Archive for the ‘Growth’ Category

Successfully Driving People Away

May 27, 2021

Andy Stanley, co-founder and senior pastor of Northpoint Ministries in Atlanta, calls that group of people the “nones.” When filling out questionnaires and coming to a question on religious affiliation, they check the “none” box.

During the podcast conversation, one of the men said that he was not a theist. Not an a-theist. Just no concept of a God. He was raised that way.

Then he turned the table on the host and asked, “What religion are you?”

The host paused a moment and said, “I would have said Christian up until 4-5 years ago. Now, I’m not so sure.”

What did he mean? It was the vocal evangelicals whole-hearted embrace of the former president. That turned him off. What he didn’t mention was that the church he attended (I knew because of a reference he once made) had something of a sex-related scandal amongst leadership. That probably didn’t help.

This is more of an American cultural thing than the rest of the world. Perhaps Europe and Britain are similar in many ways. Certainly in Asia and the Middle East and Africa things are different. There, Christians don’t think they are (and should be) the dominant culture.

I have 50+ years of experience watching churches being more successful driving people away than in attracting them.

Perhaps that is why I write often about the Acts 2 church and how the early church grew by attraction. Then the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the Official religion. And then it all went downhill.

But that early church didn’t grow to be a mega-church. Just many small house gatherings. Ekklesia. They would grow and divide. And they attracted more people by the way they lived. I think that was Jesus’ idea. Attract people by the way you live. Don’t drive them away with a strident voice.

Are You A Pilgrim or a Tourist?

February 11, 2021

This question appeared in my reading the other day. What a marvelous question to ask of ourselves if we look at our spiritual formation as a journey.

Do we travel around, visiting here and going there? Sample a little of the sights, perhaps in the comfort of a tour bus? Try the food–a little, perhaps with trepidation? We have no expectations of staying. Of meeting people and making friends. Of learning some of the language and customs. Adding to our personal cuisine.

Perhaps we have a destination. A journey to a sacred place. The journey has meaning. We pick up new habits along the way. We learn new things. Our minds expand from formerly provincial attitudes. We learn about new people. Perform large or small acts of kindness along the way–growing more frequent as we journey farther.

Perhaps we pick up our little notebook and a good pen and write some notes. Where are we now on the journey? How have we been a tourist? How have we been a pilgrim? What new attitudes can we work on to spend more time as a pilgrim, less as a tourist?

I love that question. It reframes the journey. I desire pilgrimage, not sight-seeing trip.

Forcing Yourself Into a Category

February 11, 2020

Yesterday I wrote about how we construct theories and categories and then shove people into them. It’s easier to deal with people if we can make them a “type” and then dismiss them if they don’t fit into “our” category.

However, I started a new book on the Enneagram during yesterday’s flight to Germany. (I’m sitting in my hotel room overlooking the famous “fair grounds” of the Hannover Messe as I write this. Oh, yes, and on probably 4 hours of sleep on the plane. If this is incoherent, we’ll blame that…)

The purpose of studying the enneagram is not to determine your type and stop there. Or even to arbitrarily assign someone else to a type and stop there.

What really happens to us is that we categorize ourselves. We’re stupid. Or clumsy. Or unattractive. Or didn’t have the breaks that rich kids had. Or…whatever.

If we just had but a wise guide to lead us through the enneagram, we could develop an awareness of the tactics we adopted as kids in order to survive our circumstances. Further, we could see that we are still locked into those tactics and strategies and feelings, and that these are inhibiting our growth and our relationships.

I think every spiritual writer I have studied has at some point taught the importance of self-awareness. What a spiritual gift we have when we can see ourselves from the outside in and then change from the inside out.

Grow Your Brain

April 22, 2019

Myth: You only use 10% of your brain.

Myth: Your brain stops growing after you reach adulthood.

Your brain can continue to grow until you die. And you have influence over either growing or atrophying.

I’ve read several books on brain science. Some get pretty involved and technical.

Here is a book that combines brain science written by a PhD neuroscientist who has devoted a lifetime (so far) researching the brain with practical advice for your own personal brain development. The book is approachable for anyone. Younger students, even.

