The internet is full of extremely bad blog writers, but coming across a good one can be a real blessing to spiritual growth and open life to new and challenging ideas. Therefore, I’d like to introduce you to some of my favourite blogs.
On a practical note, I’ve been using Google Reader to follow blogs. It’s simple to use, has great interactive features, lets you see all the multimedia content, and makes subscribing super easy.
I’ll parse these revelations out over the week so I don’t overwhelm you with too much at once. Keep in mind that these are going to be completely bent towards my interests in leadership, church life, personal growth and my own nerdy pursuits. BTW, if you know of any other great blogs, let me know so I can check them out.
Let’s Start with the ones I have under “Leadership”. I’m taking most of the descriptions straight from the “About” page of their blog site.
9 Marks: Building Healthy Churches – “9Marks is a ministry dedicated to equipping church leaders with a biblical vision and practical resources. Our goal is simple: churches that display the glory of God.”
Catalystspace – “Leadership has been the topic of focus for the Catalyst brand since inception and will continue to be so. Catalyst and the annual Conferences provide a wide cover for addressing a variety of topics specific to Next Generation Leaders, including organizational leadership, personal leadership, integrity, character, relationships, and teamwork, among others.”
Catalyst Leadership Digital Magazine – An amazing magazine put out for FREE by the Catalyst Leadership folks and Christianity Today magazine.
Michael Hyatt – “It is focused on “intentional leadership.” My mission is to help you live with more passion, work with greater focus and lead with extraordinary influence. I write on personal development, leadership, productivity, platform, and publishing. On occasion, I write about stuff that doesn’t fit neatly into one of these categories.”
Leadership Journal – “Leadership Journal provides today’s church leaders with biblically faithful, pastorally practical writing. Leadership Journal offers smart, honest perspective on matters of ministry and the Christian leadership experience.”
Out of Ur – “This blog from Leadership Journal is where you can join a lively conversation about the intersection of faithful ministry and popular culture. And those two worlds often collide in unexpected ways.”
Tony Morgan Live – “He’s a consultant, leadership coach and writer who helps churches get unstuck and have a bigger impact…. Tony has also written several articles on staffing, technology, strategic planning and leadership published by organizations like Outreach Magazine, Catalyst and Pastors.com.”
I watched this video again (more here) and it reminded me of my struggle with jealousy. I am a writer and a pastor, so this video hits me on both sides. Jon Acuff, who is a successful Christian author, is talking to Ed Stetzer talks about his struggles with envying other authors, and Stetzer talks about “Ministry Pornography”, which is a way of describing a pastor/minister’s struggle with being content in their own church in a world of mega-churches and rock-star preachers. I know I have struggled with both of those. And without even noticing, it effected my prayer life.
My prayers used to sound like this:
“Lord, I’m okay where I am, and thank you for the church I serve… but if you want to grow the church to 6000 that’d be okay too. I love writing, and I’m happy if you help just one person with what I’ve written… but if you want to give me a million readers, a national best seller, and have me speak at conferences, that’ll be okay too. Actually Lord, what’s wrong with the way I’m doing things? It’s all for your name! Father, send revival! Reveal to me the secret of having this kind of influence and success so more people can be saved. In your name, Amen.”
Have you ever prayed that way? I really believed I was being sincere, but in truth I was saying “Lord, I want influence, and I’m not satisfied with where you put me. I want a big church because I want to feel successful. I doubt myself, my call to ministry, and even your love for me sometimes, but I wouldn’t have those doubts if the church was bigger. I don’t like the way you define success, I want you to define it my way. Actually, I don’t really want revival for your name, I just want people to know my name.”
God doesn’t answer prayers like that.
Praise God that he has been working on my heart, and recently my prayers sound more like this:
“Lord, thank you for these amazing authors, pastors and churches who do so much for your kingdom! They are impacting their community, country, and even the world for your sake. They make great resources that I could never come up with myself. They answer questions on video and in books far better than I ever could, and I learn from them all the time. They make so many tools that make my life and ministry easier. Thank you for them! In truth, I have no idea what they are going through in their private life, but I’m sure that with that kind of influence comes some incredible spiritual attacks — Lord, protect them. They tell stories of the kind of heartache they get to see on a regular basis — things I have never seen, and don’t even know if I could deal with — Lord, grant them grace and wisdom. Every word they speak seems to come under criticism from somewhere — Lord, encourage them. I’ve watched some of them burn-out because of their passion and crazy schedule–Lord, touch them. In Jesus name, Amen.”
