Are you a Sinner, Believer, Skeptic, or Mystic?

In the previous post I talked through M. Scott Peck’s 4 Stages of Spiritual Development. In this post I am going to talk about each Stage  from a Christian perspective and also talk about the progression from one to the other.

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Life in Stage One

If we were to apply a title to Stage One from the Christian vernacular, the only word that fits is Sinner. In this stage we primary live for ourselves and do what is right in our own eyes without much thought to God or anyone else. Our lives are entirely self-centered, our relationships unstable and unhealthy, and our primary view of the world is that of competition for scarce resources. It is “us” against “them” and them is everyone else in the world.

Transitioning to Stage Two

Transitioning from Stage One to Stage Two often happens at a young age and is typically forced. After enough spankings, time outs, talks, or other consequences, the willful toddler realizes it is easier to obey their parents than fight them. As applied to God, the Sinner realizes that stubbornly going their own way works against their best interest. It is actually to their benefit to submit to God and Christ and begin following the commands and principles of Scripture. At this point, they transition to Stage Two and become Believers.

Life in Stage Two

Believers are model citizens and great people to have in Church. They listen, learn, and obey out of a sense of duty and obligation. They serve with great commitment, if not great passion, and tend to lose sight of themselves in their quest to be “good.” These people can best be described as “Religious” in the good and bad shades of meaning that word carries. They are typically hard working people who want to be good and believe that drawing closer to God consists of doing more good stuff and less bad stuff. They are typically concerned with Hell and Judgement and, being the good people that they are, they want everyone they care about to be saved. Unfortunately, this appeal often comes off as pushy and judgmental. There is an unavoidable sense of elitism in Believers, because, ultimately, they believe they know better than everyone else. They are, after all, in the “in” crowd of salvation, and everyone who isn’t a Believer is necessarily outside of that group. This “black and white” thinking is characteristic of Stage Two.

Transitioning to Stage Three

At some point, honest Believers come to realize that what they have been taught in Church doesn’t always line up with reality. They begin to realize there is a lot of prejudice and naiveté attached to church dogma and that their faith is no longer helping them navigate the world in an honest manner. It often feels like Believers have to choose between doing what is “right” and doing what “works”. People in late Stage Two tend to be very quiet Christians. They may or may not attend Church regularly, but they almost never talk about God outside of those walls. At some level they are deeply uncertain about the matters of faith they once deemed of utmost importance. They begin asking questions like: Does God really exist? Are my friends who aren’t Believers really going to Hell? Does ___________ behavior really mean that someone isn’t saved or isn’t going to Heaven? Is the Bible really true? What about science, or even other religions? Aren’t we all trying to live good lives?

     At some point, these late Stage Two Believers transition into Stage Three, Skepticism. This is often unsettling for the individual, their family, and their faith community. Many times this happens during the person’s 20’s and 30’s. Going a way to College is typically a huge factor for many people. After all, a College’s main function is to challenge our beliefs about the world and find out what is really true. Many people, placidly in Stage Two, have never had to defend or even think about their faith. And after being confronted with other ways of viewing the world, they slide out of their religious belief and into skepticism. 

Life in Stage Three (please see footnote at the end of this article)

It is important to reiterate that the transition to Stage Three represents spiritual growth. Now, that is not to say that a cocky, 20-something Skeptic is more mature or closer to God than an 84 year old Believer, but it is important to validate that losing your Religion (limiting Stage Two beliefs) is sometimes the best thing you can do. 

Many people get freaked out when someone moves from Stage Two into Stage Three, and for good reason. There is no reason to believe that someone in Stage Three would be saved if they died. They have, after all, walked away from Jesus, the Church, and everything else they formerly believed to be true. They are finding their own way now, discovering what they believe to be true about the world from first hand experience, not from a pulpit or religious text. 

Stage Three people are my favorite. After all, it was their honesty and integrity that brought them to this point. They couldn’t reconcile what they had learned about God with what they knew of the world, so they decided to take the courageous step of being true to their convictions and leave behind everything that was safe, comfortable, and familiar. They sacrificed relationships and community in their search for truth. I find that noble and encouraging. 

