Journey to Nowhere

The Sacred Journey by Charles Foster



A promising premise—a call for the restoration of the spiritual journey—is fumbled by the author’s frequent foray into the territory of moral equivalence. Why Foster feels the need to make Hindu or Buddhist pilgrimage practice an example for Christians to follow escaped me as I read this volume. The frequent parallels give the book an uncomfortable tone and tend to overshadow the paragraphs in which Jesus actually makes an appearance.

Mr. Foster does make an important point regarding to Jesus that benefits the reader if it can be extracted from the text. The Lord was not sedentary, situating himself in the Temple and demanding that people ‘come to me’. Rather, He is a Lord of movement, of pilgrimage. His command is to “follow me”. He moves forward, taking message and the reality of the Kingdom to His chosen destination.

The Sacred Journey is a weak entry in The Ancient Practices series of books. Perhaps Mr. Foster was not the author to develop this volume, as his journeys appear to involve a lot of observation but little purpose other than some vaguely alluded to spiritual cleansing. As a travelogue, Anthony Bourdain’s viewers will enjoy the subtle mockery, but as a spiritual guide it brings nothing new to the conversation.

I’m grateful to Thomas Nelson publishers who provided this copy for review.

Practice Makes Possible

Finding Our Way Again by Brian McLaren

image“Everybody wants to go to heaven, nobody wants to die.” Peter Tosh

As the late Winston McIntosh said, we strive to possess things but often do not want to do the work necessary to attain them. Within in the realm of Christianity, this is visible in people who want a transformed character without doing all of the work necessary to attain it. Modern Evangelical culture nourishes this empty desire through its promotion of a church-centered spirituality wherein transformation is supposedly a product of attendance at church-sanctioned events. Apparently, it is to be passed via osmosis.

McLaren, in his introduction to The Ancient Practices Series, puts this mythology to rest. Finding Our Way Again spells out the objective of this series of spiritual formation books that are rooted in spiritual disciplines that have encouraged the character formation of millions of saints through the centuries. In the short chapters that follow, he surveys the topics that form the center of the individual volumes that focus on each in greater detail.

If you read Finding looking for detailed instruction in the formative practices you will be disappointed. Once McLaren has established the benefits and need for the disciplines, the chapters that survey are but an amuse-bouche, teasing you into a further exploration. His style is appealing, intertwining personal reflection, ancient patristic writings and clear benefits that derive from the integration of the spiritual disciplines into your life.

Many Evangelicals have developed a fear of McLaren due to his provocative approach to matters within the Christian community. Other than a few references that appear to impart a kind of equality amongst the Abrahamic faiths, there is nothing that should dissuade a broad readership for this volume. Finding Our Way serves as a useful index for the rest of the series, a book that you can return to again and again when searching for a new discipline to explore.

I am grateful to Thomas Nelson who supplied this book for review.

More Than Just Turning the Pages

According to Wycliffe Bible Translators, there are 168,000 bibles sold or given away each day. Over the course of a year, that amounts to sixty one million, three hundred and twenty thousand bibles that make their way into peoples hands annually.

The Gutenberg Bible was the first major book printed with movable type, starting a revolution in publishing and society that changed history.

The Barna polling organization says that 92% of American households have a Bible in them.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen (Genesis 1:1 .. Revelation 22:21 – the first and last verses in the Bible)

imageThere are thousands of interesting facts about the Bible. For example, it has 66 books written by 40 different authors over a span of about 1,500 years. These may be important facts to hold in our heads, they point out an important distinction that we need to bring to our bible reading. Knowing about the Bible is not the same as knowing the Bible.

Bible reading takes many forms in the church family, from not reading at all to those who have the Good Book virtually memorized, breaking down the text into a series of bible verses. The scope of the reading varies as well. Some read the Bible from cover to cover repeatedly, some never venture outside of New Testament while still others read only specific bible verses as they proof-text their way to the truth. While all reading of the Bible is beneficial, not all methods lead to the kind of spiritual growth we are meant to enjoy.