Maybe you’re not a pastor, but I would imagine that you know how it feels to envy someone for their possessions or influence. Ask God to change your prayers from selfish to thankful? I have found that the more I thank God, the less envy I feel.
There’s some confusion among Christians regarding male Eldership and the role of women in the church. This is a concern to me because it can easily become a divisive topic if it’s not clearly communicated and carefully (and humbly) studied. I want everyone to understand what God says about the different roles of men and women in the family, the church, and society in general, so I’ve done some research to point you to the clearest, most concise, biblical teaching I can.
Here’s my own sermon on the topic: “Women In the Church (From “They Like Jesus but Not The Church” Series)
– Why Can’t Women be Elders? (by Bill Kynes)
– Complimentari-What? (by Justin Holcomb)
– Should Women Become Pastors? (by John Piper)
The Qualifications of Elders and Deacons (by Matt Perman)
– I’m a Complementarian But… (by Thabiti Anyawbwile)
Why Do the New Calvinists Insist On Complimentarianism? (by Kevin DeYoung)
I wrote a book a while back called “Letters from Jesus: A Study of the Seven Churches of Revelation“, and it’s FREE on Google Books to read and download as PDF. It’s all about how Jesus speaks to us in unique and special ways to encourage, correct, challenge and train us.
The book won an “Award of Merit” from The Word Guild’s Canadian Christian Writing Awards in 2009. I learned so much writing this book, and hope you will come check it out. I would love some reviews too, if you are so inclined. :-)
If you would like an actual, paper copy, the last few are on sale at Salem Storehouse in Ottawa, ON for $8.
From the Back Cover:
Pastor Allan Descheneau invites the reader to “walk along with the letter carrier of the Roman Road” as he takes them on an exhilarating journey in his book Letters from Jesus. Well organized and simple to understand, Pastor Allan reveals Jesus’ hopes for His church and their need for repentance, grace, encouragement, and a revitalized relationship with Him. Although these letters were delivered to specific churches almost two thousand years ago, with the help of the Holy Spirit, Pastor Allan is able to draw out the many truths for us today. Just as Ephesus struggled to make love a priority, Smyrna faced persecution, Pergamum endured the flank attacks of Satan, and Thyatira compromised its morality, so do many Christians and congregations struggle with these same issues today. Above all, Letters from Jesus invites the reader to ask, “What would Jesus’ letter be to me?”
I feel some of you may need to hear the advice I recently gave a friend who is going through a tough time:
“Sometimes we feel bad after praying that God would take our burdens and then picking them back up again after we say “amen”. We think that there might be a limit on the times we can release our pain to Him and retract it, absorbing back into ourselves. There isn’t. He will let us put it down and pick it up as many times as it takes until we are ready to walk away without it. Just remember to keep putting it down.”
Here’s a powerful song by Kathryn Scott that brings me encouragement during these times:
I have some friends that are in a difficult place, trying to help some people they know reconcile hurting relationships. I offered to give them some helpful articles and tools, and believe that they may be able to help others.
Meditation is a multifaceted and religiously loaded term. There are many Christians today who shy away from practicing meditation because they aren’t sure that it’s “allowed”. Let me assure you it is, and it is the key to developing a deep life and focus on God’s priorities for you.
Christian meditation only has two components: Stopping and Listening. Other religions have meditation as a religious practice, particularly eastern religions, but for them, meditation is designed to purge all thought, desire and will – it is to empty themselves. Christian meditation is not an emptying … but a filling of ourselves with God. In Christian meditation we focus on our obedience and faithfulness to God and the person of Jesus Christ.
First, let’s talk about Stopping.
For some of you that period of silence we just had before I came up was refreshing, for others it was annoying, and maybe even agonizing. Take a second and think: What was going through your mind? Godly thoughts? What was your body doing? Were you at peace, or were you keyed up? Some of you are so tired that if there is no sound or activity, you will just fall asleep. For those of you who are staying awake with me, let me ask you about your feelings about “stopping”. How do you see stopping? Is it a sin? Are stopped people, lazy people? What emotion does the word “stop” conjure up?
