Category Archives: Spiritual Practices

Devotional Thought Inspiration Justice Spiritual Practices What I'm Reading

“I Will Gather Still Others to Those I Have Already Gathered”

Isaiah 56:3-8

The Lord says:

Don’t let the immigrant who has joined with the Lord say,
“The Lord will exclude me from the people.”
And don’t let the eunuch say,
“I’m just a dry tree.”
The Lord says:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
choose what I desire,
and remain loyal to my covenant.
In my temple and courts, I will give them
a monument and a name better than sons and daughters.
I will give to them an enduring name
that won’t be removed.
The immigrants who have joined me,
serving me and loving my name, becoming my servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath without making it impure,
and those who hold fast to my covenant:
I will bring them to my holy mountain,
and bring them joy in my house of prayer.
I will accept their entirely burned offerings and sacrifices on my altar.
My house will be known as a house of prayer for all peoples,
says the Lord God,
who gathers Israel’s outcasts.
I will gather still others to those I have already gathered.

Fun Spiritual Practices

Atone for sins with the E-Scapegoat!

Hey, need to get something off your chest? Need to confess a sin and receive atonement, but you don’t have a priest or a goat? No problem! In preparation for Yom Kippur, tomorrow, you can lay your sins on the eScapegoat, and watch your sins leave the camp and head off into the wilderness (and off a cliff!) This is hilarious, and even a little educational. Enjoy!

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Devotional Thought Inspiration Music Spiritual Practices

Even the darkness will not be dark to You

Even the darkness will not be dark to you – psalm 139,12

I remember the first time I visited Carlsbad Caverns on a family vacation when I was a child. I remember going through a cave where we were going to experience absolute darkness, not a single photon to illuminate an uneven walkway or possible enemies lying in wait. We entered the sense altering cave. I clenched my dad’s jacket tighter. It was the only thing that I could be sure of in the darkness. Even though I was surrounded by people, holding on to my dad, I couldn’t help but feel worried. The darkness even made me feel — alone.

In Psalm 139, the writer is asking where can we go to get away from God. Where could we go that God’s presence wouldn’t be? If we went to heaven, God was there, if we went to the grave, God was there, if we fled across the sea to the corners of the earth, God’s hand would be there to hold us. Then the writer asks about the darkness. Even if the darkness is thrusted upon us, and we feel the dread and loneliness of the unknown, or even if we choose to hide in the darkness, hoping no one sees our pain or weakness, even then, God will be there. Even the darkness will not be dark to you – means that there is nowhere that God is unwilling to go for us. Even in the darkness, God sees the path out of the cave. Even there God sees us as we truly are, and God chooses to be with us. Know, today, that even when darkness closes in, God is with you, guiding you, loving you, and not afraid to go into the darkness for you.

Peace,

Ric Shewell

Below is a great song by Mike Crawford and His Secret Siblings. The song is Search Me, based on Psalm 139. Check it out and click the graphic to visit their site and listen to more music. Even the Darkness

Christian Culture Church Leadership Devotional Thought Inspiration Spiritual Practices

Christian Living is Like Improv Acting

 Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 12.15.19 PMThe second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND… to me, YES, AND means don’t be afraid to contribute. It’s your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile.

(Tina Fey, Bossypants)

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   I love stories. I love hearing about heroes, conflict, growth, redemption, victory, and love. I especially love hearing true stories, stories of peoples’ origins, struggles, and family. Stories are how we understand ourselves. When we describe ourselves to new acquaintances, we don’t describe our dimensions! We tell stories. Stories are how we understand our world, each other, and even things beyond our understanding.

     As Christians, we are a people of a particular story. It has a beginning, middle, and end, filled with dynamic and round read more »

advent Spiritual Practices Youth Ministry

God of the Present Tense

Every now and then, when I’m teaching at youth group, a teenager will roll his or her eyes at me and say something like, “We’ve already learned this, ugh! We already know this!” Most of the time, I resist throwing whatever is in my hand at the teen that makes the comment (most of the time), but it always gets me thinking about what I’m teaching, “Have they heard this all before? Am I boring? Am I making God’s Word boring (which is a sin if you didn’t know)? If they know all this, what am I suppose to teach them?” Then there comes a moment of thankfulness, because I remember that God often speaks through the complaints of teenagers whether they know it or not, and this complaint reveals something that I’ve forgotten—the thing that’s really important in youth ministry…scratch that, all ministry.

We are coming up on the Christmas Season in the church. I’m willing to bet that we are going to hear familiar stories, see familiar colors, and hear familiar songs. I really doubt anyone will say, “Boring! Heard it! I know all this stuff already!” When I think about the repetition of this story, year in and year out, I’m reminded that ministry, worship, and community (the things that make us who we are) are much more than simply the transfer of knowledge. We already know the story, but when we hear it again, we are reminded that God’s love is present, right here and right now. Ministry, worship, and community help us experience God’s love right now, in our very present.

