Announcing SeqHim Release 2!

 

I’m excited to announce that we have made some significant changes to seqhim.org!

There are two significant changes in this release.  First, the site moved from wordpress.com to a standalone instance of wordpress that I am hosting myself (through a hosting provider).  This gives us more flexibility to extend and customize the site in the future.

Second, the look and feel are clearly different.  The goal is to make more relevant information more accessible to you.  I would love to have your feedback…it’s very important to us.

I expect “point releases” to come out in relatively short order.  In these smaller, quicker releases, we’ll add incremental value to the site that is enabled by the new platform.  For example, two of the first quick hits will be a discussion forum and wiki functionality.  The former will be used as a way of facilitating conversation initiated by the community rather than by the blogger.  The later will be used by a small number of experienced disciple-makers to form community guidance in the hearing, believing, and obeying categories that I have been speaking of on my blog.

Beyond that, we’ll continue moving toward a vision that I have alluded to but have not spelled out.  That’s not because I’m afraid someone will “rip off” what I think is an innovative idea or because I want to sell it or whatever.  Honestly, it’s because the vision is advancing so quickly that I can’t stop to put anything down on paper yet.  The vision is moving forward faster than the implementation as a matter of fact!  But, hopefully I can at least put a stake in the ground once we get through the deployment of this second release.

Finally, to all of those who have been reading the seqhim blog…thank you!  We’re a modest-sized but like-minded crowd with which God can do great things as long as we humble ourselves before Him and remain obedient to “all He has commanded” us. 

Please continue with me in this journey…I’m convinced that the story God is writing here will be a benefit for many generations to come!

In great love for you and for our Savior,
John

Moving Violations … on Easter?

Funny, quick story…with a moral at the end.

Do you ever have those Sunday mornings when you just feel like all Hell is against your attempts at simply going to church.  I mean, it’s not like we were trying to go preach to millions…or feed a thousand starving children in the Congo…or even help my neighbor move his stuff across town.  We just wanted to worship…on Easter.

Well, after much suffering, we did make it…and we were only a few minutes late.  I think we upset the parking guy when we drove right past his waving arms to the front row, but by God’s grace, we were still allowed into the building.  Also by God’s grace, none of my kiddos caused a raucus which meant we were able to engage the entire service!  I mentioned to my beloved wife on the way home how I’m always glad we made the extra effort to fight through a rough morning to be with God’s people.  I felt like Ralphie with this Red Rider carbine action 200 shot range model air rifle…all was right with the world. 

Uh, did I mention my beloved wife…yeah, you’ll need to remember that in a minute.

One the way home…it’s wet…we’re one block from my house…approaching the ONE light within 100 miles of my house that has a red light camera.  You guessed it…it turns from green to yellow at that perfect moment where on a slick road, there seems to be no right answer….run the light going very fast, or slam on the breaks and slide through it.  In my mind, I decided the former…but, my beloved (catch that?) wife verbally, shall we say, disagreed with my approach to the problem.

And so, we skidded up to the line and through it before I had to let off the brake.  As we looked at each other, we both noticed the flick of the camera light…busted! (BTW, for those of you thinking, “hey, just be thankful no one got hurt” … awe, just be quiet.  Someone is going to be hurt…my wallet!)

I confess, for the next few minutes, I got very creative…perhaps the most creative I have ever been in my life.  I had two problems: a) how do I convince myself that this was not my fault; b) how do I convince the court this was not my fault.  My beloved bore the brunt of (a) for her “feedback” on my original decision; and, the slick roads were going to take the blame for (b).  If my beloved had not opened her mouth, then my original plan would have worked.  And, there is no way anyone could have avoided running that light given the weather.  If the police had an actual officer there rather than a camera, they would have seen and understood that!  Yeah, none of this was really my fault.  Not surprising, because it’s never my fault!

Do any of you have kids that constantly ask ‘why’?  Well, I’m still one of those kids, and I bother myself with the question more than anyone else.  Why am I trying to cast the blame?  Because that’s what people do when they feel like their reputation is threatened.  Ouch.

Here’s the encouragement: reputation among men has NO value, so stop worrying about it. 