Christian Psychologist Carl Jung said,
“Hurry is not of the devil; it is the devil.”
Why? Because when we don’t stop, we cannot listen to God, love our neighbour, serve the church, or worship properly. We must make the time to stop. It is the first step in meditation.
John Ortburg, in his book “The Life You’ve Always Wanted” talks about “Hurry Sickness”, and he gives a few symptoms of people who are “hurry sick.” Let me ask you to identify any of these in your own life, because if you have “hurry sickness”, then you will not stop. And if you will not stop, you cannot meditate. And if you cannot meditate, you will not deepen yourself, or hear the voice of God.
The First symptom is “Constantly Speeding up Daily Activities”. Do you find that everything in your life is a race because you are plagued by the fear that there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done? Do you read fast, talk fast, and keep nodding so the other person will speed up their talking? Do you find yourself being anxious about which line to stand in at the store, or what lane to be in when driving? Do you ever find yourself rushing around, even when there’s no need to? You’re just so used to going at 110% that you can’t stop. Do you find yourself making up pretend races with your kids or loved ones so that you can get them out of the way at the end of the day? People do this. They tell their kids to race through brushing their teeth, and taking a bath, and then race through reading them a book… because they need to get them to bed. Married couples race through dates and even sex so they can get through it so they can do something else. Are you always speeding things up?
The Second symptom Hurry Sickness is “Relentless Multi-Tasking”. Do you find yourself unsatisfied, or even feel guilty, if you are only doing one thing at a time? Some people do. They can’t just read. They have to read with music, and the news on, with the computer on in the background, while sitting next to someone having a conversation. Some people can’t just sit outside and have a coffee… they have to bring a crossword puzzle, or a grocery list, or something else… because somehow just sitting there with a coffee is somehow a sin. Some people can’t let the phone ring… they have to answer it. Do you always have to multi-task?
Third, “Clutter”. A hurry sick person cannot fathom simplicity. They have every time-saving gadget in the world, and ten things strapped to their belt, and in their backpack. Their closets and bedrooms are stuffed to the brim with things they never use or wear, but will “get to later when they have time.” Do you lead a cluttered existence?
Fourth, “Superficiality”. Richard Foster calls it “the curse of our age.” Relationships are superficial because time is not given to deepen them. Marriages break down because the depths of love are not plunged. Spiritual life is superficial and unsatisfying, so people go to all kinds of sins and idols to fill their spiritual hunger. So many people live their life on the surface, and have no idea that there is a depth to existence they will never see unless they stop, wait and listen.
The end result of hurry sickness becomes an inability to love. This is the most serious danger of hurry sickness. We race and run and live a superficial lives and we become jaded to love, and unable to love. Why? Because love and time are indelibly tied. We cannot hurry and love. Love takes time.
When we hurry, we lose our sense of gratitude, and our sense of wonder. Carleton Place, and the Ottawa Valley are truly beautiful, but you won’t really experience its beauty if you whiz by in a plane or a car. To really appreciate it you have to get out of the car and take a walk, go on one of the bike-paths, or sit in a park. You’re spouse is wonderful, but you won’t fully experience that sense of wonder or gratitude to God for them unless you stop and truly experience them for a concentrated period of time.
Jesus knew how to stop.
And He did it often. He had the most important mission in the history of the universe, and yet He took time to stop.
When Jesus heard about the beheading of His cousin John the Baptist he was in the middle of an itinerant preaching journey. But he stopped. Matthew 14:13, “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” But the crowds were relentlessly following him. So Jesus teaches them for a time, miraculously feeds them and then dismisses them. Now many of us would have went for a nap, or went with our friends somewhere, but Jesus sends His disciples away in a boat, and then stops again. Verse 23 says, “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.” Why didn’t Jesus get swept up in all the things we get swept into? Because He stopped regularly to listen to God.
Before Jesus chose the disciples He stopped to listen to what God had to say. Luke 6:12-13, “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.” We get the impression from the Gospels that despite Jesus’ popularity, people coming to Him day and night, dealing with family matters, having to train the disciples, teaching, preaching, miracles, traveling, the Pharisees chasing him down, and all the rest, Jesus took time away to be with God. If Jesus needed to do this… how much more do we?
