Tag Archives: Discipleship

A real church…

“A real church never values participating in programs above relating in community.  And it faces the disturbing truth that involvement in small groups too often amounts to little more than participation in a relational program.  A real church aims toward spiritual community, where souls connect, where shame weakens, where sin surfaces, where failure meets grace, where irritations soften, where holy desire grows.”

~ Larry Crabb, Real Church, Page 152

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Filed under Authenticity, Christianity, Church, Discipleship, Grace, involvement with the church, Religion and Spirituality, Sin, Spiritual formation, Spiritual growth

He kicked my butt!

A few weeks ago I spent a week at a retreat center near Asheville, North Carolina. It was a School of Spiritual Direction with Dr. Larry Crabb.

The schedule was designed to include evening sessions but did allow for a three-hour gap in the afternoon. So on that first afternoon I located a map of trails and headed out.

The longest trail was just three miles long and promised a nice view from a higher elevation. My thought process went something like this:

“I’ve just lost 40 pounds and have been bike riding with my wife for nearly four months now. We’re up to 18 miles a ride and this past week I did a solo ride of 27 miles – my longest to date. It’s only a three-mile hike. No problem.”

To say that I misjudged the effect of elevation on a three-mile hike would be a gross understatement.

It kicked my butt!

About 2 1/2 hours later I dragged myself back to my room and quickly showered for supper. For three days my thigh muscles SCREAMED at me every time I moved.

The same thing happened spiritually with all that took place that week as our group of 31 people explored the nature of our journey with God.

I was captivated by God as the Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit – existing in perfect, loving community. And I welcomed the invitation to journey further into the fellowship enjoyed by the Trinity.

But the price of admission is a humble and broken spirit. On several occasions the Holy Spirit brought me face-to-face with some of my “false gods” and sinful relational patterns. He kicked my butt – spiritually speaking!

That portion of the journey was brutally painful. And to be honest, I was ready to cut and run more than once.

But the corresponding freedom that came as a result of being embraced by what the Spirit was doing in me was like nothing I’ve ever experienced.

The Holy Spirit didn’t confront me with my sin in order to beat me up or heap on guilt and shame. He did it – does it daily – so that I’ll come to the end of my own efforts and more fully rely on His work in me.

This is exactly what Paul describes in Romans 7 and 8. In chapter 7 Paul is totally frustrated with his struggle against the fleshly, sinful nature and wonders who can help him. Then in chapter 8 he’s celebrating the Spirit’s work in us.

5-6 Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead-end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. ~ Romans 8 (The Message)

My relationship with God – Father, Son and Spirit – has been very different these last few weeks. And relating to family and friends has been very different as well – more open and healthy; more God-focused.

I believe I’m getting a taste of the real life Jesus came to make possible. And reflecting more of God’s relational glory in the process.

No offense intended, but I hope we all get our butts kicked today by the Holy Spirit!

***

© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Authenticity, Brokenness, Christianity, Discipleship, Divine presence, Fellowship, Glory of God, God, God the Father, Holy Spirit, Humility, influence with the world, intimacy with the Lord, Jesus, Joy, Love of God, Loving God, Loving others, Morphing, Relationship with God, Religion and Spirituality, Sin, Spiritual formation, Spiritual growth, Surrender, Trinity, Trusting God

May God wreck our plans!

We were getting away for a few days to relax and regain some sense of rhythm. But God had other plans!

Susan and I loaded our bikes into the old blue bus (our 20-year-old van) and pulled out late Sunday afternoon headed for a hotel room in Indy. The trip was uneventful, the room was great and the continental breakfast was amazing. But then…

We shopped at a few nearby stores before heading downtown to visit a friend who had just given birth to her third baby. We got within a couple of miles of the hospital when the van started sputtering.

Long story short, we spent another night in Indy and about $500 for a new fuel pump!

