people follow Jesus is birthed out of a personal, life changing experience and his purpose in writing From Dust to Destiny is for his readers to discover the life God has planned for him or her.[7]

            Faulls seeks to demonstrate how everyone is created for more than mere self-gratification and he wants his readers to discover and have a divine encounter with God. This adventure to discover God’s plan is an exploration of what God is seeking to do in and through His creation. Faulls’ four concepts relate to: (1) Life is about God and until someone knows more about God, he or she will never find purpose and meaning in life; (2) God sent His Son for the redemption of mankind and to restore the communion that was lost in the Garden of Eden; (3) God dwells within His children and the more they walk with Him the more they will be transformed into the likeness of Christ; and (4) God desires to work through His children and He has had this plan from the beginning. Jesus came not only to save mankind, but also to work through the lives of those who call upon His name. While man was created from mere dust, when the Spirit of the Lord indwells the believer’s life, there is a transformation and glorious destiny that awaits.

            When mankind realizes there is someone bigger than themselves and something much larger at stake, there is an opportunity to truly transform the individual and ultimately the world. After experiencing a divine encounter with God, Faulls demonstrates, “We were created in the image of God, to be stewards of His creation [and] we were created in the Lord’s image so that we might relate to Him intimately.”[8] For anyone who suffers with self-confidence issues or disabilities, this is life-changing. Being an image bearer of God is humbling, but at the same time empowering as the believer comes to find his or her significance in is as Faulls put it, “anchored in the One who loved us so much that He chose to breathe into us the breath of life.”[9] In the ministry setting it is crucial to demonstrate the immense love God has for His children because in the cruelty of the world it can be easy to forget this profound truth. The redemption of mankind is yet another display of God’s love. Here, Faulls explains, “Jesus came for you, to save you from your sin, and to bring you home to a relationship with God the Father.”[10] It is reassuring to picture Jesus as the Shepherd who will search for every lost sheep because without Jesus redeeming mankind, sin and its damning consequences would prevail. Knowing why Christ died for the sins of mankind should compel His followers to live a life that would bring honor and glory to the Lord. The only appropriate response to the salvation and redemption granted to Christians is to carry the same gospel message to a lost and hurting world. Faulls also explains, “When we receive Christ, God’s Son, we become sons and daughters by adoption.”[11] Through this process the believer is transformed and receives a divine purpose and future. This transformation process is never-ending, as one walks with the Lord, but the ultimate goal is to allow God the opportunity to do a mighty work in and through the believer’s life.

From Dust to Destiny: Created for More. By Greg Faulls. http://prevailinglife.com 2014, (accessed July 27, 2016), 97 pp. Free (E-book).

Bibliography

Faith Gateway Website, http://www.faithgateway.com/author/greg-gilbert/ (accessed July 27, 2016).

Faulls, Greg. From Dust to Destiny: Created for More. http://prevailinglife.com 2014. (accessed July 27, 2016).

Gilbert, Gregory D. What is the Gospel? (gǒs’pəl). Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010.

Prevailing Life Website, http://prevailinglife.com/meet-greg/ (accessed July 27, 2016).


[1] Faith Gateway Website, http://www.faithgateway.com/author/greg-gilbert/ (accessed July 27, 2016).

[2] Gregory D. Gilbert, What is the Gospel? (gǒs’pəl), (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 11.

[3] Ibid., 28.

[4] Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 29.

[5] Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 30.

[6] Ibid., 31.

[7] Prevailing Life Website, http://prevailinglife.com/meet-greg/, (accessed July 27, 2016).

[8] Greg Faulls, From Dust to Destiny: Created for More. http://prevailinglife.com 2014, 10 (accessed July 27, 2016).

[9] Ibid., 17.

[10] Ibid., 27.

[11] Ibid., 46.

Lecture To My Students by Charles Spurgeon

Lecture To My Students

            Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834 – 1892) is often referred to as the “Prince of Preachers.” He served at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, and he was also the founder and president of the Pastor’s College in London. During his early teenage years, he came to faith in Christ and even a century following his death, his many works still remain relevant. Many scholars agree Lecture To My Students to be his greatest work because of the timeless principles taught within its pages. Spurgeon offered his students and readers: practical advice, sound wisdom, and personal insights, all of which still have application today.  It is estimated during his lifetime, he published over 1900 original sermons, each being original and thought provoking. God divinely inspired Spurgeon’s sermons, as he sought to bring honor and glory to Christ alone. The teachings done by Spurgeon in these twenty-eight lectures are perhaps some of the greatest tools to becoming great pastors.

            Spurgeon emphasized, “The minister must take care that his personal character agrees in all respects with is ministry.”[1] This was an area that did not win Spurgeon much support, especially when it came to his opposition to slavery and Dispensationalism, but nonetheless, Spurgeon remained un-wavered despite what his critics said. Spurgeon regularly spoke on the call to ministry saying, “There must be an intense, all-absorbing desire for work, they must possess an aptness to teach and some measure of the other qualities for the office of pastor, they must see a measure of conversion-work going on under his efforts, and his preaching should be acceptable to the people of God.”[2] Spurgeon sought to produce genuine pastors who had a sincere calling to ministry and a heart for sharing the gospel. As Gordon Franz illustrates, his conversion profoundly impacted how he seized every opportunity to advance the gospel.

As a teenager he wanted to know God. He went to a local church on a cold, snowy, wintry day. When he got to the meeting, there was only the preacher and one other person at the service. The preacher could have called off the service because there were only two people in the audience, but he didn’t. He preached on John 3, the serpent in the wilderness, and said “Look and live.” That morning, Charles Spurgeon looked to the Lord Jesus and trusted Him as his personal Savior and received the free gift of eternal life, the forgiveness of sins, and a home in heaven. One wonders if the preacher realized the impact this young lad would have on the world on that snowy morning.[3]

            Spurgeon also emphasized the importance of enduring trials for those who are called to ministry by demonstrating, “The devil is abroad, and with him are many. Prove your own selves, and may the Lord prepare you for the crucible which assuredly awaits you.”[4] To endure these seasons, Spurgeon stresses the importance of consistent prayer saying, “Nothing can gloriously fit you to preach as descending fresh from the mount of communion with God.”[5] Prayer is vital to maintaining intimacy with God and this is why Spurgeon emphasizes the importance of a private and public prayer life. Both of them are matters of the heart and they keep the believer connected to the vine. Spurgeon was also very open with his own personal health and emotional issues that he faced in ministry, which was refreshing to see how he explained, “Our work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression.”[6] Ministry can be extremely lonely, as most pastors isolate themselves to prevent any potential hurt that may result from allowing anyone to become close. As pastors, Spurgeon continues to stress the importance of knowing that people are always watching. Regardless of what season of life a pastor may find himself or herself in, people are always watching to see how he or she will respond.

