Category: Spiritual Formation (Page 1 of 3)

Letters From Christ

The Arizona Diamondbacks, huh? You know, since Genesis 3 the serpent’s head is meant by God to be crushed. The Rangers are poised to proclaim the Gospel!


Old letter writing 2 | Stock Video | Pond5

“You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God.” ~2 Corinthians 3:4

Jesus’ greatest gift to us as we wait for his triumphant return is the power of his presence through the Holy Spirit. God’s Holy Spirit is alive and powerful and real. And he lives inside all who confess Jesus as Lord and put their faith for salvation in God through Christ.

He lives inside us.

Did you catch that part? The Spirit is within us, a holy being inside unholy humans. It’s amazing. It’s like science fiction. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to comprehend. The presence of God is not given to us in the clouds somewhere. It’s not at the top of a smoking and shaking mountain. It’s not hidden away in a chapel or a church building. God’s Spirit is not above us or beside us. He’s within us. He dwells inside us.

And he’s authoring a masterpiece. He’s writing a classic for the ages. In fact, what he’s writing is going to be read by everybody you know. They won’t find this masterpiece at Barnes and Noble. They can’t download it off Amazon. They read this divine work of art when they come in contact with you.

You are that Holy Spirit masterpiece, authored by the true and living God. Yes, it’s you! Look in the mirror! Don’t get distracted by the funny ears and the blemished skin. Don’t allow your height or your weight to keep you from recognizing it. Do not dare minimize what God is doing in your life. It’s not about you and me. It’s about the Spirit of God changing you, changing us, into his majestic handiwork. It’s about us living by his Spirit as a display, a massive banner, proclaiming his power and love to all we meet.



Ruidoso Retreat

I am posting today from the redwood deck of a beautiful two-story cabin in the mountains of Ruidoso, courtesy of Billy and Kathy Futrell. I arrived here at about 6:00 last night, delayed only briefly by a half-dozen massive mule deer who were grazing and crossing the road very slowly about three miles away.  That breathtaking sight reminded me that I am on sabbatical. So what if during my nearly five hour drive the Rangers blew a 5-0 lead over the Twins and lost on a 13th inning bases loaded walk on four pitches? So what if Texas has lost nine of their past ten games and has surrendered first place in the division for the first time since April 8? I am on sabbatical. No TV, no Rangers, no staff meetings or elders meetings, no sermon preparation or small groups planning. These five-and-a-half days are for rest, relaxation, and reconnecting with my Lord.

As I pulled in last night, one of Billy’s neighbors welcomed me and and told me that “the bears have been really active this weekend.” Yikes. I was also reminded — again! — that I pronounce Ruidoso like a Texan and not like someone from Ruidoso. I have wrestled with this since we moved to Midland two years ago. Do I continue to maintain my Texan pronunciation, Ree-uh-doe-sa, or do I say it like the natives here and the West Texans who regularly travel and relax here, Roo-uh-doe-so? I can argue both ways. Maybe the Lord will reveal it to me.

I am surrounded by giant pines, rolling ranges, and very aggressive hummingbirds. The morning and afternoon temperatures are 20 degrees cooler than they are in Midland. I have my lectionary and my Bible, Diet Dr Peppers and iced-tea, my brats and Skip’s salsa. My plan is to immerse myself in the Gospels, to spend much time in prayer, to listen to the Lord more than I talk, and to rest.

This is a prayer I will be using as a focal point during this week in the mountains with our God. It comes from The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith:

Lord Jesus, I believe that you are able and willing to deliver me from all the care and unrest and bondage of my Christian life. I believe that you did die to set me free, not only in the future, but now and here. I believe you are stronger than sin, and that you can keep me, even me, in my extreme of weakness, from falling into its snares or yielding obedience to its commands. And, Lord, I am going to trust you to keep me. I have tried keeping myself, and have failed, and failed most grievously. I am absolutely helpless. So now I will trust you.

