The eighth grade book report. We all had to do it. I’m sure the routine was relatively standard across all eighth grades everywhere: 3″X5″ notecards, 3 pages, 3-5 minute presentation, rough draft, final draft, two grades—one for presentation and one for content. The only wild card was whether you got to choose your own book or were forced to choose from a list. Fortunately for me, it wasn’t until my freshman year in high school that my options were limited to a list of pre-selected options. Given my love of baseball and the Big Red Machine I did what anybody would have done: I chose a biography on Pete Rose.

The grade I received in exchange for my work I don’t remember. And I’m sure Charlie Hustle was no more interesting then than he is now. The biography was your typical born here-went to high school here-did some cool things here structure. Regardless of your baseball IQ, surely everyone can appreciate the notion of The Slump. Among all professional sports baseball (no, golf is not a sport) is the most mentally challenging game. The proverbial “game of inches,” baseball players tend to be most superstitious and the most vulnerable to The Slump: the period a hitter periodically enters into during which he gets no breaks, constantly guesses wrong, forsakes mechanics, loses confidence, and can’t recapture what made him successful in the first place. There’s no obvious reason The Slump begins. And often there’s no clear reason The Slump ends. We all have slumps.

Baseball players have various methods for getting themselves out of a slump. Some burn bats. Some just swing themselves out of it. Some get rid of uniforms, batting gloves, helmets. Others seek professional counsel from clinical psychologists, old coaches, new coaches, and the specially trained. But Pete had a different manner for getting himself out of a hitting slump. When Pete found himself an ineffective hitter he would, during every at bat, just focus on hitting the ball directly back to the pitcher as hard as he could. Regardless of the circumstance or situation, he would zero in on the pitcher, seeing the ball, putting the bat on the ball, and hitting it straight back to the mound. See the ball, hit the ball. See the ball, hit the ball. Consequently, this discipline allowed him to block everything out but the pitcher and the ball—the basic elements of his craft.

Rose would employ this strategy until the fundamental element of seeing the ball/hitting the ball became a matter of muscle memory. Once his mind had become re-acquainted with the basic science of making contact, he could again begin taking into consideration the count, game situation, and how the pitcher was pitching to him. With everything going on during a baseball game, the tendency for Rose and maybe any other hitter in a slump would be to forget the original design and mission. In other words, a hitter begins to “think too much.”

I’ve always felt like the spiritual disciplines work the same way. Our tendency is to begin losing sight of our design and mission over time. We slip. With everything going on around us—all the decisions and distractions and obligations—we start to “think too much.” We lose our mechanics. We guess more than we think. What the spiritual disciplines ultimately do is (1) help us avoid The Slump (2) help us swing out of our slumps (3) help us gain clarity. The spiritual disciplines not only remind us of our mission, but afford us greater clarity in the “see the ball–hit the ball” structure for our days, weeks, and months. Ultimately the art of hitting isn’t, at its core, all that difficult.

Just last week we sent Fresh: Reviving Stale Faith by Kerry Shook to the printer. This small-group resource takes the spiritual disciplines of meditation, fasting, and silence and leads groups on a 6-week Bible study experience that will help them apply these basic principles to a disciple’s life. Among the disciplines, meditation, fasting, and silence are particularly suited for helping us avoid slumps as well as providing biblical tools for pulling out of them. Through these disciplines you and your group will gain see the ball–hit the ball clarity needed in order to become the most creative hitter you can be. Check it out by clicking here. We can never have too much discipline and clarity in our lives. I can’t help but think that this is even more true in the world we live in today.

“There’s something about the word fresh that changes everything.”  Kerry Shook

As I type this blog post, our latest Platform resource—Fresh: Reviving Stale Faith—is on the way to the printer. While editing this project, Kerry Shook both challenged and inspired me.
Let’s see—meditation, fasting, and silence. OK, so … I have a tendency to get focused on my to-do list, my agenda and often forget to carve out time to meditate on God’s Word on a regular basis. And fasting … well, I’ve never fasted in my entire life. And then there’s silence … my friends who are reading this are laughing out loud right now because being quiet and still are definitely not strengths for me. Honestly, I’m embarrassed to admit those things here. But I bet I’m not alone.

Does your faith ever feel stale? Are you maybe a little intimidated when you think about carrying out these spiritual disciplines in your own life but at the same time you’re at least a little curious—and a lot ready for a fresh faith? Then this study is worth checking out.