We’re interested in the kind of reading that adds to our spiritual depth and strength. For some of us, this is going to take the form of establishing a regular schedule of scripture reading. For others, a slower pace is required, perhaps camping on a single passage or verse for a few days or weeks and letting God speak meaning into our lives through the words. The important thing is that our reading becomes more than just turning the pages after the words have moved under our eyes. We’re seeking an encounter with God every time we open the book.

We’ll start in the next post with getting in the habit and sticking with it.

image Jamelah

The First Step on a Lifelong Journey


We all remember it, even if the name escapes us. The ‘abdominator’ or ‘muscleizer’ or something of that nature. It was a wide, flexible belt with electrodes attached to it that you wrapped around your expanding stomach. Turning it on, if you dared, sent electrical signals to your abdominal muscles causing them to dance and jerk, exercising themselves. Through this miracle device, you could remain slouched in your Lazyboy in front of the television with your favorite beverage and, with enough time and twitches, you would emerge with rock-hard abs. All gain, no pain!

Except, it never worked. You were still flabby and thirty dollars poorer.

If you want to get in better physical condition you have to move. You have to get off the couch, put down the soda and chips and take the dog for a walk. There is no magical way to have the physique and health that you want, you have to work for it. Late-night television and the glossy images on the newsstand will attempt to tell you otherwise, but the facts can’t be disputed. A healthy body requires a healthy life.

Christians often labor under a similar misconception. We think that by appearing in church on Sunday, consuming a sermon and then returning to life we will be transformed. We want a faith like the people we hear about in those bible stories, a faith that can carry us through the tough times. Every so often, we even feel a little tug to change the world.

Except, it doesn’t work.

Rather than a trim, powerful, world-changing faith, we have a soft, casual, private religion that affects our lives very little, and the world even less. The faith we want and that we were intended to have doesn’t come through osmosis. It doesn’t mystically appear by listening to sermons or listening to radio programs. It takes work and devotion, and there are no shortcuts.

That’s why you’re here.

The gift of salvation that you have received is much more than a fire insurance policy. It is meant to be transformative in your life so that you, in turn, will be transformative to the world around you. The Spirit within you craves solid food. He does not want to continue to subsist on milk alone, and His urgings will not let you simply ‘be’.

Together, we’re going to begin a renewed journey of spiritual strength training. We’re going to be exploring the variety of spiritual tools and practices that have proven to produce fruit through the centuries. We’ll talk about and create community around it. You and I will praise Him for the growth we see, and He will be pleased at the transformation we bring to the world. We will be what He intended for us to be.

Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.  1 Corinthians 9:24-25

Life With God 6

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Heb 10:24 – 25

The third component of the trio of intentional approaches to reading the Bible proposed by Richard Foster in Life With God is the practice of reading with the people of God. In tandem with reading the Bible with our hearts and minds, the fullness of spiritual formation is realized when we bring to bear the experiences of the whole of the Christian community on our reading practices. We do not stand alone as followers of Christ, we are members of an extended family who can be enriched by seeing the truths of the Bible through the passions and perspectives of others. We read through the experiences of others, knowing their stories and immersing ourselves in their lives.

The Christian community has recognized the value of reading together throughout its history. We have all benefitted from the lives of others as we are cognizant that we are all in this life together. Korean believers teach us about prayer, the persecuted church enriches our perspective on faithful endurance, and Africans offer their unique perspective reconciliation. These are among the experiences that contribute to our understanding of the kingdom message and aid in our spiritual transformation as their reality puts meat to the bones of the experiences in the pages of our bible. These experiences are conveyed through a number of traditions that are seen through the centuries.

The Contemplative Tradition

Christians have a long history of reaching into the deep well of God’s grace through a prayer filled life. The more time we spend in the presence of God in prayer the greater extent to which His grace and goodness will permeate our lives. Like the others, prayer is but one component of whole of Christian life and is not meant for most to be practiced to the detriment of our social justice calling.

