Category: Spiritual Formation (Page 1 of 3)

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.



Breakthrough Retreat

We had 19 of us out at The Way here in Midland this weekend for the first of twelve Breakthrough Retreats related to our new emphasis on transformation and mission at GCR Church. We engaged our God together through Word and Prayer, exploring several ancient Christian practices and spiritual disciplines. Dwelling in the Word. Praying Scripture. Borrowed Prayer. Imaginative Reading.

A wonderful side benefit to these experiences in community is the connection made, not only with our Lord, but also with one another. You really hear the hearts of your brothers and sisters in Christ when you are listening to the voice of God together in Bible passages and four-hundred-year-old songs and two-thousand-year-old prayers. Blessing one another with words from the Psalms. Discerning God’s will together. Placing ourselves in the Story of God. Sharing holy conversations around our meals. Worshiping in that beautiful chapel at The Way. I know 18 of my brothers and sisters in Christ a whole lot better today than I did 48 hours ago. And it’s a tremendous blessing.

The one discipline we need to include in our next retreat is how to take a group photo. Look at that picture! Dee seems to be intentionally hiding. Eric and Meagan are barely visible. Reagan and Clay seem to have their own thing happening there on the left. Ashlee’s laughing. And I don’t know why we let Marc wear the Aggies gear on the front row.

We’re wanting every member of our GCR Church to participate in one of these Breakthrough Retreats over the next two years. The next retreat is a morning thing on the church campus for young families with kids on February 18. The next overnight retreat at The Way for adults and anybody who’s a high school freshman or older is March 10-11.

I highly recommend it. And I believe any of those other 18 folks in that picture would say the same thing.



Our Deepest Fear

I want to share with you a passage from Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love. Barry Thomas sent this to me immediately following Sunday’s sermon about God’s covenant of presence and partnership with his people. I hope you find this as inspiring as I do.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?” Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God!

Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us – it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

The basic truth about you is that you are created by God in the divine image of God. Don’t ever lose that foundational fact about you. Sin distorts that fact, the devil twists that truth. Sin corrupts it and contradicts it. But it does not change you into anyone other than who God created you to be. You are a beloved child of God, created and saved and called by him to reflect his glory.



Transformed on Mission

When we decide to get involved with what God is doing and the ways God is doing it, he changes us. Our Lord transforms us when we personally engage the mission.

“…to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the Body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” ~Ephesians 4:12-14

Being changed by God into the image of Jesus with ever-increasing glory is a result of increasingly doing for others. Sacrificing and serving others. Philippians 2 says we should pursue the mind of Christ or the attitude of Christ, and ties it directly to considering the needs of others more important than our own. This is Jesus! He said it: “I did not come to be served, but to serve and to give my life.” That’s the mission. And when you engage, you’ll be changed.

Actually doing ministry, having a mission – not just talking about it, studying it, or agreeing it’s good – changes you. The fastest way to get out of your spiritual rut is to dive head-first into our Lord’s mission.

New experiences challenge our beliefs and assumptions. Ministry, when you’re in over your head, forces you to face your fears and it surprises you with resources and strength from God you didn’t know you had. Hearing the stories first-hand, seeing the places, and meeting the people makes the needs and the opportunities more real. The Scriptures become more alive when you connect them to real ministry. Being on mission pushes us out of our comfort zones and into the places where God is really changing the world. And it’ll change you.

To empty yourself for the mission of Christ like that feels good. You know it feels good to serve others because you’ve done it. And the reason it feels so good is because it’s our God-created and God-ordained purpose. He made us to serve others. And when we do that, we are becoming like Christ. That’s why it’s so powerful. When we serve others, we live better, we worship better, we pray better, we love better – everything’s better. It changes you.

“As each part does its work, we will in all things grow up into Christ.” ~Ephesians 4:16



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