Spiritual Growth Posts

RickNotes: The Anatomy of a Disciple

I have been asked by countless people, “How would you summarize The Anatomy of a Disciple?” Here is how I might describe it to someone:

  1. Most Christians hear bits and pieces about the Christian life from sermons, books, blog posts, Facebook chatter and the like, but few could ever describe the dynamics of the Christian life. All of the things people hear and read about the Christian life are like puzzle pieces. The Anatomy of a Disciple is the box top that shows how all the pieces fit together into a beautiful, wonderful mosaic.
  2. God is working to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ, to become like Him, to become mature like He is mature. He is changing us, more and more, to be like Him.
  3. All the change in the life of a Christian begins with God initiating that change. It continues with God sustaining that life change, and God will complete it. It is so arrogant for us to think we can make ourselves like God. That is Satan’s aspiration: to make himself like the Most High God. God is the life-change agent, not us.
  4. God is working to change us, not to just modify our behavior so we will look and act more like Him. He is truly changing us at the core of our being to be more like Him, from the inside out.
  5. God begins by changing our hearts to be more like His heart. The heart is the seat of the essence of our being. It is the taproot that determines who we really are. It is the home of the Holy Spirit for all believers. God is working on our hearts so we will increasingly become more Humbly Submitted to Him as the Lord and Master of our lives.
  6. God is also changing our minds, through His Word and His Spirit, to increasingly have His perspective and understanding – of Him and ourselves, the world around us, life as He designed it, how we are different from Him and how He is changing us day by day. The heart and the mind form the core, the engine of all other life change. The core is the focus of God’s work to change us to be more like Him.
  7. As God is changing our hearts and minds to be more like Him, it will eventually start changing the choices we make in life. We will increasingly become more Sacrificially Generous, like Him, more Morally Discerning, like Him, and more Relationally Healthy, like Him.
  8. Also, as God is changing our hearts, minds and choices, that will impact our compassions for others in the world around us. We will increasingly become more of an Intentional Blessing to others in the world, like Him, more Culturally Engaged in the world, like Him, and practice more Inclusive Community, like Him.
  9. So if God is doing all this in our lives, what role do we play? Our role is not to replace what God is doing with our own efforts. What God does call us to do and helps us to do is to pay attention to where He is working in our lives and then get in step with Him and what He is doing. This is an act of faith – that God knows what He is doing.

That is the essence of The Anatomy of a Disciple. God is changing you to be more like Him in your heart, your mind, your choices and your compassions. Your role is to look for and pay attention to what God is doing in your life and get in step with Him. And when you mess up – and you will, because we all do – you admit it, lift your eyes up to see what He is doing in your life, and get in step now. That is the life of a disciple who is becoming more like their Master.

The Time of Your Life

time_of_your_lifeWe often don’t understand and appreciate the time of life we’re in, or we make choices that make our time of life harder than it needs to be. It’s true that we are all individuals who can’t be pigeonholed into a set grid, but there are also some generalized times of life for people. Even though it’s different for each of us, God has designed now to be the best time of our lives. We just need to look at things through His perspective.

Your life is not a sprint; it’s not even a marathon. It’s more of a cross-country race or a steeplechase. There are ups and downs, curves and straightaways, rivers to ford and meadows to meander, times that are fast paced, and times of coasting, pacing yourself and catching your breath.

Each time of our life morphs into the next; it doesn’t usually happen abruptly, although there are times it may feel sudden and unexpected. When we stop and reflect, there are almost always little changes we’ve adapted to that are leading to the next time of our life. They were just gradual and not very noticeable. For instance, a mom may feel like her last child going to school all day was sudden, and may wonder what she should do now. She may feel like her identity as Mom is slipping away, never to return. But the reality is, those little ones have been moving toward independence, day by day, since they were born; they were made for that.

Just like there are seasons of the year that signal change and difference, there are seasons of our lives. Just as there are places where there are distinct changes in the weather and climate, so there are also changes in our behavior. For some, summer is a time of being outside, with activity and fun, whereas winter may be a time of slowing down, staying inside by the fire and reading a good book. We need to recognize and get in step with our life seasons to make the most of the varied times of our lives.