Healthy Brain, Happy Life: A Personal Program to Activate Your Brain & Do Everything Better, by Wendy Suzuki, PhD.

Here’s a hint about a great deal of the story–she is both a leading neuroscience researcher as a full professor at NYU and a certified fitness instructor.

The foundation of the story is neuroscience. But the real story is one of personal development about how she discovered how exercise leading to better eating leading to meditation leading to developing a spiritual side all played a part in her growth. And led to more research in the lab on brain plasticity–how it continues to grow.

It goes to show scientifically that spiritual practices must involve the entire body. And, in so doing, your brain can retain some youthfulness and you can have a better life.

Perhaps we could think of these bullet points as sort of a progression layering upon each other for personal development:

  • Knowledge
  • Exercise
  • Healthy eating
  • Meditation
  • Spiritual development
  • (Iterate)

Get the book, digest it, pick some of her practical tips for implementing the lesson. Grow your brain and grow your life.

Getting Into Balance

January 14, 2019

Personality type testing once again becomes a fad.

Are you and “ISFJ” or a “9”?

(The former being one of the types on the Myers-Briggs Types Indicator; the other one of the 9 types on the Enneagram.)

One use of the Myers-Briggs I have seen is for leadership teams to take the evaluation in order to figure out how to work together. [I have never seen that actually work…]

I took the test as part of someone’s doctoral research on how school board members work together. It didn’t help us any, but the guy received a doctorate.

Once I walked into my pastor’s office. “Our Emmaus team just took the Myers-Briggs to help us work together. We are all ‘FJs’ “(feeling-judgementals-look it up). I replied, “I’m a ‘TP’ ” (thinking-perceptive). He said, “How can you call yourself a Christian and be a TP?”

[Mis]use of the profile, for sure.

The Enneagram is getting popular in some Christian circles right now. It’s not “what’s your sign” but rather “what’s your number”.

Another [mis]use of the evaluation.

I’ve studied both Western and Eastern philosophy. I got rather deep one time into Ayurveda. It does “mind-body” types.

The thing of it is, you don’t study it to find out your type…and then stop. You study it so that you can change some ways you eat or exercise to bring your mind and body into balance. If you are a “pitta” then maybe eat some “kapha” foods to bring yourself into balance.

If you read deeper than your M-B or number, you find a lot of ambivalence. No one is 100% a “9”. There’s a little of every number in all of us. Maybe you are called E (extroverted) but you’re maybe only 16 out of 31 on the scale. One question differently answered and you’d be labeled “I” (introverted).

If you are going to go this route, do yourself a favor and use the tool to bring your personality (and your life) into balance.

He’s Gonna Find Out

December 18, 2017

He’s making a list; checking it twice.

Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.

Whom among us ever behaved because of this threat from Santa Claus?

Even for a minute?

Or has been the parent who uses threats as the “easy” way to enforce proper behavior?

“Just wait until I get you home….”

“If you don’t stop that, I’ll ….”

Delayed punishment of children, actually even of many adults, doesn’t work as far a changing behavior.

Worse still is the threat that’s not enforced or even forgotten.

There are whole Protestant denominations founded on the premise of threats.

Back when Hartford, Connecticut was the home of most insurance companies Mad Magazine ran a caricature of a preacher who sold the first “fire insurance” in the US.

Today, we all get to find out who has been naughty when they appear on the front page of the newspaper, lead on the TV news, or at the top of your digital news feed. And, Lord, this has been the year of bringing naughty into light!

Or we can consider from another perspective–do we really want to raise human persons to be timid and docile? That doesn’t sound like the type of person Jesus developed. His initial group of followers–beyond the 11 considering the maybe 100 or more that were around all the time, too–all seemed to be strong, courageous, and faithful.

Boys to Men

August 3, 2017

Doesn’t it seem that over the past 20 years or so that the adolescent stage of young males has expanded? Where there was a time while in their 20s they married, got jobs, had children, and began contributing to society.

Then it seems that the growth from adolescent pleasures to maturity was put off until the 30s.

The problem of growth and maturity is not new. But we live in an age that seems to want to keep men irresponsible.