Many people, knowing what is at stake if they abandon Stage Two, never make the leap. They stay Believers, but are increasing bored and lukewarm. They move into a place where the treat the Gospel like fire insurance. They pay their dues in tithes and attendance in exchange for the certainty that they will go to Heaven when they die. That is a painful place to live.

But folks in Stage Three have burned their bridges and entered a whole new world. They are still looking for an ultimate authority to shape their view of the world, so they typically turn to science, mathematics, philosophy, and their own experience. They become Skeptics who must be convinced, debaters for whom each term must be precisely defined. They reject the notion of absolute or objective Truth in favor of Relativism. They place their own experiences and opinions on par with religion, because what is to say their insights aren’t just as profound? 

Eventually, true Stage Three Skeptics begin questioning the questions that led them into Stage Three in the first place. They begin to explore the idea of spirituality. They typically reject the idea of organized religion, but they begin to open themselves the notion of an impersonal God or Cosmic Force. They are no longer concerned with wether or not there is a Heaven or Hell, instead, they are looking for life and fulfillment.

People in late Stage Three tend to be those who describe themselves at “spiritual, but not religious.” They might dabble in several religions/philosophies or might have even concocted their own by drawing together the pieces of other religions they find appealing. At this point, they are open to the idea of a god, or at least some sort of energy that is beyond us, but haven’t settled on Christ. This is where God loves to show up.

Transitioning to Stage Four

The transition from late Stage Three to Stage Four often takes place during an encounter. They might be going for a walk in the mountains and then, bam!, they are having a vision of Jesus or feeling the manifest Presence of God. Or maybe it is a dream or angelic visitation. For C. S. Lewis it was a ride in the sidecar of his brother’s motorbike. Whatever the case may be, this experience proves to them the reality of a personal God and they begin seeking Him again. Almost always, this ends up with God leading them to the revelation that Jesus is the Christ.

Life in Stage Four

Stage Four people are known as Mystics. Like Believers, they believe in the existence of God, the Lordship of Jesus, the authority of the Bible, and the need for people to be in connection with God to experience all that life has to offer. Unlike Believers, Mystics don’t feel the need to push their beliefs and experiences onto others. Strangely, they might believe in Heaven and Hell more strongly than a Believer does, but they don’t feel the same sense of urgency. They have what some have called a holy indifference.

Mystics trust the timing and leadership of God. They trust that everyone is on a journey and that we only need to concern ourselves with living the life that is in front of us. Believers tend to interpret a Mystic’s trust in God and refusal to push their beliefs on others as being “wishy washy” or, horror of horrors, “liberal”. Believers are so caught up in the crusade of righteousness and conformity that they can’t comprehend something like Grace. 

Mystics are primarily concerned with pointing the arrow of their heart towards God, growing in love and connection with Him. They also have an interest in guiding others along the path of growth. Mystics see God in everything, and are continually awed by God’s glory and generosity. For a Mystic, there is no divide between sacred and secular. There is simply what is, and they know that God is in the midst of it. 

While many Mystics do come back to the Church, they never seem to fit in the way the Believers want them to. They aren’t as prone to spout Bible verses or argue about doctrine. This leads some to believe wether they are really saved. But Mystics don’t care. Their world is increasingly enriched by encounters with a Good God who is far more communicative than they had dared to hope. 

I don’t know wether or not being a Mystic is the last Stage or not. There might be many more. But for now, these Stages make sense for me and I hope they offer you some insight, clarity, and reassurance as well. 

Cheers to being on a journey my friends!     labyrinth1.jpg

Footnote:

Life in Stage Three is complex and varied. There are a huge number of ways people can go Stage Three. The emotional range can vary from anger to sadness to joy to disappointment. The beliefs of Stage Three can range from atheism to agnosticism to other religions to remaining Christian. The presentation of Stage Three in this article is a stereotype that most Christians in Stage Two have of people who go Stage Three. 

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The 4 Stages of Spiritual Development

The journey towards spiritual maturity has several different stages. Each stages has its own benefits and drawbacks and transitioning from one stage to another is difficult, often requiring a lot of spiritual, emotional, cognitive, and relational work. But for anyone following Jesus, it is important that we understand the landscape of spirituality so that we can better know how to progress from one stage to another, and not get too freaked out when someone goes to Stage 3.

