Strengthening the Soul (1)

Last week, I was in Chicago for a three-day class at Wheaton College with Ruth Haley Barton, author of Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. busy.jpg

The class was great.

It was an opportunity not only to listen to Barton but to reflect on my life and relationship with God. There were wonderful times of silence, teaching, prayer and conversation. One of the blessings of the week was getting to be with the four wonderful people at my table.

Much of her material came from her book. What was incredibly helpful was the opportunity to spend time in another setting thinking my life and about my ministry.

The following are several statements that she made in class that were significant to me. (The quotes here are directly from the book.)

  • If Jesus were speaking to us today, he might also point out that when leaders lose their souls, so do the churches and organizations they lead. (p. 13)
  • These cries are gut-wrenching and consistent: there has to be more to life in leadership than many of us are experiencing. In all this listening to my own life and to the lives of others, I have become convinced that the more that we are looking for is the transformation of our souls in the presence of God. (p.14)
  • Truly, the best thing any of us have to bring to leadership is our own transforming selves. (p. 19)

I once knew a person in a church who routinely referred to the ministry of the church as “business as usual.” He spoke as if this were a good thing! Listen, business as usual is what is killing churches. In far, far too many churches, good, well meaning people are incredibly busy with church activity and yet experiencing no real life. They are simply doing what their leaders are doing. Their leaders are often good people who also are incredibly busy with church activity.

Barton is right. The best thing any of us have to bring to leadership is our own transforming selves. There is something powerful about a man or woman whose life is open before the Lord and who is experiencing real transformation into the image of Christ.

I came away from this class this week resolved to do several things:

1. I want to spend more time in solitude and silence tending to the needs of my own soul. I have just not been as attentive to these needs over the past year as I have been in previous years. I really became aware of this in this class.

2. I want to spend less time on things that just do not matter. I really enjoy this time of life. Yet, I want to spend my physical and emotional energy on things that matter. Yet, so much of the busyness of everyday life often involves doing things that just don’t matter. I find myself thinking: “Why am I doing this? How did I get in the middle of this?” So I am really giving some thought as to how I am spending my time.

(For the next few weeks, I will be posting a series each Monday entitled “Strengthening the Soul.”)


Do you sense that many people around you live with a parched soul?

What has busyness cost you?

What Kind of Future Do You Envision?

The other day I read a story about the relationship between actor Michael Douglas and his father, legendary actor Kirk Douglas. Michael Douglas is 65 and Kirk Douglas is 93. Kirk Douglas has been in 80 movies. Michael Douglas is a star in his own right.
When Michael Douglas was 65 years old, he had both knees replaced. One day his dad called to check on him. Michael Douglas told him that he had been in some pain since the surgery. His father told him, “Michael, I was 88 when I had my knees replaced.” Michael said that he knew he could say no more.

Imagine being 65 years old, a grandfather, and having your father check on you after your knee replacement surgery.
I doubt that either one of these men could have envisioned this in their future.
Maybe it is difficult to envision your own future. I know it is for me. I really don’t have a clue about the details of my future. Yet, I do want to enter the future on purpose. I want to be a certain kind of person.

For example, I would like to enter the future, whether tomorrow or five years from now, with these characteristics in my life:

1. Missional. This summer, I am focused thinking and reading about the “big story” of Scripture. God has been doing something in this world since creation and he has not quit doing it yet. He now invites us all to be a part of the mission of God in this world. He will one day bring everything to a grand culmination and it will be good.

2. An Instrument of Blessing. During the course of an ordinary day, I want to ask: “Today, what can I do to bless those who are in my presence?” Are people blessed by your presence where you work? Is God working through you to bless others? If someone goes to lunch with you, are they blessed by your presence? Some people do not bless. Instead the are a real pain to be with. They whine and complain. They are rude and obnoxious and then act as if they did nothing wrong. Some people want to be with others for what they can get, not what they can give.

I would like to be the kind of person who is refreshing to be with. In fact, I would like to be a person who others find energizing and encouraging.

3. A Positive Cheerful Attitude. I can’t exaggerate the importance of having a positive, cheerful attitude–in spite of the circumstances. Attitude is incredibly important. I once knew a church leader was actually quite knowledgable on many fronts. However, his attitude was so foul that he was more discouraging than encouraging to those in his presence. On the other hand, it is possible to brighten a room by having a good attitude.


What about you? As you envision the future, what would you like to characterize your life?   



How To Embarrass Yourself Twice in One Week

I did it two times. Two!

It happened last week when I wore a perfectly good pair of pants to work. Comfortable. Casual. Camel color. I had just arrived at my office for the day. I sat down in my chair. I heard a loud tearing sound. I looked down and the outside seam on my right leg had split. The split was about six inches long.

