After having our lives so disrupted with the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are experiencing a sense of relief and joyful exhilaration in returning to a more normal life. It is great to be gathering with friends again, worshiping in person with our church family and enjoying fun vacation traveling. But should we return to pre-pandemic normalcy? While not minimizing the great pain, loss and lingering negative impacts of the pandemic, by simply returning to pre-pandemic normalcy we may miss a golden opportunity. Could the rugged pandemic terrain of testing, trials, disruption and difficulties actually be an unusual grace gift to us?
As the Apostle James opens his inspired epistle, he frames the trials and difficulties that come into our lives as a gift. In The Message, Eugene Peterson beautifully paraphrases James’ words.
“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well developed, not deficient in any way.” (James 1:2-4)
Reflecting on the Apostle James’ words, I would like to suggest the COVID-19 pandemic has given each of us at least three amazing gifts.
First, we have been given a grace gift of needed insight into the true state of our spiritual formation. Eugene Peterson describes our faith life being forced into the open and showing its true colors. I have often said that many people (including me) have not been their best selves during the pandemic. While I believe that is a true observation, I also believe there is more we must honestly say. The pandemic crucible has not only amplified our weaknesses, it has, like a mirror, also revealed the true colors of our lack of spiritual and virtue formation. A pastor friend of mine made the comment that the pandemic had uncomfortably revealed to him his heart idols as well as his glaring lack of Christ-like character. The pandemic pried open a revealing window into our inner worlds. What grace gift of needed insight into your life have you been given? What needs greater attention in your inner world?
Secondly, we have been given a grace gift prodding us to make needed changes in our daily lives. Eugene Peterson reminds us not to prematurely jump back into well-worn ruts of the status quo. For many of us, the pre-pandemic frenzied pace of our overly scheduled, distracted lives was detrimental to our spiritual growth, our relationships, our workplaces, our faith community and our Sabbath rest. Rather than jump immediately back into the unhealthy lifestyles many of us were living before the pandemic, how might we rearrange our priorities and carve out new rhythms that are more God-honoring, spiritually formative, relationally deepening and integrally whole? For many of us our work dynamics have significantly changed and this gives us a unique opportunity to evaluate our workplace patterns, sustainability and effectiveness. A member of our church family whose work had led him to do too much traveling said to me, “Tom, I am reevaluating the whole business travel thing. I am going to use video technology more and travel less.” What grace gift for needed change have you been given? What lifestyle changes do you need to make?
Third, we have been given a grace gift catalyzing needed growth in our lives. In his paraphrase Eugene Peterson encourages each one of us to let the trials, testing difficulties, and disruptions of a pandemic lead us down the path of increasing growth and maturity. The pandemic has been a time of pruning and while pruning is often painful, it is purposeful. Pruning offers new growth, renewed hope and greater flourishing. Eugene Peterson paraphrases the Apostle Paul’s wise and hopeful words.
“There is more to come. We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next.” (Romans 5:3-4)
What pruning needs to take place for new growth in your life?
In many ways, the pandemic has been a gift; a gift that brings needed insight, needed change and needed growth. Instead of returning to normalcy, let’s embrace lifestyles that lead to greater relational intimacy, deeper spiritual formation, wiser work patterns and greater human flourishing. A pandemic is a terrible thing to waste.
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 least subscribing 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.
Keep growing, church! And have a great summer.
We’ve Only Just Begun
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.
Get yours at your campus any Sunday this April! You can also
DOWNLOAD THE PDF.
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.
We have a very peculiar relationship with time. We find ourselves needing to kill time and make time. We experience time flying by and standing still. Sometimes we want time to slow down and other times we want it to speed up.
Before the advent of the watch, people told time by the sun, which led to the development of sundials. And it’s very interesting to note that in ancient cultures, from Egypt to China to Europe, sundials would often have some kind of motto inscribed in them. And more often than not those mottos typically had a more despairing tone.
Here are just a handful of them.
Look upon the hour, and remember death
Of the last hour, beware!
As time and hours passeth away, so doth the life of man decay
I did nothing good today; the day is lost
Can you imagine if Garmin decided to inscribe Look upon the hour, and remember death on the back of every watch they made?I think it’s interesting that when we talk about time, schedules, calendars, and plans, we speak of our priorities. But how can we have multiple priorities?
A priority, by definition, implies that there can’t be priorities. There can only be one greatest, one best, one favorite, and one priority.
In Luke 14 Jesus teaches on the parable of the great banquet. In this parable He gives examples of people who offer varying excuses for why they did not attend the banquet.
As Jesus unpacks His parable, He lays out the responses of three invited guests who have had ample time to plan, prepare, and respond to the host. And each of them gives an excuse for why they cannot attend the party.
Just imagine if you were the host. What would you conclude about the way your guests viewed their relationship with you? You might just think that your friends are terrible planners. But at some point you are probably asking yourself why they don’t prioritize your friendship.
The point Jesus is making is that these guests have a greater priority that is dictating and determining their involvement and commitment to the host and his party. They are claiming to be too busy to attend the banquet feast. But the real issue is that they have a higher priority which sets the order of the rest of their roles and responsibilities in life.
Perhaps part of the reason you and I struggle with busyness, overcommitted schedules, and the tyranny of the urgent is because we don’t know how to prioritize.
You can’t have priorities without a paramount priority. Or to use the line from Lord of the Rings, we need one priority to rule them all.
What is the one, overarching, foundational, cornerstone priority that drives, defines, and dictates everything else you do? That priority is what will determine the purpose of your time, how you view time, and how you use time.
