Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

I’ve recently re-opened a book I read in seminary written by Peter Scazzero. The book’s title is Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It’s Impossible to be Spiritually Mature While Remaining Emotionally Immature. Scazzero’s main point throughout the book is simple enough: humans cannot obtain spiritual health without also obtaining emotional health. Much more could be said about this, but for now I want to leave you with some food for thought. In the second chapter, Scazzero lists what he sees as the top 10 symptoms of emotionally unhealthy spirituality. Here is that list (see pp. 24-37):

1. Using God to run from God.

2. Ignoring the emotions of anger, sadness, and fear.

3. Dying to the wrong things.

4. Denying the past’s impact on the present.

5. Dividing our lives into “secular” and “sacred” compartments.

6. Doing for God instead of being with God.

7. Spiritualizing  away conflict.

8. Covering over brokenness, weakness, and failure.

9. Living without limits.

10. Judging other people’s spiritual journey.

Do any of the items on this list strike you or possibly rub you in the wrong way? Maybe your emotional health needs some work. Never considered the importance of emotional health in your overall spiritual health? Maybe this book is for you.

It’s started me down a path from which I’ll never return.


Making Advent more than a Celebration

Advent is the season when we prepare for and anticipate the birth and return of Jesus. Just like expecting parents prepare for and anticipate the coming of a child, Christians get to prepare for and anticipate the birth and return of Jesus during Advent. And just like expecting parents—who buy baby clothes, stock pile diapers, decorate the nursery, update their health insurance policy, and believe it or not head off on a babymoon—there are things that we can physically do to prepare for Jesus’ birth and return too. Here is a list of simple ideas that can be adopted during Advent (December 2-24) to help our body, mind, and soul prepare for and anticipate the birth and return of Jesus.

1. Take the Advent wreath home this year.

One great way to prepare for and anticipate the birth and return of Jesus is to have a home Advent wreath. Home Advent wreaths are a great way for families, couples, or individuals to get into the preparation and anticipation mood during Advent. After dinner is a great time to light the Advent wreath and open an Advent devotional. This is a great way for the whole family to get involved in the preparation.

2. Pick up an Advent devotional that stirs your preparation and anticipation.

Devotional material compiled specifically for the Advent season is another great way for families, couples, or individuals to prepare for and anticipate the birth and return of Jesus. Even without an Advent wreath, devotionals are a great way to add something to life that causes pause and reflection. There are tones of great Advent devotionals out there. This year I’m working through Christmastide: Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany from The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle. Other devotionals for the Advent season include Come, Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional by Paul David Tripp, Advent for Everyone: A Journey with the Apostles by N. T. Wright, and God Is in the Manger by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The local Christian bookstore will surly have many titles in addition to these from which to chose. Pick one up today!

3. Follow a specific Bible reading plan.

Some people prefer the good old Bible to devotional material. If that’s you, Advent is a great season to follow a specific Bible reading plan. This need not be complicated. This year the Revised Common Lectionary follows the Gospel of Luke as it recounts the life and work of Jesus. Why not read through the Gospel of Luke this Advent season? Other options are to read through a different book of your choosing, to follow the readings of the daily office (click here table of readings), or to follow a reading plan compiled by a variety of Bible apps on your phone/tablet.

4. Add discipline to your life.

We add things to our lives during Advent to help us disrupt our routine. Spiritual disciplines bring pause and (hopefully with enough work) reflection. They are a way to help us prepare for and anticipate the birth and return of Jesus this Advent season. You could practice some sort of fasting throughout the Advent season, take up journaling, prayer, or Christian mediation (intentional reflection upon scripture).

There are many ways that we can prepare for and anticipate the birth and return of Jesus this Advent season. The point is that we need to do something! It’s never to late to begin your preparation and anticipation of the birth and return of Jesus.

How should we consume culture?

We have all heard this before, “Christians are supposed to be in the world not of the world.”

But what does this actually mean?  Is it being “of the world” to go see movies like The Hangover and The Wolf of Wall Street?  What about listening to bands that aren’t deemed “Christian” because they swear from time to time or only get played on “secular” radio stations?

All of these questions can be very difficult to navigate as Christians.  There is so much out there, and many times churches just don’t prepare us to make wise decisions.

One of my aims is to help us pursue truth in culture.  We are constantly being asked to buy into ideas, products, and ways of life, many times it isn’t even our choice–TV ads, Facebook posts, billboards, and even our own friends force-feed culture down our throats–and we need to be prepared to respond.

