Lost that lovin’ feeling?

Ever feel like you’re further from God now than you were a few months ago? Maybe you had that deep sense of awe before God in every aspect of life…and now it is as if that moment in time was just a whisper.
As the theologians “The Righteous Brothers” penned

You’ve lost that loving feeling
Whoa that loving feeling
You’ve lost that loving feeling
Now it’s gone…gone…gone…who-oh-oh-oh-oh

Though they may not have directly been speaking to their spiritual lives, it seems an apt description of our relationship with God in different seasons. We felt close to God…then we wonder where that closeness has gone, gobbled up by life, kids, careers, hobbies, “religion,” and even by our spiritual disciplines.

Now it’s gone.

image via Tim Pirfalt, Creation Swap. Edits and quote mine.

image via Tim Pirfalt, Creation Swap. Edits and quote mine.

And the answer to getting it back isn’t found in trying harder. Because the harder you try, the further you’ll find yourself from the presence of God. A lack of feeling isn’t fixed by a mere flurry of doing. [Tweet “A lack of feeling isn’t fixed by a mere flurry of doing. “]

My friend Jamin Goggin, with Kyle Strobel, has written a book that addresses just this issue. It’s called Beloved Dust: Drawing close to God by discovering the truth about yourself. It’s really good, striking a hard-to-find balance between being rich, full, thoughtful, deep…and being accessible and helpful and readable. Many books aim at, but few find that balance.

I asked Jamin a few questions about the book, and I think you’ll find his answers helpful.

Ben: What are some of the most common ways you see people try to get closer to God? What’s so empty about those pursuits?

Jamin: In Beloved DustKyle and I explore common ways that Christians seek to grow in their relationship with God. We argue that some of them actually lead us down the wrong path. Ultimately, they are the result of very sneaky idolatries. One of these idolatries for example is “experience.” What we have found in our own journey is that it is incredibly easy to worship an experience from God rather than God himself. Often times we hit seasons in our spiritual life that feel dry. Worship feels boring, the Bible is uninteresting to us or maybe we just feel bored in prayer. We don’t like this feeling of disconnect from God and malaise in our spiritual life, so we look for solutions. We want to feel the way we used to feel in prayer or at church. This may lead us to try a new technique in prayer or maybe we will find ourselves looking for a new church that can make our spiritual life feel exciting again. Whatever it may be we are on the hunt to get back those old feeling we used to have. We want excitement. We want a “mountain top high”. We want an “aha moment”. The problem of course is that we don’t truly want God himself, but rather a felt experience. We want God for how he makes us feel. Thus, rather than going on the hunt for those old feelings or trying to generate an experience for ourselves, the call of God is to be honest with him about how we feel. Quite often God leads us into these kind of desert seasons precisely to show us our idolatry for experience. He is inviting us into a mature love, which does not love for what we get, but for who God is.

Ben: What’s something that a person could do right now to begin actually growing deeper in their relationship with God?

Jamin: What we are seeking to emphasize in Beloved Dust is that all of life is to be lived with God. We seek to dispel the notion that there are some activities that are “spiritual”, while most of our lives are lived on our own. Rather, our hope is to cast a vision of life with God that points people into communion with him in their work, their play and their home. The Christian life is about being with God who is always with you. As a result, the primary way we grow in intimacy with God is prayer. Prayer is our means of being with God at all times. Prayer is not merely another spiritual discipline, but is the very heartbeat of the Christian life. That being said, let me take a stab at actually answering your specific question. As we cultivate the habit of praying (being with God) in our everyday lives there are certain habits of heart that we can practice in prayer to grow in our relationship with God. Habits of heart are relational postures we embrace while we are praying. For example, one habit of heart is honesty. If we desire to grow in our relationship with God then we need to cultivate the practice of being honest with God; inviting him in to the truth of our heart amidst the vicissitudes of our everyday life.

Ben: There’s a tension between “doing” and “being.” Is it possible to find “being” in the “doing”? How?