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M. Scott Peck is the psychologist who developed the Four Stage Theory of Spiritual Development. Peck was a clinical psychologist who observed a number of contradictory things in his clients. Among them was the observation that some of his client’s mental and physical health improved dramatically when they left organized religion while others only improved after finding a deeper sense of spirituality. In order to reconcile these seemingly opposite growth patterns, Peck developed the 4 Stage Theory.

The 4 Stages of Spiritual Development

The following definitions are drawing from M. Scott Peck’s Wikipedia page. 

  • Stage One is chaotic, disordered, and reckless. Very young children are in Stage I. They tend to defy and disobey, and are unwilling to accept a will greater than their own. They are extremely egoistic and lack empathy for others. Many criminals are people who have never grown out of Stage I.
  • Stage Two is the stage at which a person has blind faith in authority figures and sees the world as divided simply into good and evil, right and wrong, us and them. Once children learn to obey their parents and other authority figures, often out of fear or shame, they reach Stage II. Many so-called religious people are essentially Stage II people, in the sense that they have blind faith in God, and do not question His existence. With blind faith comes humility and a willingness to obey and serve. The majority of good, law-abiding citizens never move out of Stage II.
  • Stage Three is the stage of scientific skepticism and questioning. A Stage III person does not accept things on faith but only accepts them if convinced logically. Many people working in scientific and technological research are in Stage III. They often reject the existence of spiritual or supernatural forces since these are difficult to measure or prove scientifically. Those who do retain their spiritual beliefs, move away from the simple, official doctrines of fundamentalism.
  • Stage Four is the stage where an individual starts enjoying the mystery and beauty of nature and existence. While retaining skepticism, he starts perceiving grand patterns in nature and develops a deeper understanding of good and evil, forgiveness and mercy, compassion and love. His religiousness and spirituality differ significantly from that of a Stage II person, in the sense that he does not accept things through blind faith or out of fear, but does so because of genuine belief, and he does not judge people harshly or seek to inflict punishment on them for their transgressions. This is the stage of loving others as yourself, losing your attachment to your ego, and forgiving your enemies. Stage IV people are labeled as Mystics.

Peck didn’t write for a Christian audience, so in another post I will adapt his Stages to the Christian journey. Nonetheless, I believe Peck has a lot to offer us on our journey of connecting with God and becoming more like Christ

Assuming you buy into Peck’s theory, where would you place yourself in his Stages?

Strengths of Peas and Pumpkins

This post is a continuation of last week’s musing on the cultural DNA of people and congregations. Just to bring everyone up to speed, I’m defining “Pea” and “Pumpkin” as follows:

Definitions

Pea – a person or congregation that primarily values deep friendship; high levels of involvement and commitment; and structural freedom under the leadership of Holy Spirit.

Pumpkin – a person or congregation that primarily values technical excellence; cultural and/or institutional change; and meeting people where they are in order to shepherd them.

Implications

Because of the immense value placed on relational connectivity, Peas congregations tend to be small. This means that everyone needs to pull their own weight (financially, volunteering, pitching in) or else the congregation cannot sustain itself. Therefore, the people that gravitate to and remain in Pea congregations enjoy having a place where they can offer what they have. Peas also tend to have a very concentrated culture which the congregation loves, but that visitors/outsiders may or may not resonate with. Typically, if an outsider is going to “hook up” with the congregation, it means they are going to adjust themselves to the group, rather than the other way around.

On the other hand, Pumpkin congregations tend to be large because they do certain things very well. They are essentially the McDonalds of Christianity. (I mean that in the best way possible.) What I mean by that is this. No matter where you are in the world, if you step into a McDonalds, you know basically what to expect. It is going to be clean, friendly and the kids will have a place to play. The food will be just what you expect — nothing crazy. Pumpkins excel at franchising because a large percentage of the population expects certain things from the Church and Pumpkins deliver. This allows the Pumpkins to live out their primary desire — cultural/institutional change. Because they have such a large group of people gathered together around a central purpose, it is easy for Pumpkins to mobilize people for change.