Critique

            There is no denying this is one of Spurgeon’s greatest works. By providing application and real life examples, which shows pastors how they should conduct themselves, he establishes, “Wherever [and whenever] is, he is a minister, and he is always on duty.”[7] By injecting personal stories and illustrations into his lectures, it makes practical application much easier to employ. This is an area that is often difficult to navigate, since being a minister often encompasses all areas of pastor’s lives. Additionally, it can be very difficult to delineate the public and private life of the pastor, to which Spurgeon encourages pastor to be open about. This is a great model for today’s congregations because if the congregation knows that pastors struggle with the same issues, it can be easier to talk and preach on them. Over the years, too many topics in the church have become taboo. This mistake has caused major issues facing the church today to be rarely talked on from the pulpit, leaving the people to turn to each other and the world for answers.

While Spurgeon encourages pastors to be in a constant state of ministerial progress, he also challenges those in ministry to go to the remote places where the cross of Christ is still unknown.[8] This is fundamental is his teaching as he emphasizes sermons must have relevant and sound teaching in them and that doctrine must be clear and unmistakable.[9] Charles Swindoll says, “If there’s a mist in the pulpit, there’s a fog in the pew!” Without a clear purpose and a destination for the message, Spurgeon displays how easy it is to lose the sheep that are already lost. Spurgeon says the pastor must also, “Avoid speaking the Word when the Word is still unclear to [him or her. Instead, he urges the pastor to] endeavor to keep the matter of your sermonizing as fresh as you can, by letting your teachings grow and advance.”[10] He goes on to explain “sermon” means to thrust and “We are not called to proclaim philosophy and metaphysics, but the simple gospel.”[11] Since the inception of the early church, there has been a widening gap in the multidenominational faiths that exist. The world has come to know more what the church is against than what it is for and Spurgeon could not be more correct in his assertion that, “Justification by faith should be far more than it is the daily testimony of Protestant pulpits… If with the zeal of Methodists we can preach the doctrine of Puritans a great future is before us: the fire of Wesley and the fuel of Whitfield will cause a burning which shall set the forests of error on fire, and warm the very soul of this cold earth.”[12]

One of the primary drawbacks to a classic book like this is the language can be difficult to understand, which can lead to some of his illustrations being lost in translation. Overall, the principles Spurgeon teaches are timeless, but just as the gospel never changes, sometimes the way it is presented must be adapted. This is also a rather large volume of work, which makes all the principles present invaluable, but without a step-by-step approach, it could potentially lose some of its significance if not employed correctly. Other areas that could be contested deal with Spurgeon’s view on spiritualizing and the use of liturgy. Despite any of these views, it does not take away from the greater work and Spurgeon’s goal of producing genuine and sincere pastors.

Evaluation

            While some may view this great work to be outdated, nothing could be further than the truth. By illustrating the positive and negative principles in a pastor’s life, Spurgeon offers anyone considering ministry one of the best road maps to long-term success and ways to avoid burnout or moral failure. Anyone reading this work, will find multiple areas of conviction and his emphasis on prayer and continually reading God’s Word shows the importance on maintaining intimacy with God, which is the key to serving in any form of pastoral ministry. Without God as the sustaining force and source of strength, anyone who holds the office of pastor is simply a man or woman. However, when God is added to the equation, He becomes the catalyst that equips and empowers the pastor to accomplish the vision and mission that God has set before him or her and the church.

Bibliography

Spurgeon, Charles. Lectures To My Students: Complete and Unabridged. Grand Rapids: MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1979, 453 pp. $19.99 (Paperback).


[1] Charles Spurgeon, Lectures To My Students: Complete and Unabridged, (Grand Rapids: MI: Zondervan Publishing), 1979, 17.

[2] Spurgeon, Lectures To My Students, 26-32.

[3] Gordon Franz, “A Tribute To Dr. David Livingston,” – Bible and Spade 22, no. 3 (Summer), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 91.

[4] Spurgeon, Lectures To My Students, 40.

[5] Ibid., 45.

[6] Ibid., 156.

[7] Spurgeon, Lectures To My Students, 167.

[8] Ibid., 205-218.

[9] Ibid., 70 & 77.

[10] Ibid., 78.

[11] Spurgeon, Lectures To My Students, 79.

[12] Ibid., 79.

The Crucified Life by A.W. Tozer Book Review

the crucified life

The Crucified Life: How to Live Out a Deeper Christian Experience. By A. W. Tozer. Bethany House Publishing, 2011, 220 pp. $14.99 (Paperback).

Part I

Aiden Wilson Tozer (1897–1963) is considered by many to be one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century. Tozer was a pastor of Christian and Missionary Alliance churches in Toronto and Chicago. However, it was not until 1950, when he became the editor of Alliance Witness that he began to put word to paper. Much like John Wesley, he was, “a man of one Book, but a student of many.”[1] Tozer, in an effort to demonstrate how to live out a deeper Christian experience says, “The crucified life is a blessed but lonely life that no man can walk for someone else.”[2] This statement is profound as it demonstrates Tozer’s understanding that every believer must experience a paradigm shift in their own personal life and it provides a glimpse of why Tozer sought to illuminate this truth to all of his readers. This work can be unpackaged into four key areas: the foundation of the crucified life, the dynamics of the crucified life, the perils of the crucified life, and the blessings of the crucified life.

The foundation of the crucified life is formulated by defining what a true Christian is and to Tozer this meant, “One who sustains a right relationship with Jesus Christ [and] enjoys a union with [Him] that supersedes all other relationships.”[3] Having a strong foundation is key and by answering the important question of what Jesus Christ means in the believer’s life, it becomes the baseline to what is most important to the believer. Tozer explains the cost of the crucified life was paid for by Jesus, but he then shows that does not mean once one becomes a Christian they get a free ride. Instead, he challenges everyone who believes Christ is alive to do something about it.[4] Tozer then illustrates, “Our goal is to see Christ face to face, [but] too many Christians are satisfied with the status quo and being just satisfied causes many not to go on doing. While our objective is to finish the race, many begin, but few ever cross the finish line.” The final part of the foundation is to know God and this comes only through grace and is, “The longing for God without any other motive than simply reaching God Himself.”[5]

The Dynamics of a Crucified life deals with the natural man, the spiritual man, and the carnal man. Tozer demonstrates areas of all these stages within the Israelites as they wandered the desert for forty years. Tozer then reveals, “God was with them [despite their fear of death and doubts, but] He did not destroy them. [Instead,] He let them die one at a time.” This illustration is powerful to symbolize the perpetual circles many spend their entire life walking in. Despite God’s extraordinary deliverance of the Israelites from their Egyptian bondage and providing multiple divine encounters and miracles, they still grumbled and even worshipped idols.

