I’m a reader.
And I’m not nearly the reader I used to be. When I was in my early 20’s and going through one of the biggest times of personal and spiritual development, I found myself coming back time after time towards the same handful of books. I don’t know how many times I read each of them, but as I grow older I realize how each of them played a serious role in who I am in my late 30’s, In many ways, these books are responsible for me. They formed me, forced me to grow and expand, and taught me so much. In many ways, they made me who I am now. They helped me understand my own scripture and prayer life and helped me learn what it looked like to live as a Christian in the world.
5 Books (That Are Responsible For Me)
The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer
There was a time in which I pretty much duct taped my first copy of “Pursuit” to my Bible. It was making the rounds at my college at the first part of an intentional discipleship relationship with a campus pastor and the word got out. Many of the folks I was around back then could trace their own path of following Jesus off this book. I recommend it constantly. I’ve ended up keeping around 5 copies around my office to give to people. In fact, I’ll give any of my copies away with the exception of that first copy. It’s downright sacred.
Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
This is the first of Richard Foster books on my list. We used it in college ministry and I had a fantastic co-leader that outlined the entire book for everyone. I thought the outline was so awesome I went out and bought a copy of the whole book. Celebration taught me about a HUGE amount of Christian Practices outside of my own personal experience.
Streams of Living Water by Richard Foster
After I read Celebration of Discipline, I started hunting down every Richard Foster book I could find. It was a little tough in the pre-Amazon era, but my part-time job at bookstore helped. If I have to think about one of the biggest pivotal shifts in my life, it was discovering and interacting with the larger, historic Christian faith. And I read about it for the first time in Streams of Living Water.
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
Richard Foster started me down a trail of reading and working through other Christian traditions. The Practice of the Presence of God is a 17th-century Catholic monk. I read and reread it for an entire summer. It helped me learn to not be so forceful in my own devotion and how rest factors into our own life with God.
Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas
Resident Aliens was a pretty big personal shift for me. It made me fall back in love with the church and dream of the possibilities it as. Before this point, my spiritual development had primarily been personal, and in some ways had decently given up on any sort of gathered expression of faith.
All of these books have been important for me. If you are wanting to dive deeper into your own relationship with Jesus, or just learn new things, you won’t go wrong with any of them.
Earlier this week I was reading Luke 18:35-42. It was a familiar pattern. Jesus is traveling, person calls out to Jesus and Jesus starts doing cool stuff.
New Living Translation (NLT)
As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind beggar was sitting beside the road. When he heard the noise of a crowd going past, he asked what was happening. They told him that Jesus the Nazarene was going by. So he began shouting, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
“Be quiet!” the people in front yelled at him.
But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
When Jesus heard him, he stopped and ordered that the man be brought to him. As the man came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord,” he said, “I want to see!”
And Jesus said, “All right, receive your sight! Your faith has healed you.” Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus, praising God. And all who saw it praised God, too.
This is actually just one of several stories of people calling out, pursuing and nearly nagging Jesus.
As I was reading this passage this week I noticed a few things that stuck out. The beggar was calling Jesus by different names; “Son of David” and “the Nazarene”. Both of these struck me as a little out of the ordinary. Not totally odd-but not the usual. I think both of them are recognition tactics and we can find out about what these characters (the crowd and the beggar) think about Jesus because of them.
The crowd is simply identifying Jesus via location. Not something that odd, but when it is held in conjunction of the beggar’s “Son of David” it makes you think a little. I think about motivation, power and who these people believed Jesus to be (and what he could do).
The beggar was persistent. Calling out twice. The tone of Jesus’ response is almost a little aggressive. Jesus noticed this man and his persistence and is responding to it. We read in the previous passage about Jesus making his final journey to Jerusalem, Jericho was simply on the way.
After the healing, the beggar “followed Jesus”. We don’t know for how long. It might just be a statement of intellectual following or it might have been physical.
What is this story is a picture of what we should be doing?
Calling out by talking about who we believe him to be. Realizing what the crowd around me is recognizing him to be (or most likely not recognizing) and instead engaging and expecting to experience Jesus.
I asked myself these questions after I read the text. I encourage you to as well. Take just a moment to reflect.
1. How am I chasing Jesus?
2, How am I hollering at him over the crowds?
3. Am I willing for Jesus to heal the thing that stops me the most? Am I prepared for that kind of freedom?
Have you ever had to check yourself out? I remember when I was a kid in Boy Scouts having to do a “tick check” on myself whenever I came back from the woods. It was a very necessary (while it lacked in gracefulness and modesty) part of returning home. I have probably done this hundreds of times and only found 2 or 3.
But I am pretty glad I found those 2-3. And yes, there is an entirely awkward story from early in my marriage about a tick check.
Think of the modern health care industry. All of us are instructed on several self-examinations for different types of cancer. We know it is up to us to take responsibility for our own long term health.
There is a different type of self-examination. St. Ignatius of Loyola is generally considered to be the go-to resource for Christian self-examination. He wrote an entire prayer book on the practice. In many ways, you can sum up what he said with this quote.
I think self-examination is a practice we all need to take on and it is easier than we think. I want to share with you a little about why it matters and how easy it is to add it into your life.
