search this site

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Get the eNews

* indicates required
Email Format
This form does not yet contain any fields.
    find ben simpson on facebook
    twitter updates

    Entries in Spiritual Formation (36)


    Dear Father Always Near Us

    Dear Father always near us,
    may your name be treasured and loved,
    may your rule be completed in us--
    may your will be done here on earth
    in just the way it is done in heaven.
    Give us today the things we need today,
    and forgive us our sins and impositions on you
    as we are forgiving all who in any way offend us.
    Please don't put us through any trials,
    but deliver us from everything bad.
    Because you are the one in charge,
    and you have all the power,
    and the glory too is all yours--forever--
    which is just the way we want it!

    -- Dallas Willard, A Paraphrase of the Lord's Prayer, in The Divine Conspiracy 



    Book Review :: Mindy Caliguire's STIR: Spiritual Transformation in Relationships

    Photo by Spyridoula Della

    Mindy Caliguire is a leading voice in the area of Christian spiritual formation. She writes with clarity and passion. In her book STIR: Spiritual Transformation in Relationships, Caliguire helps us to understand three basic elements in the spiritual journey that can help church leaders think through how we create contexts where people move toward maturity in Christ.

    Caliguire identifies three distinct phases as we grow: Learning Together, Journeying Together, and Following Together. In the first stage, we discover the basics of the Christian faith. We learn the Bible, acquire a theological vocabulary, and are taught very simple practices, such as prayer. We establish relationships with others that are highly directive--we rely on others to show us the way, pointing us to Christ. As those just beginning, we need a foundation that is solid and dependable. We need to learn.

    Once the foundation is set, we transition to Journeying Together. We find other Christian friends who are walking alongside us, committing themselves to the cause, and providing us with both direction and discernment. We are being taught, but we are also listening with others, discovering the will of God for us, in our lives as they unfold. This phase might be bolstered by participation in a community group, a small fellowship, or as part of a retreat.

    Maturity leads us to a place of Following Together. Having gained foundational knowledge, faced obstacles, and increased in our love for God, we have now become steadfast. We're running the race. As Caliguire writes, the primary goal of this stage is to keep going. We act as God has called us to act, and we invite others along. We impart the wisdom that we've gained, and we remain faithful to the end.

    At each stage, Caliguire helps church leaders to identify where we might find ourselves, and how to break through when we feel stuck. She describes what someone ministering in each stage might possess in terms of giftedness, the makeup of their character, and what their next steps might be. Caliguire's model is meant to establish a frame for a church ministry, calling people within that ministry to identify where they are on the journey, and to find a place where they are challenged to step forward as they continue to follow Christ. The entire model, being relational, requires not only participants, but leaders.

    As far as model books go, this is a good one. It clearly expresses basic principles and key narratives that lead to the creation of environments that are conducive to formation in Christlikeness. If you're familiar with contemporary writings on Christian spiritual formation, you won't be surprised with new information in this book, but you will be helped by the clarity Caliguire brings to the application of these ideas to the local church. Her emphasis on the relational side of formation, of the essential aspect of community, is a needed balance, considering some spiritual formation literature focuses primarily on individual practices.

    But the book is not without a couple of shortcomings. First, I think there is a great deal of overlap between the ideas of Journeying Together and Following Together, and while I do find Caliguire's shades or degrees of maturity somewhat illuminating, the division here, in my mind, is rather small. Perhaps this is a limitation in myself as the reader, and not in Caliguire's presentation. But if I understand her correctly, the Journeying phase is where our commitment is deepened and our focus is established. During this period, we have set our mind on Christ, and we are determined to pass through any obstacle, even the challenge of the desert, to remain faithful to him. But once we transition to the Following Together stage, our primary goal is to stay the course. We're to remain with it. Everything that was established in the second phase of the model is solidified in the third. We cultivate our inward life, we commit ourselves to God's purpose, and we bind ourselves more fully to our company of Christians. There is a division, perhaps, but it is very fine, and I'm not sure how I'd fully apply these distinctions if I was developing my own model or asking those who I lead to locate themselves within this framework.