Strengths

Implicit in the descriptions above are certain strengths and weaknesses. Because I am heavily biased towards being a Pea, it is easy for me to see the strengths of Peas and the weaknesses of Pumpkins. HOWEVER, I’ve come to realize that both are needed in order to advance the Good News of the Risen and Returning King Jesus. Just as the Navy SEALS and the Army are on the same team, so are we. We each hold down different positions, but the fact remains — we need each other.

I’m only going to cover the Strengths of each type of congregation today, mostly because I’d like us to focus on celebrating what is RIGHT about each design. We can focus on the weaknesses of each model a different time.

Peas – Peas excel at unpacking people’s potential. In a small group devoted to relational connection it is almost impossible to hide. Eventually, someone is going to ask what you are passionate about, what you have to offer. Then, in a healthy Pea community, someone is going to find you a place to display your gifts. Because the bonds of the community are love and relationship, it is OK if your passion doesn’t display a high level of excellence immediately. Because people see your heart and love you for who you are, Pea congregations allow people to develop their gifts. Peas are wonderful starting places.

Peas also specialize in mobilizing people around a specific mission. Being small, the overhead costs are low and a significant percentage of resources can be directed towards doing the thing God has called that group of people to do. There tends to be very little internal politicking and backbiting because each member of the pod (see what I did there?) has a high level of operating autonomy — they have the freedom AND responsibility AND authority they need to do what they think is best for their situation.

Boiling this down, Peas excel at loving and developing individuals and getting them to live out their God given design by providing opportunities to serve.

Pumpkins – Pumpkins inspire people in ways that Peas do not. There is something about gathering together with a huge group of people to worship God that moves the human heart. Because Pumpkins tend to rely on a small staff of highly skilled professionals, the general experience of the congregation is that of rest and refreshment. In a Pea, you will likely be serving in some capacity on Sunday morning. However, in a Pumpkin, you can rest. You can serve if you want, but typically there are loads of people already in place.

Because Pumpkins are large enough to have multiple people on staff, they also offer specialist positions. This means that the children will likely have a Pastor whose full-time  job is to nurture and develop them. It also means that other niche ministries will be available — Divorce Care, AA, Celebrate Recovery, Living Waters, etc. Each of these niches, overseen by a professional, will operate smoothly with a high degree of excellence.

Pumpkins excel at culturalizing new believers. If someone is new to following Jesus and goes to a Pumpkin church, it is very easy for them to establish a whole new rhythm of life. Church on Sunday, Bible Study on Tuesday, Youth Group on Wednesday, Men’s Group on Saturday… It is sort of like how AA requires people to go to 90 meetings in 90 days – they are trying to develop of new way of interacting with people and meeting needs.

To recap, Pumpkins do a great job of inspiring and mobilizing people. They provide a number of different ministries to meet different needs and each one is done well. Pumpkins provide a place to rest and receive and also to serve when the time is right.

That is all I have for now. Thanks for reading friends.

Ben

Pea or Pumpkin?

largest-pumpkin

Pictured above is the world’s largest pumpkin at 2,624 pounds. I can’t imagine the effort that went in to growing something that large. The amount of fertilizer, space, and forethought needed to grow something to that size and transport it to a competition blows my mind.

Now the question. If given the same amount of fertilizer and attention, would a pea plant produce a pea of equal size?

The answer, of course, is no. Peas are genetically programmed to grow more vine and make more pods when extra resources are available, whereas a pumpkin will continue to grow as long as it is attached.

While an interesting biological phenomenon, it gets even more fascinating when we cross domains and start applying the same concept to the Church.

Some congregations are Pumpkins. Some congregations are Peas. Each person is wired to prefer and function best in one environment or the other. Neither is better than the other, but if you are a Pea in a Pumpkin congregation you will never feel at home. At best you will find your own Pea community within the larger congregation and do your thing. At worst you will criticize the fact that resources seem to be constantly expanded to make larger facilities and grow the Sunday morning service instead of being invested in outreach, evangelism and spiritual formation.