But isn’t it good to have a Godly reputation, given that we are ambassadors for Christ?  YES…but, the means do not justify the ends.  In other words, you have to genuinely be Godly and not simply look Godly, otherwise it is a false testimony and not pleasing to God.  And so, my attitude is one where I will remain focused on growing in knowledge, character, and behavior by knowing God’s word, believing it, and obeying it as God enables me.  No where in any of this is a need to look like the “ideal” Christian, because there is no such thing. 

As a matter of fact, “ideal” Christians are “fake” Christians.  Remain committed to the journey, and you will please God…even if you look silly from time to time to other people.

Spiritual Assessment Teaser

Bob commented on the last post…

“If it’s not already in the works, I think a really cool component to the SeqHim library would be some kind of resources on how to phrase questions, how to calculate what kinds of questions to ask certain types of people, and how to take a conversation and come up with pointed questions on the fly. Clearly there won’t be a cookie cutter, formula approach, but it might be a useful tool for people to develop…this art of questioning!”

…and it reminded me of some very early discussions we had on spiritual assessment.  What tools are available?  Are they effective?  What would be the purpose?  Is it even appropriate?

After much discussion, brainstorming, etc we landed on yet another mind map.  You can access it here: assessment-questions-v02.

You’ll find that it is a mind map of questions that could be used to determine where a person is in their walk with Christ and how they got to where they are.  The information gathered would then be used to help them decide where to go next.  It’s not a form or a questionnaire…it literally is a mental model…a graph.  You don’t necessarily “interview” people…you just keep these questions in your mind and ask them when you need the information.

Anyway, I don’t have time to write-up the details this morning, but after reading Bob’s comments, I thought it might be good to share as is.  Would love to hear your feedback!

Do you allow people to surprise you?

I recently did some study on critical thinking.  One of the core principles is what I would call the art of the question.  That is, spend more time asking questions and less time trying to explain yourself.  While I agreed that understanding one another is good, I was bothered because the ephasis on questioning felt very pluralistic…like to be a critical thinker, you had to accept others views as being equal to your own.  I now understand that rejecting intense questioning simply because others use it in a pluralistic manner would be throwing the baby out with the bath water.  What I have discovered is that questioning is the only way we can learn about people…surprise!  The culture today needs us to learn about them in order to relate to them.  It’s amazing how hostile people become conversant if you just start asking questions rather than preaching dogma and defending yourself.

Those of you following this blog know that I believe the power to change a person’s heart resides in the gospel alone.  But, with some people, you simply have to earn the right to be heard.  We do that primarily by asking questions and genuinely trying to understand where they are coming from.  Once you know where they are coming from, then you can share the gospel in a way that they can understand and relate to.  This applies to all people…no matter where they are in their walk…no matter if they are world, fringe, or core.  If you want to help them move toward the middle, you have to be prepared to ask questions and be opportunistic with your teaching rather than dogmatic. 

You also have to ask questions to know whether your time is better invested in this person or if it would be better to move on, which brings me to my final point.  When you change your attitude away from dogma (here is the truth, take it or leave it) and move toward questioning (once I understand where you are coming from, I’ll communicate the true and full gospel in a way that you can understand), people will surprise you.  Hostile people will calm down.  Intellectuals will become emotional.  Facades melt away.  Issues are uncovered; hearts are softened.  Defensive people will begin to listen to what you have to say.  You will have earned the right to be heard.

I’ll add one more thing here…as an aside, but very important.  To be successful in this, you must have thick skin. You must have already placed your reputation on the alter as a living sacrifice.  If you take on a challenging relationship, you may be called out to your face or in public.  Are you strong enough to control your response?  Are you strong enough to resist the tempation to defend yourself, to strike back, to control your emotions and allow God to deal with how others perceive you, to focus on your objective which is to a) determine whether or not this person is being prepared by the Spirit to receive the gospel; b) share it in a way that they can understand it; c) be obedient to all of God’s commands, for the right reasons, throughout the process.

So, here is my encouragement, in three parts: 

First, you simply must know your Bible and be working on your own transformation.  Anyone can be dogmatic; it requires a different kind of Christian to engage people where they are. 

Second, ask questions before making assertions.  Know where people are coming from before assuming you know what they need to hear.  This is how you get past the natural defensiveness of a lost person in today’s culture.