The perils of the crucified life deal with, “When God calls a man to follow Him, He calls that man to follow Him regardless of the cost.”[6] The church has a long history of martyrs, leading to Tertullian’s famous quote: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Tozer explains, “A crucified life is an expensive proposition, one in which the believer is willing to forsake safety, convenience, fun, popularity, and worldly success. Christ paid the price for salvation, so now we must pay the price for our full identification with Him and our walk towards spiritual perfection.”[7]

The blessings of the crucified life demonstrate that Christ came to do two primary things: to help mankind and to put an end to self.[8] Tozer explains, “The purpose of God is not to save us from hell; the purpose of God is to save us to make us like Christ and to make us like God.”[9] This divine exchange takes off the old-self and puts on the new. When this happens, Tozer demonstrates, “God will give us His beauty, His joy, and His Son.”[10] The ultimate goal of this exchange should lead to revival, which Tozer breaks into three levels: personal, church, and community. The last level is the where the work of the Lord extends out of the church and impacts the whole community. There is nothing wrong with the personal or church revival, because until God acts in those two areas, it is impossible for the Spirit to overflow into the community.

Part II

            In The Crucified Life, “This book was strong medicine for what Tozer considered a serious malady. The more serious the condition, the more radical the remedy; and for this reason, Tozer was willing to uncompromisingly confront people with the message of the crucified life.”[11] While Tozer recognized the importance of living crucified life, he also knew the immense challenges it would present to anyone who tried. For Tozer, a crucified life is, “A life wholly given over to the Lord in absolute humility and obedience: a sacrifice pleasing to the Lord.”[12] This is the foundation component, which illustrates every believer must put God first in his or her life. When this happens on the individual level, it is only natural to see it take place in a corporate setting as each member of the body finds their giftings and talents and submits them to God in order to bring proclaim the gospel and ultimately bring glory to Lord.

When speaking on the dynamics of a crucified life, Tozer contrasts the Israelites desert wandering with the condition of today’s church and how God wants to pour out His Spirit, but man is content and satisfied with mere words.[13] Tozer explains, “As great and wonderful as these moves of God are, it does not take long to drift back into externalism, [meaning] institutionalism begins to take over.”[14] There is a divine necessity to completely forsake the world, in order to overcome the great obstacle to living a crucified life, which is self-trust. Only by trusting in God alone did Tozer find, “The more my trust rests in God, the less I trust myself.” This is the fundamental difference between following Christ versus asking Christ to follow the believer. Daily, every believer must make time to spend in God’s Word and His presence. When God becomes the focal point of the believer’s life, a daily reliance upon His mercy and grace is formed. As believers come together with this attitude of faith, God is able to do mighty things in a corporate setting. It is the difference between wandering in the desert for forty years and getting to go into the promise land.

Tozer brilliantly displays the cross as an instrument to accomplish God’s purpose, but he also uses the imagery of the refining fire to burn away all the bondage imposed by the world, thus accomplishing the Lord’s purpose in the lives of Christians. The hotter the fire, the purer the outcome will be and this is often the case with trials Christians face. God gives them just enough of what they need to make it through that day. He does this to ensure His followers keep their daily reliance upon Him. This same principle was demonstrated with the Israelites as they wandered the desert for forty years and the Lord provided manna from heaven. While relying on God is an important lesson for the individual, these seasons of trials also present opportunities in the corporate setting to come alongside others and share one another’s burdens. The perils of a crucified life in today’s western Christians is vastly different from other areas in the world where people are being persecuted with fear of death based on their religious beliefs. The sad reality is, “A great many Christians are not going to have a thing to show God [because] they are simply not willing to pay the price.”[15] When someone accepts Christ as their Lord and Savior, they must be willing to sacrifice their all, just as Jesus did. This can be a tough principle to teach as it is often one learned over time, but it is interesting to witness the church thrive in areas under greater persecution while in areas of tolerance more churches are closing than opening. God will sustain, equip, and empower each believer for anything He calls him or her to do. This must be the ethos of every believer from the moment of salvation until they are present with the Father.

Lastly, Tozer illustrates, “Christians are infamous for trying to put God in a box, [but] the God who fits in the box is the God who can be controlled by man.” This is so true in today’s culture where people look to everything but God to find their purpose, value, and meaning in life. If God were something that could be held or quantified, it would contradict His divine and infinite nature. The revelation Tozer highlights is by submitting in obedience to the Lord, the believer lives a crucified life in which God can do His work.[16] This area truly shows the believer how to live a life with a much deeper experiential relationship with God. From this intimate relationship, the believer is then able to pour into the lives of others, as long as they continually go back to the source to be filled up again. The crucified life is one in which the believer recognizes Christ died on the cross, so they could become more like Him and to embody the life of Christ means to share His love, acceptance, and forgiveness with a lost and hurting world.

Bibliography

A. W. Tozer Theological Seminary, (Redding, CA). “Who is Tozer?” (accessed July 19, 2016).

Tozer, A.W. The Crucified Life: How to Live Out a Deeper Christian Experience. Minneapolis: MN, 2011.

 


[1] A. W. Tozer Theological Seminary, (Redding, CA), “Who is Tozer?” http://tozer.simpsonu.edu/Pages/About/Tozer-AWTozer.htm (accessed July 19, 2016).

[2] A. W. Tozer, The Crucified Life: How to Live Out a Deeper Christian Experience, (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2011), 57.

[3] Tozer, The Crucified Life, 24.

[4] Tozer, The Crucified Life, 30-31.

[5] Ibid., 49.

[6] Ibid., 115.

[7] Ibid., 122-125.

[8]  Tozer, The Crucified Life, 158 & 160.

[9] Ibid., 164.

[10] Ibid., 165.

[11] Ibid., 10.

[12] Ibid., 15.

[13] Tozer, The Crucified Life, 76.

[14] Ibid., 77.

[15] Tozer, The Crucified Life, 121.

[16] Ibid., 206.

Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered Book Review

Spiritual Formation Book

       Born in Seattle, Washington, James C. Wilhoit has served on the faculty of Wheaton College since 1981. Currently he serves as the Scripture Press Chair of Christian Formation and Ministry. His extensive academic achievements include: a Ph.D. from Northwestern in Religion, a M.Div. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, a Master of Religious Education from Covenant Theological Seminary, and a B.A. from the University of Washington in History.[1]

            Wilhoit writes this work, “As an evangelical and one who is deeply concerned about the erosion of intentional practices of spiritual formation in many of our churches.”[2] His overreaching goal is, “Not reversing a trend, but about a call to intentionality about our formation and to repentance about how we have tried to engineer formation more than we have prayerfully opened our lives and churches to God’s grace.”[3] Wilhoit begins by establishing spiritual formation is the task of the church, which is structured around the framework of receiving, remembering, responding, and relating. Intentionality is at the forefront of Wilhoit’s approach and he links it closely to community. He then defines spiritual formation as, “The intentional communal process of growing in our relationship with God and becoming conformed to Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit.” Wilhoit also concludes, “The primary motivation behind spiritual formation involves understanding the gospel and seeing its fruit grow in our lives.”[4] The gospel not only calls one to discipleship, it also contains the power to follow and live like Christ. Just as Christ came to serve, Christians are also called to serve and from this foundational-truth, Wilhoit illustrates how Christians are formed to serve and formed by serving.[5] [6] He contends cultivating the instinct to act on the gospel is one of the most important evolutions in the believer’s transformation. Wilhoit also establishes, “Unless the brokenness is a prominent orientation, we will not catch the truth that the church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners.”[7] Sin separates humanity from God, creating a spiritual chasm that cannot be crossed without divine influence, which came in the form of the cross, allowing humanity to bridge the gap. Wilhoit demonstrates this principle is crucial to understanding that brokenness extends beyond the individual and is at the heart of true community formation.