I give myself to you. I keep back no reserves. Body, soul, and spirit, I present myself to you as a piece of clay, to be fashioned into anything your love and your wisdom shall choose. And now I am yours. I believe you do accept that which I present to you; I believe that this poor, weak, foolish heart has been taken possession of by you, and that you have even at this very moment begun to work in me to will and to do of your good pleasure. I trust you utterly and I trust you now.


Costly Imitation

“The humble person is not one who thinks meanly of himself; he simply does not think of himself at all.” ~Andrew Murray

We are disciples of Christ knowing that, when we sign up to imitate the Son of God, it’s going to cost us. His grace is free. His love and forgiveness is a gift mercifully given to all of humanity. But in order to accept that gift, we must humbly submit to his lordship and follow in his steps of sacrifice and service.

And that’s not easy. In fact, it’s quite costly.

According to the beautiful passage in Philippians 2, the One we imitate gave up everything that was rightfully his: deity, equality with God, eternal power, heavenly glory. He gave all that up in order to serve humans. Jesus’ outlook was shaped by unselfish concern for others. His attitude was one of deep humility. Jesus willingly traded heaven for earth, glory for shame, a royal scepter for a slave’s water bowl, life for death — “even death on a cross!” This is the true expression of his innermost character, the nature of our Father.

To fully imitate the Christ is to humbly consider others better than ourselves, to look to the interests of others. And that will mean willingly sacrificing our very lives, dying to ourselves to meet the needs of those around us. That sometimes means giving up our pew. Occasionally, it means giving up our preferences, It always means giving up our position.

What is it costing you to be an imitator of Christ?



Restructuring the Eldership

We conducted our second GCR Breakthrough Retreat this past weekend at The Way Retreat Center here in Midland, 18 of us together for a concentrated time in the ancient Christian practices. Dwelling in the Word, praying Scripture, borrowed prayers, worship, communion meals, imaginative reading – we cram a lot into 22 hours. And it blesses me beyond my ability to articulate.

We tell people all the time to read their Bibles and pray. How do I become a better Christian? How do I grow in my faith? How do I feel closer to God? The answer is always to read your Bible and pray. But we rarely give Christ-followers the tools to truly engage our God through Word and Prayer. We don’t train our people on how to listen for the voice of God, how to hear his voice, how to discern his will, how to commune with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Well, these time-tested, Church-proven practices are a God-send for those who are truly wanting to deepen their relationship with the Lord. And I love experiencing these times with other Christians.

You really get to know people in a hurry when you listen to them read Scripture and pray. You see so clearly what’s in their heart, you understand their souls, when you hear them read the ancient words and recite them back to God. Their stories just come out – their heartaches, their desires, their joys, their past, their hopes. I see God differently when I hear my sisters  read the Word and pray out loud. I understand different facets of his love and mercy that I would never get on my own without their unique sensibilities. I praise God for my sisters in Christ who share their faith with me and with others in these powerful ways.

We want everybody at GCR Church to experience one of these retreats over these two years. The next two are  set for June 9-10 and September 15-16.


We are in the beginning stages of a shepherd selection process at GCR and, in some ways, a restructuring of our church eldership. We laid out the process yesterday for adding additional elders to our church family, along with some explanation for the three major changes to our church leadership structures. Allow me to walk through the highlights here.

The three main changes which will take place during this selection process are these:

1) Shepherds will be ordained for three-year commitments
2) Shepherds will take a mandatory one-year sabbatical after serving two three-year cycles
3) There will be no congregational vote at the end of the selection process

There are two main reasons for these changes. One, we want to make the on-ramps and off-ramps to the eldership wider and smoother. Typically, in Churches of Christ, there are only two ways to leave the eldership: mad or feet first. A Church of Christ elder has usually understood his role as a lifetime appointment. We believe a commitment to a three-year cycle is a lot less daunting than signing up for the rest of one’s life. The three-year stint provides a way out, too. If a shepherd decides, for good reasons, that it’s best for him to step away, he can do that after three years. It’s built into the system. Nobody’s upset, nothing’s wrong, nobody did anything – he completed his commitment, he did what he said he would do, he did everything we asked him to do. Seeing a clear way in and out makes it more likely that our gifted men will answer the call. And it also prevents against shepherds serving in this important role out of a sense of duty or expectation after they’ve run out of energy or effectiveness.