Third, don’t become distracted from your ultimate purpose of sharing God’s gospel and His Truth.  As you question, the conversation may tend toward distracting topics…it’s ok to weave, but don’t forget where you are trying to head.  Look for opportunities to share God’s truth related to areas of confusion, difficulty, struggle that people have.

What is the purpose of a weekend church service?

There were several good and unique responses to the last post re: the “would you give up your seat in an easter service so someone else could have it” hypothetical scenario.  It’s actually a less hypothetical scenario than you might think.  I ran across a good friend of mine who was considering exactly that, and I was a little taken aback just because I had never really thought about it that way.

I thought about simply adding my comments to the last post, but decided to post what I think is an underlying and perhaps more important question.  I believe how you answer this question drives your response to the last question, so I’d like to pose it explicitly:

What, exactly, is the purpose of a weekend church service?

Note that the question is not, “what is the purpose of the local church”…I’m focusing in specifically on weekend services.  Why do we invest in them?  Why do we attend them?  What value do they bring?  What is the benefit?

What do you think?

Would it be better to stay home for Easter?

Here’s the situation.  You are attending a church that from Sunday to Sunday is approaching capacity.  Easter is only a few weeks away, and the church is working hard to pull as many of the “Easter crowd” to their services as possible.  They’ve added a couple of services to the weekend, but there is still concern that there will be enough space (especially in the child care areas) to hold everyone.  You are genuinely concerned that the church may have to turn people away due to the lack of space on Easter morning.

Here’s the question.  Do you consider keeping your family of five home to make room for Easter visitors? 

Very curious to hear your thoughts!

What does it mean to believe God?

A couple of posts ago, we went a little deeper on what it means to hear God.  If you remember, this was the first of three activities that we perform to help ourselves grow spiritually.  Today, we will talk a little more about the second activity, believing God.

Iterative Growth Model
Iterative Growth Model

As with hearing God, numerous well-written books on “belief” have been written and many more could be written.  Here, we will focus not so much on defining belief and faith, but on the things we can be doing to strengthen our belief in what God has said.  But to do that, we will scope the term belief to “believing what God has said”.  In the post of “hearing God”, we discussed some aspects of understand what God has to say; in this one, we’ll discuss some things we can be doing to strengthen our belief in what we understand Him to have said.

I’ve mentioned before that the activities associated with believing God are similar to training activities in the world of athletics.  Baseball players become better players by playing the game, yes, but the best players excel at training between games.  Every athlete at the top of his game is obsessive about training.  They learn from experience, but they are compelled to train to the point of suffering out of devotion for being the best at what they do.  How much more so should a Christian be compelled to train to the point of suffering out of devotion for being the most like their Savior they can be?

What are these training activities?  I believe they are most widely known as the spiritual disciplines.  Pick up anything by Dallas Willard and you will be blessed in his encouraging view of how God changes us through these disciplines.  The disciplines are used by God to prepare us for our future circumstances.  He knows what is about to happen to us, and he provides opportunities for us to discipline ourselves in more controlled circumstances before the trouble hits.

Disciplines like prayer, study, worship, solitude, fasting, scripture memory, scripture meditation, and others train us internalize God’s Word.  They train us to make His Word part of us.  They train us to allow His Word to change us…to change who we are and therefore how we react natually.  In my life, I’ve tried to develop this habit of calling upon some specific verse of scripture when I excounter a challenging or tempting circumstance.  How could I do this if I only read the scriptures in a cursory manner?  How could I do this if I only engage extra-biblical resources?  How could I do this if I only attend bible studies for social reasons or to check it off of my “what I need to be doing to be a good Christian” list?  I can’t.  Earnest prayer, thoughtful study, focused meditation, sacrifical fasting, and (most important this day and age) regular time alone are what is required.

I’m sorry to say that this is hard work, and unfortunately that is not what many Christians these days sign-up for when they walk down the aisle.  But, God’s way is always the best and “safest” way.  And, in most cases, I would say that this little bit of pain helps us to avoid the great amount of pain that comes by trying to deal with life without having been trained on God’s ways.