Critique

       Wilhoit contends, “From personal brokenness and reflection I have come to see that the gospel is not simply the door of faith; it must also be a compass I daily use to orient my life and a salve I apply for the healing of my soul. It is in returning again and again to the cross that we receive the grace that transforms us.”[8] For this writer, his transparency is refreshing and his aim for spiritual formation, restoration, and wholeness are well presented. He shows how greater dependence on the grace of Christ is best explained as a transformation that is never-ending. From the moment of salvation, the believer is made new, but that is only the beginning of the metamorphosis. The longer one walks with Christ, the more they should embody His likeness.

       All spiritual growth springs forth from God’s grace, which leads to Wilhoit’s premise that, “We are all born homesick, longing for a land and a way of life we have never directly experienced, but which we know is somewhere, or at least ought to exist.”[9] This notion rings more true as each generation emerges feeling less a part of society and being ostracized for their differences. Our brokenness leaves us empty, broken, and thirsty. “[Our] brokenness forces us to find a source of love outside ourselves and that source is God.” Without God in our lives we will never find meaning or purpose in life. He is the source of all our longings, leading to the two great invitations of Jesus: to love and obey God, and to love one another. From this invitation, the natural response is to spread the gospel and extend His compassion to the lost and hurting.[10]

       Wilhoit also does a good job explaining how the church has found itself heavily influenced by a consumer view of religion and explains the necessity to be consumers, but consumers of God’s grace. Here, Wilhoit demonstrates the perception of the cross and explains that by allowing the cross to grow larger in one’s life increases the awareness of God’s grace, which is infinite.[11] God’s grace not only restores the believer, it also allows the believers to forgive themselves and live a life of freedom. Sin brings with it such bondage that causes many to live in shame and guilt. This is why Jesus calls His followers to cast their cares and burdens on Him, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light.[12] Wilhoit then demonstrates how this process happens in the community of faith. The church is now known more for what it is against than what it is for, largely because when people fell short of the glory of God, they were called out or shunned. Wilhoit’s model provides a way for believers to be restored intimately with God within the community of faith. This is the picture Jesus had for the local church: working together, loving one another, and relying solely on the mercy and grace of God. The church has become a lid to spiritual formation, but by applying Wilhoit’s model, it will allow a great number of toxic churches/families/relationships to begin the road back to love, acceptance, and forgiveness.

       This work has many things going for it. (1) There is already a trend among churches seeking to go back to the early church model, so it contains sound theological principles and practices. (2) In a age where everyone wants things quicker, cheaper, and easier, Wilhoit provides practical steps, which when applied will lead to spiritual formation both on the personal level and communal. (3) There is something for anyone who reads this book making it valuable to a new and mature believer. (4) Lastly, in an individualistic and consumer-dominated era, Wilhoit brilliantly, “Navigates the delicate balance between the personal appropriation of spiritual truth and the reality that our faith is a historically grounded community event.”[13]

Application

       As Wilhoit explains, “Much of our failure in conceptualizing spiritual formation comes from our failure to keep the gospel central to our ministry.”[14] Jerry Bridges explains, “Our first problem is that our attitude toward sin is more self-centered than God-centered.” Viewing others through the lens of the cross serves as a reminder that Jesus has become the mediator between God and believers. As this perception of others and their circumstances becomes the norm, it will lead to closer fellowship with God, as well as being able to speak into the lives of the lost and hurting. As Wilhoit demonstrates, “[Dependence] on the cross seems to become a means of transportation rather than God’s means of transformation.”[15] He shows, because of our blindness and self-justifying behavior, we can only perceive a small cross. This causes the perceived need for grace to fall drastically short of one’s actual need for grace, which is infinite.[16] One of this writer’s primary roles is overseeing the spiritual formation of over one thousand members. For many believers, their past mistakes are a stumbling block to what God wants to do in and through them. Wilhoit’s work will be an invaluable resource to unlocking the full potential of His mercy and grace for both the church and the believer’s life. Viewing others through the lens of the cross will give believers a much better perspective that the people they interact with daily may be prisoners of war in a battle they do not even know exists. Real spiritual formation and growth is possible; the problem, as Wilhoit highlights, is “Culture and sadly many churches seek to squeeze believers into a mold of simply being nice and seeking a sensible consumer-oriented faith that meets our needs and avoids offending anyone else.”[17] There is no quick fix model or six-step process. Wilhoit explains, “The deep longing for Christlikeness is a longing for God Himself and the primary motivator for deep spiritual transformation. Seeking Christlikeness is a lifelong endeavor that requires personal and corporate commitment to both active and passive stances.”[18] This lifelong endeavor is one rooted out of the four dimensions of community formation: receiving, remembering, responding, and relating. To receive is to cultivate spiritual openness through confession, worship, sacraments, and prayer. To remember allows transformation to occur through teaching, preaching, evangelism, meditation, spiritual guidance, and small groups. To respond engages the believer in service, which is what God calls every believer to do and allows for ministries of compassion. Lastly, to relate opens the door for one’s spiritual formation to take place in community, which breeds hospitality, honor, respect, and handling conflict well.[19]

Bibliography

Wheaton College, (Wheaton, IL).  http://www.wheaton.edu/Academics/Faculty/W/James-Wilhoit (accessed July 15, 2016).

Wilhoit, James C. Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered: Growing in Christ through Community. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2008.

 


[1] Wheaton College, (Wheaton, IL),  http://www.wheaton.edu/Academics/Faculty/W/James-Wilhoit (accessed July 15, 2016).

[2] James C. Wilhoit, Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered: Growing in Christ through Community, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2008), 13.

[3] Wilhoit, Spiritual Formation, 14.

[4] Ibid., 32.

[5] Ephesians 3:7

[6] Wilhoit, Spiritual Formation, 149.

[7] Ibid., 58.

[8] Ibid., 29.

[9] Wilhoit, Spiritual Formation, 64.

[10] Ibid., 46.

[11] Ibid., 107.