I’m guilty of trying to make my ministry primarily about teaching teens things that they’ve never heard. Some times I forget that ministry is about letting teens experience God in the present, after all, the present, this present moment is the only place that we can experience God. It’s the only place that we are. We already know so many truths—God is love, God loves us, there is nothing more that we can do to be any more loved than we are right now. The trick is remembering it in this very moment.

There are so many things in our pasts and in our futures that tempt us to regret or worry, when the truth is that God is present to you right now, loving you more than you can imagine. So rest in that love, right now. And right now. And right now. It’s always exciting to hear a new idea or new knowledge, but sometimes we just need to remember the things we know, and be present to God in the moment. Merry Christmas!

Church Leadership Spiritual Practices Youth Ministry

3 Things Churches Must Learn From Youth Ministry

“Young people are among God’s most forthright, frustrating, and often unwitting prophets…” – Kenda Creasy Dean, Practicing Passion

Youth ministry, is actually a pretty young experiment in the churches of North America. It’s been a messy, kind of  “on the job training” situation for the last 50 years, and it’s effectiveness has been hit or miss, given the low turn out of young adults in worship attendance. Still, through it all, youth ministry has discovered and centered on things that make youth ministry vital for teenagers, helping youth groups thrive. I think the church at large can learn more than a few things from youth ministry, but here are three that the church must learn:

Friendship is greater than Order.

When Jesus prayed for those who believe in him to be one, I’m pretty sure he did not mean we should gather once a week, face the same direction, hear the same songs, prayers and words, then leave without talking to one another. Friendship is absolutely vital to the church being the church. Youth ministers have known this for a long time. Youth ministry at its core is building relationships. Rarely is there a youth event without some time for teenagers to get to know each other, through ice breakers, small discussion groups, team building activities, etc. Often, these activities introduce a little chaos into what you are trying to do! Youth group is a place where friendships are made. I know a lot of friendly churches, but a friendly church and a church where friendships can be made are two very different things. What is the process for making friendships in your church? Is it easy?

Participation is greater than Performance.

I prepare my heart out for the “youth talks” (sermons) that we do at our gatherings. I write some jokes, plan the topic, and have an end goal in mind, but what makes these sermons worth anything to the teenagers is not my expertise but their involvement. During the gathering, teens are free to raise their hands at anytime to ask a question, give their own analogy, or make it clearer for one another. Effectively, everyone gathered there makes the sermon, and it’s far more relevant than what I could do alone. This goes for music as well. Teenagers do not come to church to hear the most professional musician or speakers. Teenagers come to participate in something. Only a few churches can “perform” to standards that could sell out stadiums and win the attention of teenagers with their pure awesomeness. At their church, teens are not interested in the best music or speakers. Teens want to participate with a musician or speaker. A teenager is interested in a place and gathering that is effected by who comes and how they act. A service that will be ran the same way regardless of who attends doesn’t appeal or seem meaningful.

Experience is greater than Information.

My wife said that this one doesn’t sound like me because of how important I think good theology is. When I say experience is greater than information, I do not mean that my personal experience trumps Scripture or good theology. What I am trying to say is that as the Church, we must lead people to an experience with God, not merely information about God. Youth are drawn to experiences of God through various spiritual practices such as Lectio Divina, prayer journals, prayer ropes, imaginative prayer, fasting, etc. Youth ministers often give teenagers some sort of physical reminder of an inward grace that teens are experiencing, such as a stone, a bracelet, a nail, etc. Teens want to experience God, not just learn about God. I don’t think they are any different from adults in this respect.

Youth ministry, in many ways, have trained teenagers to expect a place where they can make friendships, where their participation matters, and where they can experience God. When teenagers grow into adults, can they expect these same things in the churches, or do they need to form their own communities?

What are your thoughts?

Lent Spiritual Practices What I'm Reading

Hauerwas: Cross-Shattered Christ

For this season of Lent, I’m adding Stanley HauerwasCross-Shattered Christ: Meditations on the Seven Last Words to my devotions. It’s available in digital formats, which is nice. For those of you that know Hauerwas, you don’t know this Hauerwas. For these meditations he’s swapped out his usual wit and grittiness for thoughtfulness, but he is still able to strikingly challenge our thinking about the Trinity and atonement. While Hauerwas is unapologetically a theologian, he confesses rightly that “theology is a servant discipline in the church.” In these meditations, he serves the church well. Here’s a little excerpt:

Is it any wonder we find Good Friday so shattering? On this day and with these words, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing,” all our presumptions about God and the salvation wrought by God are rendered presumptuous. Moreover, that is how we discover that what happens on the cross really is about us, but the “what” that is about us challenges our presumptions about what kind of salvation we need. Through the cross of Christ we are drawn into the mystery of the Trinity. This is God’s work on our behalf. We are made members of a kingdom governed by a politics of forgiveness and redemption. The world is offered an alternative unimaginable by our sin-determined fantasies.

Peace to your soul!†

-Ric