Category Archives: Spirituality

Staying Unbound

For the past 40 days Arborlawn has been engaged in 40 days of united, continual prayer that was a part of our fall series Unbound: Your Life Set Free.  This sermon series complimented an all-church study by Martha Grace Reese called Unbinding Your Heart.

Feedback and reactions from people are typically filled with a simple reality:

Daily devotional times transform the way you approach your day.

The simple practice of framing your day around the person and activity of God in Christ changes your perspective on life and your interactions with other people.  Your eyes begin to see places where the Holy Spirit calls us to serve as the hands and feet of Jesus in the world that you may not have noticed previously.  Implementing the small change of beginning each day with scripture and prayer leaves our hearts expecting Jesus as opposed to aimlessly hoping he appears.John

As the study concludes, you key question that I have heard grew out of the 40-day prayer challenge experience: how can I continue this? We’ve tasted and seen that God is good and now people hunger and thirst for more.  I’ve compiled (with the help and suggestion of friends) a short but varied list of resources that you can use to guide you through you daily devotional time.  There are countless resources available online and in print, but I’ve included ones that I either have personal experience using or someone I know and trust has used as well.

There are countless other resources available.  I encourage you to try one for at least two weeks. If it doesn’t speak your spiritual language there is no problem with trying something new.  Developing a new rhythm takes time, but the time invested in preparing our hearts and minds to expect Jesus is time spent deepening our relationship with the one who is the source of our life.  It is time well spent.

Printed Devotional Books

The Upper Room – [from their website] “The Upper Room daily devotional guide contains meditations that show real people struggling to live faithfully in real-life situations, with the Bible as the touchstone for and measure of faithful living. The writers of the daily meditations that appear in The Upper Room are both laity and clergy and come from around the world. However, all in some way reflect the belief that God wills only good for each of us and that God calls us to lives of love, forgiveness, and service to others, according to the example of Christ.” These are available in most UMC churches (Arborlawn definitely has them in our front office for people interested).

Daily Feast – A devotional series that follows the Revised Common Lectionary cycle.  There is a scripture and reflection for each day as well as a question on which to reflect.  The reflections are drawn from the preaching commentary series Feasting on the Wordyet still applies to the lives of clergy and laity alike.

Listen: Praying in a Noisy World – [from Amazon] “We live in a world of noise. Everywhere we go, we hear sounds that compete for our minds and hearts. Listening to God requires a deliberate choice to shut out the chaos around us and focus our thoughts.Listen, by Rueben P. Job, is a 40-day experience created to offer help to those new to prayer, those with a daily prayer routine, and those whose lives seem too busy to pray. With a focus on listening prayer and prayer as a two-way conversation, the experience will assist individuals and groups in building and deepening a personal prayer practice and spiritual discernment.”

A Disciple’s Journal – [from Amazon] “A Disciple’s Journal, carefully designed and deeply Wesleyan, provides a pattern of daily prayer and scripture reading for disciples who want to grow in holiness of heart and life. It invites readers into a Wesleyan way of following Jesus Christ shaped by the General Rule of Discipleship: To witness to Jesus Christ in the world and to follow his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.” These are released yearly. You can pick up a 2016 Journal for Kindle right now.

Daily Email Devotions

Upper Room – An email version of the printed devotional book.

Daily Text – A daily scripture reflection that tends to follow through a book of the Bible.

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations – Daily meditations sent by Richard Rohr. A renowned spiritual leader and Franciscan priest.  Rhythms tend to follow exploring theological topics over extended periods of time.

Phone Apps

Pray-As-You-Go –Pray as you go is a daily prayer session, designed for use on portable devices, to help you pray whenever you find time.  The app contains not only a daily scripture devotion, but also various other forms of prayer.  My personal favorite are the Examen Prayers they offer for various ages. They also have a website which houses all of their content.

Bible – Arguably the most popular Bible app on the market. This app contains multiple translations of scripture as well as countless reading and devotional plans to choose from.  You can program reminders that will help you to develop the habit of daily prayer.

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Crack House Church

Peter Rollins always provides a thought-provoking as well as a culturally provokative word that we need to hear.  How do you approach the church?  For whom does the church exist?  What does it mean to be a part of a church?

Crack House Church

[sorry I could not get the video to embed properly. Following the link will take you to the video]

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Come Again?

I’ve noticed a recent flood of student ministry events happening around the area recently aimed at drawing a big crowd. That isn’t surprising. Usually toward the beginning of every school year student ministers are trying to pump up attendance. Start big that way the end of the semester dwindle is less painful.