The Holiness Tradition

Far from the impression of morality police that the title suggests, disciples of Christ are called to a holiness of heart. Jesus was rightly critical of God’s people who hearts had become darkened as they practiced and enforced moral scrupulousness as a measure of the spirituality. We are transformed from within and it is a changed heart that turns toward God, not simply ethical practices.

The Charismatic Tradition

Contrary to church divisions that diminished the whole of the gifts of the spirit depending on their outward expression, the life filled with the Spirit as Jesus describes in John 7:37-39. The streams which will emanate from the spirit-filled believer will take numerous forms from which we can learn and benefit. We know that the gifts are not evenly distributed but rather, given to specific members within the community for the good of the whole. To silence some gifts is to exclude some members from full participation in our community.

The Social Justice Tradition

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8-9

Clearly God expects His agents to be active in the ways in which He chooses to right the wrongs of our broken world. We do well to consider that one of the reasons that the new heavens and new earth tarry is that God elects for us to serve His purposes of righting these things rather than simply applying His own supernatural intervention. Our purpose is to promote the Shalom that is only truly possible through Jesus, to be truly at peace with both God and man. This tradition helps us to temper the exclusivity that can be generated through holiness being translated as personal morality. That morality must also be measured by its impact on social justice.

The Evangelical Tradition

The evangelical tradition is more than a label, it is a mission statement. Prior to Christ, the good news of the kingdom was mediated through God’s chosen people. They fell into purely human traps that obscured the message. Jesus threw the doors open once again and invited all people into the kingdom to be a part of its life. The evangelical tradition contributes an emphasis on personal conversion, fidelity to the Word, and evangelism and discipleship. These bring structure to the Christian life but can never do so at the expense of the seeking of Shalom or the expression of the gifts.

The Incarnational Tradition

To be incarnational is to allow the life of God within to be seen in outward expression. Can you be seen by others to be a child of God without words? Transformation of our hearts changes our facade, tearing it down and restoring to other eyes the image of God that was a part of the original design.

Reading with others is much more than simply taking turns in our small group settings, it is inviting the experiences and ideas of others to contribute to our understanding of the kingdom message in the Bible. It shifts and sharpens our reading lens, giving us new perspectives on the ancient texts. God has formulated these experiences to contribute to the dynamic transformation of His people, transforming us into the image that he originally intended and preparing us for an eternity together. How have these experiences contributed to your spiritual transformation? Can you contribute something that will help a brother or sister grow today?

Life With God 5

The reader of Foster’s Life With God might be surprised when they turn the page to chapter five and find the topic, ‘Reading with the Mind.’ This seems at first contrary to the theme of reading with the heart for spiritual formation but a little exploration leads us to discover that reading with the mind is not simply reading for the acquisition and collection of information. It is reading for understanding so that you and I can discover our place in great span of God’s redemptive story. As we engage the messy, complicated, roller coaster story in the scriptures, we find pieces of information that help us to understand who God is, how He interacts with His people, and our individual and corporate purposes in His plan.

We do not want our reading efforts to lead to the amassing of spiritually dead information that leads to pride but no transformation. This was one of the major critiques that Jesus voiced of the religious professionals of his day. They were intellectually deep, knowing the text inside out in all of its nuances but the Spirit was missing. The words were dead without the life giving Spirit of God and lead no one to a transformative experience. In our lives, we read the words under the supervision of Holy Spirit who brings the text to life showing us how to apply and understand the words.

We encounter several genres and a huge historical span of time as we immerse ourselves in the scriptures and find not a systematic and ordered presentation but instead, a messy, complex story of humanity in the presence of God. Recalling the Immanuel Principle is a lens that can focus the hundreds and thousands of lives that we encounter. God says “I am with you” and we read of the lives lived in response to the question, “Will you be with me?” The answers that we see are the struggles that each of us faces in life and the different ways that people have responded to God’s graceful invitation.

How does your Bible reading fit into this idea? Do you memorize bits and pieces of scripture that might pull the verse(s) out of their context? The Old Testament in particular can be a violent story. Does this make you avoid this part of book thinking that it has little application for modern life? I’d love to hear what everyone thinks.