To the ancients, daily life included spiritual disciplines such as meditation, fasting, and silence. But our modern world has all but abandoned these time-honoring principles, instead relenting
to overcrowded agendas, busy schedules, and fast-paced, frantic day-to-day routines, leaving us with a faith that’s stale and tired. Yet it’s fresh faith that’s appealing. It’s fresh faith that feels active and alive. It’s fresh faith that makes a difference in this world. In this addition to the Platform series, Kerry Shook explores the ancient disciplines of meditation, fasting, and
silence and reveals the irony of how patterns of the past are really practices that promise to revive our faith.

Kerry is senior pastor of Woodlands Church, one of the fastest-growing churches in America. He and his wife Chris founded Fellowship of The Woodlands, now Woodlands Church, in 1993. Since then the church has grown to 17,000 in average attendance each weekend.

The six small-group sessions are:

1.  The Art of Focus — the benefits of meditation
2.  The Art of Discipline — the strategy for meditation
3.  The Art of Restraint — the purpose and power of fasting
4.  The Art of Emptying Yourself — how to develop a plan for fasting
5.  The Art of Margins — the power of silence to reduce our stress and express our faith
6.  The Art of Silence — how silence can empower communication and increase our sensitivity

Fresh: Reviving Stale Faith will be available December 1 … check it out!

Until next time,
Signe

Deciding what to write for The Gypsy Road each month is proving to be one of the hardest parts of my job. Never mind that I work with words for a living and have for 20 years or that I, personally, am never at a loss for words.

But as I stare at a blank computer screen, I can feel my blood pressure rising. I suddenly remember there are pencils to be sharpened or files to be organized—absolutely anything to distract me from this task at hand.

So, in my struggle to figure out what to share this month, I decided to ask a few of my friends to pray for me. One friend in particular gave me the jump-start I needed. She simply asked me, “What’s on your heart?” Hmm.

Time … that’s what is on my heart. Not the “what time is it?” kind, but the “where does the time go?” kind. Maybe because I’m really into the song “Blink” by Revive. Or maybe I’m into the song because the message pricks my heart. Either way, the question of what I’m doing with my life is permeating my soul right now.

Six months of 2010 have come and gone. This year was going to be different. And I guess it has been in some ways. It’s been crazier, busier, more out of control. How does that happen? There are movies I meant to see, places I meant to go, and friends I meant to visit. Now that’s a familiar feeling.

I really want to get to the end of this year and be able to identify what I did with my time that was meaningful, relational, and transformational. I want everything I do to be about celebrating the incredible blessings God has placed in my life—my community of friends, coworkers, and family who are closest to my heart.

Maybe this is a good discussion for your small group—especially during the summer months that tend to be a bit more relaxed and a little less schedule-driven. What have you not taken time for but really wish you had? Consider these suggestions to get you started:

•  Get together over dinner just to catch up on life.
•  Rent some of those flicks you missed in the theater and invite your small group over for a movie night.
•  Bake goodies and deliver them to group members you’ve lost touch with.
•  Plan a chore-free, errand-free Saturday and spend that time focusing on the needs of others.

I pray you and your small group will be able to make time for the things that are closest to your heart. That’s where you can find me.

Until next time,
Signe

The January–February issue of Outside Magazine features a dietary experiment performed and reported by endurance athlete John Bradley (All Systems Go, p.47). The exercise, as it were, included spending eight weeks each on six different diet plans ranging from popular fads to clinical studies: the Abs Diet, the Paleo Diet for Athletes, the Mediterranean Prescription, the Okinawa Program, the advice of a personal nutritionist, and the USDA’s nutritional pyramid. Along the way he recorded every meal, snack, and caloric drink, and workout, and made bi-monthly visits to his doctor for blood work, weigh-ins, cholesterol checks, and body composition analysis. You can read the entire article by clicking here.

The most interesting piece of this article to me, however, were the conclusions of the nutritionist, Laurent Bannock, he worked with during his research. Apparently Bannock has spent years researching diet strategies based on ethnicity. Bannock believes that one’s genes have “equipped” him or her for specific foods. Furthermore, Bannock contends, a diet comprised primarily of these “remembered” foods leads to greater wellness. For his part, Bradley experienced improved blood profiles, a leaner body, more sound sleep, and consistently higher energy levels using Bannock’s diet strategies. So it appears that our genes have what may be described as a “memory” that reacts positively to reminders of our heritage—in this case dietarily, but perhaps this phenomenon has broader application.