Rather than trying to get back to the last season of life, we need to recognize the values of the new season and take advantage of them. Even the Proverbs speak of the ant that gathers in the summer for the times in the winter when there is nothing to gather (Proverbs 6:6-8). There are seasons of our lives that are fast paced, crazy busy and almost maddening. We will be much better prepared for those seasons of life if we have relished in and taken advantage of the slower paced season when we could charge our batteries and recharge our emotional strength.

Lastly, a bit of advice (from someone who has not always practiced this), no matter what season of life, no matter what time of life you are in, take time to lift your head and look for two things.

One, look for what is ahead of the immediate “right now.” It’s so easy to put our head down and forget that this is just a season, or to just coast and forget that the hairy, busy time will come. Two, look at what the Lord is doing in your life, your marriage, your family and your community of friends, and get in step with Him and what He is doing. Ask Him, “God what are you doing? What do you want me to learn? How can I get in step with you in this time of my life?” By doing so, you can live life to the fullest now, the way He intended you to live it.

Being a Friend When Someone Has Experienced a Loss

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When Judy and I lost our 5 ½-year-old son Kyle, we were shocked and numb for several weeks. During that time, and through many conversations with others in the last 37 years, we have learned some of the best – and worst – practices for being a friend to someone who has experienced loss.

Loss comes in many shapes and sizes. From losing a child to losing a spouse, through death or divorce, from losing your health to losing a job, all these are forms of loss that call for our friendship to step up to another level of care and compassion.

As we think about being a friend, let’s think about what we go through in our heads and hearts as we contemplate helping someone who has lost. We want to do something that will really help, but are at a loss as to what that might be. What would really help is to undo the loss in the first place, but in most cases that is impossible. So what do we do that would be meaningful? We must resist the temptation to think that anything we say will make them feel better or “fix” the situation.

Within a week of losing Kyle, we had comments from well meaning friends who were trying to use words to make it all better. We heard everything from, “Well at least he’s in heaven” to “God must have known that he would have made your life miserable later on and was sparing you that grief.” We were glad for the assurance that our son was in heaven, but we would rather have had him with us right now. And we would have much rather have had a son, alive, even if he did make some bad choices later in life that would have been painful for him and us.

Words can bring some comfort in the midst of the pain, but they can never fix the pain one suffers in loss. Comforting words may include “I’m so sorry” or “My heart is aching for you right now” or “If I can do anything at all, please tell me. Can I…?” Don’t take over and become a bossy cow in the person’s life, but genuinely be there for them and with them, willing to do whatever.

The two people who helped the most right after we lost Kyle were very different, but both made a real impact. One dear friend just took the initiative, went to the store and bought some diapers for Eric, another of our sons, who was 2 ½ and in the hospital fighting for his life. He too had drowned, but was able to be resuscitated. Then she offered to take Bryan, our 3 ½ year old, to her house while we stayed overnight in the hospital.

Another dear friend came to the hospital to see me in the middle of the night. I was sitting in the hallway on the floor, reliving the horrors of that day over and over in my head. And my heart was aching from the reality that I would never see our son Kyle again in this life. Andy just sat next to me on the hallway floor. He put his arm around me and we just cried together. I’m not sure he ever said a single word in over two hours. He just sat and cried with me, and his presence meant the world to me in that moment.

One of the best things you can do is be a friend who is present and cares. Not a fixer. Be one who empathizes, not one who takes over and forces your help on someone else. Be one who says little, but loves greatly. It is your love, spoken or unspoken, that will mean the most to someone in their time of loss.[1]

[1] For more on this subject, consider my book, When Life Is Changed Forever: By the Death of Someone Near.

The Necessity of Hope

Do you ever feel like your life is a rat race where you’re getting further and further behind and out of control, and you don’t see any way of getting beyond the daily grind? Most of us live lives that are filled with activities, work and play. We can get into a rut of one full day after another, and that can affect us emotionally. We can get discouraged, frustrated, angry, despondent, and eventually feel like we are on the proverbial treadmill, with no hope of anything changing.