[12] Matthew 11:29-30

[13] Wilhoit, Spiritual Formation, 117.

[14] Ibid., 27.

[15] Ibid., 28.

[16] Wilhoit, Spiritual Formation, 107.

[17] Ibid., 33.

[18] Ibid., 55.

[19]  Ibid., 50.

Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership Book Review

humilitas_zv_large

John Dickson, in his book Humilitas, attempts to show how the virtue of humility can make any leader great, but he cautions the reader, “as soon as you think you have it, you probably do not.”[1] This paradox is the springboard to Dickson’s love-hate relationship with humility, yet the longer he contemplated humility, the more he came to love this virtue for both its aesthetic qualities and its practical benefits.[2] His goal is to show how humility demonstrates one’s inherent worth, while also seeking to better the lives of those around the individual. Dickson’s academic background is in the field of ancient history, so he uses this knowledge to analyze events and leaders from the past to ultimately learn from them, which he states, “is the ultimate exercise in democracy.”[3] His entire thesis is based on the assumption that the most influential and inspiring people are also those marked by humility. Having previously read Good to Great, by Jim Collins, this writer can attest to Collins’ level 5 leaders possessing the attributes of determination and an attitude of humility.[4] The definition Dickson assigns to humility is, “the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself, [which is] a willingness to hold power in service of others.”[5] On the basis of this definition, Dickson asserts true humility assumes the dignity or strength of the one possessing the virtue. He then contrasts humility with humiliation, showing humility is willing, social, and a choice one makes for the sake of others, while humiliation is cast upon individuals.

Next, Dickson applies humility in the context of leadership by showing how humility is persuasive. He parallels how leadership and humility are all about others as leadership is essentially the art of inspiring others to contribute their best effort towards a common goal.[6] Leadership motivates, inspires, and at its core, Dickson believes that it is being able to cope with change, since change is inevitable, but growth is optional. Good leaders must possess ability, authority, persuasion, positive example, and sound character ethics, because these traits bring out the best in other people. Dickson then shows how leadership is fundamentally relational, so possessing these traits, as well as effective communication and building trust are essential. In the end, Dickson concludes humility is the key ingredient to enriching a leader’s effectiveness.[7]

In order to possess humility, Dickson offers six exercises to reflect on: (1) we are shaped by what we love; (2) we should reflect on the lives of the humble; (3) we should conduct thought experiments to enhance humility; (4) we should act humbly; (5) we should invite criticism; and (6) we should forget about being humble.[8] A truly humble person is never concerned about appearing humble, so in one’s pursuit of humility, Dickson illustrates the first step in the pursuit of humility is to recognize we are not humble by nature.

Critique

Overall, Dickson makes a solid attempt of defining humility and arguing why it is an important virtue to possess. Due to our nature, we are attracted to the good and repelled by the bad, so Dickson is correct in his conclusion that, “we are more attracted to the great who are humble than to the great who know it and want everyone else to know it as well.”[9] Despite the truth of this statement, the majority of society strives to succeed by any means necessary. While most may be repelled by pride, their inherent nature is rooted in their selfishness and pride.

Dickson’s use of prominent members of society was a great addition to this work, but some of his errors and omissions left one to question some of his other data and reasoning for including them.[10] Despite that, Dickson did include many great examples such as Albert Einstein, not known for being a religious believer nor an atheist, so this writer found his statement during a lecture in Vienna in 1921 to be most fascinating: “I do not believe in the God of theology who rewards good and punishes evil. My God created laws that take care of that. His universe is not ruled by wishful thinking, but by immutable laws.”[11] Einstein’s understanding of the harmony of God’s created nature humbled him. Dickson makes a very logical argument how, “the mysterious harmony of the laws of nature should lead thinking people – whether believer or otherwise – to an attitude not far off humility.”[12] He then demonstrates how humility involves both a sense of finitude and a sense of inherent dignity, which led to his conclusion that, “there is a certain logic to keeping pride in check and conducting ourselves, regardless of our various competencies, with humility towards others.”[13] Essentially, this means we will always trust the humble person more than we trust the proud to act in our best interest. Dickson also displays a comprehensive understanding of the importance of knowing the difference between society’s key axis points of: good vs. evil, honor vs. shame, pleasure vs. suffering, and prosperity vs. poverty. He rightly demonstrates how western-history is shaped by the event of Jesus’ crucifixion, which was regarded as the most shameful and most brutal form of capital punishment.[14] This humility revolution, caused by Christ’s crucifixion, led the Apostle Paul to write, “In humility, consider others better than yourselves… Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ.”[15]

Overall, Dickson does a good job illustrating how humility keeps pride from rising up, why we are attracted more to those who are humble, how Jesus – the model of humility-caused a revolution, how humility is an inspiration to those around us, and even how humility allows us to respect someone with conflicting beliefs. What this writer has a hard time agreeing with Dickson on is the subject of tolerance, which he says is, “often the answer to the harmful effects of absolute truth claims.”[16] This writer agrees with Dickson regarding the importance of learning to respect even those with whom we disagree with, as this posture allows one to move past mere tolerance to humility, which is the key to harmony at the social level.[17] What does not track biblically is softening one’s convictions or relaxing claims to knowledge and truth. If something goes against the very nature of God, to do anything less than reject it would mean sin. Dickson claims tolerance means agreeing that all viewpoints are equally true or valid.[18] While perception is reality to each individual, that does not mean one’s convictions should be toned down or made to be more tolerant. While Dickson may be right stating the basic human values that unite us are stronger than the forces that pull us apart, his reasoning is problematic and illogical. There is a fine line between conviction and compassion and while an open mind is good, G. K. Chesterton best illustrates, “an open mind is like an open mouth: its purpose is to bite on something nourishing. Otherwise, it becomes like a sewer, accepting everything, rejecting nothing.”[19]

Evaluation

Humilitas is a great resource for anyone wanting to become a better leader. It would have had a much greater impact on those in pastoral ministry if there were more than one chapter dedicated to Christianity, more specifically Jesus and how He embodied the virtue of humility. Jesus in the parable of the wedding feast says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”[20] This would have been a great place for Dickson to speak on what God is and is not impressed with. Throughout Humilitas, humility is framed in view of society and culture, but nowhere does it trace humility back to its source. Being Christ-like means reflecting the image of Christ and humility was a huge part of what He did and why He did it. In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, Jesus again says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”[21] This would have been a great place for Dickson to speak on the motives behind one’s actions, as this story represents someone who claims superior status for himself, while the other comes to God in humility and receives compassion and restoration. From Proverbs, we learn, “The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor; and the reward for humility and fear of the LORD is riches and honor and life.”[22] Zephaniah 2:3 instructs to, “seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, who do His just commands; seek righteousness; seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the LORD.” Paul instructs the Philippians to, “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”[23] Colossians calls for voluntary humility and cautions against false humility. Achieving humility is a constant endeavor, just as one’s walk with Christ is, each with infinite rewards, both temporal and eternal.