Likewise, if you are a Pumpkin in a Pea congregation, you will be chomping at the bit to grow. You will never understand why the Pastor tamps down your big ideas or how people can be content to sit and talk to the same group of people each week and sit through a mediocre service.

While I am a Pea to my core, I’ve not always realized it. Like most Peas caught up in a Pumpkin culture that glorifies size and spectacle, I bought in to the idea that healthy things grow. What I wasn’t aware of was that this Pumpkin-proverb was only half true. Yes, healthy things grow, but only according to a set point determined by their genetics.

My son will likely be a tall man. At this stage in his life, his health is measured by his growth. But he will reach a threshold in adolescence where he achieves full stature. At that point, his health is no longer correlated with his height. Any attempt to gain more height after that point will be futile, if not dangerous.

Scroll back up and look at that pumpkin. It is huge. Would you call it healthy? Would you call it beautiful?

I wouldn’t. I’d say it was forced to grow beyond its limits. It even started to collapse under its own weight. I’d say that was a good thing taken to a twisted extreme.

That pumpkins are bigger than peas is a good thing. The reverse is true as well.

My next post will look at the strengths, weaknesses and challenges of each model. Until then, thanks for reading friend.

Ben

Discipline Versus Willpower

At the turn of the year I was the heaviest I’d ever been. Looking at myself in the mirror and my son next to me, I knew I needed to change – for his sake and mine. I knew I needed more than a diet. I knew I needed an overhaul of my life’s systems. I knew I needed to become a different person on the inside in order to look different on the outside. Thus began a systematic upgrading of my habits.

For instance, I’ve never eaten much for breakfast. Coffee has been about it. That works for some people, but it left me vulnerable to snacking in mid-morning and eating junk food for the rest of the day. Rather than look for the “perfect” breakfast, I simply decided to start eating food that I knew I could eat every day: sausage egg bake, coffee, powdered greens, and fish oil. I worked to make that automatic, and now it is.

I also knew that I needed to have food on hand that would make my food choices easy. Having soup for lunch in the winter time simplified things. However, making two egg bakes and a batch of soup a week required planning and cooking in advance. Thus the creation of a new system – prepping food on Sunday afternoons after church.

I’ve also added in working out and getting up earlier in the morning to the mix. Progress has been steady, but I’m more pleased at my consistency with my new habits. As much as I like goals, systems are more important.

This focus on systems has made a significant difference in my life. I don’t feel the need to step on the scale every day in order to get a self-esteem boost because I’m focused on lifestyle change rather than bodyweight. I’m more focused on becoming a better person than I am on achieving certain short term goals. Trusting a process rather than pursuing goals is new territory for me. I like it.

I’ve been ruminating on the ideas of discipline and willpower for a little while. Here are some thoughts I hope will interest you.

Discipline is the ability to submit current desires to future goals. Discipline is the ability to sacrifice short term comfort for long term reward. Discipline is a lifestyle, not a resource.

Willpower is the ability to make yourself do something you don’t want to do. Willpower is a finite resource that is drained throughout the day by every decision we make. Willpower, while important, is fallible and should not be relied upon in order to live the life you want to live.

Discipline is sustained through a combination of habits, routines, and structures. While willpower is often needed to get these systems up and running, they are intended to transition to autopilot fairly quickly. Discipline is the systematic upgrading of our habits, routines, and structures and results in an increased quality of life.

I like who I am when I am living a disciplined life. I don’t like who I am when I just go with the flow. I enjoy making myself do something that I have decided is good for me. I like leading myself through conscious decisions rather than through spontaneous desire.

If 50% of my behavior is going to be on autopilot, then I want to ensure that those habits are as good as they can be. I want to leverage my brain’s laziness to my advantage. I want to have systems in place that allow me to be excellent by providing a solid foundation of nutrition, health, and energy. I’m far from perfect in this regard, but I plan on updating this thread throughout the year in order to share what I’ve learned.

Thanks for reading friends.

Ben

Self-publishing: What I Will Do Differently Next Time

I loved my experience with self-publishing, from start to finish. I enjoyed seeing all of the different pieces, knowing what I did and didn’t do, and being able to look back and make things better. My 46 day break-neck pace was a great learning experience, but not something I will shoot for in the future.