Two, healthier shepherds will result in a healthier church. We are adding expectations that our elders will undergo continuous education by attending ElderLink conferences and other such seminars. All shepherds will be expected to participate in spiritual leadership training at GCR, the details of which are being worked out now. The mandatory sabbaticals will allow our shepherds to pay closer attention to their own relationships with the Lord, to reconnect with the life of the congregation, to re-engage a favorite ministry, to read a book or two, and to attend to servant leadership development and spiritual renewal. It gives them an opportunity, away from the urgency of the position, to evaluate their continued calling in a healthy way.

Regarding the confirmation vote at the end, we’re doing away with it. The words “vote,” “election,” “counting votes,” and calculating “percentages” form us much more according to our culture than to the Gospel. We’re not using words like that anymore. We’re also staying away from words like “nominate,” “nominee,” “ballot,” and “candidate.” In a nod to the past, it seems preferable to use Bible names for Bible things. The church will recommend shepherds at the front end of the process and we will trust God’s Spirit to speak through his people to reveal to us our new elders.

Once the prospective elders are presented to the congregation, there will be three weeks of biblical accountability for the congregation to voice any concerns. But there will be no vote. If there are any issues between folks, we want those resolved in community. We want accountability to be handled in relationship, not with a check mark on a piece of paper. If someone feels strongly that one of the men selected should not be one of our shepherds, that person should go to that guy and work things out. If they can’t work it out and the person is still convicted that for biblical and theological reasons this man cannot serve as a shepherd, then it needs to be brought up with the current elders. But don’t go to the elders first. Go to the guy you have the issue with.

We detailed all the changes in last week’s GCR Family Update which you can access here. I also preached on this yesterday in a sermon you can watch here.

I’ll be spending a lot of time on elders and shepherd selection in this space for the next several weeks as we engage the process here at GCR. May our Lord bless us with wisdom and guidance.



A Confessing Posture

Has it been a while since you openly and honestly confessed your sins to our Father? When’s the last time you got down on your knees, alone in the presence of our Holy God, and confessed your shortcomings and failures? These first days of Lent are a good time to re-engage this scriptural, historical practice.

Maybe you have a hard time getting started. If so, I would humbly suggest something like this. It’s both a terrible and beautiful experience for me. It’s devastating and liberating. Not easy at all, but needed. Desperately needed.

Block out twenty minutes when you can be totally alone with our Father. Not in the back bedroom of a crowded house; I mean in the back bedroom of an empty house. Totally alone. Nobody around. If you have to go to the shed in the backyard, do it.

Now, physically get down on your knees and physically open your hands with your palms up toward heaven. Now, just sit there in silence for a full five minutes – no cheating! – in the presence of God. After those five minutes, read one of the penitential psalms to the Father out loud. It’s important that you read out loud, that you hear with your ears your own voice articulating these words to the Lord. I’m partial to Psalms 32 and 51, but you could try Psalm 6, 38, 102, 130, or 143.

At this point, I am acutely aware of the presence of God and my own sinful soul. Like Peter, my first thoughts are, “Get away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man!” My feelings are like those of the prophets who proclaimed their own demise in God’s presence. I am ruined. I am dead. I am not worthy. And then I confess my sins out loud to God. And they are many.