Bibliography

Dickson, John. Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

[1] John Dickson, Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 11.

[2] Dickson, Humilitas, 14.

[3] Ibid., 17-18.

[4] Ibid., 20.

[5] Ibid., 24.

[6] Dickson, Humilitas, 33.

[7] Ibid., 47.

[8] Ibid., 174-182.

[9] Ibid., 69.

[10] Aristotle 3rd vs. 4th Century BC? (p. 87 & 41); Opinionated views of Americans from an Australian

[11] Dickson, Humilitas, 61.

[12] Ibid., 61.

[13] Ibid., 66.

[14] Ibid., 105 & 109.

[15] Philippians 2:3-4

[16] Dickson, Humilitas, 164.

[17] Ibid., 170.

[18] Ibid., 164.

[19] Ibid., 170.

[20] Luke 14:11 (ESV)

[21] Luke 18:14 (ESV)

[22] Proverbs 15:33 & Proverbs 22:4 (ESV)

[23] Philippians 2:3 (ESV)

Margin Book Review: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives

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Dr. Richard Swenson spent ten years putting this masterpiece of time and life-management skills together. In his book, he demonstrates that, despite living in a world where society demands more, in reality, less is often more. Swenson does this by revealing that today’s society lives in an unparalleled age where the pace and complexity of daily life produces extremely high levels of stress and eventually overload. Swenson strives to convey what margin is and he claims, “Since most of us do not know what margin is, there is no way we could know what margin-less living is.”[1] Swenson defines margin as the space in various areas of our lives: the physical, emotional, temporal, and financial, all of which can protect us from being overloaded, when managed properly. Swenson then explains, “High levels of stress follow as naturally after progress as does exhaust after high traffic [and] margin has been steamrolled by history.”[2] This progression has thus led to margin-less living, which Swenson demonstrates is the disease of the new millennium; but margin is its cure. As margin decreases, stress increases and burnout is inevitable. It is no longer a matter of if; it is only a matter of when. Swenson’s overall goal is seeking to restore balance and end the epidemic of overload and burnout.

Swenson spends the first part of the book discussing the problem of pain: the pain of progress, the pain of problems, the pain of stress, and the pain of overload. He diagnoses progress, cultural changes, and societal motives as the sickness that ends in stress and overload. Swenson contends, “The conditions of modern-day living devour margin [and] while one cannot blame all the pains of the world on lack of margin, it is fair to say that the lack of margin is a much greater component of our pain than most realize.”[3]

Part two contains the prescription and cures for the problem of pain and society’s overloaded lives by applying margin: margin in emotional energy, physical energy, time, and finances. Swenson stresses margin in emotional energy is paramount and shows how margin is diminished because mankind is overworked, overcommitted, overspent, and overindulged. There exists little to no discipline and as society is continually overworked and often underpaid, the condition only worsens. We buy things we cannot afford to impress people we do not even like, we spend too little time in silence and solitude, we neglect nutrition, exercise, and rest, and we often neglect the most important relationships in our life. To be healthy, individuals must surround themselves with healthy people; instead, most have isolated themselves making them susceptible to overload and burnout. Swenson shows the need of lifestyle changes, discipline, and intentionality, all of which will help increase margin.

Part three deals with the prognosis of health when margin is built into our lives. One’s health is vital to maintaining or improving margin, so contentment, simplicity, balance, rest, health, and relationships must never be neglected. Swenson clarifies these areas are all motivations of the heart, and when the heart does not get what it wants, it leads to pain and margin-less living. Simply put, an individual’s internal anchor leads to their external joy.

Critique

Swenson states, “There can be little doubt that the contemporary absence of margin is linked to the march of progress… Margin has been stolen away, and progress was the thief. If we want margin back, we will first have to do something about progress.”[4] Culture demands things be bigger, better, faster, and cheaper and while the rich get richer, the middle class is continually shrinking and the separation of those considered to be wealthy, compared to those living in poverty, is only increasing. So, if progress is to move forward or onward toward a destination, and if the destination is known to cause margin-less living, can it really be called progress? To answer this, we must understand how margin relates to the space between our load and our limits. There is no denying that cultures with the most progress are also those with the least margin. However, to do anything about progress, or to try and define how it sabotages margin, one must be able to put progress on hold. For this to happen, Swenson proposes two things: “First, we must regain control of progress; and second, we must redirect it.”[5] While progress is not evil, it does always give more; the question is more of what? Upon this principle, Swenson demonstrates, “Progress works by differentiating our environment, [moving us] toward increasing stress, changing complexity, speed, intensity, and overload… [Ultimately,] the profusion of progress is on a collision course with human limits and once the threshold is exceeded, overload displaces margin.”[6] Swenson offers many valid points and he stresses the importance of balance and priorities by keeping God first, so the real question is, “Are we passed the point of no return?” This writer feels society is on the precipice, and since this book was written over fifteen years ago, one can only surmise things have not changed or gotten worse.

Ignoring all the obvious benefits that progress has provided would seem foolish because the lack of margin is related more to our response to life than the progress in it. What can be agreed upon is the current state of humanity. There has never been a stage in our existence where time has ever been in such demand. This, as Swenson puts it, has caused, “Our relationships to be starved to death by the velocity [of life.]”[7] As a result, progress has caused time to be the most precious commodity, even more than human life. Americans are among the worst offenders, as they view progress mainly according to material and cognitive status. Due to this attitude, Swenson demonstrates, “We have neglected to respect other more complex and less objective parameters along the way… especially relationships, [because] people are important beyond description.”[8] This point is key in Swenson’s approach because it puts the focus back on the importance of relationships and people. Christ gave His life for all who would call upon the name of the Lord, but the world has been blinded by progress.

Swenson does a wonderful job of not only diagnosing the illness but also providing the cure. His description in the area of stress and how to deal with it is invaluable because the one constant in the universe is change, which leads to stress. The strain of all the various types of stress leads to anxiety, or as Swenson describes it: “The looming belief that circumstances will imminently become painful and hopeless.”[9] Living under these conditions could hardly be called living, and since stress is inevitable, learning to live with it and knowing its signs is paramount to survival. Eventually, whether the symptoms are ignored or disregarded, brokenness and burnout are the end-result. Establishing the limits individuals have is another insightful area Swenson details in his study of overload and setting priorities. It was interesting to learn the top three reasons why we do it to ourselves are: lack of understanding, sense of duty, and following the leader.[10] Here, Swenson makes one of his most valid assertions, “It is not the will of the Father for us to be so battered by the torment of our age. There must be a different way – a way that reserves our strength for higher battles.”[11] Satan is cunning in his attacks and he has crafted his art over the millennia. Through margin-less living, he seeks to isolate and pick off individuals who have been worn down by their circumstances and the moment when he can inflict the most harm is when he will attempt to land the final blow. Swenson rightly displays margin being the agent to restore that which has been taken away, similarly to what Christ does for His children.

