I’m a runaway. When I accepted Christ at the age of thirteen, I recall the pastor celebrating my decision and describing its impact on my life. He spoke of how my heart would long to hear from God. The pastor told me that I would seek God in the Scriptures and that my kindness, forgiveness, and thoughtfulness would reflect Jesus. The pastor’s words should have given me confidence and hope about my relationship with God.
However, his words fueled me to fear disappointing God and meeting His expectations. I was not trained in spiritual disciplines, and my faith was immature. Sunday school stories made God feel angry and judgmental to me. As I entered the baptism waters before our congregation, I tried to put all of my worry behind me and clung to the promises the pastor described. I had barely made it through the car ride home after church when bickering and frustration with my siblings bubbled into anger that burst from me. Immediately, I was so full of shame and grief over not pleasing Jesus that I ran away. Ran away from my family. Ran away from God. Ran away from believing there was anyone who could guide me.
This was the first of many times I would run away from my faith because I felt alone, lost without understanding spiritual disciplines, and lacking guidance to draw me home to the Father.
The twist and turns of the human heart are filled with our ancestors’ amnesia for forgetting our God knows our hearts and paths. His plan is for the Spirit to help us, intercede for us, and bring us back to the Father.
“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.” John 14:16
We are never alone. The world applauds autonomy, but God designed us for dependence. Maturing followers of Christ must be aware of modeling dependence on God when we put on display seeking God with the Spirit in prayer, the study of Scriptures, handling our emotions around disappointments, or supporting others. We can counter the world’s celebration of being self-reliant and independent, where Satan can stir up glory in our minds and greed in our hearts.
Jesus knew his apostles and followers were anxious to be left alone. So he spoke the words of John 14:16 as a promise that through the Spirit, we have a helper and guide on God’s narrow path.
“The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Romans 8:26
When we lose our way, we can also lose the words to describe what is occurring in our hearts and minds. Romans 8 is a powerful reminder that the Spirit intercedes where our words and emotions fail. We can find it hard to process our feelings and frustrations into words. The Spirit takes the raw groanings of our hearts and emotions and communicates to God on our behalf. I’ve learned to create stillness before God by repeating aloud, “Be still and know I am God.” I focus on my breathing and drop one word from the phrase each time I repeat it until only the word “Be” is left. Then I sit and let the Spirit comfort and speak to me.
“And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Galatians 4:6
The Spirit leads us to move toward God, our perfect Father. We know we have arrived at the destination at the end of most paths because there will be a home, park, marker, or person who lets you know you made it.
The first time I ran away, I recall crying so hard that sobs caught in my throat. Words couldn’t escape, and my mind raced with distorted thoughts of being unlovable, unseen, and unworthy. I was messy, dusty, tear-stained, and worn out from imagining God’s disappointment when I knocked on the door of the house at the end of the road.
The Spirit never left me in my sadness. Instead, it directed my feet to a path that my mind didn’t recognize until the door opened. Blinded by the sun and eyes almost swollen shut from crying, I was welcomed inside, invited to sit, and given a cup of water to refresh me. A cool washcloth softly wiped away my tears as my grandma whispered, “Child, you have walked a long way.” My grandma comforted me, listened to me, and prayed for me in the minutes that followed. Then, I was surprised as my mother came through the door with a suitcase and sat in the chair across from me. I could not have anticipated what happened next.
She laid the suitcase down, opened the locks, and revealed clothing packed for her and me. She knelt before me and took my hand, saying, “Wherever you go, I go too. I have been searching for you and love you. We can continue on this path together or go home.”
Home. The work of the Spirit can feel so mysterious, but reflecting on this memory, I see the beauty of God in the person of the Spirit. A faith journey toward God is through the power of the Spirit, who is always with me. The Helper guides me toward God, whether the path is through valleys or on mountain peaks. And Abba Father receives the prodigal wanderer at the end of the journey.
