Category Archives: Deeper Christian Life

Mike Breen on Discipleship

Christians know that Jesus commissioned the church to make disciples (Matt 28:18-20). It’s easy to nod our heads or give a hearty “Amen” when we hear the word “discipleship” and that the church should be making disciples.

But what does that actually look like? Are we really making disciples?

I’d like to introduce you to someone who has helped me in this area. For the last two years, with help from my own discipling mentor, I have been gleaning from his writings and seeking to implement his ideas into my life and ministry.

Mike Breen is an author, speaker, and innovator in leading missional churches through the US and Europe. Mike isn’t just a thinker, he is also a practitioner that works to see established churches and church planters become missional by helping them to create a discipling culture.

“Effective discipleship builds the church, not the other way around.”
Mike Breen, Building a Discipling Culture, pg.11

Listen to Mike share how churches are to make disciples who make disciples.

Are you doing more than receiving information? Who are you working closely with to imitate? Do you have a spiritual father or mentor(s)? What is the Spirit speaking to you about this?

D.D. Flowers, 2016.

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Rewiring the Brain for Greater Faith

shapeimage_2Can you physically change your brain with your thoughts? It would appear so.

Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist and New York Times best-selling author, believes that we can use our minds to make gradual physical changes in our brains to transform the mind for the better.

Studies have shown that people who discipline themselves through meditation and prayer frequently have a measurably larger neocortex in the pre-frontal regions of the brain, the area responsible for concentration. As a result, these people are more able to concentrate and pay attention.

If you struggle with attention deficit disorder, should you really try praying more? Yes. While meditation and prayer may not solve all of your concentration problems, it will certainly help.

But that’s not all. There is more.

Dr. Hanson states that if one does not discipline their thinking for the better, outside negative forces such as fear, worry, stress, work pressure, and other people will master you. They will shape your mind, thus your life.

The human brain has a tendency to focus on the negative. Hanson calls it an “evolutionary design flaw” of humanity. This negativity bias allows negative experiences to stick to the brain like Velcro, while positive experiences pass through rather quickly. Bummer, huh?

To compensate against this, Hanson highlights the importance of taking in good thoughts and experiences, savoring them and allowing them to sink in.

Through this process he believes one can hardwire their brain for happiness. It’s even possible to use the mind and imagination for embracing possible positive outcomes and finding peace in the present.

So, you can change the brain with your thoughts after all.

Doesn’t that sound consistent with what Paul says:

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”  Romans 12:2 NLT

Mastery over your thoughts is critical to the life of faith.

And it’s worth pointing out that for Paul it’s not an “evolutionary design flaw” that has our minds in the gutter, instead it’s the curse of Adam and “the flesh” resulting from the fall (Rom 5:12; 8:1-17). We must intentionally repent of it.

Dr. Hanson is right, but Paul said it first.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  Philippians 4:8 NIV

That’s from the Apostle Paul, the ancient neuropsychologist.

Greater Faith Via the Imagination

Is it any wonder that Jesus added “mind” in the greatest commandment to love God with our whole being (Mk 12:30)? Notice that it wasn’t mentioned in the original decree (Deut 6:5). What’s Jesus saying?

While Hebrews had a more holistic understanding of the head and heart than their Greek contemporaries, Jesus makes it a point to specify the mind. Why? Because the head is the control center of our lives.

Jesus knew that the mind is the way to great faith, or depleted faith.

I submit to you that our imagination (seeing things with our mind) is a powerful gift from God. It is most unfortunate that we’ve believed it to be something that we should leave behind with childhood.

In doing this, we deny the very practical use of our imagination that is clearly at work every day, whether we’re aware of it or not. But we’re not told to leave it behind, we’re called to let the Lord have it for the working out of greater faith.

Let’s be honest, often our “seeing” is of negative outcomes and fear-based worries about things that never come to pass, or that we’ve used to replay destructive images and hurtful conversations in our head, robbing us of peace.

That’s a misuse of the mind and imagination.

But the people of God are called to use the imagination to touch the divine, to rise above the primal instincts and embrace God’s gift of seeing Christ in the middle of all things—what it looks like when God gets his way.

This is what “faith” is all about.

Our success in the area of rewiring the brain, gaining control over our thoughts with the help of the Spirit, will lock or unlock the door to greater faith. For it’s bad thinking and a poor imagination that makes us unable to believe and trust the God who does the spectacular.

Therefore, let’s use our imagination for envisioning a better future.

Lord, let the Kingdom come in our relationships, in our disappointments and pain, and see where Christ stands victorious in the future, calling us forward into a life full of glorious possibilities.  Amen.