The really ironic part is that I’m reading a book about what God may be up to when our dreams get shattered or our plans go up in smoke. And just for the record, I prefer reading about it over actually living it. Just sayin’…

There are certainly bigger dreams out there than just getting away for a few days but it stretched our patience to the breaking point!

In his book, Shattered Dreams, Larry Crabb suggests that God uses the big and little obstacles of life to help us come to grips with what matters most to us. Are we pursuing God in order to secure His blessings of a good life or are we desiring a relationship with God above all else?

The deepest longings of our heart cry out for an experience of God’s presence; and yet we so often settle for lesser passions. Only when those lesser passions get thwarted or crushed will we delve deeper into our soul and come to discover our greater passion for God.

An encounter with God is what we were created for and satisfies our soul like nothing or no one else can. But when the lesser passions of life satisfy us, even if they are only temporary, we forget the bigger passion.

It’s sort of like nibbling on junk food too close to the big meal and losing our appetite for real food.

I’ll be honest. I was very angry and frustrated as we sat there in the hot sun waiting for the tow truck to show up. Was a few days away to relax really too much to ask?

But eventually, a different question made its way to the forefront of my mind.

Are these few days away more important to you than God?

God could have kept our van running but didn’t. God could have prompted me to take a different vehicle but He didn’t. (At least, I don’t think He did. Sometimes I don’t listen so well)

If I want God more than I want a few days away and if I choose to trust God as sovereign, then can I trust Him to be working behind the scenes to accomplish something I know nothing about? In essence…

Would I trust God’s character and intentions to be good even if I didn’t know the “why”?

I have no great “TaDa” moment that resulted from our interrupted plans. I’ve gained no great revelation or insight from what took place. And I still don’t know how we’ll pay for the van or extra night in a hotel.

But I can trust the Author of the story to be good and I can once again sift through my passions to see which ones are most important.

May God wreck our plans, no matter how good they are, to help us discover our greater passion for Him!

***
© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Adversity, Contentment, Desire, Discipleship, Divine presence, Frustration, God, intimacy with the Lord, Patience, Priorities, Relationship with God, Religion and Spirituality, Spiritual formation, Spiritual growth, Suffering, Trusting God

Only if we die to self!

The Christian life is different: harder, and easier. Christ says, “Give me all. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work. I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself; my own will shall become yours.” ~ C. S. Lewis

Our earthly nature, even at it’s best, is self-serving and self-absorbed. Even good deeds are often done to serve our own purposes or make us appear better than we really are.

If we’re honest, we’ll admit that we’re all broken souls in need of God’s healing touch.

When the Spirit of Christ comes to dwell in us He gives birth to a whole new nature; one that is born from above – focused on God and others.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? ~ Matthew 16:24-26

God longs to infuse us with this new life and new nature so that we can lavish it on those we encounter. But it’s an either/or proposition. This new life is possible…

Only if we die to self!

***
© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Brokenness, Choices, Christianity, CS Lewis, Discipleship, God, Healing, Holy Spirit, influence with the world, Jesus, Loving God, Loving others, Religion and Spirituality, Surrender

Climbing Mount God

So—how do you scale something as majestic as Mount God? How do you get to know someone as big as Him?

Answer: a little at a time.

We don’t wake up one day to discover that we are really “tight” with God just because we want to be. Knowing God—like going up the Matterhorn—requires that we pay a price. And that we take a lot of small steps every day.

But the main thing is to take the first step. In the little book of James we find the promise, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” God has already made the first move, inviting you through His Son Jesus Christ to come as close as you want. But you have to respond, telling (and showing) God that you want to be His friend.
~ Excerpted from Wired: For a Life of Worship by Louie Giglio

How can you take the first step toward knowing God better today?

***

© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Christianity, Discipleship, God, intimacy with the Lord, Relationship with God, Religion and Spirituality

Not an evening stroll!

Wait Lord, I need to catch my breath! (pant, wheeze, gasp)

“I have learned to appreciate my father’s willingness to let God be the mystery that he is and, with eyes wide open, to pursue him, not with the precision of a crossword puzzle fanatic but with the reckless passion of a pilot flying into the Bermuda Triangle. 