Summertime is finally here, and this one feels different. After a year of uncertainty, I sense a growing light at the end of the tunnel. My hunch is we all have plans we’ve put off, vacations we’ve canceled, and family trips we’ve postponed that we are itching to make up for this summer. That’s great! In the flurry of activity, restauranting, traveling, and hugging that may be headed your way, let’s not forget to keep deepening and growing in our apprenticeship to Jesus. The floodgates may be opening, but our disciple-making mission stays the same. Here are just a few “outside the box” ways I plan to keep growing this summer for you to consider:
The BibleProject: I have mentioned this in a few places, but the BibleProject is the most innovative Bible study tool I have seen in a long time. Tim Mackie and company have created a host of resources for increasing biblical literacy, including incredible videos on books and themes of the Bible, and a podcast that gets you behind the scenes on their process. I recommend at leastsubscribing to the podcast and digesting a few during long car trips, flights, or chore time at home.
The Chosen: If you know me at all, you know I have a strong aversion to cheesy Christian media. Maybe you disagree with me there, but it’s okay; we can still be friends. But even if you are wired like I am, you will still love The Chosen. This streaming series is the first of its kind: an episodic look at the life and ministry of Jesus and those closest to Him. I have yet to start season two, but season one was incredible and did as good a job of capturing the essence of Jesus and His first century context as I have ever seen. What I appreciate most about this show is its ability to remind me how lovely the real Jesus is, the sheer force of His teaching and personality, and why I will never find words of life apart from Him. Check it out!
The Formed Life: Okay, shameless plug. BUT, I really do believe that this daily devotional deep dive our church has created is one of the best discipleship tools I have ever engaged in. Sign up for daily blogs, videos, and practices designed to help us go deeper into God’s word, to train in the disciplines that shape us, and draw us closer together as a church family. If you have yet to participate, or have fallen behind in your engagement with this resource, this summer is a great time to re-up.
If you haven’t heard yet, across all five campuses, we are on a formational journey toward deeper Christlike being and doing. One of our newest resources to help us learn from God’s word in God’s ways with God’s people is theFormed.life.
In the first 10 weeks of theFormed.life, we’ve had over 1100 people on this shared journey toward a more intentionally formed Christlike life.
And we’ve only just begun.
We are continuing to refine theFormed.life to make it more accessible, and if you haven’t signed up yet, Sunday, April 11 is the perfect time. As we begin a new sermon series, theFormed.life will zero in on the discipline of prayer for the next 10 weeks.
As we explore prayer, we’ll engage in a seven day rhythm that is anchored in the sermon series and includes various practices and habits in prayer that will expand our framework for this central discipline.
Watch below to learn how you can join your church family in this journey!
An Intro to “Why” the Discipline of Prayer
It doesn’t take but a cursory reading of the Gospel accounts to see that one of the critical practices of Jesus was prayer. Throughout His life Jesus goes looking for places to pray away from the crowds, at times spends all night praying with others, and constantly urges His followers to pray.
Throughout his letters to various early churches, the apostle Paul modeled and encouraged followers of Jesus to grow in the area of prayer. We also have room to grow in this crucial Christian habit.
An Improved Companion Journal
The companion journal is a great place to gather your thoughts, keep your sermon notes, work on your memory verse and more. While the journal does not REPLACE theFormed.life online, it contains journaling prompts that connect with Sunday sermons and online materials. It can be used alone or as a supplement to what is happening online. It’s a great tool to keep with you and even bring to your community group or small group gatherings.
We hope you join us along the way, because — to be sure — we are all being formed by someone or something. Whether it’s by your choice of media, news, daily rhythms, or relationships, all have a part to play in who we are becoming. Our perspective, posture and practices are all being tweaked by our cultural location. If we are not intentionally setting our sights on the practices and precepts of Christ daily, we may find ourselves deformed in alarming ways only after we’ve experienced the damage in our lives.
Let’s take that next step together. Let’s put the “formed” back in biblically informed.
