Beatles or Stones?
Earlier this year I asked this question on Facebook and got around 200 comments. I love the question. It tells me so much about a person and their musical taste and preferences.
Good questions tell us so much more than a simple answer.
I wrote a piece on Why I became a Methodist. In the article, I mentioned one of the primary decision points being my belief in the effectiveness and necessity of Wesleyan discipleship.
Part of historic discipleship and formation (growing closer to Christ) in the Methodist tradition is the act of asking questions. We ask them to ourselves in our own personal devotion. We ask them to others we are in accountability with. This was important in the Methodist movement and I feel a recovery of the asking of questions will be a key thing to any spiritual development in our world now.
A little history…
Wesley organized his folks (you couldn’t really call them a formal church yet) into 3 groups. From largest to smallest; the Societies, The Classes and The Bands. Part of the fundamental design of the two smallest (classes and bands) was a series of questions designed to keep each person in forward motion towards Jesus Christ. The Class met as a mixed group of sexes and ages. When they met, these questions formed the main conversation points. They got SERIOUS!
When the Bands met, the questions got even more in depth. They also centered on this small group (usually no more than 5-6 and same sex) really keeping each other on track. You gave the others the permission to get into your business.
Here are another set of questions Wesley and his original small group, called The Holy Club, asked themselves in their lives and meetings.
Our life now
These questions matter. They help us to be real and honest with each other. One of the best small group experiences I have ever had focused on asking a few of these questions every week. This isn’t casual discipleship. It is changing and transformational discipleship. It is the kind of spiritual relationships each Christian needs to have in their life.
Several groups have done a great job trying to incorporate these classic notions of discipleship into current life. Most of them are going really well. What I really appreciate are the attempts to quickly get the emotive qualities of these HUGE lists into a few simple questions. You can answer them openly, in front of people you know and don’t know. You can be asked them by people who know you really well. The most important quality is these questions are approachable. It is frightening allowing others into what most modern Christians consider to be pretty private. Here is a listing of the ones I have found, liked and used.
1. Are you growing closer or further away from God since the last time we met?
2. How do you see God moving in your life right now?
3. How is your life in God?
Lately, I have a new one I have been thinking about, asking myself and asking others. It comes from my own personal conviction and values.
How have you allowed God to change you lately?
This question tells much more than a simple yes or no. In my own examination it causes me to think about my openness to Christ, my expectation of his presence and activity, how my false self is being broken down, etc, etc. It is great and broad.
Self-examination has long been part of Christian tradition. It helps us to make the points in which we have grown closer to God, progressed in our sanctification, won victory over things controlling us or simply mark our maturation in Christ.
So friends, How have you allowed God to change you lately?
This weekend I finished what has become a regular practice in my life. I read the Bible in 90 days. Actually, this time it took a little longer, but I kept up the practice of a long read of scripture in a rhythmic fashion. I believe all Christians benefit from frequent 90 day bible reads.
I usually keep to it 4 times a year, so it would get done every quarter. I love reading the Bible this way. A good friend challenged me to try it out and I have never stopped. I also have a different reading strategy at night (I read one book a month and pray through it). For the last several years I sit down every morning and spend some time reading scripture. I do around 12-15 chapters a morning. I use the plan on youversion or a print out this PDF.
It isn’t for everyone. One of my best friends and I argue about it. For me, it works great.
I know some of you are thinking “Of course..shouldn’t preachers be reading the Bible that much?”
I would be doing it no matter what. I love how it consistently orients and prioritizes my time towards God.
I want to share with you a few reasons why I love reading the bible this frequency and speed.
1. I like a longer, frequent read.
I like the connect the dots of the biblical narrative. This is easier to do when you read through the entire Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Old Testament) in around 2 weeks. Many of the New Testament letters can be read in one sitting. After I did this several times I found myself realizing the large scope of the biblical narrative in ways I had never seen it before.
2. It draws me to Biblical Theology.
I believe the Bible matters. It is the word of God and the story of redemption drawn over thousands of years. I also think the Bibles construction with purposeful. It is hard to see this when we are always reading small and often unrelated pieces. My 90 day read builds Biblical familiarity. I can’t think about worship in Chronicles without thinking of the Exodus or visions of St. John in Revelation.
3. It’s a great way to start the day.
I love making my coffee and sitting down to read familiar words. I have done this enough to where I can anticipate what will happen next. It’s like having a conversation with a friend. If I miss my reading early in the morning I am thinking about finding the time for it all day.
4. It’s handy as I build sermons and studies.
This last read I kept a small notebook as a placeholder. Every day if anything struck me I would write it down. I know there are several sermons in a formation stage in the notebook. The repetition and frequency of my read also help me see the large chunk of scripture and how sections interpret other sections. If I am preparing a message and I see something helpful, I can make a quick note in Evernote where I collect sermon notes.
No matter what you do for a living, I would encourage you to try the 90 day read. It will be one of the most spiritually beneficial practices you have experienced.