This isn’t a post against programs that are aimed at bringing people in. I think those programs are needed and necessary. Some students wouldn’t think twice about darkening the door of your church unless you had a DJ or local celeb or messy games blowout. These things may even draw back those students who were active last year but you never saw from June through August.

When talking with people about these type of events they are well aware of their aim. Draw people in. Hope some of them stick. Say your event draws in 100 new faces (for the sake of simple math). What would you consider to be a successful return rate? 10? 20? 25? So, if 25% of those that come for the first time return that would be great. A chunk of those students could get plugged into small groups and begin to develop deep relationships aimed at Christ.

The question that kept nagging at me last night as I was trying to get some sleep was, “What about the other 75%?”. I know that drawing in the 25% is worth celebrating, but have we done anything for the 75% to change their mind about church? What does giving away iPads/money/etc say about the desire (envy) for more stuff? Does it do anything to offer an alternative to the insatiable beast that our consumer culture creates? Sure, you may have an easily digestible message about the fulfillment Christ can bring, but everything else we’ve done up to that point has pointed to the contrary.

So, what about the other 75%? Do we write them off? Focus on the 25%? I don’t have an easy answer. I still struggle with these things. What are your thoughts, whether student or adult ministry? How do you handle that tension?

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Celebrating the Past :: Moving Toward the Future


I recently returned from a trip to San Francisco with the above group.  The group is comprised of, mostly, recently graduated seniors from the youth group at Arborlawn UMC.  We do a trip like this every year as an end of the year/farewell to our seniors who have served in many different capacities.  We have a leadership program that we base a good deal of our programming around at Arborlawn that helps lead our students into service in the church in the hopes that when they go off to college they have a better sense of how to be a part of a church instead of simply being a religious consumer.  They serve in a variety of capacities from helping with all ages of Sunday School classes to volunteering in the church office.

The trip is a big “thank you” to them as well as a time to remember the past and look toward the future.  I always have mixed emotions on these trips.  I really enjoy spending time with these students that I have grown closer and closer to over the years; but I also know that, come fall, they will be off to college and no longer be a regular part of our program.  I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to get to know each and every person on this trip.  I’m thankful for the lives of other students that they have invested in as they grew through the program and I am excited for what the future holds for them.  God’s kingdom is definitely enriched by the lives of those willing to selflessly serve and willing to pour into the lives of others and these students are a testament to that.

How do you make space for the students or people in your ministry to pour back into the lives of the people that come after them?  How have you been training up leaders?

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Closing Prayer for Monday’s Worship

This is the closing prayer that we used for our Monday worship service on our Senior High Mission trip yesterday. We used it in conjunction with 1 John 3:16-18

O God,
Let something essential happen to me
Something more than interesting or entertaining or thoughtful
Let something essential happen to me
Something awesome, something real
Speak to my condition, Lord,
and change me somewhere inside where it matters
a change that will burn and tremble and heal
Let something happen in me that is my real self.

-from Guerrillas of Grace by Ted Loder, LuraMedia (1984)

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Inspired Life

The proper tools in the hands of an inspired person can yield magnificent results.

If you give me a bicycle the odds of my doing a backflip off of a large tree are slim to none.  Most likely I will ride and wobble around in an attempt to not fall on my face.  In my younger years I was fairly skilled at out-running neighborhood dogs on a bike, but I never had the courage or inspiration to jump off an awning on a bike.  The proper tools in the hands of an inspired person can yield magnificent results.

What tools have you been given?  What is your inspiration?

Life is the most important tool you have been blessed with.  What inspires your life?  Are you simply riding through life avoiding failure and folly or are you taking your life and pushing the limits of what it means to truly live?

The thief enters only to steal, kill, and destroy. [Jesus] came so that they could have life–indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest. – John 10:10

The proper tools in the hands of an inspired person can yield magnificent results.

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I Want to Fail


I want to fail.

Not a very common phrase, especially in our culture.  We thrive on and worship success.  In doing so we often ignore one of the best avenues to attain success–failure.

Now, when I say, “I want to fail,” I am not talking about colossal fails  (i.e. life or death, marriage ending, childhood ruining), but minor to moderate failures.

Willingness to fail means that we are willing to risk and chance.  It also shows an awareness that our worth and value is not based on our accomplishments or prior successes.  I have played it safe most of my life.  I applied to one college out of high school (and got in) mainly because they sent me a special application that was as much of a guarantee that you could get.  I didn’t expend much energy pushing myself beyond what was certain or comfortable.  This approach worked for a while, but I have come to the realization that this approach doesn’t move you forward very far.  It relies on baby steps and certainty (the later of which is somewhat laughable).