When we feel weighed down by life, without hope of anything changing, it eats away at our desire to keep going, and desperation can set in.

That’s why hope is such an important reality for all of our lives.

Jesus gave us hope when He died on the cross and paid the penalty of our sins. He gave us hope when He promised that He was going away, but would come again to take us to His home – forever.

But hope in other ways is important in our everyday lives as well.

When Judy and I were first married, we had three little boys in five years. Part of that time I was a full-time student, working a job and planting a church. The other part of those five years I was in a job that was taking 80-100 hours a week. Most of that time we had only one car. Poor Judy was overwhelmed with diapers, energetic little dudes and no hope. I was pretty dense and insensitive to all that for too long, but finally I realized what was going on. I rearranged some of our monthly expenses and signed Judy up for a little day spa where she could go and get some alone time, work out, sit in the sauna and hot tub, etc. It was something she could look forward to a couple of times a week, and it made such a difference in her heart, mind and countenance.

Hope can also come in the form of setting up a monthly time away to just catch your breath, gain perspective and do some planning for the next month. If you’re a parent, you can arrange to exchange childcare once a month with another parent who could use the same kind of time away.

If you’re married, with or without children, and you’re frustrated that your marriage is feeling stale, what you need is hope. Judy and I, in the midst of marriage and family and work, used to try to get away for a predetermined weekend once a quarter or at least twice yearly. We would put it on the calendar, and I would make arrangements so we always had a time together to look forward to.

On those weekends away we had sort of a routine. Friday night we would simply talk and evaluate the last few months, in our personal lives, our marriage, our family and our relationships in general. Saturday morning we would walk and talk about the next few months. What did we want to do differently in our personal lives, our marriage, with the kids and in other relationships? Then the rest of the weekend we would just unwind and have fun. When we left, we were always energized and ready to hit the challenges of the months ahead, knowing that we would have another time like this in just a few months because the date was already on the calendar.

Hope is a powerful need in each of our lives and relationships. What are things in your life that you have to look forward to? Things that give you hope? If you can’t think of anything, don’t give up. Ask a trusted friend for suggestions. You need hope.

Who Am I Going to Vote for to Be President?

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When considering all of human history, having the opportunity to vote is a rare privilege. Many of the world’s population today, and most of it historically, had no say in who would be their national leader. To vote at all is a special gift God has allowed us to take part in.

Understanding that, I am concerned when I hear people, many who I know and respect, say they are just not going to vote. This seems to be at best ignoring or at worst a thumbing of the nose at God’s blessing and gift to choose through a vote.

People often complain they don’t like or agree with any of the candidates. Welcome to a cursed and fallen world. Will there ever be candidates I “totally” agree with or trust? No. There is only one person I could totally agree with and trust: God. I could list GOD on my ballot as a write-in candidate, but I really don’t believe a majority of the country will write in GOD as their candidate of choice. Or anyone else we could write in for that matter.

Elections are just that: elections, not “statements.” Write-in candidate votes are usually statements, not votes. They are statements of wishful thinking, not related to reality. They are the equivalent of not voting at all – which is a vote. A vote for letting others choose the president for me.

I hear a great deal about people not liking the morals or language or character of candidates. I agree these are definite considerations. But how do I know the morals, language and character of any of the candidates off camera? I don’t. I would prefer to have a president who is above reproach in morals, language and character. I would prefer that their stance on every issue aligned with the Bible, that they would value what God values. But I also know God can use totally immoral and unethical leaders (such as Nebuchadnezzar and Nero) to accomplish His purposes.

I want to vote for a potential president who will do their part and work hard to perpetuate the freedoms of our country – so the gospel is freer to be communicated. And someone who will protect our security as a nation from those, both within and outside our country, who would seek to destroy our freedoms – so the gospel is freer to be communicated.

I plan to vote for a person who will make the best president of the United States. Not a teacher for my children. Not a pastor or elder in my church. To do so, I can’t live in a dream world that I wish were true, but in the world as it is: fallen and full of evil. According to the biblical text, I am a visitor, an alien and stranger in this world. It is not my home. But I happen to live in a country that gives me, along with every citizen, the privilege to vote for the leader of this country.