Jamin: Great question. I actually prefer the language of “being with.” This denotes communion with God. Not just “being”, but “being with.” I think when we use the dichotomy of “being” vs. “doing” we often tend to be imagining very polarizing opposite ends of the spectrum. On one side is the person who is constantly self-reflecting or contemplating. While on the other side is the person who is constantly getting things done and is active for the kingdom so to speak. I think this is a false dichotomy. Jesus makes this clear as he talks about the importance of abiding in relationship with him in John 15. What is clear is that “being with” does proceed “doing for”. The heart of the gospel is not activity for God, but communion with God. However, what is also made clear in John 15 is that if we truly are abiding in Christ then we will indeed be active for the kingdom. Our “doing” so to speak is the fruit of our “being with.” As we participate in the love of Christ we share the love of Christ.

Ben: Is it possible to have a fully-realized prayer life on our own? What part does community play in our closeness with God through prayer?

Jamin: Community is unquestionably crucial in the Christian life. Often I hear the language of “context” when talking about Christian community. It is the “context” in which we grow in Christ. I think this is fine, but I think it misses the depth of what Christian community truly is. Participation in the love of God in Christ by the Spirit is not merely an individual endeavor. As those who are in Christ, the Holy Spirit now lives within us, pointing us on to Jesus and inviting us into God’s life of love from within. However, the Holy Spirit continues to pull us into God’s life of love not just from within, but from without. For he is working in and through our fellow saints. His gifts of love are being poured out uniquely through the body of Christ. You see, being “in Christ” is essentially a communal reality, for it is the church that is his “body.”

So, community is not only the right “context” for growth, it is the place of growth. It is the place which the Holy Spirit is at work.

[Tweet “‘Being ‘in Christ’ is a communal reality, for it is the Church that is his body.’ – @JaminGoggin [via @BenReed]”]

Ben: You’ve got a companion small group guide that goes along with the book. And I love it! Can you tell us what makes this small group study different than others?

Jamin: Yes, thanks for asking. I am really excited about this small group guide. I think what is most unique about is its invitation into prayer. What you will find is that there is work to be done in-between the weekly meeting session. Part of this is reading the book. However, the other part of this is a prayer exercise we call “Being With God.” We invite folks who are going through the study to spend 30 minutes each week opening their heart to the Lord in prayer regarding the specific area they are exploring in their walk with him that week. These prayer exercises include prompts inviting folks to consider reflection questions that invite them into honesty with God in prayer. It is this time of prayer each week that we then invite the groups to share as they begin their weekly meeting. The hope is that this will engender a depth of sharing and intimacy that is uncommon in the small group setting. In other words, each member of the group will take the time to share what came up for them during their individual prayer time.

Lastly, there is one more element that I am excited about in this study guide. If folks choose to they can take a 3-4 our self-guided spiritual retreat when they finish the study. The idea behind the retreat is that it provides an opportunity for folks to pause and reflect over the previous 6 weeks focusing on what God was doing in their lives, and then in turn provides space for them to discern next steps in their journey.


This really is a rich, soul-stirring work. Pick up a copy, or have everyone in your small group pick up a copy, and work through it together.

You can pick up the book HERE and the small group study kit HERE.

If you’d like, here’s a video you can share with your small group that helps them know what the study is about:

 

We’re better together

This is a guest post from my friend Jonathan Pearson, Orangeburg Campus Pastor at Cornerstone Community Church and Assistant Director of The Sticks Network. He’s also the co-creator of MillennialLeader.com, an online community for young leaders. Jonathan’s written a new book, Next Up: 8 Shifts Great Young Leaders Make. Trust me…it’s a book you want to read.

 

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We’re better together.

That sounds like a line from a romantic comedy, but it’s so much more than that. The idea that we’re better when we work together and when we’re doing life together is one that is true in every relationship sense and in every area of our lives.

We’ve all been there, haven’t we?

We’ve been to the place where someone disappoints us or we don’t get something from someone or something when we expect and we retreat to ourselves. We get so upset at the faults of others or even ourselves that we pull back and retreat to solitude. The result, when left alone for too long, is the life begins to fall out of us… little by little.

We need others. We’re better together.

We see the example of Jesus. He would retreat for short times to be with the Father, but other than that, he always had people around him. He had 12 that he did life with. Why? It was definitely because of the mission that he was calling them to, but it was also because he knew that he was made for relationship with other people. That even the Son of God needed people around him to live life with.

No matter what you do, how old you are, what your career is, or your family situation, you need people around you. For those of us that find ourselves in a place of leadership, we need people around us to hold us up, to hold up, and to walk through life with. We need people to bounce ideas off of, to glean from, and to encourage us.