Today the 8th episode of The Threshing Floor came out. I am privileged to produce this podcast with two great friends and for it to be part of the amazing Seedbed family. In this episode all three of the hosts share why we each are Wesleyan. We are also each offering up a blog post today on the topic as well.
For me, there are many reasons I self identify as a Wesleyan. I didn’t grow up Methodist and I wrote about that transition a few months ago. I wasn’t always a Methodist…but I think I have always been a Wesleyan. The United Methodist Church became the place I found my own personal experience best expressed. And experience matters.
Why I am Wesleyan
1. The Theological Beginning Point of an Incarnating God.
I am a big fan of the incarnation. The tagline of my blog is “worshiping a God who has come to our world”. That is the incarnation. We have a God who is not distant and far off, but instead is right here among us. In the very mess of life.
The incarnation is a fundamental doctrine of Christianity, so no big distinctiveness here. What I makes me Wesleyan are a few shifts the incarnation gives my larger view of faith.
God absolutely claims us first. He said yes to us before we said yes to him. This is why I (as a pastor) will absolutely baptize an infant. It is why I believe in the true goodness available to all people in prevenient grace.
This also gives us a savior who meets us in communion. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we meet with the presence of Christ at the Lord’s Table. Our Thankgiving isn’t just a rememberance, but it is a Holy mystery of us meeting and being sent by God.
2. Commitment to a Holy God.
When I was in seminary there was always a big conversation about Open vs. Classic Theism. What I appreciated was an alternate conversation about God being understood as Holy. Of course God is holy, but here we find another Wesleyan distinctive.
The very beginning point in our attempt to describe God is Holy. In his own words, God is who he is (exodus 3:14 אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה) If we want to look at the characteristics of what best describes, what is the starting point for the way our God works…it is holiness.
For I am the Lord your God. You must consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. (Leviticus 11:44)
God wants us to be like him, to be functional images of the one who created us. This is a precious gift.
3. The Importance of Human Experience.
One of the four parts of Outler’s quadrilateral is experience. John Wesley called Methodism an “experimental faith”. Not experimental like a science project or a weird cult, but an experiential faith. Human experience should play a dramatic part of faith. John Wesley had this at aldersgate and we each have primary spiritual experiences.
Not only do we have an experiential faith, but we have a faith in which our experiences about God teach us who He is. These experiences should shape our view of God’s character. We believe God gives us these experiences for this very reason.
These are just a few reasons. I hope the conversation helps you think about why you specifically believe what you do, whatever the faith tradition.
This has been an awesome first year at revchadbrooks.com. I started this blog on May 30th of the year, after my decision to restart blogging from scratch with a new name and purpose. You can read the first post, Beginnings, right here.
Since then, things have been busy. I also started the Productive Pastor Podcast this year and it has gone over really well. Revchadbrooks.com had 13,819 views in 2013. The Productive Pastor has been downloaded 3063 times to date.
Here are the top 5 most popular posts in 2013
1. 3 Reasons the Church Should Understand the Zombie Apocalypse.
This post was from July 15th. It has consistently held the top post every since then. It was also one of my favorites. It does well in Google, so people keep coming back to it.
2. The 5 Records That Saved Christian Music For Me.
This post was written on a whim over a few days and had a tremendous response. The discussion it started both here and at Faith Villiage has been really interesting. I really wanted to open up and make a few confessions through this post many people wouldn’t assume a Pastor would make, namely that I don’t like/listen to Christian music.
3. The Easiest Way to Preach Better Sermons.One of the consicous decisions I made in 2013 was to invest in coaching. I started a relationship with The Rocket Company and their coaching system called Preaching Rocket. It has made a fantastic change in my sermon preparation and delivery habits. Through the engagement around this post, I think many ministry leaders have the same questions and struggles as I do. Also, The Rocket Company’s staff is excellent and adds tons of value for me personally. Brian Dodd is a great blogger and person to follow on twitter.
4. My Favorite Podcasts and Why You Should Listen To Podcasts.
Another big part of 2013 for me was Podcasts, both listening to and producing two different shows. This was my first post sharing my favorite podcasts and I followed it with a second just a few weeks back.
5. Why I Became a Methodist.
This is one of the posts I have republished on revchadbrooks.com from my old site. I felt it was necessary to talk about my transition to Methodism. It has been picked up several times by other outlets. It was another post I wrote not thinking very much about and has become very popular.
Thank you for being part of the community here and with the podcast. I am so thankful for all of my readers and how they honor me with just a few moments of their time each day.
Christian Blogger and Communicator Jon Acuff launched the #emptyshelf challenge last week. He want to encourage people to set up a visual reminder of what books they have read and hopes it will encourage them to read more. I was looking at what I wanted to do in 2014 and knew reading needed to be a better part of it. I had picked up my reading this year, but it is nowhere near the level I want it to be at.