So, how do we react as Christians?  Maybe it is easier to completely remove ourselves from “secular” culture.  Instead of listening to top 40 radio stations we could listen to Christian radio stations.  Instead of watching movies that come out of secular movie studios, we could stick to “Christian” movies that are “family friendly”.  Did you know that there is even a Christian alternative to YouTube?  Yep, its called GodTube.  We could completely remove ourselves from culture and live in a Christian utopia.

However, is that the best way to live? Around the world instead of in it?  I think there is a better way.  These things that are strictly “Christian” aren’t bad.  I enjoy some Christian music and I thought the Left Behind movies were awesome going up.  However, we need to learn to also engage with the broader culture around us.

How do we accomplish this?  Here are three questions that are a great starting place for engaging with our broader culture. They end up building on one another but don’t miss understand them as a formula.  As we get better at consuming culture, these questions should naturally become part of living out the Christian Life.

1.  What is the content creator trying to communicate?

Every movie, song, book, TV show, and ad has some sort of message.  We need to become experts at recognizing that message.  This isn’t always easy, and there isn’t always one right answer.  However, once we master this skill consuming culture becomes a totally different ball game.  Instead of mindlessly watching Breaking Bad we begin to ask what message the writers are communicating.

In the case of Breaking Bad, we see a man who begins with the hope of leaving his family a little bit of cash after he dies.  Then, by the end of the series, this man has become money and power hungry to the point where human life has no value to him.  Everything is at his disposal when rising to the top.

A possible message is, stop at nothing to get what your family needs.

The next question that is helpful to ask is:

2.  How does the message of the content resonate with my Christian convictions?

The message of Breaking Bad is in direct contrast with the Gospel.  Jesus brought a message of peace and love.  It is better to be poor and close to God than rich and condemned.  Further, our Christian convictions tell us that all humans are made in the image of God.  This places the utmost importance on all of human life, regardless of past sins.

When comparing the witness of Jesus to the witness of Walter White we see two extremes.  Walter will stop at nothing for his family.  However, this eventually drives a wedge between him and the rest of humanity that is irreconcilable.  Jesus’ one goal was to bring humanity together.  He desired to reconcile humanity.  Walter has no desire to value him life outside of the lives of his family.  Thus, the contrast between the two “ways of life”.

Now we have seen how Breaking Bad conveys a message about particular way of living life.  And we have seen how that message compares to the Christian conviction, but we still don’t know what to do with what we have learned.  This brings us to one more helpful questions.

3.  What would life be like if we bought into the message of the content?

This question does two things.  First, it places us in the position to contemplate life according to the message of the content in contrast to the message of the Christian conviction.  Sometimes the messages converge while other times they diverge.  Both can be equally helpful in our Christian life.  The value in this is seeing how the Christian life is different from the world’s.  Of course, we all know this, but seeing pieces of culture demonstrate the differences is valuable (more on that in the next paragraph).  What may even be more valuable is seeing pieces of broader culture proclaiming the truth found in God.  These proclamations may be inadvertent, but the imprint of our creator is embedded in his creation; as Christians, we can find his witness in culture and proclaim it to the world.

Second, it gives witness to the ways in which the world tries to live.  When the message of culture diverges from the message of the gospel we can better understand how those round us live.  We are then able to better positions ourselves to be effective witnesses in the world.

It doesn’t take much to see that the message of Breaking Bad diverges rather quickly from the message of the Christian conviction.  So, when we ask ourselves how life would be when pursing money and power, we can see that the pursuit never ends.  No matter how much we want, we never get enough.  Once we have positioned ourselves to understand this, we can witness to the value that Jesus brings to all things in life.

We can’t escape culture.  Many times we don’t want too.  However, if we are going to be consumers, then we need to be smart consumers.  I believe that the gospel depends on it.

[Photo Credit]

Rob Bell, Visionary or Heretic?

(Edit, September 21, 2018. I wrote this review some five years ago. While I would no longer defend Rob Bell, I am proud of this review so I’m leaving it up. If you’d like to discuss why I see Rob Bell’s theological framework as dangerous, feel free to contact me in the comments below.)

This post originally appeared April 11, 2013.

Well, as promised, here is my review of Rob Bell’s newest book What We Talk About When We Talk About God.

This review is broken up into three sections:  In the first section I will give a brief synopsis–an overview of the book’s movements and main points.  The second section will be my space for comments and personal insight, and the final section will be where I will suggest some possible applications and moving points that the book could create.