Let’s talk about the power of self-examination
Self-examination matters because it is one of the ways we get into the critical issues of the heart. It means taking responsibility for “the self”. The Self is the critical part of our hearts where free will and response are worked out. Taming The Self is an act of sanctification. It is the mode (post-justification) where we are willingly giving ourselves up to God, allowing the tough work to be done by the Holy Spirit and creating a transformed heart.
Two things are happening when we take responsibility for The Self.
1. We are taking responsibility for the inward AND outward act of submission to Jesus
2. We are participating in the transforming life of God in the world. Our story then is added to the story of the world.
The easiest way to begin self-examination is asking ourselves tough questions. As a Wesleyan, it’s part of my own DNA. I wrote about this process of tough questions here | Beatles or Stones: Asking Ourselves the Tough Questions |.
Lately, I have been asking myself the same question every morning for a couple of weeks. It lets me really marinate it all in and get honest. It is interesting how my answer gets deeper and deeper every morning. I find myself growing tremendously inside and really changing my outward actions.
Here is my current question.
How have I contributed to the person I am today?
This question lets me spread things out wide. I can think both positive and negative. I can take personal responsibility for my sinfulness and how I sometimes act out and respond from broken places. I can also look at how the hard work of sanctification has been playing out and recreating me into the image of Christ.
I challenge you to think of the tough questions you need to be asking yourself. It will be worth it. Trust me.
Good Reads quotes tagged self-examination
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius
Today The Threshing Floor released episode 11 and we shared about Lent and our practices (we are gathering everyone’s practices together using the hashtag #lenting). I am always a fan of looking in other peoples toolboxes, so I figured I would share what I am doing for Lent this year.
I absolutely love Lent being a season of introducing things into life for a season and hopefully learning something from them.
This Lent St. Paul’s (the church I serve) is going through Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. I am excited to be preaching and teaching from the conversation it brings. This has always been a favorite book for me, so I can’t wait to see what this season looks likes for the friends I am privileged to minister with.
As I shared on The Threshing Floor, I am reading two books during Lent. Both of these books are focused on 2nd and 3rd century desert monasticism. I have read them before for Lent and absolutely love it.
Athanasius: The Life of Antony of the Desert
Sayings of the Desert Fathers
I am reading the Major and Minor Old Testament prophets as well. I have also decided to write a poem every day during Lent. I have never done this before, so I don’t know how it will turn out.
As far as giving something up, I work from the perspective of whatever is given up needs to be creating the space for Jesus to move in. My decision was to give up late night Netflix. I usually spend around an hour and a half in the evening watching television and I have decided to instead take that time for reflection and prayer.
TURN IT DOWN!!!
The phrase uttered more by my parents in my youth than anything else. In adulthood, it still happens. My wife has wonderful hearing. I, through years of loud rock and roll and motorcycle exhaust, have less than stellar hearing. To keep up with my love for near constant music or podcasts I keep a pair of earbuds in close range.
Earbuds. The cheap (and sometimes not cheap) accessory that seems everywhere now. I imagine most homes have a drawer full of them.
Audiophiles speak of “headphone” albums. These are recordings that should be listened to use headphones or earbuds. In High School I burned through several copies of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon on headphones. I think it is the perfect example of a headphone record. The modern proximity would be the complex music released now with the production realizing people will be consuming it most using earbuds. These recordings are crafted to create auditory environments and textures only harnessed by a close listen. Modern Electronic music is amazing with a great pair of headphones or earbuds.
Life is important enough to warrant a close listen.
Earbuds help the listener hear the details. Instead of music heard from a distance, a poor quality source or distorted by environmental noise-you can concentrate on it. The little things come out clearer. We can learn to focus and contemplate.
I think the Holy Spirit calls us to this sort of attention to life. To get lost in the moment. To find space to pay attention to what might have been overlooked. To completely immerse ourselves in something for a brief moment.
When we only live life with the details at a distance, we miss out on what makes it truly great. Learning to be tuned into the Holy Spirit is much like putting earbuds in, queuing up a favorite piece of music and relaxing. Often, the most profound and foundational elements can easily get lost inside the everyday.
When was the last time you looked for the details the Holy Spirit might be trying to put right in front of you?
Earlier this summer I was having a conversation with a friend about a particular issue. We stand on opposite sides, but thankfully, our deep friendship allows us to actually talk about it…not debate or argue.
At some point in the conversation, we both realized the strength in the conversation lies into an openness to having your mind changed. Just debating for the sake of debating or allowance doesn’t work. It doesn’t mean you necessarily are changing your mind, but you respect the person enough to honestly listen and care about them. But this can only work in a predetermined relationship of trust.
Since then I have reflected often on the power of changing your mind.
How many times have we picked very small hills we were willing to die on?
Are you one of those people who has to always be right and are willing to destroy relationships to stay on top?
Do you realize the relational power of letting other folks “win”? Especially if you are a person in power…this is one of the greatest pieces of leadership and respect you can exercise.
I don’t ask these questions out of moral lassitude. I ask them because I want to be aware of when I might be trying to push myself on others and when I might refuse to let the Holy Spirit convict me.
As I continue to reflect on this, my prayer has been for Christ to always be changing my mind. Not to loosen things. To change my mind to constantly be seeking a deeper level of righteousness and holiness. To begin a life of always being willing for Jesus to change our minds.
I want to be confronted. I want to realize I have to change things internally. The moment I stop having this willingness notes a point has come where I am concentrating more on myself. This is about my relationship with Jesus and my relationship with other people.
When was the last time you changed your mind?