Following Christ is a wild adventure full of risk, frustration, excitement, and setbacks.  It is not an evening stroll in a planned community along a well-manicured path.” ~ From God of My Father by Larry Crabb

I don’t know about you but I need the occasional reminder that being on a journey with God through this life is nothing short of a wild adventure.

Truth be told, I tend to prefer things calm and quiet and controlled. But too much of that gets old real fast!

Yet too much of the wild adventure can leave me breathless and grabbing for something to hold on to so I don’t collapse.

This summer has left me feeling like that. Breathless and grabbing…

It always seems to come back to the core issue of trusting the Author of the bigger story.

OK Lord, I’m ready to go when You are…

***

© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Christianity, Discipleship, Faith, God, Relationship with God, Religion and Spirituality, Trusting God

A better strategy!

What would happen if we were to focus on the four out of every ten adults and one out of every three teenagers who have already asked Jesus Christ to be their Savior—and do everything we can to help them grow into inspired, unmistakable disciples of Jesus?

What would happen for God’s kingdom if we did not consider our job complete when people confess their sins and say a prayer inviting Jesus to be their Redeemer, but would use their new commitments to Christ as a launching pad for a lifelong quest to become individuals who are completely sold out—emotionally, intellectually, physically, spiritually—to the Son of God?

Churches work hard at trying to expand and strengthen the kingdom of God with all types of creative and life-affecting ministries. Thousands of churches are currently fine-tuning their worship services to make them more attractive and compelling. The typical church labors to integrate numerous programs, classes, and other offerings into its menu of possibilities…

But here’s a better strategy: Ignite people’s passion for God and get out of their way. When individuals are single-minded in their devotion to God, their commitment to His ways and His principles becomes much deeper, much more intense. Once they have made an enduring and serious commitment, the peripherals don’t matter as much.
~ Excerpted from Growing True Disciples by George Barna

“Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” ~ Matthew 28:19-20 (NLT)

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Filed under Christianity, Church, Commitment, Discipleship, God's Will, influence with the world, involvement with the church, Religion and Spirituality, Spiritual formation, Spiritual growth

Pushing for something good can turn bad

Few people outside of Wayne County, Indiana have likely heard the name Ralph Teetor, but millions use one of his inventions every day – cruise control.

Ralph was a longtime president of Perfect Circle, an automotive parts manufacturing company in the small rural community of Hagerstown, IN where I pastor a church.

He was a gifted engineer who invented many things despite the fact that he was blind from the age of 5.

As the story goes, he was playing in the yard with a friend and was accidentally stabbed in the eye. Not lacking for resources and wanting the best possible care for their son, his parents took him to the best eye doctor in the region (Cincinnati, OH).

The eye was badly injured but his parents insisted the doctor do everything possible to save it. I don’t know much about the medical knowledge of eye doctors in the late 1890’s but it certainly must have been limited compared with what they know today.

In spite of the doctors best efforts the injured eye developed an infection that in turn spread to the other eye and rendered it blind as well. Had the injured eye been removed, he would have had sight with one good eye.

I’m not second guessing his parent’s decision. We all want the very best for our children and will sacrifice everything to make that possible. But sometimes pushing for something good can turn bad.

As followers of Jesus who are giving ourselves to further His kingdom here on earth, it is easy to push for something good without first stopping to consider or pray about whether it is God-ordained.

God’s ways are not our ways and God’s timing is not our timing. To participate with Him is not just finding something good to do but learning to do life in step with Him so that we can do the right thing at the right time.

In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus offers rest to all who would follow Him. It’s a promise to teach us how to live in step with God and the phrase used by Eugene Peterson in The Message is “unforced rhythms of grace.”

The offer still stands as the Holy Spirit who resides in us can teach us how to do life with God.