I plan to vote, and not stick my head in the sand. I plan to vote in a way that will make the most difference possible, and not ignore my God-given opportunity to make a small difference for the future spread of the gospel.

If You’re Going to Fight…

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Richard C. Halverson was the Senior Pastor of the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland from 1958-1981. He served as the Chaplain of the United States Senate from February 2, 1981 until December 31, 1994.

One of my favorite quotes from this great man of God is, “If you’re going to fight…” I share this with you hoping it will challenge and encourage you as it does me.

If you’re going to fight…

Fight for the relationship – not against it!
Fight for reconciliation – not for alienation.
Fight to preserve the friendship – not to destroy it.
Fight to win your spouse – not to lose him/her.
Fight to save your marriage – not to cash it in.
Fight to solve the problem – not to salve your ego!

If you’re going to fight, fight to win…not to lose!

Lasting relationships are not negotiated…they are forged. That means heat and pressure. It is commitment to a relationship which sustains it…not pleasant feelings.

Treat a relationship as negotiable – it is easily lost.
Consider it non-negotiable – a way is found to make it work.

Authentic intimacy comes only through struggle.

How often in our marriages do we start thinking of and treating our spouse like our enemy rather than our partner for life? The way we communicate and treat each other can easily devolve into trying to win a battle. But consider, every time I win a battle with my wife, that makes her a loser. And in the end, that makes our marriage lose. We are going to fight sometimes. But what I am reminded of by Richard Halverson is that we ought to fight in a way that makes our marriage a win not a loss.

So, if you’re going to fight, fight to win…not to lose!

Meet Socratease

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The famous philosopher Socrates (pronounced saw-kruh-teez) lived in Greece from about 470-400 B.C. We actually have little to nothing written by him personally, but we have many stories about Socrates through four other philosophers, mainly Plato and Aristotle. Socrates is consistently portrayed in their stories as a particularly skillful teacher who took dialogue and questions to an all-new level of effectiveness.

If Socrates were alive today, dealing with current issues and events, he would assuredly use his teaching method to make people think more reasonably and logically about their beliefs. His dialogic questioning, salted with irony and sarcasm, would surely bring a smile to many a face, while making us think deeper and more profoundly about life and God and many other issues.

Since Socrates is not alive, and I don’t want to put words and beliefs into the ancient philosopher’s mouth, I am creating a modern day caricature to employ his same method of teaching to today’s world. Meet Socratease[1] and get to know him in the following interview.

Bob (the Interviewer): Good afternoon, Socratease.

Socratease: Is it?

Bob: Well, yes I think it is a good afternoon. I was just trying to be friendly.

Socratease: So how do you determine if something, like this afternoon, is good or not?

Bob: Well, I’m not sure I’ve thought about that before exactly. I guess since nothing bad has happened today, it must be a good afternoon.

Socratease: So you’re saying good is the absence of bad?

Bob: Well, I guess so.

Socratease: And I suppose you would define bad as the absence or opposite of good?

Bob: Sounds like I really haven’t thought this through very well. How would you define good and bad?

Socratease: It seems they are relative ethical terms the way we use them today. But relative to what?

Bob: I’m not sure I understand your question.

Socratease: Good and bad, the way I hear people using those words today, speak to the ethical value of something or someone. But what if I think you are bad but you’re friends think you are good? What was the basis for me saying you are bad, and what was the basis of your friends saying you are good? What is the standard for saying anything is good or bad?

Bob: Isn’t that relative to the person and situation? Depending on how someone looks at something.

Socratease: So what you are saying is each individual person determines what is good or bad, based on their own, individual perspective.

Bob: Well, yes. I mean, that’s what everyone I know says today. Everything is relative.

Socratease: So let me make sure I understand you. If I as an individual think you are bad, and I think your badness is deserving of death, then it is good if I kill you?

Bob: That’s crazy. Of course not! You’ve got to take the whole of society into account as well.

Socratease: So it’s really not the individual that determines good and bad, but each individual society?

Bob: I guess that right.