I believe the silence and the physical posture of humility and prayer and the holy words of the psalms work together to prime the pump so that what’s in the deepest part of my soul comes gushing out. It can’t be stopped. And it needs to come out. I need to be open and honest about my sins with my loving and forgiving Father. I need to experience his forgiveness and his blessing, his pardon and approval.

You do, too.

Whatever it takes. Don’t let this 40-days of prayer and fasting come and go without spending some time in personal confession to our God.

If you need another suggestion, you might consider the words of this prayer of confession we prayed  together with our brothers and sisters at First Methodist during last week’s Ash Wednesday service:

“Most holy and merciful Father, I confess to you that I have sinned by my own fault in thought, word, and deed; by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I have not loved you with my whole heart and mind and strength. I have not loved my neighbors as myself. I have not forgiven others as I have been forgiven. I have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ serves me. I have not been true to the mind of Christ. I have grieved your Holy Spirit. Have mercy on me, O God, and in your mercy, cleanse me from all unrighteousness. Hear me now, as I continue to confess my sins to you…”

Most Christian traditions begin every worship assembly with a time of corporate and personal confession. We don’t. We have to work on it. Now’s a good time.



The Thing

Nobody gets out of this life without going through a thing. Something unexpected that changes everything. Something hard. Something painful. Sickness. Loss. Betrayal. Divorce. Death. I’m certain you can look back at your life and tell me about the thing you went through. It might have happened a long time ago or you might still be in the middle of it, but everybody goes through a thing.

Carrie-Anne and I are in the thing right now.

My beautiful wife has an echocardiogram at Midland Memorial Hospital at 10:00 this morning and we have a mandatory Chemotherapy Orientation class at Texas Oncology this afternoon at 2:45. Tomorrow it’s blood work and a couple of other labs. She gets her port installed under her right collarbone on Wednesday. And then the first of her 16 chemotherapy infusions will be at the Allison Cancer Center here in Midland on Friday. Carrie-Anne will have an infusion every Friday for 12 weeks and then every other Friday for the last eight weeks. After that, a 92% chance we’ll never see the cancer again.

As I’ve said before, we are both committed to paying attention to our Lord together while we’re faithfully dealing with this thing. We want to hear what God is saying to us, we want to see what he’s trying to show us, we want to receive the gift he is giving us through this thing. We are trying, by God’s grace, to adopt the apostle’s attitude in 2 Corinthians:

“This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.” ~2 Corinthians 1:9-10

The Scriptures say these tough times are to teach us, to show us, not to rely on ourselves, but on God. God is at work during this thing. He hasn’t abandoned us. He hasn’t left us. It’s not like God is on vacation and can’t see us until a week from Monday. He is near. He is with us. Where can we go to flee from his Spirit? Nowhere!

So, Carrie-Anne and I are really leaning into the formation zones right now. All four of them. We are reading and learning and listening to testimonials to continue gaining knowledge about breast cancer and its treatments and about how God has been powerfully at work through other cancer situations around us. We are fully engaged with our community of faith at GCR Church and all our Christian brothers and sisters in this congregation, and we are moving forward with our plans to start a new small group with Alan and Jo Douglas. Carrie-Anne and I are in Word and Prayer together every day. And we’re focused on ministering to others. We do not think it’s a coincidence that on two of our trips to M.D. Anderson, Ashleigh Reedy and her family were there at the same hospital at the same time.

The thing gets all of us. God is at work in the thing. And we need to pay attention.

It’s just life. And when life happens, we can wring our hands in despair and say, “I don’t know!” Or we can lift our hands to the Lord and exclaim, “God knows!” We can align our lives with Christ Jesus. We can say with Peter and the apostles, “Only you. Only you, Lord, have the words and the way to eternal life.”

God’s promise in Christ is that everything that’s broken is being fixed and everything that’s gone wrong is being made right. He has proved that promise in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Everything is being made perfect. You and your circumstance. You IN your circumstance.

The Holy Spirit says God will bring to completion the good thing he has started in you. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. Amen.



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