    As a second desire, I would've liked one example of how a local church has put the STIR model in to practice. An appendix with a narrative description of a single person's growth, and the relationships that were most helpful, would've created a fuller picture. If there are programs that have been used to foster the kinds of relationships Caliguire describes, I would've enjoyed a description of how those settings made an impact. While Caliguire provides examples of contexts where the stages can be experienced, I would've liked to see those elements compacted in to a single narrative.

    But however significant these shortcomings were for me personally, they do not negate the value of the book. If you're a church leader who is seeking to apply principles of Christian spiritual formation to your context, Caliguire is an instructive and clear voice. She gives you much to consider, and forces you to establish a narrative frame within which those you lead can find themselves. She knows and understands that the Christian life is a growth process, and that maturity does not come overnight. I'm thankful that Caliguire helps us to see that there is movement within our own spiritual journeys, and with God's help, there is progress. As church leaders, we are called to show others the way, to help those we pastor and shepherd to discover God's grace, and to fully rely on his power for transformation. Oftentimes, the vehicle through which God brings our greatest challenges is found in the lives of other people--change comes directly through relationships.

    I've already introduced these ideas in my student ministry, and they'll continue to serve as a subcurrent running beneath our efforts. Check it out.


    Discernment, Children, and an Animatronic Mouse

    Photo by Arvee Hernaez

    Last week Practicing Families posted one of my reflections on Christian spiritual formation and children. Here's an exerpt:

    Some time ago my wife left town, leaving me with my daughter for the weekend. The possibilities were endless. We could do whatever we wanted. But we needed a plan.

    What would she enjoy? Where should we go? I wanted to be a good dad, and as all parents know, coolness is correlative to one’s ability to conceive of and execute fun ideas. It was up to me to give direction, call the shots, and lead the way.

    So like any good parent, I asked, “What do you want to do today, sweetie?”

    From the backseat, I heard, “I want to go to Chuck-e-Cheese’s.”

    “I don’t know where one is,” I replied, as we drove along a frontage road.

    She responded, “There’s one!”

    I was horrified.

    I stalled and said I would have to think about it. I don’t care for animatronics. I have a sophisticated palate when it comes to pizza (I’m a youth minister). And I’m not very good at skee-ball. In fact, I stink.

    But the “Chuck-e-Cheese’s as Dad’s Weekend Destination” campaign had been gaining momentum for weeks. Our daughter had found a token in our garage, and recognized the logo from advertising. She’d been talking about it. She wanted to go.

    So I caved. How bad could it be? We eat pizza, get tokens, play a few games, and go home.

    Read the rest here. Feel free to share or leave a comment.


    Book Review :: Hess and Arnold's The Life of the Body

    James William McClendon, in volume one of his Systematic Theology, observes that a certain "biblical materialism" is essential for the formation of ethics. God is the creator of all organic matter, including our bodies. The church, as the people of God, is a bodily fellowship--the body of Christ. Therefore, determining how we are to live, and why, is predicated on certain assumptions regarding our physical nature and constitution in the world.

    Knowing this, Valerie Hess and Lane M. Arnold focus on the body in their book, The Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation (Renovare Resources) (IVP Books; Formatio). Hess and Arnold explore the intersection of Christian spiritual formation and physical health, carefully examining the interrelationship between body and soul.

    First, they reflect on the significance of the incarnation, asking what it meant, and now means, that Jesus has a body. Second, they consider the bodily nature of the church, noting the implications for communal life and for the individuals who together comprise the whole.

    Next, Hess and Arnold guide the reader to reflect on just how we offer our worship to God with our bodies. We take steps to enter a worship space. We behold the beauty of the created order with our eyes. We feel water on our skin in baptism. We "taste and see that the Lord" is good as we celebrate the Lord's Meal. We move our tongues to sing and pray to God. We listen to the Word of God proclaimed in Scripture. We use our hands to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Engagement with God is a physical reality, not only a mental or ethereal phenomenon.