We can’t live in retreat.

We can’t live in life alone.

We need each other.

Find good people to put yourself around.

They don’t have to be just like you… Jesus’ weren’t like him.

They don’t have to be perfect… they won’t be.

They just need to be there.

You just need them there.

You just need to be there for them.

Read more about topics like this in Jonathan’s book Next Up: 8 Shifts Great Young Leaders Make. To find out more about the book, go to nextupbook.com. To find out more about Jonathan go to JonP.me.

 

 

My take on writing

StartingSmall_Cover

I love writing. I do.

I love crafting words to give structure to thought.

I love painting a beautiful picture out of a seemingly mundane moment.

I love capturing the essence of a season with a phrase.

But writing a book is more than “the love of writing.”

It’s hard work. And finishing the book is only the beginning of the process.

For over a month, every day I’d get up  at 5:00 a.m. and write. And write. And write. My goal was 1000 words, every day. Most days, I came up with 1000 words of pure garbage. Throw it in the trash. Control-A, Control-X. And move on.

Because tomorrow was coming. And so were 1000 more words. And I didn’t have time for terrible words.

Most days, some of those words would stick.

Every once in a while, all 1000 would.

Then comes the marketing. The “how in the world do I get this message to the world” thoughts flood your head. And just when you think the heavy lifting is done, you realize that nobody will have a clue that you’ve written a book unless you tell them.

Simultaneously you realize that when you tell them, there’s the real chance you’ll come across as a jerky self-promoting sleaze bag who is only in it for himself. Which has never, ever, ever been my heart.

My friend John Morgan has been a great source of encouragement to me in this process. He’s helped me navigate the sleazy waters of self-marketing in a way that, I believe remains true to me. And maintains some sense of dignity.

So here goes nothing. Book #1 is in the books.

You can check out the full “press” release HERE. Or buy it below.

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*all links affiliate links

 

 

Quit hoping the wrong way, a guest post from Pete Wilson

This is a guest post from my friend Pete Wilson (Twitter, Facebook, Blog). Pete’s just released his latest book, Let Hope In. You can pick up a copy HERE.

If you’ve not read anything of Pete’s, please do yourself a favor and pick this book up. His writing is fresh and pointed. It’s easy to understand and apply…but the principles are difficult to live because Pete pulls no punches.

And a book about hope? Good grief, pick this book up now.

Let Hope In

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There are two very different types of hope in this world. One is hoping for something, and the other is hoping in someone.

Eventually everything we hope for will disappoint us. Every circumstance, every situation that we’re hoping for is going to wear out, fall apart, melt down, and go away. When that happens, the question then is about your deeper hope, your foundational hope, your fallback hope when all your other hopes have disappointed.

All of Scripture points to one man, one God, not because he gives us everything we’re hoping for but because he is the One we put our hope in.

For the past year I’ve been working on a new book I just released entitled “Let Hope In“. I knew from the beginning that this book would fall short of helping people find life-changing transformation if all we do is identify the problems, challenges, and painful moments of your past. Identifying these memories from your past alone doesn’t help you. If all you do is remember the source of your pain, then something has gone horribly wrong. Why drudge up the past if you can’t find healing from the pain?

And for there to be real healing, for your past to really become your past, what needs to happen here is that you discover or discern the lie that your memory contains. This is fundamental to your healing.

It is important to understand that your past is not really the problem. The real problem is the lie you believed when an event happened in your past.

The truth is that memories don’t hurt us. It is what we believe about those memories that hurts us.

Trusting in the loving care of God regardless of what has happened in my past has been an ongoing process in my journey. And it’s only when we trust his loving care that we’re able to really begin to allow the hope of Christ to shine through us. Yes, hurt people do hurt people. But what’s equally true is that free people free people. And becoming free starts with being able to fully trust the loving care of God despite what we’ve possibly been through in our past.

 

The Gospel doesn’t change. The way we share it should.

Engage_Banner

I’ve been a part of a handful of projects with Lifeway, but none that I’ve been as excited about as this one.

I was one of 4 authors to collaborate on a small group book/study called Engage: A Practical Guide to Evangelism, and I love how it all came together.