I remember hearing a few years ago that, in some sort of informal poll, the word “home” was acknowledged as the most favorite word in our vocabulary. (Who comes up with this stuff?) Like most people, I had never once stopped to consider what my favorite word would have been. But after thinking about the results of the poll, I could see why “home” was voted the most favorite. It has the long vowel sound that is so pleasant in our poetry and music. But it also asks us to … remember. And if “home” is our favorite word, then “remember” just might be our most profound word. In one of his most recent releases Peter Gabriel sings the words “I … I remember” from the most inner part of his heart. I cannot hear him sing “I … I remember” unmoved (not that I cry, mind you, but it always takes me to another emotional vicinity). There’s something so perfect about remembering—even the hard stuff. Scripture tells us, “… if a man should live many years, let him rejoice in them all, and let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many.

A diet that reminds us, a word that stirs the heart, and a word that invites us into our own stories. Ecclesiastes 3:11 reveals that God has put an eternity into our hearts. I’ve seen this explained in more than one way, but what makes the most sense to me is that God has created us predisposed to “remember”—not only our own stories and the stories of our times, but the loss of Eden, the wonders of creation, and beauty of the gospel.

And so I wonder. I wonder if along with the spiritual disciplines of study, worship, service, prayer, community, confession, and submission, if we should also practice the discipline of remembering in our groups. It seems, in the spirit of Lauren Bannock’s dietary conclusions, that our hearts also have a “memory” that hearkens back to our heritage. As a way of practicing the discipline of remembering, set aside time for sharing stories—powerful memories, the things that move us, and the things that won’t seem to go away. As a part of this time you’ll also want to begin your own oral tradition by telling and re-telling the stories of Eden and the Gospel of Christ. Read from translations like The Message that tend to lend themselves more to story-telling. Consider those things that have been lost, those things that have been gained, and those things yet to be born from the womb of time, yet the heart still manages to “remember.” There’s karthasis in the process. Healing becomes more likely. And redemptive community is born. And what better time to begin exercising the spiritual discipline of remembering than Easter.

Do you think God still speaks? Really?

And how?

Even though over the last three years I have worked on at least three Bible studies about God speaking, none of them hit me like this book did. Sure, I thought God spoke to people. In some way.

Even though I know someone who has heard an audible voice telling her that her husband would be OK when he was going through a tough sickness, I still wasn’t sure that pertained to me. I believe her–definitely. But I wouldn’t expect it to happen to me.

And why not?

This books rocks!

In Nine Ways God Always Speaks, Mark Herringshaw and Jennifer Schuchmann relay stories. Stories of God speaking to normal, present-day Christians like you and me. These are interspersed with historical and biblical examples in a very readable manner. The authors throw in their own opinions, doubts, and feelings–as well as incidences that occurred when they were writing the book. It’s a conversation with a friend as they tell you about the amazing thing that happened to someone they know.

I knew I would like the book as soon as I started it. What I didn’t know is how it would challenge me. I think that we’ve really tried to take the supernatural out of God in our culture. It’s not easy to rationalize, so we just dismiss it. I think the biggest struggle I’ve had with my faith is trying to put God in a box that my pea-sized brain can comprehend.

And He is much bigger than that box, y’all.

I came away with the overwhelming desire to expect God to work in my life–to hear Him. Maybe through the Bible. Maybe through coincidences or nature. But also maybe through dreams, visions, voices, or an urge to do something I can’t do on my own. I don’t want to take the mystery out of God. I want to expect Him to work in big ways that I can’t understand.

What is the strangest way God has spoken to you? Most unbelievable? Most frequent? I’d love to know.

Originally published at Vanderbilt Wife. If you’re interested, I’m giving away a copy of this book on my personal blog this week! Giveaway ends Friday 6/5.

During a recent small-group conference, author and speaker Leonard Sweet referred to the original “operating system” of the church as MRI: Missional, Relational, Incarnational. Although referring to the mission of the church, MRI can also be applied to small-group ministry.

Missional suggests richness and sincerity in an earnest pursuit to fulfill the Great Commission. To be missional is to push out–locally and globally—looking to find where God is at work. The missional aspect of small-group life applies action to a believer’s new heart.
Relational encompasses the gamut of human experience as we reach out those around us—while also inviting others into our lives. Its intensity lies in shared experiences along the paths of our spiritual pilgrimages. A friend of mine recently said, “I’m on a journey and I’m just looking for people willing to be on journey with me.” To be relational is to understand the spiritual journey and be willing to engage others at that level. To be relational means that you must accept God’s invitation to the adventure He is inviting you into as well. Acts 2:44-46 embodies the essence of what we mean by “relational.”
Incarnational points to a vibrancy in the Spirit and sense of being alive in Christ that borders on being palpable. Incarnational means that the kingdom of God is among you (Luke 17:1).

By contrast, Sweet has concluded that the present operating system of too many churches is no longer rooted in MRI. Instead, many churches today are leaning on methods of attraction instead of being missional; have become colonial instead of relational; and rely on proposition as opposed to being incarnational.