I had no idea what happened. I just knew that I could not wear those pants all day long. I remembered that I had at the cleaners a pair of pants that was supposed to be ready. So I picked up the clean pair pants at the cleaners and changed clothes. I was in good shape. The next day I went to the alterations place and dropped of the ripped pants to be mended. A few days later, I picked them up chalked that one up to a good experience.

On Monday of this week, I wore the pants again. I walked into the office sat down and heard a rip. The top of front pocket on the right side had caught the arm of the chair. The tear was there again. This time it was only about four inches in length. I had worn these pants only a few hours and there was a tear again.

I kept staring at those pants. Unbelievable!

At lunch, I took these pants back to the alterations place. As I explained what happened, they began to laugh and laugh. I handed one person the pants and she immediately began sewing them while she laughed. I asked her how much I owed. She said, “Nothing, this is worth a good laugh.”


Good grief! How embarrassing! I paid them anyway and left.

Now I can laugh at this. But some things, I don’t want to do twice.

1. I don’t want to repeat the same ineffective behaviors (in my relationships) again and again and yet expect different results. Some people continue to practice ineffective behaviors (failing to follow instructions, for example). Then they minimize their behavior and repeat again, thinking that it will turn out better this time.

2. I don’t want to repeat bad habits. It is so easy to carry on a habit from the past that may be ineffective or irritating to others. Perhaps you have the habit of being late or interrupting others.

3. I don’t want to repeat dysfunctional patterns. Some people have developed patterns of behavior that do not serve them or their co-workers. Perhaps you have a pattern of procrastination, putting off what is difficult or challenging. Maybe you have the pattern of behavior related to your work so that when you get very frustrated, you exploded and then apologize only to do the same thing in a few weeks.


What behavior do you sometimes repeat that you would really like to stop?

Interview with Darryl Tippens (Part 4 – Conclusion)

Darryl Tippens is Provost of Pepperdine University and the author of Pilgrim Heart: The Way of Jesus in Everyday Life.    In this interview, Darryl has made some very interesting and thought-provoking observations about what it means to follow Jesus in the 21st century. His words have been encouraging. darryl_tippens.jpg

These concluding remarks are a reminder of the compelling nature of Jesus.

(Remember that by making a comment in this or any one of the other three posts, you become eligible to win a free copy of Pilgrim Heart. You can find part one here, part two here, and part three here.)

In the Introduction you challenge the church to believe Jesus call “…not just to believe what he taught, but to act like him” (p. 14). What is there about Jesus that you sense 21st century men and women might find attractive and even compelling?

Darryl Tippens: The fact is, Jesus stands very well on his own, without much help on our part, when he is simply received as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John present him. Jesus doesn’t need to be “gussied up” or sanitized or modernized or edited or explained.

There is considerable respect for Jesus in the non-Christian world, to the degree that he is known. But his bickering, checkered followers are another matter. Too often we stand in the way, obstructing the view of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Not everyone will follow Jesus, of course; but when he is seen as the original Evangelists present him, it’s hard to treat his call or his claims trivially. We’ve got to do a better job of getting Jesus outside Sunday school literature, the sermon, the church, and the machinery of American politics (left and right), and back into the marketplace, the lecture hall, the workplace, and the home where he can stand on his own quite powerfully.

What men and women of the 21st century will find most attractive and compelling are people who incarnate Jesus, people who have “learned Jesus” or “learned Christ” (Ephesians 4:20). When people see the “way of Jesus” in ordinary people “in everyday life,” they will find it rather hard to ignore him. It’s happened this way in every century since AD 33. It will happen in the 21st century. Indeed it is happening now.


What has been your experience when you have seen people in the world actually exposed to the incarnate Jesus?

Interview with Darryl Tippens (Part 3)

When I read the words below from Darryl Tippens, I thought, “Wow!” I then slowly read these thoughtful, timely words again.

Darryl is the author of Pilgrim Heart: The Way of Jesus in Everyday Life. I read this book several years ago and found it to be very encouraging. The author is Dr. Darryl Tippens, Provost at Pepperdine University. Darryl has graciously consented to participate in an interview on this blog. You can find part 1, here and part 2, here.

(This week, I will be giving away two autographed copies of this book. To be eligible for the drawing, leave a comment on this post.)tippens-darryl.jpg

What concerns do you have for 21st century Christ-followers and their spirituality? How can the church better address some of these concerns?