I remember being 18. A painful time of life to be sure. Rebellious. Pleasure-seeking. Being shy and geeky, perhaps I wasn’t as bad as others–but comparisons are foolish.

So I wondered about maturity. Here are some thoughts:

1 Corinthians 3:1-3 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?


Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.


Ephesians 4:14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;

What is lacking in the description of children is something to anchor the life to. Life is adrift from day-to-day. We live in the whim of the moment. We think that we can live without the fruit of the Spirit.

People will say, but it is good to live in adolescence all of out lives. But they are wrong. Growth and maturity is the way of the world. Only humans can choose the state of not-maturity.
And then at the end, you look and see that you’ve done nothing.

Getting Comfortable In Our Self

February 15, 2017

He was sharing about his early experiences in the Navy. Today he is famous around town as a “joker.” Guess he always was.

“Life is too serious to take serious,” he told me.

So, he’s on his first ship. First trip. Sees the Captain. “Morning, Sir. How’s it going?” he said.

Junior officer hears him. Begins to yell at him, “Don’t you ever talk to your commanding officer that way.”

He says that later he observed that senior officers were much more laid back about that sort of thing.

I thought, yes, that’s true. Do we remember back to being in our late 20s or 30s and trying to make it? And how serious we were? And how we were sticklers for protocol and rank? In fact rank was quite important to us.

Then we matured. We were comfortable with ourselves. We stopped worrying about rank and privileges. Maybe we became human.

Spiritual life is like that.

At first we need the rules. Paul calls that like being babies who need milk. Then we get on the maturity track. We realize that the goal, if you will, is to mature. Paul says that is like going from drinking milk to eating steak.

As we mature, we are more comfortable in our spirituality. No more trying to impress people. That’s a lost cause for us anyway.

We are just us. Well, sort of like me and God. “Just us, Lord, right?”

We don’t impact anyone through our opinions or rules. We impact people through example. What we do shouts louder than what we say.

Training For The Super Bowl

February 6, 2017

I’m writing this while watching the “Super Bowl.” The championship game of American professional football.

These are skilled and highly trained athletes. They train physically. They train intellectually. They are coached to recognize situations on the move and respond appropriately. They study. The strengthen their bodies.

The apostle Paul often used analogies from athletics to encourage our spiritual life.

How trained are you?





It is hard work to train. But confidence comes from developing our bodies and minds.

And the payoff is reaching the goal. The olive branch wreath. The Lombardi trophy.

Union with God.

I Feel Safe In My Cocoon

January 30, 2017
There’s a world where I can go
And tell my secrets to
In my room
In my room
In this world I lock out
All my worries and my fears
In my room
In my room
–Beach Boys, Brian Wilson

We wrap ourselves so tightly in our cocoon. So warm, cozy, comforting.

We seldom venture out further than places we know. Where we feel comfortable with people who look and sound just like us.

And ideas? We don’t need new ideas? Those that were passed down from parents, or peers, or preachers–that’s all we need. Research from 50 years ago revealed that we only read those things that reinforce our prejudices.

Today, entire business models that make billions of dollars are built on that research. Do you watch Fox or MSNBC? Ah Ha, we can type cast you. And target you with advertising. And you keep coming back for more advertising because you need the hourly fix of information targeted to your prejudices.

Remember when rock songs were targeted to teenagers? Brian Wilson reflected the adolescent years of growing, but not yet grown. Wanting to be with my peers, yet needing to be alone, in a sanctuary, safe.

[Side note: this of course was written to the middle class kids with parents and families that offered safety; unfortunately today we know that too many kids never feel that safety. Something we need to correct.]

There is the story of the boy who found a cocoon. He showed it to a wise man. The guru said, “Just one thing. Do not help the butterfly get out of the cocoon.”

But sadly, the little boy returned to the guru later. The butterfly was dead.

“You helped it, didn’t you?” he asked the little boy. “You see, in order to grow, become strong, and mature, the butterfly must beat its wings against the cocoon. Struggling with all its might to get out. Then when it breaks through, it is a beautiful butterfly that can fly among the flowers.”

What about us? Do we struggle and try to grow? Or do we try to stay safe in our cocoons?