Evaluation

Restoring balance to already busy lives and rediscovering the space you need between your work, your daily schedule, and your limits is only accomplished by eliminating unneeded frustrations and reflecting on how you spend your time.  Swenson offers encouragement, healing, and rest, by illustrating how to deal with time management, stress, and the busyness of life. In a world that honors outward achievement, tells people they’ll never have enough, and encourages an impossibly busy life, peace and contentment can feel like a distant dream. However, Swenson shows we can experience the contentment we long for and the peace, the fulfillment, and the joy that is only dreamt of. Swenson illustrates they are found in only one place: in Christ. To improve margin, individuals must make deliberate decisions to not pursue their earthly desires. Christ instructs His followers to, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”[12]  Swenson’s work is a brilliant reminder of this instruction and a magnificent guide to fulfilling it. From a practicality standpoint, his prescriptions for restoring margin in the areas of emotional energy, physical energy, time, and finances are unmatched. The models and methods he employs would be well suited for anyone in pastoral ministry or someone functioning in any counseling capacity. This book is a must read to restore health and margin!

Bibliography

 Swenson, Richard A. Margin: Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2004.

 


[1] Richard Swenson, Margin: Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2004), 16.

[2] Swenson, Margin, 42-43.

[3] Swenson, Margin, 13 & 27.

[4] Swenson, Margin, 25.

[5] Ibid., 29.

[6] Ibid., 27.

[7] Swenson, Margin, 27.

[8] Ibid., 28-29.

[9] Ibid., 48-49.

[10] Ibid., 64.

[11] Swenson, Margin, 64.

[12] Matthew 6:33 (ESV)

His Needs, Her Needs: How to Build an Affair Proof Marriage

His Needs, Her Needs

Willard Harley began the journey of writing His Needs, Her Needs following a thirteen-week course on marriage with the theme: what must a couple do to stay happily married? That was 1978 and eight years later this classic book on the ten most vital needs of men and women became a best seller after only two years of its first printing. Harley grew up watching the end of the traditional nuclear family in America, as the divorce rate climbed from ten percent to over fifty percent.[1] He attributed this increase in divorce and decline in individuals’ commitment to one another as being a side effect of the culture and couples believing they were no longer in love with each other. The more Harley began to look at marriage, the more he felt called to help cure the epidemic that had swept across America. After receiving his PhD in psychology, he began to discover most of the marital experts and therapists had little to no success in restoring marriages, despite no one being willing to admit their failure.

            Session after session, Harley sought to find the one thing that couples could reach for to fall in love again. Love was what brought most people together, so it only seemed logical that love should be able to heal any hurt and bring them back together, right? While the couples said they wanted to be in love again, many were not willing to put forth the effort to do so. As a result, Harley came to the conclusion, if he wanted to save marriages, he would have to learn how to restore the feeling of love. Fortunately, with his education background coming from psychology, he understood conditioned responses, as well as emotional reactions. From this platform, he began teaching what men and women needed from each other to trigger the feeling of love, and also what motivated them to meet the other’s needs.[2] While satisfying the needs of the partner and triggering the feeling of love were the foundation to Harley’s approach, he also establishes the importance of communication and problem solving to make this more than a Pavlovian experiment on marriages.

            Harley begins his book suggesting one takes stock of their marriage/relationship and asks the question: how affair proof is it? He then establishes everyone has love-banks, which never close and that everyone who interacts with them is either making a deposit or withdrawal and if the spouse is not making the right type of love-deposits, someone else in their life will have the opportunity to meet that specific need, which could quickly lead to an affair. Next, Harley demonstrates how the primary thing women cannot live without is affection, while men cannot live without sexual fulfillment. Interestingly, Harley cites, “Most affairs start because of a lack of affection (for the wife) and lack of sex (for the husband). It is a viscous cycle. She does not get enough affection, so she shuts him off sexually and he does not get enough sex, so the last thing he feels like being is affectionate.”[3] Second only to affection, Harley illustrates a woman’s need to have intimate conversation, while the man’s secondary need is recreational companionship.

            Upon establishing these core needs, Harley shows why women need to be able to trust their men, so there is exists a constant environment of honesty (past, present, and future) and openness. On the man’s side, he wants his partner to be attractive and desirable because when she looks good, he feels good.[4] As Harley progresses, it seems more and more apparent that men and women are polar opposites in their needs. Women need to feel financially comfortable, while men just want peace and quiet, so Harley shows the importance of assigning and rating the importance of responsibilities.[5] Women are looking for family commitment and men just want their partner to be proud of them and to admire them. Each partner is the answer to the other’s needs, so Harley concludes with how to move from being incompatible to being irresistible and also how to survive an affair. Ultimately, Harley shows how incompatibility leads to irresistibility by meeting each other’s most important emotional needs.[6]

Critique

Harley’s illustration of the love-bank is a wonderful illustration of what happens over time when needs are neglected. It is also eye opening to show how unmet needs can easily lead to an affair by someone else meeting the partner’s most basic needs. While Harley identifies affection, sexual fulfillment, intimate conversation, and recreational companionship as the main things a partner cannot live without, his theory would have been even stronger by identifying more ways the partner could express their love i.e. words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, or acts of service. He does point out that, “Often the failure of husbands and wives to meet each other’s emotional needs is simply due to ignorance of each other’s needs and not selfish unwillingness to be considerate.”[7] To illustrate this, Harley demonstrates, “Conversation is an integral part of how all of the other important emotional needs are met [and] it is necessary for everyday problem solving and conflict resolution.”[8] Here would have been a wonderful place to talk through how to work through conflicts and why conflict can actually be healthy when it is handled correctly, as a life without conflict is nothing more than artificial harmony.

This writer agrees with Harley that it is important to find common interests, but developing clear communication channels, healthy boundaries, and accountability should be the groundwork of beginning or fixing a marriage. In theory, Harley is correct, as the danger, specifically for men is, “spending recreational time with his wife is ranked second only to sex for the typical husband.”[9] This statistic only validates why men go looking outside the marriage to meet this fundamental need. Harley cites this, “common pattern at its worst can lead to an affair and divorce, [so] the wise couple will avoid this trend in their marriage or correct it as soon as it begins.”[10] Prior to marriage, Harley illustrates, “Most men and women combine all four needs into a romantic experience, but after marriage, spouses get lazy. Women are too tired for sexual fulfillment… and men cannot fit affection or intimate conversation into their busy schedules.”[11] The longer a couple suffers under these conditions, the less likely they fill find enjoyment and fulfillment in life or from each other. He is correct when he illustrates how affection is the environment, while sex is an event and how women need to feel emotionally attached to make it more than a physical event.[12] His understanding of all the components that make up the sexual experience was enlightening, but there is no mention of God creating sex for husband and wife. This would have added understanding to the biblical model of marriage God has established.