Lent is the 40-day period leading up to Easter, beginning with Ash Wednesday, culminating with our celebration of the Greatest Day, the day death died and hope triumphed, our Resurrection Sunday.
I didn’t grow up in a tradition that thought much about Lent, but in seminary I discovered that Lent is a path walked by countless Christians for centuries, to prepare themselves for the joys of Easter. It is a season of reflection, confession, and anticipation, as we enter the sufferings of Christ.
Can I celebrate Easter without Lent?
But Lent seems like a lot of work! Is it really necessary? Why can’t I just celebrate the resurrection? Why take this longer, more arduous path when I know that, either way, Easter is coming?
That’s a fair question, and that option is certainly available. But I think of engaging in Lent a bit like one of my favorite hikes from this past year.
Alaska and Lent
Our family was in Juneau, Alaska, and we wanted to do the same thing the majority of visitors do when they’re in Juneau—visit Mendenhall Glacier.
When most people visit this massive glacier, they do so by taking a tour bus to the visitor center on the east side of the glacier, go for a short walk on a paved path, and then fight through the crowds for a quick selfie with this spectacular ice—all from nearly a mile away.
But I thought to myself, “Not good enough! I didn’t come all the way to Alaska to stare at this thing from 4,800 feet away on an over-crowded sidewalk! I could have just stayed home and googled it. No! I want to touch it! Smell it. I want to feel the cold breeze blowing off it. I want it to drip on me, and I want to taste the water of this ancient snow.
In essence, I wanted to experience that glacier as intensely and completely as humanly possible.
So much work
But it wasn’t going to be easy. After a ton of research (and convincing my family: “trust me, this way will be better”), we took a taxi to the opposite side of the glacier, a place with almost no tourists. Because of its increased isolation, we had to convince the taxi driver to return later to pick us up. And all we could see when we arrived was one tiny glimpse of the glacier from an even farther distance. Just a bunch of trees, a narrow, poorly-marked trail, and the potential for bears. Did we just make a huge mistake?
It was too late for those thoughts, so off we went! We are fairly experienced hikers, but it was a difficult seven-mile round trip. Three out of four of us fell and got hurt. There were places where we lost the trail, spots we trudged through the mud, and other areas the brush was so thick we could only barely squeeze through. We had to scramble up steep and dangerous cliffs and gain about 1,200 feet in total elevation. We were hungry, tired, and becoming more ticked at each other with every seemingly pointless step.
And we still hadn’t really even seen it! I’m pretty sure our kids, ages 9 and 11, were contemplating emancipation. I could see from Kelly’s face that she was questioning her life choices. Even I was beginning to feel more than a bit of regret. Stupid hike! We could have taken the bus, clicked our selfie, and been done with it by now!
Then we saw it
And then we got above the cliff, and instantly, we forgot about all the work. Oh. I’d never seen anything like it.
I had never even imagined ice so blue or so massive or so gorgeous. It literally took our breath away (of course, we may have still been winded from scaling the rocks). It was still about a half-mile away, but we could FEEL the ice in the air and had to put on our coats.
Our pace slowed as we soaked it in. I couldn’t stop taking pictures, each of them a failure to capture it. Closer and closer we inched, in awe of the beauty God invented.
We walked beside it. We walked on top of it. Eventually, we found an ice cave and walked under it. We felt it and tasted it. We lingered. We explored. We played. We couldn’t leave, for our hearts were overwhelmed, and we will never forget it.
And we could have missed it! Sure, the other way would have been so much easier, but this path? Not only were we able to get closer to it, but the work to get there actually heightened our joy. The anticipation (and sometimes doubt) of what was ahead, the pain and even continual questioning if we’d made the right choice, and the exhaustion of the experience actually made it better when we got there. The work became our delight.
Lent and Easter
And similarly, we can try to celebrate the resurrection without feeling the weight of the cross, we can try to rejoice in our forgiveness without reflecting on our brokenness and sin, we can try to delight in the hope of life without carrying the burden of suffering. You can absolutely celebrate Easter without Lent. But, you will rob yourself of a greater joy.