Here’s the overview:

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The simple truth of the gospel does not change. And while this truth is timeless, we must always evaluate the presentation of that truth to make sure it’s connecting in a culturally relevant way. Engage is a practical study examining the act of sharing your faith. Engage: A Practical Guide to Evangelism answers questions like, How do you begin a conversation about Jesus? What if they have questions you’re not sure how to answer? What do you say if they respond positively or if they reject God’s message?

Engage is a small group study that helps you:

  • Discern the full meaning of the gospel of Jesus Christ
  • Understand why all Christians are called to share the good news
  • Prepare for spiritual attacks against the gospel
  • Have tangible ideas for how to share your faith with those who don’t believe in Jesus.
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Here are a few quotes from the book…written in a way that’s easily shareable on Twitter or Facebook, if you’d like.

Twitter

  • Sharing our faith requires reminders of the beauty and depth of the gospel. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
  • Jesus lived the perfect life I should’ve lived and died the death I had been condemned to die. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
  • We can approach God with boldness because He sees us according to the accomplishments of Christ #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
  • You can never earn the title “Christian”—Jesus earned it in our place & gave it to us as a gift #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
  • We’re accepted before God not because of what we do but because of what Jesus has done. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
  • What’s inside of our hearts gushes out and compels us to action. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
  • Evangelism is seeing Jesus as our greatest delight and the ultimate lover of our souls. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
  • Loving God & loving others is the fuel that propels gospel proclamation & disciple making. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
  • Sharing your faith is much less complicated than we often make it. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA (via @BenReed)

Facebook

  • Unbelievers are looking for real answers not easy ones. They’re wanting to see that men and women of faith struggle with questions, too. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
  • The gospel of Jesus is the announcement that Jesus is Lord and has won a great victory on our behalf. The gospel is not a command that we should do better so that God will accept us, but the announcement that Jesus has paid the full penalty for our sin. No longer do we need to live in fear. The battle has been won on our behalf—we need only to believe and receive it. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
  • The gospel isn’t just the “beginning point” of Christianity, a prayer you pray to begin your Christian life, or the diving board off of which you jump into the pool of Christianity. The gospel is the pool in which you swim, day by day. Once you’ve believe the gospel, the way you grow in Christ is by going deeper into the gospel. You become more aware of how gracious He is and how incredible is the gift He has given you in Christ. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
  • The world needs to know who Jesus really is and what the benefits are of putting faith in Him. Jesus gave us the responsibility to make those truths known. The potential impact of obedience to that calling is world-changing. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
  • We not only need the gospel to cover our sinfulness and to guarantee a glorious eternity; we need the gospel for everything! From the most mundane activities of our day-to-day lives to the “big ticket item” decisions that pivot the trajectory of our lives—the gospel should infuse all of it. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
  • For an unbeliever, we can’t support the legitimacy of the Bible solely on its own word. We have to look at history, at the present day, and even within ourselves to see that God’s Word is true and can be trusted. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
  • Your story is compelling. Riveting. Life-changing (assuming you actually have been changed). And sharing your faith involves sharing your story. Be honest, transparent, and vulnerable. People will connect with your brokenness more quickly and fully than they ever will your “awesomeness.” Share the mistakes God’s redeeming you from, the sin you’re done with, the bigger picture He’s inviting you into, and the ways His grace is sufficient and His love is captivating. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
  • Sharing your faith is much less complicated than we often make it. But it’s also much more difficult. Much more engaging. Much more demanding of your time and effort. Much more challenging of your life. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
You can pick up your copy HERE.
 

Rich Froning’s book – a review

Confession: I don’t read all of the books that I review.

Oftentimes, I’ll get a book, read it enough to get the gist, then move on.

But I’m passionate about Crossfit. And anytime CrossFit and faith collide, I’m in.

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So when I got a copy of Rich Froning’s (on Twitter HERE) book*, I read it cover-to-cover. If you have any inclination towards CrossFit, you’ll enjoy this book. Rich chronicles his rapid rise to success in the CrossFit world, sharing his story from life on the farm to back-to-back “World’s Fittest Man” titles. Reading this book is like sitting down with Rich over a cup of coffee. Or, more likely, over a protein shake after a WOD. (workout-of-the-day)

Every time I read a portion of the book, I wanted to throw it down and start working harder. Rich’s work ethic and passion are infectious.

Equally infectious is Rich’s faith.** It’s genuine, and you see it laid bare in this book as he does battle against his own pride. I found his faith refreshing, bold, and courageous.