    The incarnation, church, and worship of God are the soil from which the remainder of the book flowers forth. Hess and Arnold help the reader to envision a balanced life, and what that means for diet, food choices, and exercise. The authors examine cultural messages about the body and warn against dangerous extremes. They also consider illness, bodily deterioration, suffering, and dying, and what those experiences signify for discipleship. Additionally, they turn an eye to the future and help us consider what we are teaching the next generation, and how we might care for the created order as part of a life well lived in the body.

    The basic message of The Life of the Body is better self-care--a better diet, exercise, sleep, enjoying the created order, and glorifying God in our bodies--which leads to better care for others and for God's good world. Hess and Arnold structure that message in a way that is easy to comprehend and understand. Much of what they say is intuitive, stating truths that most of us have considered but not applied. Most of us know, for instance, that food served at potluck dinners is not always healthy, or that the cultural messages about the body we are saturated with are often idolatrous. Nevertheless, these reminders are helpful, and the practical instruction in this book is notable not because of its profundity, but its simplicity.

    Hess and Arnold are right to argue that care of the body is absolutely essential for spiritual formation and Christian ethics. Life in the Kingdom of Jesus entails placing all things under his Lordship, including who we interact with, what we eat, how we exercise, rest, and how those practices, in turn, lead us to care for our neighbors through the care of our world. Books like this one are rare, though not unprecedented (John Wesley's Primitive Physick comes to mind), primarily because many of the truths given are assumed, and because they are convicting. We often neglect our physical well-being due to busyness, overwork, or apathy, and thus fail in an area that is foundational for the overall stewardship of our lives. Hess and Arnold offer a corrective, and provide a solid trajectory for those who seek to be spiritually formed in Christ, body and soul.

    If you found this review helpful, please head to Amazon and tell others.


    Short Book Review :: Crafting a Rule of Life by Stephen A. Macchia

    The Christian spiritual life, all too often, appears to be abstract, disjointed, lacking unity and cohesion. All too often, our pursuit of God is segmented from the "everyday, ordinary life," rather than encompassed within it. We regard God as something for "over there", whether "over there" happens to be a Sunday School, a church building, a soup kitchen, or a mission field. We do not think of the realm of the with-God life as being the ordinary, the routine, the normal happenstance that fill our days and hours, which is, in reality, the arena of faithfulness.

    Stephen Macchia, in his book Crafting a Rule of Life: An Invitation to the Well-Ordered Way , provides a remedy for this common way of thinking, a counter-narrative for those lost, confused, and lacking direction in how best to follow after Jesus Christ. Borrowing wisdom that spans the work of the Spirit across history and searches out nuggets from various nooks and crannies of the Kingdom, this book will guide you through a step-by-step reflection that, with the help of God, can lead to the development of a comprehensive vision for growth in the Christian spiritual life.

    Here are five valuable benefits I received from this book:

    1. In crafting a rule of life, we must first look closely and carefully at the life God has given us, including our relationships, our gifts, our desires, our personal vision, and our sense of mission or ultimate purpose in life.
    2. "Time, Trust, Temple, Treasure, and Talent" are helpful categories for understanding various arenas for faithfulness to God. We must grow and develop in our spiritual, relational, physical, financial, and missional priorities in order to be good stewards of the time God has given us on earth.
    3. Community is vital for growth in the development of the Christian spiritual life. Macchia has a love and appreciation for the church, which renewed my own love for Christ's body.
    4. In developing a rule, examples of faithfulness can be found throughout history. This diversity is a beautiful evidence of the expansiveness of God's kingdom. Macchia quotes from Adoniram Judson, Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, Benedict of Nursia, and Phillis Wheatley.
    5. Questions are often more helpful than "how-to". Macchia does a delightful job of guiding the reader through questioning, and the book itself provides space for writing reflections.

    In addition to these five benefits, each chapter includes a biblical exploration that builds a strong foundation for the aspect of crafting a rule Macchia explores. You are never left wondering how this might connect to Scripture.

    We all long for a thriving, vibrant life with God that transcends the ethereal and invades the everyday. This book will help. Pick it up.