D.D. Flowers, 2015.


It’s a Christian “Walk,” Not a Sprint

Walk-SandTo put it simply: The point of being a Christian is to become like Christ, the perfect human being.

If you’ve been a follower of Jesus for any length of time you know that this process isn’t easy, and it takes much longer than any of us like. We don’t call it the Christian “walk” for nothing.

So the Christian journey is a lifetime of inching closer to Jesus. Disciples know that this can be frustrating. As Paul said, we’re not what we want to be.

“So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it” (Rom 7:14-17 NLT).

We become acutely aware of this struggle during the season of Lent, which begins today with Ash Wednesday. We are sinners in the process of becoming saints. Self-help books and positive thinking aren’t the answer.

We need a living savior to give us power over our sinful selves!

“Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 7:24-25).

In the meantime, our culture of hurried living makes this process all the more frustrating. We want results now. We fail to recognize the way of Christ is much slower than what we’ve been conditioned to find acceptable.

But folks, Jesus was and is seldom in a hurry.

In his book, An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest, Alan Fadling reminds us that Jesus was relaxed and lived life day-by-day, moment-by-moment. Jesus wasn’t in an ambitious hurry.

“After waiting thirty years to begin his ministry, his first ministry act was to follow the Spirit into forty days in the wilderness. His own brothers urged him to do some publicity if he wanted to be a public figure, but Jesus didn’t bite. He seemed frustratingly unhurried on his way to heal the synagogue official’s daughter and to visit his sick friend Lazarus, who died during Jesus’ two-day delay. His sense of timing often puzzled those around him.”

Fadling says, “The Spirit of God has been working in my heart to teach me how to move at the pace of grace rather than at my own hurried, self-driven pace.”

That’s tough to hear. I don’t know about you, but I’m a driven person. We just had about 8 inches of snow fall here in Virginia, and it has thrown off my schedule. I feel like I’m always on a race against time. I’ve got things to do! Last week it was bronchitis, now it’s winter weather slowing my roll.

It’s so easy to miss the Lord in our rush to get things done.

Believe me… I understand. Whether it is something hampering my hurry, or frustration that I’m not “walking” faster in my journey with the Lord, I too must surrender myself. While I do have control over my responses to life through my choices, there is much more that I don’t control.

But I was never meant to “control” anything outside of myself. Instead, I am meant to learn self-control through the power of a Person, Jesus Christ our Lord. It is a “fruit” of the Spirit, evidence of his life at work in us (Gal 5:22-23).

When it comes to our Christian walk, T. Austin-Sparks said:

“So it is that people find the Christian life burdensome; they long to know real victory, true deliverance and the joy of the Lord, whereas they experience the ups and downs of a constant struggle. The Christian life depicted in the New Testament seems so different from their actual experience that the Devil is never slow to pounce in with his suggestions that a life of constant victory is quite impossible, so that all their hopes are but unreal dreams. Satan wants God’s people to despair of knowing His power. But there is an altogether different life, different because it is based on the entering into something already completed in Christ; not something to be attained to but rather that which has already been accomplished. It is not a standard to be lived up to, but a Person to be lived with. It is impossible to measure the vast difference between these two kinds of life. The former is one of self effort and defeat, while the other consists in enjoying the reality of Christ the power of God” (Christ the Power of God).

I pray that we will resist our culture of hurried living that makes our souls restless, and learn to find rest in knowing that we already know the One who has the power to slow us down and enjoy the very presence of God.

We are complete in Christ. Live in his love today.

D.D. Flowers, 2015.


Biblical Faith (More Than A Feeling)

The Christian life is hard. I’d never tell anyone anything different.

Why is it hard?

Well, first off… life itself is hard. We all experience pain, loss, disappointment, heartache, heartbreak, trial, and tribulation.

In our most cynical moments, life can feel like we’ve fallen out of a really tall tree. The goal of life, or at least one subconscious desire we have, is to hit as few branches as possible on the way down.

The truth is that nobody is immune to or safe from the hardships of life. We must all experience them. We are fragile beings living in a world that is groaning from her many afflictions. And we’re never allowed to forget it.

From the increasing complexities and the magnificent mysteries of the universe, we can’t help but feel very small and insignificant. Of all the billions of bodies made up of dirt and water that have ever lived on this pale blue dot, I’m supposed to believe that I matter in some way to the unfolding of time and human history? I know how difficult it can be to believe that.

Now add to that a belief that requires that I move in the opposite direction of the post-enlightenment herd of empiricists and rebuke the modern systematic attack on faith—the gospel that says God became flesh, was crucified for my sins, and was resurrected from the dead to give me life everlasting.