For it is in the arduous path of Lent that we get to stand in the presence of our Resurrected King. Not merely from a distance, as if we were a bunch of selfie-stick-carrying, religious tourists, but up close and personal. Through our increased engagement with the disciplines, such as Bible reading, prayer, reflection, solitude, confession, fasting, worship, community, etc., we get to experience our God not just from far off, but all around us. And the work will be worth it.
Our hike toward Easter
We invite you to take this hike with us. The trail began this week on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday.
Along the path, you might consider giving up something for a season to participate even a tiny bit in Christ’s sufferings and to create space in your life for these kinds of disciplines. Lent has traditionally been a time of fasting. Some Christians might give up meat or dessert, Netflix or shopping or social media. We give these up not because we have to, but as way to heighten our joy when we get there.
Each day on this journey of Lent, we encourage you to take additional time for focused meditation on God’s Word and reflection on our need for a Savior. Think about your sin, turn from it, and remember what it took for God to save you from it. We don’t do these things to earn favor from God or make Him like us more, but simply to create space in our lives for Him to do His greatest work.
To help us each day, we’re also recommending an incredible online devotional from 2019 that the Center of Christianity, Culture, and the Arts of Biola University posted. Each devotional (from Ash Wednesday through Easter) includes Scripture, poetry, art, music, and a written reflection. Take a look at their website, and sign up to have them email you these brief readings each day through Lent.
If you haven’t signed up already, now is a good time to join us on theFormed.life. This resource is a great foundation for daily study, focusing on spiritual disciplines and habits. During the four weeks leading up to Easter, theFormed.life will be focused on discussing elements of Holy Week.
With each step along the way, our anticipation builds.
And what’s our destination? My favorite church services of the entire year! Our Good Friday services at all of our campuses are a powerful time to enter the story of Jesus’ death. And then, of course, Easter Sunday, when we get to celebrate afresh that sin has been vanquished, suffering and evil has met its match, and death will be no more!
Yes, you can enjoy Easter without Lent, just as we could have glimpsed Mendenhall Glacier without that painful hike. But why would you? Greater joy is being offered. So which way will you go?
The Great Failure Some of the greatest failures in the church over the past few years have had less to do with what is professed in our words and more around what is performed in our lives.
Nationally visible leaders who were bulwarks for truth were found to be living a lie themselves, and the revealed hypocrisy shook the church. Many championed mouthpieces of Gospel information lacked deep Gospel formation and so brought defamation to Christ’s name.
That in no way is meant to be a judgment on others, but it should raise the alarm on our framework of discipleship. We cannot merely know information about God. While information is important, it is not sufficient for the salvation which we long for and need (James 2:19).
One sign of true salvation and evidence that we know God relationally is to experience His transformative presence in our lives (Romans 8:1-11). And yet, in our well-meaning emphasis to highlight true information, we can all too easily neglect rich Spirit-empowered formation. The two are not to be divorced. We are both saved from sin and also to new life in Christ. A disciple of Jesus knows who Jesus is as described in God’s word; professes the good news of Jesus life, death and resurrection; and is also marked by both the precepts and practices of Jesus.
The Great Invitation This kind of vibrant gospel-shaped life flows from an intimate relationship with Jesus and His people. Jesus did not just give us the Great Commission and affirm the Great Commandment, but He invited us to live with Him when He gave His Great Invitation found in Matthew 11:28-30:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (ESV)
The brilliant gospel writer Matthew makes Jesus’ desire abundantly clear. Jesus doesn’t want us to just know about Him from afar but to walk with Him and learn from Him intimately.
At Christ Community, we believe we become the people God designed us to be in the yoke of Christ. The Christian life cannot be summed up in a theological pop quiz (although true information often precedes worthwhile actions), but to profess Jesus as Lord and Savior is a long obedience in the same direction.
theFormed.life It is out of this biblical conviction Christ Community has developed theFormed.life.TheFormed.life is a daily resource that helps equip us to more thoughtfully and consistently be formed by God’s Word and God’s ways with God’s people.