Darryl Tippins: As Philip Jenkins and others are demonstrating in their books, Christianity is alive and well in the world–truly flourishing in parts of the globe (such as in South America and Africa). But the Christian faith is not doing so well in what we usually think of as the Western world. Christianity in the U.S. is beset with both internal and external challenges. Forces of secularization are strong, especially in media circles and education. I see expressions of hostility towards Christianity in the press today that would have been viewed as shockingly irreverent or blasphemous only a few years ago. We’re all aware of the new “fashionable atheists,” with their best-selling books. Consumerism, extreme individualism, and vague, self-concocted “spiritualities” abound–which makes the transmission of faith to our children and the next generation rather difficult.

We must find ways to practice Christianity as a robust minority religion–just as they did in the earliest centuries of the Christian era. If Christianity is to flourish, we have lots of work to do:

(1) We must build very strong local faith communities that are rich in community life, rich in tradition, rich in memory, and rich in knowledge of God’s word. The members of these faith communities must not only be thoroughly knowledgeable in the Word of God, they must also be profoundly experiential. (“O taste and see that the Lord is good!”) They must offer their members a true, holistic “way of life,” rich in practice. They must be more than fact-based. They must touch people’s lives to the core in multiple ways. They must be “incarnational” and “sacramental”–linking faith and everyday experience in numerous ways. Recently, I inventoried Christian practices of the early church as recorded in early church history. I came up with a list of over 35 specific rites and practices early Christians engaged in–many of which would look strange and foreign to us today. If we are not to engage in all these early practices today, well, fine. But my question is this: What are the “dynamic equivalents” to these ancient practices today? I think today’s Christianity looks sadly reductionist and stripped down when placed beside early Christianity. We ought to reflect on this, for it may explain why it’s harder and harder to hold on to our children.

(2) We must build communities that amaze the world with their good works, including especially a non-judgmental care for people in need outside our communities–the homeless, the destitute, the sick, the bereaved, the unemployed, the imprisoned, the sexually confused, etc. As in the first century, non-Christian people today should see our good works and be impelled to say, “See how they love one another!”

(3) Finally, just as we must develop the heart and the practice of Christianity, we must develop the head (the intellectual dimensions) of the faith. Christianity flourished in the ancient world partly because it had the best answers to life’s perplexing questions. In the ancient world there were momentous questions about life (why are we here? what is our purpose? why do we suffer? what happens after we die? etc.). To these urgent questions, Christians formulated the most convincing answers. Thus, in those early centuries, Christians were known for their minds. Some Christians were considered among the greatest intellects of the day. This has been true for over 1,500 years. Consider Augustine or Thomas Aquinas as examples–possibly the smartest men on the earth in their days–and they were Christians too. Today, the greatest thinkers — in most cases — are not believers or are not known to be believers. We must address this problem squarely and raise up a generation of Christian intellectuals who can show a hurting, confused, question-haunted world that there are answers, and they are to be found in the context of the Christian faith. A vibrant faith of this century will link head and heart, intellect and good works, in dramatic new ways.

(to be continued)

Interview with Darryl Tippens (Part 2)

If you are like me, you might sometimes feel tired, sluggish, and perhaps discouraged.

I encourage you to read Pilgrim Heart: The Way of Jesus in Everyday Life. I read this book a few years ago and found it to be incredibly refreshing. The author is Dr. Darryl Tippens, Provost at Pepperdine University. Darryl has graciously consented to participate in an interview on this blog. The subject of the interview will be very interesting to readers of this blog. I encourage you to consider his words.

Also, I will be giving away two autographed copies of this book during the week in which these posts appear. To be eligible for the drawing, leave a comment on this podarryl_tippens.jpgst.

The following is part two of the interview. (You can read part one here.)

As I read through the book, I was struck by the quality of the content. Yet, I also sensed that you were not only writing to help other believers but that you also have struggled at times in your attempt to follow Christ. Is that an accurate read? Are many of these practices what nurtured your own faith and life in Christ?

Darryl Tippens: Yes, you’re quite right. There is a great deal of autobiography in the book, evident to anyone who reads closely. One observant reader asked me bluntly one day, “Can you say things like that” (meaning, I think, as a “church leader,” wasn’t I laying myself open to criticism)? My reply was, “Well, I don’t know if I should have said these things, but I did.”

Religious books that sound simple, triumphalist, or Pollyannaish often turn me off. When they offer easy prescriptions like “Follow Jesus, and all will be well–no problems,” I become discouraged because I wonder, “Why is it I try to follow Jesus, but I don’t find it so easy? What’s wrong with me?” Facile claims don’t ring true for me.