I’ll leave you with this.  I’ve been a Christian since the age of eight, and clearly God has been providing for and protecting me since then…no question.  But, I did not experience consistency in life or steady change until I got serious about spending daily time alone with the Lord.  If you do not already, I encourage you to spend a few minutes every day reading a passage from scripture, really thinking about what God is saying to you through it, and praying about it with God.  If you do not know where to start, start with the book of John.

I promise that there is nothing you can do that will have a greater impact on your life than this very simple yet difficult to stick with activity.  For me, what started as a form of sacrifice (giving up some of “my” time) has turned into a joy that I cannot imagine living without.  If it were not for this simple discipline, I would be full of knowledge, but I can’t say I would genuinely believe what God has said nor have experienced the charater change that I have.

What has God taught you lately?

More than one wise disciple-maker has told me that they could guage the temperature of a person using one simple question…

What has God taught you lately?

Brilliant, IMHO.  I’d like to share something specific God has been working on in me and pray that it might be an encouragement to you.  If you are performance-oriented, this post is for you.

So many of us struggle with a strong performance-orientation.  That is, we are driven by goals, performance, winning, competition, results, excellence, and the like.  On one hand, I praise God that he creates people who are driven to perform at high levels.  The Bible is full of such people, and if it were not for the obedience (i.e. performance) of the heroes of the faith, we would not even have a “faith”.  But, as with so many good things God provides, this blessing can become a bondage to us.

Now, I’m not going to dive into the pop-psychology of performance “bondage” and why we ought to blame our parents for being as we are.  Rather, I’m going to show you a simple truth and pray that God will use it to help you the way He has used it to help me in the past week.

Think about who we would be if it were not for God.  We would be dust…literally.  We would be as significant as the ground you walk on.  This is why is absolutely fascinates me how an athiest can avoid despair…there is no reason whatsoever for an athiest to ascribe significance to matter that rises from insignificant organic matter and disintegrates back into that insignificant organic matter.  The philosophy behind all this is a topic for another day, but it should be intuitive to a reasonable thinker that significance does not rise from insignificance.  Something, or someone, of significance has to give an object significance for it to be genuinely significant.

As I said before, there is nothing wrong with a drive to perform; but, whether we recognize it or not, performance is usually tied to significance.  We perform because we are attempting the earn significance from someone we perceive to be more significant than ourselves.  Said another way, we’re trying to “earn their love”.  And the fact is that no one’s love is worth attempting to earn, because it is vapor…earned love is not really love; earned significance is not really significance.  Satan just likes to make us think that to keep us from living fully in God’s genuine love and sigificance.

Therefore, I have two important principles for you today.  I pray you will find them biblical, helpful, and a light from the Lord himself today.

First, you are significant only because God gives you significance through His love for you.  Your performance has zero affect on your sigificance.  Yes, it may affect rewards in Heaven, but it does not affect God’s love for you nor your true sigificance.  If you did not grow up in a healthy home, I know this is hard to understand…but, it is indeed true of your Heavenly Father.  Just how significant are you?  Significant enough for the God of the universe to condescend to that of man and die for you in Christ.

“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:6-8 (NASB)”

If you struggle with performance, as I do, it would be helpful to memorize this passage and meditate on it regularly.  Who are you trying to impress with your performance?  A boss?  A spouse?  A son/daughter?  A neighbor?  A competitor?  Who is it?  Now, what do you really have to gain?  If you believe in Christ and have been regenerated, you already have divine significance bestowed upon you by God’s love as demonstrated by His death for you.  Why not just rest in that?!?

Second, work hard (i.e. perform with maximum excellence) at everything you do, but do it as an expression of Christ-like agape love for others.  Performance ought to be seen as something we give away with no expectation of anything in return; it should not be seen as something we use to earn something from someone more significant than ourselves.  Be motivated to empty yourself for others as Christ “emptied” himself for you.  We had nothing to give back to the Lord for His sacrifice, yet he did it anyway.  Likewise, give of yourselves in your work (no matter what it is) as an expression of love for others. 