What to Expect Every day there is provided a small step we can take together to be intentionally cultivating various spiritual habits in our lives. Some days will have video teaching or articles to go deeper. Other days, there will be guidance in practical spiritual disciplines. There may be repetition to help cultivate a new weekly rhythm, while other parts of the week may rotate through fresh practices.
Every bit of theFormed.life is designed to provide everyday steps toward greater wholeness and influence in Christ. Our prayer is that the Holy Spirit would work through this resource to form us into more faithful followers of Jesus in all of life.
Because — to be sure — we are all being formed by someone or something. Whether it’s by your choice of media, news, daily rhythms, or relationships, all have a part to play in who we are becoming. Our perspective, posture and practices are all being tweaked by our cultural location. If we are not intentionally setting our sights on the practices and precepts of Christ daily, we may find ourselves deformed in alarming ways only after we’ve experienced the damage in our lives.
How to Join We hope you’ll join us on this journey to a more faithfully formed life into Christlikeness and so know more deeply God’s presence among us. To join us, you can sign up here, and theformed.life will be in your inbox every morning waiting to help each of us take that next step together. You can also visit our website if you’d like to explore more.
Let’s put the “formed” back in biblically “informed.” Let’s take that next step together.
From the beginning, Christ Community has sought to not only share information about Jesus but also be a catalyst in spiritual formation toward Christlikeness. Core to our DNA is the longing to multiply whole disciples, not just inform the masses.
Open Here has been a helpful tool for church-wide discipleship into the habit of daily Bible reading for the last several years. The purpose has never been about content or quantity (though those are important), but to form a spiritual habit.
Why focus on the habit of Bible reading? We believe that reading the Bible daily is an astounding place to glean truthful information. The Bible informs God’s people (John 17:8), and we want to know who God is and what He has done through His son Jesus.
In addition to being a source of truth, we believe the Bible sanctifies God’s people, or grows us in godliness (John 17:17). More pointedly, the time spent in consistent Bible reading is where the Holy Spirit goes about His work of transformation. We see how the Bible powerfully transforms God’s people (Ezekiel 37:1-8) into more whole and holy people, and we want to dwell in the source of His transformation.
Needless to say, we love the Bible at Christ Community, but our hunger to grow in Christlikeness and equip our church to do so together has sparked a desire to expand our focus into additional disciplines. We want to grow in prayer, fasting, meditation, and more! The spiritual habit of reading the Bible, while extremely important, is not to be the only spiritual habit in the lives of Jesus’ apprentices.
Therefore, the month of December is the last Open Here Bible reading plan. While that will no longer be a resource we provide, our goal of spiritual formation will take on new life. We are hard at work creating a new resource that still engages the Bible, but will also further equip our church with a more robust list of spiritual habits informed by Jesus.
We are excited about who God is forming us to be as a church together. Head over to theFormed.life to sign up for this new resource. We believe it will help us all become more formed into a people like Jesus.
If you would still like to follow a Bible reading plan, here are a few exceptional options to consider for the new year:
The Bible Recap The Bible Recap “Chronological” reading plan follows the story of Scripture as the events occurred. This one-year plan corresponds to The Bible Recap podcast (available wherever you listen to podcasts). We recommend listening to the corresponding podcast episode after you do each day’s reading.
Read through the Bible Chronologically The Blue Letter Bible “Chronological” plan is compiled according to recent historical research, taking into account the order in which the recorded events actually occurred. This is a fantastic plan to follow if you wish to add historical context to your reading of the Bible. If the schedule provided is followed, the entire Bible will be read in one calendar year.
Read through the Bible Canonically (as laid out in most English Bibles) The Blue Letter Bible “Canonical” plan goes straight through the Bible — from Genesis to Revelation. You will be supplied with reading for each day of the week as a steady guide toward finishing the entire Bible in one calendar year.