Socratease: That’s interesting. That being the case, the German society of the 1940s, under the leadership of Adolph Hitler, would have been correct in killing over 6 million Jewish people from all over Europe, because they as a society determined Jewish people were bad. Is that right?

Bob: That’s crazy talk. No, that’s not right. It can’t just be individual societies that determine good and bad; it must be the human society as a whole.

Socratease: So the human society of the world determines good and bad?

Bob: Yes, that must be right.

Socratease: You have red hair, Bob. Are you saying that if the human community could somehow agree on something and decided red-haired people were bad, and needed to be eliminated, that it would be good for them to kill you?

Bob: OK Socratease, it’s obvious there has to be another way of determining what is good and bad besides individual people and societies, or even the whole human society of the world. So what else is left?

Socratease: If there is no reasonable and equitable way we can determine what is good and bad as humans or societies of this world, then could there be someone beyond this world, who might be responsible for this world, who could determine that?

Bob: I don’t know, Socratease. That’s a pretty antiquated belief, there being someone like a God, who created this world and sets the boundaries of good and bad.

Socratease: So you’re saying old ideas and things are bad?

Bob: Oh, I can’t keep going on like this. My brain is getting tired.

Socratease: Your brain? Or is it your logic and beliefs that are getting tired? Have a “good” afternoon, Bob.

1 ©™ Dr. Rick Taylor, 2008.

Love Letters

Love-Letters

Before Judy and I were married, we had a long distance dating relationship for a while, where Judy was in California and I was in Texas. We had to get creative, so we wrote letters – real hardcopy pen and paper letters – almost daily, and talked on the phone once a week. Even though we wrote daily letters, we didn’t always receive letters every day. Sometimes it would be three to four days between letters, and then I’d get several in one day.

No matter when I got a letter from Judy and no matter how many I received at a time, I always cherished them. I recall treating each one like a prized possession. I’d carry it from the mailbox to my apartment, put everything aside and prepare to relish every word on the pages I was about to open. The anticipation was always exhilarating.

I would take my letter opener and carefully open the top of the envelope to reveal the words on the pages that Judy had personally penned for me. I’d carefully pull the pages from the envelope and open them to reveal Judy’s heart and mind in ink – for me.

My mind and heart would race with anticipation of what I was about to read. Why? It was from Judy. A million different people could have written me a personal letter, but none of them would have steeped my expectancy like these words from Judy.

As I read the words on the pages, I savored every one. I analyzed each word and phrase. I wanted to make sure I drew out every nuance and meaning that Judy was thinking and feeling when she wrote this love letter to me.

I found myself pouring over the letter over and over again. I would read it again and walk away pondering the thoughts, the feelings, the meanings once again. There would always be a line or two that would particularly grab my heart or mind. I’d repeat it over and again in my mind. So many of Judy’s words spoke life to me, and gave me inspiration and determination to face the day ahead.

Today, Judy and I have been married for more than 44 years, but I will never forget those letters. And as I remember all that those letters meant to me – the anticipation, the pouring over them for meaning, the encouragement, the challenges, the words that spoke life and inspiration to me – I’m reminded of someone else who has written letters to me.

The God of the universe has spoken to me in the form of letters in the Bible. They are from the heart and mind of God to me – because He loves and cares for me. God did not put me here and say, “Good luck. I hope you can figure it all out.” He has given words of life. Do I cherish His words like I did Judy’s? Do I keep pouring over His words searching for meaning and intent? Do I long for the next time I can read His words? Do I keep rolling His words over and again in my mind?

If I truly love God as I have loved Judy, shouldn’t I treat His words to me with at least as much anticipation, joy, excitement and urgency as I did Judy’s letters?

Biblical Families: Spiritual Growth

Rick and Judy discuss what it looks like to grow spiritually as individuals and as a couple, seeking Him first in all things (Matthew 6:33). They provide some ideas about how you can find your personal rhythms and how a husband and wife can grow spiritually together.

Biblical Families: Discipline

Discipline is not about controlling children. Rick and Judy explain the point ofdiscipline is teaching children the purpose, value and habit of self-discipline. It’s about helping them explore life while allowing appropriate freedoms so they learn to make their own decisions and become responsible adults.