  • Do you go to school? 
    • Don’t learn to impress or even meet the expectations of your parents or teachers.
    • Do it because educated people are better equiped to serve others.
  • Do you run a household? 
    • Don’t do it to impress your neighbor, spouse, or children or to make them feel a certain way.
    • Do it simply as an expression of love toward your spouse and children, regardless of their response to your efforts.
  • Do you manage other people’s money? 
    • Don’t do it to impress your peers or clients. 
    • Do it because as an expression of love for the person for whom you manage money.
  • Do you write software? 
    • Don’t do it to impress your boss, peers or an open source community.
    • Do it as a work of service to your leader, company or community.
  • Do you clean inside or outside of a building/home?
    • Don’t do it to impress your boss or home owner.
    • Do it because God is orderly, and you can love the owner by providing an orderly space for them.
  • Do you lead or manage other people?
    • Don’t do it to build an empire and to extract significance from people by ruling over them.
    • Do it because you care about developing people and working as a team to love those your team serves.
  • Do you teach the bible, blog or engage forums?
    • Don’t do it to build a reputation or empire.
    • Do it simply because you care about other’s development and welfare.

What do you do?  In what way are you trying to perform for someone else?  How could you change your attitude so that you do what you do to love others rather than gain love from them?  How can you use your work to pour significance into someone else who is not lovely, rather than trying to exact more love and signifiance from those who have nothing to give?

And so, we can summarize with a simple statement…one I plan to carry with me and live as best I can:

God has already made you significant; there is no need to extract significance from others, as if it were even possible.

I started this by saying that this is something God has been teaching me recently, but I would love to know what he has been working with you on!  If you would like to encourage others by sharing, please do so.

What Does it Mean to Hear God?

Excellent question…thank you for asking! 😉

In a previous post, I introduced my view of spiritual growth, which I believe is a biblical view…please tell me if you disgaree! 

Remember there are two fundamental principles:

  • spiritual growth occurs along three dimensions: knowledge, character and behavior.
  • growth on these three dimensions occurs by iterations of hearing, believing and obeying God.

And, remember the graphic we use to discuss this subject…hopefully it is an image that helps you get your arms around this subject at a high level as we dive deeper into different elements of this complex subject.

Iterative Growth Model
Iterative Growth Model

What  we want to dive a little deeper on today is the activity of hearing God

As we’ve discussed, the purpose of the iterative growth model is to help people understand what it means to grow in Christ and how we cooperate with the Spirit during the transformation process.  Knowledge, character and behavior are the what…that is, these are attributes of our person that change.  Only the Spirit can affect this change.  Hearing, believing and obeying are activities that we are responsible for and are used by the Spirit as a tool, so to speak, in our transformation.  They are the how.  Therefore, when I talk about “hearing God” in this context, I’m talking primarily about the activities we are responsible for that the Spirit uses to increase our knowledge of Him. 

My intention is not to start a debate on non-essentials such as whether or not God speaks audibly now as he did in the past; however, one essential is necessary to move forward, and that is the sole authority of Scripture.  Everything you read on this site assumes that while God may reveal Himself in many ways, there is only one source of divine authority for faith and practice: Scripture.

There are two major categories for activities related to “Hearing God”: Scripture and Non-Scripture.  Ok, I guess that was a little patronizing…but, here’s the point.  Scripture is the only authority, and everything else is subject to it; but, that is not to say that extra-biblical sources are not helpful, of course.  Otherwise, I’m wasting my time writing this and you are wasting your time reading it.  When I am discipling someone, my first goal is to get them in the Word regularly to a) establish private bible study as a discipline, joy and priviledge, and b) develop a foundational understanding of the essential doctrines of the faith tied to Scripture directly.  My second goal is to feed them extra-biblical resources that strengthen weak areas of their understanding.  In this way, I can be an effective disciple-maker without being the best teacher.  I need only be concerned with helping the disciple develop skills of discernment…measuring everything they read against what they know to be true from Scripture.  My prayer is that you are doing that very thing with everything you read from SeqHim!

What are these extra-biblical resources?  I think of them as being any media that God uses to speak to his people, outside of the Bible itself.  Yes, I do believe that God speaks to us through our conscience, and He does not need media to speak to us.  I just don’t call that a “resource”.  So, examples would include books, classes, sermons, podcasts, videos, dramas, bogs, twitter feeds, seminars, conferences, etc.