I was a nerdy reader as a kid, plowing through Hardy Boys books and anything involving Bigfoot I could find. I kicked it back up in college when I started working in a book store. I continue to read now because I think reading is essential to moving forward. The moment anyone quits wanting to learn more, they shrivel up and die. They can’t grow and they can’t help others grow.
Forbes wrote a great piece about why leaders should be reading. It really shows how important reading is to anyone, not just CEO’s.
I am jumping headlong into the #emptyshelf project. I won’t bother you to much here about it. The instagram channel might fill up though! If you are wanting 2014 to be an awesome year, I highly encourage you to become part of the #emptyshelf community. All it takes is a book and a hashtag!
Matt is a good friend from seminary. He wrote and drew an amazing cartoon with a hilarious look on the seminary life. I am proud to own an autographed copy with a custom bigfoot sketch! He offers us some great words on spiritual renewal and parenting. If you are interested in guest posting, here is some information.
I’ve been reading Chad’s various blogs since we met in seminary, and have always found them to be helpful and uplifting. However, there have been a few occasions when I’ve been reading about Chad’s life and routine and think, “It must be nice to be able to do that!”
See, I have two wonderful daughters. One is a toddler, and the other just learned how to crawl. I love them so much, but to say they are a disruption to a disciplined spiritual life is an understatement. I remember reading once on this blog about how nice it is to wake up in the early mornings and spend time with God and get some stuff done unencumbered by the business that comes up later in the day. I can’t relate to that. My girls wake up between 5:30 and 6:30 every morning, and for some reason they aren’t content if I get out my bible and pray at that time. So, rather than an energizing burst of productivity, my early mornings are filled with cries of “I hungee” and trying my hardest to get my oldest to pee pee in the potty. Some mornings their constant need for my attention can be draining before my day even really gets started.
I don’t say this to complain about my life, or to draw comparisons to Chad’s life. My point here is to encourage people with kids, especially young kids, that there is spiritual renewal in the midst of these incredibly needy people we’re surrounded by.
Our kids don’t have to sap our spiritual energy, they can help us know God better.
Children Give Us An Opportunity To Deny Ourselves
Actually, they give us lots of opportunities to deny ourselves. As much as we need to be refreshed spiritually, the overall trajectory of the Christian life is to give ourselves away for the sake of others. There is no greater opportunity to practice this than parenthood. Whether it’s giving up our mornings for an early riser, putting things at work on hold to go to a doctor’s appointment, or watching PBS Kids during your downtime instead of whatever Netflix show you’d rather watch; we get to put ourselves second a lot. Sure, we can view this as a necessary evil or an annoying fact of life, but if we view it through the lens of Jesus I believe we can extend it to those outside our family too. We can make laying down our lives for our kids a spiritual practice that helps us lay down our lives for others too.
Children Give Us Insight Into Ourselves
One of the big challenges in my house right now is trying to teach our toddler not to whine. If she doesn’t get exactly what she wants when she wants it, she will whine about it. So whining is a big no-no now around our house, but it’s opened my eyes to how whiny I can be to God. It seems like any discomfort I experience, or any negative thing I feel, I complain about it to God. After sending Ruthie to her room for whining the other day, I thought, “I ought to be grounded for the amount of whining I do to God.” Relating to God as my heavenly Father has taken on a whole new dimension since I became a father myself. It’s humbling to see how much like a toddler I am in my spiritual walk sometimes.
Children Force Us To Get Creative About Our Spiritual Lives
So, I can’t wake up at 6 AM and get my day started in the bible. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be reading the bible anyway. I just need to get creative. I may schedule my first half-hour at work from some scripture reading and prayer in my office. I can move my study time to after they go to bed. I can read them a story from a children’s bible and talk about it. (I don’t think anybody is above learning about God from a children’s bible.) My prayer life has taken a hit since becoming a parent, but now I’m teaching my daughter to pray and it’s so rich. Sometimes I sing hymns to my youngest to try to get her to nap, and that’s a time to enrich my faith as I instill a love for those old songs in her. Getting creative and involving our kids in our spirituality is a benefit, not a hindrance.
All of this is to say: It’s easy to look at someone else’s life and think, “Sure, it’s easy for YOU to pray, but you don’t have to deal with the stuff I have to deal with!” We all get caught in that kind of thinking sometimes. But God gives us each different seasons, and no season lasts forever. It’s our job to connect with God and to develop spiritual practices in whatever season of life we are in. For those of us who are parents of young kids, thank God for them. They’re teaching us and forming us. Let’s pay attention to the ways it’s happening and join with God in the process.
Matt Stout is the Director of Student Ministries at College Place UMC in Brunswick, GA. He’s married to a fantastic woman, has two daughters, and two dogs. He’s a television enthusiast and an avid indoorsman. Back when he used to have free time, he was an amateur cartoonist. You can find some of his old cartooning work at http://communitylifecomic.tumblr.com