Stepping out in faith (trusting in things unseen) requires us to be open to the possibility of failure.  Learning to discern God’s voice takes practice and failure is a vital part of practice and learning.  In life, in love, in ministry we are called to step beyond what we know and enter into a world that is better.  In finding our way into this world we will take wrong steps, but the beauty is that we aren’t defined by our wrong steps, but rather our failures provide a springboard for a greater success.

So, may you fail and fail forward.  Be willing to step out in faith and realize that God is calling you to bigger, greater, and more.

Where is your fear of failure holding you back from the potential God has blessed you with?


Back on the wagon

December 8th, 2008.  That’s when I fell off the wagon apparently.  That’s when I stopped blogging.  I had nothing to say.  I didn’t want to commit the time necessary to produce anything worth anybody’s time (if it wasn’t worth my time why would it be worth yours?).

March 5th, 2012. I’m back on the wagon. It took me a while to find a purpose to blog.  It may be a selfish reason, but I need it to be in the public domain for a certain level of accountability.  Being a seminary student and currently studying Methodist History and Doctrine one of the things I found most intriguing about the character of John Wesley was his strict devotion to journaling.  He kept constant record of, not only his daily activities, but also of his theological positions by constantly writing about them.

One of the most intriguing is Wesley’s distinction of the marks of a true Christian.  At one point in his life this requires concrete assurance even in the face of certain death that one is loved by Christ and saved from wrath.  After a startling experience aboard a ship that nearly capsizes Wesley does not see it fit to call himself a Christian.  What is even more interesting is to read his own commentary of his journals from the years.

1740: I who went to America to convert others, was never myself converted to God” (1775–”I am not sure of this”); “[I lack] faith in Christ” (1775–”I had even then the faith of a servant, though not that of a son”); “I am ‘a child of wrath.'” (1775–”I believe not”); “I was persuaded that…I was even then [1728-29] in a state of salvation” (1775–”And I believe I was”); “I had been all this time building on the sand” (1775–”Not so: I was right, as far as I went”).

                                           – Heitzenrater Wesley and the People Called Methodists, p.261-2

Immediate reflection yields one conclusion, but looking back over his life’s journey with the wisdom experience brings he is able to see where he was being led in his theology.

As an aspiring pastor.father.husband I need something where I can reflect on thoughts and experiences over the days.weeks.years.  This is my spiritual discipline (well…one of them).  It’s a commitment that requires temporal budgeting as well as serious thought and attentiveness to my life.  I will say things that are wrong. I will say things that I will look back on and shake my head.  But most importantly I will be honest to myself about what I say.

Do you track your beliefs/experiences over the years? How do you track your thoughts/beliefs over time?  Do you have a way of keeping yourself disciplined to this?

This is me restarting this journey.

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Blog Action Day: Poverty

A while before I had heard of the blog action day topic for this year I had come across the video below.  Initially there was no connection between the two in my mind.  I heard of poverty and instantly jumped to financial poverty.  It’s an easy jump to make and an important thing of which to raise awareness.  It is my assumption though that a great number of the blogs participating in blog action day are focusing on financial poverty.  I wanted to take it in a slightly different direction.

This video is from The Work of the People.  I have followed t.w.o.t.p. for some time and have always been a fan of the material that they make available.  In this particular video they are listening to a Brazilian pastor by the name of Claudio Oliver as he describes a new approach to the way we think when we think about mission trips and charity.

One of my favorite quotes in the video is towards the end when Oliver states:

“Next time you think about a mission trip, it’s not bad to go and build places, help people to have good meeting places.  Those places will eventually disappear.  They will be destroyed because of aging, because of time.  Go there and build something that can’t be shown to your church in a picture…some immaterial beauty you can build is the building of friendship…because friendship will last forever.”

I don’t write this to be defiant of helping the poor and impoverished.  That isn’t at all my point.  The thing that I would like to draw attention to and call for every to act on is not simply focusing on the material poverty.  See that many times people have spiritual and emotional poverty that far outweighs their financial poverty. 

So, as we find the action to take to stand up against poverty remember to focus not only on the material poverty.  We can build shelters and feed the hungry, but their stomachs will eventually be empty again.  Build shelters, fill stomachs, but also build relationships and fill hearts with genuine care and love.  Approach them as a human not as a project.  Greet them.  Learn their name.  Listen to their story.  Show them that they aren’t forgotten.

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