I’ve been enjoying bullet point lists lately, so please excuse my indulgence in this post. 🙂

Things I will do differently next time:

  • Write a much longer rough draft. When panning for gold you have better chances with more raw material.
  • Do more rigorous self-editing. I heard this just recently from someone: “First, edit for yourself – it has to be fun for you. Next, edit for your audience in order to provide them something of value. Last, edit for your critics. What might they say to pick apart your argument? How can you preempt them?”
  • A/B test book titles and covers. I plan on doing some Google AdWords campaigns and looking into some testing sites.
  • Marketing. The best book in the world doesn’t benefit anyone if they don’t hear about it and feel compelled to pick it up.

Other thoughts:

  • I don’t think I will do an e-book again. As an author, I know that when people purchase a book, they are buying ideas, insights and wisdom. The form those things take shouldn’t matter. But it does. The most popular price for e-books on Amazon is $3.99. Much like Walmart, Amazon subscribes to a volume-based approach to sales. They wants a plethora of cheap products and make money by moving large amounts. This doesn’t help out authors, however. Amazon also forces you into certain programs in order to get the highest tier royalty package. While great for Amazon customers, this undermines sales for authors.
  • I’m still not going to build an email list. It seems like all of my Facebook advertisements now are for how to build an email list in order to distribute products. I didn’t do one for my first launch, and I am hesitant to ever do one. I have a junk email I use for all of the websites that ask for my email before they give me the things they promised. This, along with drip marketing campaigns, leaves a bad taste in my mouth. So after thinking about it for awhile, I ultimately rejected the idea.

I think self-publishing is valuable. I’m even working on another book. However, I’ve become much more interested in Amazon’s Create Space company rather than Kindle Direct Publishing. Create Space allows for a wide range of art to be produced. I’m looking forward to exploring it more.

Thanks for reading,

Ben

Making Time to Write

It is impossible to find time to write. As with any meaningful activity, you must make time. If I live in a passive or reactive mode, my time will always be filled with the needs of other people or my own base desires. It is only when I choose to proactively assert myself that I can get anything done.

I choose to write from the time I put my son to bed until I go to bed. This gives me 1.5 to 3 hours every evening to think and write. I will occasionally have meetings or other social engagements that take up that time, but I can generally count on being in my study at least 3 nights a week.  I’ve found that 2 to 3 hours is about my max for really intense and focused concentration.

I’m also finding that I must steward my attention better if I’m going to be a productive writer. Time is meaningless without attention. I’ve saved myself a lot of distraction by not having the internet in my home, but I’m also finding that I need to be better about protecting my attention during the day. I recently watched a TED Talk by Dr. Cal Newport called Quit Social Media and have been inspired to guard my attention more carefully.

I also find that writing is more appealing when I know what I’m going to write about. Sitting down at my desk with a blank piece of paper and an internal void is a recipe for disaster. So whether it is the Snowflake method or Self Publishing School’s Mind Map –> Organize –> Write  method, I always try to know what I’m going to write about and what I want to say about it. This isn’t always the case. In fact, sometimes I plan out one writing session and end up writing about something totally unrelated, but I don’t mind. The plan is there for next time.

Discipline is the seed bed of inspiration. I don’t always feel like writing, but once I start I can almost always get excited about it. If I’m still not excited after 20 minutes of writing then I give myself permission to quit. I grabbed this idea from my weightlifting career. Sometimes your body feels tired and is lying. Sometimes your body feels tired and really does need rest. But the only way to know for sure is to show up and start working. Some of my greatest workouts were the ones I wanted to skip because of feeling “tired.” Sometimes “tired” is just a fear of greatness, a self-defense mechanism designed to keep us in line with the status quo. Showing up and doing the work is the cure.

For the aspiring writers out there, here are my takeaways:

  • Make time to write. You will never find it.
  • Creative work is best done in 2-3 hour chunks. It can’t be cobbled together in spare moments.
  • Discipline is critical to your success. Make writing a habit.
  • No matter how you feel, show up and do the work.
  • Know what you are going to write about in advance.
  • Guard your attention zealously.
  • Writing and editing are two very different experiences and shouldn’t be combined.