Sorry, Karl (Marx). That’s not an “opiate” for me or the masses.

In that sense, being a person of faith isn’t making life easier. In fact, I could easily argue that it makes life much more challenging, as it necessitates that we believe in more than what we can see, touch, and put in a test tube. The science lab is no help in that respect. The “proof” I’m looking for isn’t there.

I suppose that if a person’s idea of “faith” is simply to stop all critical thinking, become anti-science, and just believe a bunch of mystical teachings in an ancient book, well then, it no doubt seems absurd, even psychotic, to embrace such a view. That sort of “faith” is like gouging out your eyes and trying to convince everyone else that you see. But that’s not biblical faith. And we should stop promoting it as such.

I know that it’s much more complicated than this, but I’ll sum it up this way. It has been the anti-intellectual voices of the church that helped to fuel this cultural confusion with faith. The response of the “enlightened” to this anti-intellectualism was to run in the opposite direction of mystery and accept a worldview that leaves no room for God. That’s unless “God” is a scientist.

But what if biblical faith isn’t about numbing the pain, dodging the hardships of life, or inventing a myth and wishing it to be true in order to create meaning and purpose in what is nothing more than a cosmic hiccup?

Instead, what if biblical faith is about opening our eyes to the meaning and purpose that’s already there, right in front of us? In that regard, faith is all around us. All we must do is reach out for it. And I believe it begins with accepting that life (and faith) is hard, ambiguous, and a perplexing paradox.

Therefore, biblical faith might best begin by coming to terms with this truth.

I don’t mean to say that everything we experience or that happens to us is from God. Of course not! Rather, we live in a world where the Creator’s original intent and design was derailed long ago. Even now, we are free, but we often use that freedom for destructive ends. We are the culprits. It isn’t the God we often love to blame (or hate) so much.

Think about this. We repeat the fall from Eden every day. That story in Genesis 3 isn’t primarily about a primal pair sinning against God and violating their own conscience, only then to find themselves naked and alone.

No, it’s about you and me. And it happens every day. In an effort to cover our own nakedness and shame, we end up covering our eyes from seeing the truth that God loves us and wants to bring good out of our evil.

We must factor this in when trying to understand the darkness in our lives and our world. No sufficient explanation can be given to the problem of evil without a theology of the fall. If you’re blaming God for the problems in the world, then you haven’t encountered the God revealed in Jesus.

So biblical faith is about facing up to our own sin, brokenness, and limited understanding. It’s this humble path than unlocks the door to peace, forgiveness, and hope. Christ, our redemption, is found here.

I’ve known many people who have never been able to overcome their feelings in order to go deeper in their faith. Their emotions drive them, even when they believe it’s their logic and reasoning. Actually, their feelings cloud their vision and judgment. They are cut off from the faith that unlocks peace because they fail to persevere in their doubt and hard times.

These folks want it easy, and they want it their way. If these people don’t get it their way, they quit. And they step away from faith, sometimes for good.

But Jesus said that if you want to find your life, you must lose it (Matt 16:25). Believe me… there’s nothing easy about that. It’s hard. It hurts. But it works.

In other words, you must learn to press on through your momentary fickle feelings by clinging to what you believe to be true, indeed what the Scriptures say, about the God revealed in Christ. If we trust him regardless of circumstance, that is biblical faith. If we don’t trust him, we have no faith.

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6

Perseverance is about pressing on to find life, even when you feel like you’re losing yours. Perseverance is about busting through the stopping places! Just an ounce of faith is able to produce a pound of faith if we’ll allow it.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  James 1:2-4

I have personally discovered that my faith increases and I’m given access to more of Christ when I exhibit this trust. No matter the hardship or trial, I can testify that when I hold to what I believe is true about God’s character, displaying my faith, he will carry me through my feelings. I come out on the other side a better person. I’m more mature and complete.

What is needed for a biblical faith? More than feelings, that’s for sure. Faith is for those who wish to be strong. There are no quitters in the Kingdom.

If you want to go deeper in your covenantal faith with Christ, I encourage you to do these three things in community: (1) “hunger for righteousness”—for more of Jesus; (2) memorize Scripture about God’s love and faithfulness; (3) make up your mind to persevere despite your hardships. Then you’ll get your proof.

This is your part. It’s out part. Do this and give God the opportunity to prove his faithfulness to you. Follow Christ and let him reward you with his peace. Let him grow your roots down deep into the soil of his own faith.

D.D. Flowers, 2015.


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