I have found the Christian life authentic and exhilarating at times, but truly, utterly daunting at times too. So, I’m encouraged by people who tell the truth about how hard life can be. No one should lie to save God’s honor or make the Church look good. After all, if we worship the God of Truth, if Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, then shouldn’t we tell the truth too? The whole system is bogus if we don’t tell the unvarnished truth. So, I have tried to be honest about my struggles. Life hurts. It’s a fact, so why not say so?

But that, of course, is only the prelude to the main story, not the final episode. It’s in the midst of our misery, that the light shines. I’ve found that when faithful friends received my honest testimony, including my questions and doubts, I didn’t end up believing less. Rather, having “come clean,” I found new space and new motivation to believe again, or believe more deeply. I often say to those with whom I work and associate, “You can tell the truth here.” Since we honor the God of Truth, that seems to be the only proper way to go. That explains why I include chapters on hospitality (welcoming), friendship, confession, listening, and discernment.

I’m a believer today in part because other disciples welcomed me with open arms, befriended me when I was in a crisis, listened to me without judgment, and offered discernment as I plodded the way forward. I believe these practices will work well for others too.

(to be continued)


Do you tell the truth about what it is really like to follow Christ? Are you a person who receives people in such a way as to invite them to speak the truth?


Interview with Darryl Tippens (Part 1)

Do you need to read a book that will refresh your soul?    

I encourage you to read Pilgrim Heart: The Way of Jesus in Everyday Life. I read this book a few years ago and found it to be incredibly refreshing. The author is Dr. Darryl Tippens, Provost at Pepperdine University. Darryl has graciously consented to participate in an interview on this blog. The subject of the interview will be very interesting to readers of this blog. I encourage you to consider his words.

Also, I will be giving away two autographed copies of this book during the week in which theses posts appear. To be eligible for the drawing, leave a comment on this post. The following is part one of the interview:

Several years ago, you wrote a book that I found very helpful and encouraging. The book, Pilgrim Heart: The Way of Jesus in Everyday Life has been helpful to many people. What would you say to tired, overwhelmed church leaders/ministers/pastors as well as many other everyday believers who might be reading this?

Darryl Tippens: First, I would say, “you are not alone.” You belong to a vast company of fellow pilgrims. Struggle, weariness, even exhaustion, are to be expected among people who make the long journey of faith. Yet Jesus promises relief for the weary and hope for the downtrodden. He promised the woman at the well that there is such as thing as “living water.” Those who drink of this water “will never be thirsty.” “The water I will give,” he promised, “will become in [you] a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4:14) That water is still available.

I live in a desert climate. It is not unusual to go from May until December without a single drop of rain. Yet not far from my house there is a spring that flows year round. Despite the parched earth and the brown hills in the hot summer months, the spring just continues to flow. Jesus saw a similar phenomenon in ancient Palestine — sweet water endlessly bubbling up in the hottest, driest conditions. Spiritually speaking, we have access to a stream that can nourish us even in the darkest, most sterile times in our lives.

How do we gain access this life-giving resource? Of course, the simple answer is “Jesus.” He is the life-giving stream. But that doesn’t answer the practical question of how precisely we receive his life-giving nourishment, when we are depressed, sick, or lonely. Pilgrim Heart is my modest attempt to offer some provisional answers, which are derived from three sources: (1) Scripture, (2) the personal testimony of believers through the ages, and (3) my own autobiographical experience. I believe that these three sources of data mutually confirm and reinforce the truth that certain spiritual practices (taught by Scripture and tested by believers through the centuries) open that cleft in the rock from which the life-giving waters can reach our parched spirits. While this life-giving water is truly God’s gift to us (we do not create the water), we can do certain things to ready ourselves to receive this gift.

My book is an effort to propose ways to prepare ourselves for the reception of the life-giving waters, primarily through what we commonly call “the spiritual disciplines.” By no means do I think my description of spiritual practices is complete or authoritative. I’ve only scratched the surface. On the other hand, I think there is strong evidence that these practices do make a difference in our lives. In fact, I would argue that we have 2,000 years of testimony that these practices belong in our daily lives.

Furthermore, the testimony from readers who have written me convinces me that the spiritual practices delineated in Pilgrim Heart make a difference. Just today, I received an unsolicited note from a prominent citizen who confessed that though a dedicated Christian all her life, she had undergone “years of spiritual struggle.” But, she added, the discussion of the spiritual practices in the book had been “a balm to [her] battered heart.” I don’t take credit for the help she received, as I was merely the reporter, but I thank God that I was able to show what Christians have been doing for centuries to take care of themselves as they make the arduous pilgrimage of faith.

(to be continued)


Have you observed church leaders/minister/pastors who seem very weary? What has been your own experience with spiritual fatigue and weariness?