Given their mobility, flexibility, autonomy, and composition, small groups would seem to be the most MRI-accessible; most in-line with Sweet’s assessment of the church’s original OS. So are they? One look at Rick Howerton’s 19 Types of Small Group Members and you’d be hardpressed to conclude MRI as an automatic, however. As a small-group leader or small-group member, take opportunities to assess MRI in your group(s).

A Road Map for Spiritual FormationTo prepare for a new project we’re creating I’ve had to catch as much as possible what’s going on in the spiritual formation conversation. One of the books I’ve read recently–M. Robert Mulholland’s Invitation to Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation–employs a bit of Jungian psychology to its understanding of the spiritual pilgrimage. Like most of us, I am only an amateur psychologist and my “practice” has been limited to my attempts to understand my spouse, my mother, and my teenage daughter. Again, I assume a very common application of one’s psychological skills. Apparently, Carl Jung concluded that human beings have four essential preferences that shape the way they relate to the world around them and process the stuff (my word) they receive from the world.

Preferred Focus
• Introvert (inner world of self and ideas)
• Extrovert (outer world of persons, events, and things)

Preferred means of receiving information
• Sensing (physical senses)
• Intuition (inner urgings of the spirit)

Preferred means of processing the “stuff” received through sensing or intuition
• Thinking (cognitive process of reasoning)
• Feeling (reliance on stirring of the heart)

Preferred relationship to the flow of life
• Judgment (closure, completion, control)
• Perception (open-ended and laid-back approach)

The differences between the introvert (I) and the extrovert (E) are not particularly insightful. The extrovert is a people person who not only enjoys company, but is energized by it. The introvert prefers solitude to fellowship, reflection to action. Keeping in mind that this is a preferred focus, or “default”, I believe I am an introvert.

Mulholland distinguishes the intuitive person (N) as a problem solver that first solves the problem, then wants to move on to the next. This person does not like repetition and grows impatient with details. The sensing person (S), on the other hand, receives information primarily through physical senses. The sensing person likes routine and details and finds comfort there. Initially I thought I’d fall categorically into sensing, but after reading Mulholland’s description I am closer to intuitive as a preference here.

The third pair of preferences, thinking and feeling, suggest the means for processing the data received through intuition and sensing. Thinking persons (T) do not show emotion easily and tend to be uncomfortable around those who do. They are very analytical and logical and tend to make decisions in an impersonal way. Feeling persons (F), however, are very sensitive to how others feel. They like harmony. They have a need to please others and sometimes let their decisions be influenced by others’ likes and dislikes. This one was tough for me, but give myself an “F”.

The final pair, judgment (J) and perception (P), is an easy distinction: closer, completion, and order vs. open-ended as a preferred way for dealing with the flow of life. I concluded my own assessment as an INFP.

So why is this important? I would recommend reading the book–not a difficult read and very helpful to anyone called to lead a congregation of any size or composition. But Mulholland uses this method as a springboard to unpacking the holistic spiritual pilgrimage and understanding the spiritual disciplines. Basically, a person’s non-preferred methods for shaping the world and processing information become his or her “shadow side”. Because Mulholland believes that to be conformed more and more into the image of Christ, we must not be allowed to habitually default to our preferences. We must put ourselves in positions that force us to exercise this “shadow side” in order for God to form us more holistically. In other words, we need to “get uncomfortable.”

But more than just getting uncomfortable, Invitation to Journey contends that these shadow sides point us to a set of personal spiritual disciplines. In addition to the classic disciplines of prayer, Bible reading, worship, fasting, study, and retreat, Mulholland concludes, my shadow sides suggest to me those areas that need unique, personal attention in order for me to become more Christlike. In other words, it’s in those areas where I am least Christlike that God most wants to work with me. I need to be more inclusive and engaged. More concerned with the details of my work, home, and spiritual journey. I need to be more prayerful about showing emotion and, maybe even more important, being comfortable around those that do (instead of trying to “solve” their emotions) and be less open-ended and more concerned with closure and order. If allowed to default to my preferences time after time, my spiritual formation will become more and more self-referenced and less and less holistic. For instance, because I tend to be more introverted, my natural spiritual path is reflective. Because of this, one of my personal spiritual disciplines would be action i.e. I need to get out more, put action to ministry.

I don’t know if there is a tool to use for assessment out there, but the book does a really decent job of describing each preference and spiritual paths of each as well (pp. 51-73). How cool would it be to help each member of your small group develop personal spiritual disciplines for a more holistic spiritual pilgrimage and more intimate relationship with God?