In this parable Jesus is presenting himself as the greatest good, the greatest gift, and the greatest priority in all of life. And if that is true, then he cannot simply be a priority or a good in life. But he must be the priority and the good in life. To live for anything less will misorder and distort our priorities, and actually leave us empty at best and corrupt at worst.
CS Lewis describes this concept in his essay entitled First Things and Second Things
“The woman who makes a dog the centre of her life loses, in the end, not only her human usefulness and dignity but even the proper pleasure of dog-keeping…You can’t get second things by putting them first. You get second things only by putting first things first.”-CS Lewis
Jesus has extended His invitation to join Him at His banquet. To be with Him in His kingdom on His mission. But are we too busy and too distracted with lesser things to even respond? Have we set a priority over and above Him that has made us so busy and overwhelmed that all we can do is offer lame excuses for why we aren’t living with Him and for Him?
So let me offer a few things for us to consider as we ponder the details of the invitation that Christ has offered us, and continues to offer us.
Honestly ask yourself what is the governing priority in your life. Not what it should be but what it is functionally. And don’t think about it too long because odds are your gut reaction answer to that question is the correct one.
But if you really struggle to identify your priority, perhaps consider looking at what fills your calendar, what appears on your credit card statements, and how you spend your free time. You may also consider asking a trusted friend what they think is truly your priority in life.
The late Dallas Willard was once asked what is needed to truly grow in spiritual maturity. His simple yet profound answer was “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”
We may have the right priority identified but it is functionally pushed down the list because we are so frantically rushed in getting from one thing to the next. So perhaps what we need in order to say yes to our greatest priority is to learn how to say no to things that may still be good.
If we get to a point where we can truly identify Jesus as our priority, then we need to find ways to continue making Him our priority. Maybe that looks like forming the specific and intentional habit of daily Bible reading.
A great way to start this would be to have a clear and specific answer to the questions of What, When, and Where. What will you read? When will you read? Where will you read? When we lay out specific answers to these questions for forming habits and making priorities, we significantly increase the chances of the habit sticking.
Another great resource would be to sign up for theFormed.life. When you sign up we will provide you with helpful resources and prompts to take small steps toward intentionally cultivating various spiritual habits in your life.
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We all feel busy, overwhelmed, stretched thin, and stressed. And I am convinced that so much of our problem with time and busyness is due to the fact that we don’t know how to prioritize. And we don’t know how to prioritize because we don’t know our priority.
The reason Jesus is to be our priority is because while we so often replace Him with lesser things, He replaced us on the cross with Himself that we might receive the life we long to live. A life that is not characterized by competing priorities but rather a life that is lived under the priority that shapes and forms every aspect of our lives.
How will you make Jesus your priority this year?
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.
Did you know if you attend Christ Community you have paid-for access to RightNow Media? RightNow media is like Netflix for Christians. There are a lot of options for the whole family. Take some time to explore these recommendations from each of our campuses.
Holly Justice – Brookside Campus
Last winter, several of our Bible Studies went through Matt Chandler’s Psalm 23 Study, a timely word on what it means to have soul rest in these times. It’s a verse by verse, slow walk through that Psalm, with a helpful study guide that is just the right length for busy adults. It’s great for Community Groups or a mens/womens study.
This fall, we are utilizing What the Women Saw and The Power to Change, and I’d recommend both for women’s studies.
What the Women Saw gives you the opportunity to hear from four different women of different races, ages, and teaching styles, but with a unified view of Scripture. They each unpack the value Jesus gave to women historically in the Bible, and that He still gives today. It features Sadie Robertson Huff, Jennie Allen, Bianca Juárez Olthoff, and Jada Edwards.
I love that The Power to Change has male and female teachers (Jennie Allen, Matt Chandler, and Oneka McClellan), which is a breath of fresh air for a branded “womens” study. There are testimony videos from women each week that are encouraging and relatable, and give hope that spiritual change is possible in your life.
Gabe Coyle – Downtown Campus
One resource I found extremely helpful and digestible from RightNow Media is How to Talk about Race & Privilege by Jada Edwards. In an 8-minute primer she gives guidance to those of various ethnicities about how to engage in thoughtful conversations across cultural lines. This is a great starting point for anyone who wants to begin these conversations.
Andrew Jones – Leawood Campus
This is an oldie but a goodie. In a time of increased loneliness and isolation, the message that we are designed for friendship with God is as important as it’s ever been. Hearing God with Dallas Willard is a deep dive into this conversation, taught by a tall tree of the faith.
Reid Kapple – Olathe Campus
Dr. Tony Evans is an outstanding Bible teacher and preacher who brings biblical scholarship, historical context, and personal experience together in Oneness Embraced, a deeply thoughtful and practical study on racial reconciliation. It is remarkable how much content Dr. Evans covers while still maintaining time for tangible steps and Kingdom principles that the church can apply. With a strong focus on understanding the theology of the Kingdom and justice implications of the gospel, Oneness Embraced provides a biblical guide to racial healing and harmony.
Katie Hollon – Shawnee Campus
Our family has utilized RightNow Medias kids shows more than any of their other resources. My kids have especially loved watching Superbook and Owlegories. We love that there is a resource with teaching about God and His word in a way that is fun, engaging, and age-appropriate.
Nathan Miller – Senior Pastor
I first heard these talks, Thriving in Babylon with Larry Osborne, live at a conference and found them so compelling I immediately bought and read the accompanying book. In a world as complex as ours with so much going on today, Pastor Larry Osborne offers helpful insight from the book of Daniel on how we too can thrive while living here in “Babylon”.