Evaluation

            Harley demonstrates a significant amount of scientific knowledge, but his lack of stressing God’s importance in the marriage leaves this writer wanting more. Every one of his points would be even better and if they had been placed in the context of marriage being more than just a contract or an exchanging of vows. This view makes marriage seem like a conditional union and while Harley actually says marriage is a very conditional union, he is illustrating the rationalization that goes on in the mind when one’s needs are not being met and the quid pro quo that results. His research into the importance of doing things together and as a family is great because, “It reflects the care both spouses should have for each other, as activities found to be mutually enjoyable will very likely be done again, and it ensures deposits in each other’s love-bank.”[13] However, if Harley has asserted that spending time in the presence of God came even above the needs of one’s spouse, this method would cause one to experience if God is truly first, the only natural response is for the spouse to then make their partner the second most important priority and love of their life. Harley also fails to mention anything to avoid i.e. social media, being alone in the presence of the opposite sex, staying overnight without your spouse, or elevating your children, job, or hobbies above your spouse’s importance.

            People, places, and things constantly compete for time, yet Harley fails to acknowledge what happens as one can make time for everything else but their spouse or family. People are extremely selfish, so, in all things, God must be first, then the spouse, then the children, then jobs, and interests or hobbies. Love for God should be the stimulus that causes husbands and wives to love each other. The love one shows is an investment in their life and if more spouses were cognizant of this principle, this writer believes there would be more healthy relationships and less marriages starving and failing. Overall, this writer likes Harley’s approach and while some of his methods seem radical, they demonstrate what one is truly willing to sacrifice to save the marriage and they illuminate what is truly a priority in one’s life. By realigning one’s priorities, meeting each other’s emotional needs, and finding mutually enjoyable activities, this writer believes Harley’s methods are a great start to fixing and avoiding marital issues.

Bibliography

 Harley, Willard F. Jr. His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage, Revised and Expanded Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2011.

The Knowledge of the Holy

the knowledge of the holy
A.W. Tozer in The Knowledge of the Holy identifies a widening gap between God and humans due to the low view of God many Christians hold. This has resulted in a loss of reverence, majesty, and spirit of worship. Tozer argues, “The only way to recoup our spiritual losses is to go back to the cause of them and make such corrections as the truth warrants.” Tozer beautifully diagnoses the problem and skillfully provides the cure by reintroducing his readers to God by knowing and understanding all of His attributes. This book is a great tool for people looking to rejuvenate their prayer life and relationship with God. Besides the Bible, I can think of no other book which would be as fitting as The Knowledge of the Holy to begin a spiritual formation class, because our lack of fearing God and our failure in understanding the nature, attributes, and character of God is at the heart of our disconnect.

Just as our time, talents, and treasures illuminate the priorities in our life so does our view of God. Tozer claims, “No religion has ever been greater than its idea of God [and]… the most revealing thing about the church is her idea of God.” Having a clear understanding of who God is becomes the starting point to purifying our ideals and elevating God to the highest priority of our lives, so we may once again be worthy of Him. While we were made in the image of God, we also bear the mark of Adam and the sinful nature, which resulted from the fall, but because of Christ’s sacrifice, when we come to faith, we are redeemed. This provides a clear picture of the love God has for His children because He sent His only Son to die for all of mankind while we were still dead in our transgressions. Love keeps no record of wrong and when we confess our sins to God, He chooses not to remember them. One of the biggest problems among believers today is we remember the things we should forget and we forget the things we should remember.

Understanding that God exists in Himself and of Himself is key to understanding how none of God’s attributes can be divided or added up to make God who He is. God is one hundred percent immutable, divine, omnipotent, omniscient, faithful, good, just, gracious, loving, holy, and sovereign. Every attribute God possesses only serves to compliment His others. Personally, I find this one of the most comforting things about the nature of God because it means He is same yesterday, today, and forevermore and He will never act in a way, which is contradictory to His character. In many ways, God is incomprehensible, but having faith in God’s attributes equips the believer to walk through seasons, pits, and trials where without God, we would be utterly lost. One cannot learn faith by reading about it; faith can only be taught through experience: often life’s most brutal teacher. Despite this fact, it is in these seasons that many believers come to find and know a new attribute of God. For some they come to know Jehovah Jireh as God provides, others come to know Jehovah Rophe through a miraculous healing; still others may come to experience Jehovah Shalom as they experience peace, which transcends all understanding. For many, due to our disregard of God’s holiness, we are introduced to El Qanna as the zeal of God rises up when something or someone threatens our covenant relationship with Him.

God reveals Himself to us through His word and through creation, so if we want to grow closer to Him, we must stay grounded in the Word while also looking for the countless opportunities we have to spread the Gospel and advance the kingdom of God through our words and deeds. Just as God chooses not to remember our sins, we too choose not to remember many of the attributes God has already revealed to us because they occurred during times of our life we are not proud of. Out past mistakes should be nothing more than stepping stones to our future and if we are being honest, each stone could be used to erect a huge altar to God for his goodness and mercy. This was what the Israelites did as they crossed the Jordan River; a member of each tribe picked up a stone and carried it to the other side to build an altar to God so all future generations would know and remember what God delivered them through and from.

Tozer states, “We can never know who we are till we know at least something of who God is” and I could not agree more. Understanding God’s holiness and our sinful nature is at the heart of our rebellion against God. To live we must die; to save our life, we must be willing to give it up: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” Jesus was the model for us to follow and we are now called to fulfill the Great Commission by enacting the Great Commandment. Tozer illustrates how, “In His love and pity God came to us as Christ” and Jesus who knew no sin became sin to provide a way back to a new covenant relationship with God. God calls each of us to be holy, for He is holy and He also calls us to spread the Gospel. We are plan A and there is no plan B, so the sooner we can come into alignment with the plans God has for us the sooner we will find joy, happiness, meaning, and our purpose in life. God has equipped each of us with giftings and callings and as we come together as the body of Christ, we can accomplish the mission together with the help of the Holy Spirit and our awesome God. On my own, I am powerless, but through Christ I can do all things and I know God will cause all things to work together for good because I love the Lord and I am answering the call according to His purpose. God’s word is timeless and He is immutable, so I love reading a passage of scripture during a particular season and then rereading it again during another circumstance and finding even more meaning in the passage. God gives us exactly what we need when we need it, just as He did with the manna from heaven. God does not give us what we need for tomorrow; He gives us what we need in the immediate moment. This keeps our eyes fixed upon Him, it keeps our faith and trust in Him, and ultimately it secures our covenant relationship with God.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Tozer, A.W. The Knowledge of the Holy. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1961.