The big question Rich wrestles with throughout the book is, “What legacy am I going to leave when I die?”

Hopefully you’re asking something similar.

For Rich, faith and fitness go hand-in-hand. I’ve found the same to be true, which is why the book resonated so well with me. When I’m disciplined with my body, I find myself more disciplined spiritually.

This is a great summer read. And a great read just in time for this year’s CrossFit Games, as Rich looks to become the three-time champion for this sport.

Pick it up right HERE.

Question:

Are you a CrossFitter?

 

 

* all amazon links are affiliate links

**If you read the book, you’ll notice that a key player in Rich’s wrestling through faith issues is a guy named Donavan Degrie. Donavan’s my coach at the box where I work out, and I can see why he played such a key role in Donavan’s faith journey.

 

My top 3 books for 2011

image credit: Creation Swap user Jamie Current

I’ve read a lot in 2011. And there are three books that rose to the top for me.

1. How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie

This is an old book, but it’s still unbelievably applicable today. Because relationships are still vital to whatever you do, whether that’s at work, home, or church. This book oozes practical wisdom.

2. Small Groups with Purpose: How to Create Healthy Communities, by Steve Gladen (blog)

I know, it’s niche. But it’s good. If you’re overseeing small groups, this book is gold for you. Steve has laid out the method that Saddleback Church has pioneered in launching thousands of small groups. And he’s broken it down where churches who are much smaller can learn from the principles that Saddleback has used.

3. Sticky Teams, by Larry Osborne

Our staff read through this book together and it was so, so good. Osborne packs this book full of the wisdom he’s learned in leading his teams of staff members at North Coast Church. If you’re a team leader, or plan on being one, especially in the church, this is a must-read.

Question:

Have you read a must-read this year?

 

 * image credit: Creation Swap user Jamie Current

 

Scott Boren & missional communities

Scott Boren (Twitter, Facebook, blog) has written an incredible book…one you should read. In fact, you can read it for free…just keep reading to see how!

Scott wrote MissioRelate as a way of prodding small group systems to move towards life-changing, relational experiences that draw people into missional group life.

The word ‘missional’ seems to be abuzz acros the landscape of the American church. It’s ‘hip’ to be ‘missional’ right now. What I love about Scott’s work is that he plainly lays out the foundations of what it takes for small groups to be truly missional, both theologically and practically. This book just might change the way you think about small groups…in a very good way.

Check out this interview I did with Scott (sorry…for some reason, my video froze. I’ll figure out the whole recording thing soon enough!).

Here are the questions Scott answers:

1. You talk a lot about rhythms in your book…why are rhythms so important to group life?

2. You’re pretty critical of current small groups systems. What churches are doing it ‘right’ now?

3. How do you see the typical American mindset influencing church life these days?

5. Give us a couple of practical steps that a small group could take to really draw people in to missional group life.

Scott mentions a few resources in the video. You can see those HERE.

I’m giving away 2 copies of Scott’s book! To enter, just do one of the following:

1. Tweet a link back to this post. You can use this if you’d like: Check out a great new book on missional small groups from @mscottboren: http://ow.ly/6Xery

2. Facebook a link back to this post. You can use this if you’d like: Check out a great new book on missional small groups from Scott Boren: http://ow.ly/6Xery  // (make sure you tag me so I can enter you into the drawing)

3. Leave a comment telling us whether you think that ‘missional small groups’ are a good idea or not.

In your comment, please be sure to leave your email address so I can contact the winners!

I’ll complete the drawing on Saturday evening, October 15th, at 8:00 pm.

But even if you don’t win, you can pick up a copy of the book HERE.

 

The End of Global Poverty

A friend of mine, Aaron Armstrong (Twitter, Facebook, and blog) has just released a new book entitled Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation, and the End of Poverty

This post is completely unsolicited…I think it’s such a helpful resource that I wanted to sit down with Aaron and have him answer a few questions so that you’d be encouraged to pick up a copy. In fact, they’re really cheap right now…$8.45 for a hard copy, and just $5.45 for a digital copy!

Instead of having you read the interview, I decided to record it. *sorry that I cut the top portion of my video off…I’m still learning.

 

Aaron Armstrong Interview from Ben Reed on Vimeo.