What would it look like today or this week to do life in God’s unforced rhythms of grace?
***
© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Choices, Discipleship, God, God's Will, Grace, Holy Spirit, intimacy with the Lord, Jesus, Kingdom of God, Prayer, Wisdom

Almost the 9th King of America

Randy Frazee is the preaching pastor on staff at Oak Hills Church alongside Max Lucado. In the book, The Heart of the Story, Randy mentions a segment from The Today Show back in 2009.

Apparently George Washington was offered the opportunity to become the first king of America, but turned it down. The commentator speculated on how things would look today had George accepted this role.

Through the internet and a genealogy expert, the research staff traced all of George’s living 8000 descendants to see who would be sitting on the throne today. That brought them to the city of San Antonio, Texas – the home of Oak Hills Church and Randy Frazee.

The TV camera panned into a local Burger King only to find Paul Washington asking for his order to be “king-sized.” If George Washington had accepted the offer of monarchy, Paul would now be our ninth king of the United States.

As it turns out, Paul’s son Dick and his kids go to Oak Hills Church and his sons have been to the Frazee household for sleepovers with Randy’s sons. How ironic is that?

When Randy asked them about why George turned down the offer they said it was because he didn’t want America to get back into the same bad situation of a monarchy that had brought the pilgrims from England in the first place.

In 1774 a report to King George of England by the governor of Boston noted: “If you ask an American who is his master he will tell you he has none, nor any governor but Jesus Christ.”

The same correspondence goes on to mention a motto popular during the Revolutionary War:

“No king but King Jesus.”

You and I fight a revolutionary war every day. Not an external battle with guns but an internal struggle between walking in the Spirit and putting to death the deeds of the flesh that want to pull us away from God.

Our only hope of victory is absolute surrender to Jesus, the King of Kings!

Who is sitting on the throne of your heart?

***
© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Christianity, Discipleship, Holy Spirit, intimacy with the Lord, Jesus, Kingdom of God, Relationship with God, Surrender, The Story, Trusting God

Our need for honest feedback

The Last Czar is a biography about the life of Czar Nicholas II, the last emperor of Russia. While his generals were brutally suppressing dissent, they told him civil unrest was the result of foreign influence and assured him his own people loved him.

The Czar didn’t have any other source of information so was completely unaware that his generals were not being truthful with him. Not a good position to be in.

When the Communists took over, he was caught by surprise and forced to abdicate. Sadly, the Bolsheviks eventually executed him and his entire family. It is a sad and tragic story.

Few of us are czars, but the same lack of honest feedback can be devastating. We need truth tellers around us in two critical areas.

The first area is horizontal and pertains to our relationships with people. We fill the role of friend, spouse, son or daughter, parent, employee or boss, coach or teammate.

The second area is vertical and pertains to our relationship with God. Our core identity is that of being a child of our Creator; embracing a new identity in Christ.

Maybe it’s because I hit 50 last year or maybe it’s because I have two grown sons living far from home, but I’ve been reflecting more and more on what got my attention in the last 30 years. Relationships are what make our lives rich and we all need feedback to make them as strong as possible.

The area of our relationship with God is perhaps even more critical. All of us live with a gap between what we profess or live outwardly and what is really going on in our heart. For some, this gap is small but for others the gap is rather large.

The danger is that this largely invisible gap is easy to conceal because we tend to focus on managing our external behavior with a highly trained filter. Dress nice, smile and be nice around church friends, drop some money in the offering plate and help out occasionally.

All those things are good but they don’t always accurately reflect what is going on beneath the surface. We need traveling companions who will ask us the hard questions and give us honest feedback.

“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” ~ Proverbs 27:17

God’s design to make us more like Jesus happens best when we journey together and engage in honest feedback.

Who are your traveling companions?
***
© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Accountability, Authenticity, Children of God, Courage, Discipleship, Fellowship, Friendship, God, God's Will, Heart, intimacy with the Lord, Morphing, Relationship with God, Spiritual formation, Spiritual growth, Truth