Second, let’s talk about Listening
Not many people are good at this. And it is certainly not something that is encouraged in our culture. Richard Foster says,
“What happens in meditation is that we create the emotional and spiritual space which allows Christ to construct an inner sanctuary of the heart.”
Think of your inner life like a building that you have been working on for some time. God started you with some materials to work with, your parents gave you pieces and tools to build more, hardships and life events added to the design, and so did your schooling and friends. You have this inner house built up that represents every part of you. But when you ask Jesus to take over your life, what you are doing is asking Him to rebuild your house.
When we stop and listen, what we are doing is giving God the time and focus to rebuild our house. During our meditation time, God opens doors that we had locked and stuffed full of anger, bitterness, and pain. He takes our favourite trophies down off of our shelves. He points out the structural problems and weak designs we have incorporated into our house. And He starts the process of rebuilding us. And in our listening we have time to ask Him, “God, does that have to go?” And we listen to when He says, “Yes.” And we ask Him, “What parts of me need to be added? What needs to be torn out? What should be kept?” And in our listening time God begins that work.
So often we love to go to others for this advice. And there is certainly a place for that. But if we really believe that we live in a universe created by a personal God who loves us and still speaks to this day, then we must listen to Him.
How to Listen to God
There are many ways that we can listen to God, but let me tell you the two most helpful that I’ve found.
First is listening to scripture. Open the bible and read it as though it was written to you. Now, I don’t mean bible study. I mean just take a bible, without study notes, and meditate on one part. Maybe one section, or one verse, or even one word, and let God speak to you about it. Use your imagination to put yourself in the place of Elijah by the stream, or Paul on the road, or become one of the throngs of people listening to Jesus on the mountainside. What do you hear, see, sense, feel? Meditate on scripture and let God speak to you through it.
Next, just get quiet. Take a period of time and just turn everything off and listen. Indoors, outdoors, wherever. Don’t pray, or talk, or read, or listen to music, or bring a friend… just listen. If you’ve never done this, it’s going to be really hard. Try it for 1 minute. Then 5 minutes. Then 15 minutes. Then half an hour. Don’t feel guilty if your mind is racing and you can’t focus.
Once you get to the 10 or 15 minute mark, grab a piece of paper and a pen, and then go find someplace to just listen. If something comes to mind that you need to do… write it down. I have to do laundry… write it down. I have to talk to someone… write it down. I should pick up frozen corn next time I go to the grocery store… write it down. Get it all out on paper and just listen. If you don’t write it down then you’re going to keep hearing the same thing over and over. Eventually your brain will stop coming up with distractions and you will be able to listen for God’s voice. If and when He speaks… write it down.
And then go check out what you’ve been listening to with the Bible and another Christian friend/Pastor. Simply say, “This is what I’ve been hearing from God and what I believe He’s saying… what do you think?” That will help you from being deceived, and will keep you accountable.
What do you need to do this week to get started?
1. Ask for the desire to listen. The ability and desire to meditate is a gift from God. Begin by asking Him for the want to and gumption to actually do it. This is certainly a prayer He will answer. God loves to give us gifts that bring us closer to Him.
2. Slow Down and Stop. Deliberately do things that make you practice waiting. Drive in the slow lane for a month. Get in the long line at the grocery store. And then find ways to stop. Declare an electronics free day, or week. No ipod, no tv, no cell phone after work, no computer after work.
3. Make Space. Set a time in your calendar that will be a meditation day for you. A couple of hours, or a whole day where you will just go and be alone and listen. Tell people that you’re going, and set the date. Then find a spot to be alone. Not the mall, or the coffee shop, or the gym. How about the park, or a place by the Ottawa river, or alone in your room? And don’t take anything! Nothing. Nothing. Nope, not that either! Ortburg says,
“Solitude is the one place where we can gain freedom from the forces of society that will otherwise relentlessly mould us.”
Who do you want to mould you, society, or God?
Don’t get worked up if this is hard for a while. No one can do this perfectly. But God honours those who seek Him… He promises we will find Him.