Self Publishing School

I’ve wanted to be an author since my mom first read me The Chronicles of Narnia when I was in third or fourth grade. I marveled at how words could conjure up images and emotions and communicate ideas. When we first got an in-home computer, one of the first things I learned to do was use the word processor. I’m pretty sure my first book idea was a series called The Unicorn Chronicles. I don’t think that is ever going to make it to print…

Since that time, the idea of being a writer has always bubbled in the back of my mind. Starting this blog was one attempt to satisfy that desire, but it didn’t quite hit the spot. Then I stumbled across Self Publishing School on Facebook.

For the price of my email address, I received an ebook called Book Launch and a four-part video teaching series designed to help me write and self-publish an ebook. I listened to the first video and read the book in an afternoon. I was so fired up afterwards that I started typing that same evening.

Chandler Bolt, the founder of Self Publishing School, made writing and publishing simple and clear. He broke down the different phases into the perfect size – not too small as to seem tedious, and not so large as to discourage execution. He made the whole process seem entirely doable. And it was.

I wrote the rough draft for Doing Good While Doing Well: Where Faith and Finance Meet in 10 days, from Nov. 17 through Nov. 27, 2016. Start to finish, from blank page to available in the Amazon store, the whole process took 46 days. Now, I will be the first to admit that my book is not the most amazing book you will ever read. But it is short, actionable, and filled with information that has been transformative for me.

My goal in writing DGWDW was to build my writing chops and demystify the whole self-publishing process. Chandler’s book was a great help with that. The quote that stuck with me and helped push me through such a blistering pace was “Done is better than perfect.” As someone who has dreamed of becoming an author for a long time, this was the perfect set up for me to succeed. Going through the process has only increased my desire to write because I now know how easy it is to get books out and in circulation.

For anyone who dreams of becoming a published author, Self Publishing School is the way to go. While I did not pay to go through the 90 course, I think it would be valuable if you feel like you need someone to help you clarify your ideas and hold your hand through the process. If you have a pretty clear idea of what you want to write about, and have the self-discipline to make yourself do it, the ebook Book Launch is enough.

I loved the process and am eager for more.

I look forward to reading your work soon.

Ben

Doing Good While Doing Well

Hello everyone! Happy New Year!

I’m kicking things off with a bang this year and announcing my first book, Doing Good While Doing Well: Where Faith and Finance Meet. It is FREE in the Kindle Bookstore until Thursday, January 5 at 6:00pm CST. I’ve been working on this for the last month and a half and it has been a whirlwind. Today, I’m going to focus on explaining the book a little bit, and the next couple days I will focus on my process. My goal is to inspire anyone out there who has a goal of writing a book to do it, this year.

What the book is about

This book started as a compilation of notes for my congregation’s financial sermon series, which we do every January. It then morphed into an ebook after a friend of mine turned me on to the Self Publishing School (more on them later). I was so inspired by their material I decided to give it a go.

DGWDW is comprised of two parts: Theology and Praxis. In the Theology section I explore some of Jesus’ teachings about money. It was really important to me to cover both the positive and negative teachings on money because it seems that, all too often, we gravitate towards one side or the other. I chose to follow in the Vineyard tradition of pursuing “the radical middle,” so both viewpoints in tension throughout the book.

The Theology section can be summed up in the following sentences. Money is a form of power. How we use and think about money reveals our character. The best use of money is to help those that are in need. Large amounts of money threaten to distort our view of ourselves, other people, and other people’s motives. Therefore, we must always strive to find our security, significance, and self-worth in God rather than money. Handling money well grows in us certain skill sets and mind sets that are valuable and necessary in God’s Kingdom.

The Praxis section is where we get into the gritty details of money management. We begin with an overview of cash flow adapted from Robert Kiyosaki’s book Rich Dad, Poor Dad and then build upon that framework. I offer some financial goals to pursue as well as a plan for getting there. The section called “Clarity” helps you explore your reasons for pursuing wealth and clarify your actual goals and desires. I end with a step-by-step guide to putting the whole book into practice.