Now, relatively speaking, there is a little good stuff out there, and alot of bad stuff.  The challenge for any disciple-maker is to discern the good from the bad.  And not only that, but discern the best from the good, where the distinction between the good and the best has to do with knowing where your disciple is in his walk and the kinds of resources that would be most beneficial for him/her right now. 

The vision of SeqHim includes tools and support for helping disciples and disciple-makers discrern the good from the bad and the best from the good.  Presently, this blog (and more effectively, R2 coming in a few weeks) can be used to share opinions on the best resources.  In the future, we’ll add structure, meta-languages and enhanced search capabilities to make a personalized community ranked list of resources one click away.

I’m sure there are other good sources of info on the best resources out there…I just have not seen any that live up to the standards I have in mind.  If you know of some good ones, please let me know. 

I would love to hear your feedback on the passages of Scripture and extra-biblical resources that have had the greatest impact on your walk!

Treasure in Earthen Vessels

One of my favorite bands is Jars of Clay.  They get their name from 2 Corinthians 4:7…

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.” 2 Cor 4:7 (NASB)

Paul’s point here is that God has chosen us (as ordinary, fragile, and insignificant as a clay pot) to hold and distribute His gospel so that He would receive all of the glory for it’s power and not us.  But, you do not even have to leave Paul’s letters to the Corinthians to see something else that this body of ours “contains”.

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?  For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” 1 Cor 6:19-20

And so, God has chosen (for reasons that are hard if not possible to comprehend) to use fallen, broken, sinful, frail people to hold something as significant as not only God’s universal message of justice, grace, and mercy but also the very Spirit that regenerates and transforms us.  This is the same Spirit who participates in Creation and who resided among men only in the Holy of Holies before Christ.  Amazing…absolutely amazing.

What could be more amazing?  The fact that I, and I’ll bet many of you, do not think on this very often let alone allow it to affect our moment to moment behavior.  How can it be that I get so caught up in the meaningless, being tricked into thinking that it is somehow more significant that the fact that God has called me to be a vehicle of His gospel and His Spirit to a fallen, lost, Hell-bound world?  How can it be that I worry more about the price of a tank of gas than the price Christ paid for my sins.  How can it be that I worry more about how I’m performing and measured by my boss at work than I am my boss who redeemed me, resurrected me, called me, and indwelled me?  How can it be that I worry more about what other insignificant earthen vessels think of me than what the infinitely significant contents of my own vessel thinks of me?

I’m often reminded of a couple simple and practical points that I have used throughout the years to move my attention away from the vessel and toward it’s contents.  I’ll share them here and pray that He would use them to help you as well.

First, frequent and regular prayer matters.  As busy as life gets, too many times I am duped into thinking that my relationship with God is strong enough to skip daily prayer for a season so I can “get things done”.  That’s a lie.  I don’t care how “mature” you are, we all have to be reminded of the treasure within us or we will forget.

Second, every moment of our lives represents an opportunity to live through the strength of what lives within us rather than the weakness of it’s container.  We do not have to change anything about our circumstances to fully glorify God. 

Did you know that a single mom changing the diaper of her 6-month old has the same opportunity to glorify God as does Billy Graham sharing the gospel with millions of people on TV?  This relatively unknown single mom and Mr. Graham are made of the same insignificant earthen material and possess the same gospel and Holy Spirit.  How could one glorofy God and the other not?  It’s all in the heart and motives for doing what you do.  Are you doing all you can, wherever God has placed you, to hear Him, believe Him, and obey Him?  Are you genuinely concerned about how much you reflect the Spirit’s joy, compassion, humility and perseverance?  If you change that diaper out a selfless concern for the baby, joyfully content with the role God has given you then you will be more pleasing to God than a person sharing the gospel with millions of people only because of the attention or money it brings him.

At the end of the day, especially when the world begins to become confusing, I come to the same conclusion that Solomon did:

“The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.”  Ecclesiastes 12:13

Any believer, no matter their job or circumstance, can and must fear God and keep His commandments.  In this way, we live by the power of that which lives in us and not by the frailty of the vessel itself.  This is how we glorify God, and all of us have the same opportunity to glorify God to the same extent. 

And so, my encouragement for the day is to seek God and his commands, then live them to the best of your ability right where you are moment to moment.  Let’s leave the excuses behind and help one another in the journey.