I. What’s going on?

The big question that Rob is wanting to answer can be summed up as follows: Is God like an Oldsmobile?

Or, in other worlds, is God old fashion? Has humanity outgrown our need for God? Was God relevant to life at one point but now no longer needed because we have things like science and government?

Rob’s answer is no, but, for this to be shown, he thinks that we need to rework the way that we think about and talk about God.

Rob shows this by splitting the book into 4 sections:

  1. Intro: Chapter 1 (Hum)
  2. Set:  Chapters 2 & 3 (Open, Both)
  3. Backbone:  Chapters 4-6 (With, For, Ahead)
  4. Now what?: Chapter 7 (So)

To keep this section as short as possible (and to prevent me from giving too much away) I will briefly comment on each section.

1. Intro

There is little that needs to be said here.   Typical intro and set up work going on in the first chapter.  And, as usual, Rob’s writing is captivating–I always find myself wondering how anyone can write with such eloquence.

2. Set

This section is where things really start to take off.  I titled it “set” because the two points that Rob wants to make here is the God is open (chapter 2) and God is both (chapter 3), and these points form the base for what Rob calls the “backbone” of the book (section 3).

God is open meaning, God isn’t this closed reality we think he is.  If you are one for quantum mechanics and theoretical physics then this chapter is for you.  Also, this chapter should (and hopefully will) blow your mind (unless you are a theoretical physicist of course).

God is both–close and near.  In this section Rob explores the paradoxical nature of God.  Sometimes we feel like we know God but yet he also seems too far away and mystical–all at the same time!  We can talk about him in words, and yet he seems to transcend all words.  Here Rob also talks about how we even describe our own feelings and experiences.

What Rob is trying to show is that God is open and moving and that he (and life) are both physical and spiritual.  All of this to move to what he really wants to say…

3. Backbone

Here is the real meat of the book.  The main points that Rob is wanting to communicate are the following:

God is with us.  He isn’t some sort of being that is floating in space, but rather he is close and intimately involved in our very existence.

God is for us.  God being with us is because he is for us.

God is ahead.  Not only is God with us and acting for us, but he is also ahead of us guiding our way and bring humanity closer to himself.

4. Now what?

So… what do we do now?  That is exactly what Rob does in this section, and he says it better than I can, so I’m going to leave that up to him.

II.  Thoughts?

This section is less important, so if you want to stop reading here, feel free. However, I would appreciate comments so I can know how to improve my reviewing skills in the future.

What is my opinion?  This book was needed.  It does several important things for Christianity.  (1) It challenges Christians to think about God in relation to some of the cutting edge research in science.  (2) It shows that God may work differently than many of us think.  This includes both Christians and non-Christians alike.  (3) It shows God’s transcendence yet reminds us of his immanence.  What does this mean?  God is above all and beyond all, however, he is also intimately involved in life and sustaining his creation.

If I had to rate this book among other books in pop-Christian culture, I would place it at the top of the field.  Not only does Rob write beautifully, but he also communicates a deeply needed message within American, evangelical Christianity.

This is also possibly Rob’s best book.  I can’t say this with complete confidence because it has been a while since I have read his earlier ones.  It rates up there with Love Wins–maybe not as controversial–but just as needed.

III.  Real Life?

This section may be the most important…or maybe not.

What do we do with this book?  What do we do with Rob Bell?

Well…Rob has been deemed a heretic by much of the evangelical world.  He effectively set himself apart from most of the church with Love Wins.  However, is Rob really a heretic?  I don’t think so.  Without going too far into this issue, I think we need to remember that God isn’t as “black and white” as we think.  Also, the Bible isn’t as black and white either.  This is where Rob comes in.  He is really good at reminding us of this, and in such a beautiful, poetic way!

So…this book.  I think we should share it.  If you like how this book sounds, share my review with your friends.  Even better…buy the book and then share it.  If you don’t want to share your copy, recommend it to a friend.

Rob’s books may not be the best books out there, but they point to something bigger.  A movement…  Not just any movement, but the movement of the body of Christ, his holy, catholic church.  The Western Church must move or we will die.  I know I’m not going to miss the bus, will you?

Hope this has been helpful.  I want to write more of these, so if you enjoyed it let me know.  It will encourage me to read and write more.  Also, please feel free to comment.  I love conversation and would love to talk about these ideas more, especially after you read the book.