What I hope will happen

As a pastor, the number one thing I see holding people back from extravagant devotion to God is money. People can’t go into missions because of student loans. People can’t start a business because they don’t have the resources. People don’t give to the causes they care about because they don’t have any money leftover.

My hope is that, by putting the ideas expressed in my book into practice, those limiting factors will go away. My hope is that people will get a firm hold on their finances and be able to quickly divorce their income from their labor so that they can do the things God has called them to do. But, ultimately, my hope is that people will embrace the call to discipleship I articulate in the book.

I almost named this book The Crucible of Wealth because I am so enamored with how God uses money to refine and reveal our character. Becoming wealthy is a challenge and it often reveals our prejudices and insecurities. When we are able to address those facets of sin head on, in partnership with Holy Spirit, wonderful things take place. In the grand scheme of things, money is insignificant. However, the things we do with money are eternally significant. Every time a dollar comes into our possession we have an opportunity to grow and mature. I find that endlessly exciting.

I hope you benefit from reading my book. If you do, would you please let me know? I’d love to compile your thoughts and comments so that I can continue to refine my message and help people in the future.

As always, thanks for reading.

Ben

P.S. In case you missed the bolded words above, my book is FREE until Thursday, January 5 @ 6:oopm CST. Grab your free copy here.

The Holiday Slow Down

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“I think [you] need [to do] a sermon or blog on HOW TO SLOW DOWN for Advent.  I heard you describe Advent as the time we slow down to remember Jesus’s first coming and I feel a smirk form on my face.  Because it is ironic that the holidays and December is THE busiest time of year!  SLOW DOWN??? Ha!”

I got this text message from a friend of mine this morning. Not only did it make me bust up laughing, it also got me thinking – this is the busiest time of year for most of us, and sometimes the most depressing. We always have such high hopes for spending time with our family, savoring the candlelight and special moments… and by the time Christmas is over we’re saying “Thank God that is done with for another year!” Most of us want to slow down for the Holidays, but life rarely accommodates those desires. In this post I’ll offer a few thoughts on the matter.

Life will never slow down, you have to make the time

First, and most important, is the realization that there will never be an opportune time to slow down. Sure, back in the day when everyone was dependent upon daylight and warm temperatures to work we were able to take the Winter off for the most part, but that is no longer the case. While we, as humans, were designed to thrive in seasonal ebb and flow, that is not the world we live in, unless we choose to. Just like working out, or any other Important But Not Urgent activity, slowing down is something you have to schedule in. It is a huge pain in the butt to start, but once you’re in the routine it is hard to imagine how you ever functioned without it.

Silence is Sacred

If you really want to slow down your life enough to savor the season and become a new person, you are going to have to find time for silence – alone or as a family. As the father to a toddler who likes to be up early, I have two options if I want Silence. I can either turn on Daniel Tiger and take a 20 minute break in the dining room or I can wait until after he is in bed. Most recently, the late in the evening quiet time is working for me.

Silence, for me, is reminiscent of Genesis 1. The world was formless, silent, void – and into that silence God spoke a new creation. If we want to hear God’s voice, and if we want to be continuously remade, we need to be silent, there isn’t another way around it.

Intentional Disruptions

The whole point of the Liturgical calendar is to intentionally disrupt our day-to-day lives and restructure our worldview around the Truths of God’s Word. Advent is the time where we remember Jesus’s first coming and anticipate his return. It is the time where we meditate on deep and somber Truths – that humanity was (and still is) enslaved to sin and unable to free itself, therefore God had to send his Son Jesus to die our death so that we could live his life. We remember that the religious and political structures of the day were opposed to this Christ child and wanted to murder him to protect their power. We exult in God’s love expressed in Jesus and we take time to ponder Jesus’s return.

Advent and the other Church seasons are intended to help us understand our lives through the lens of Redemptive History, rather than through the lens of human progress. (Indeed, most saints throughout history are appalled at how little humans have changed – our external circumstances have certainly progressed, but our hearts have not.) Included in the process of disrupting our lives and reinterpreting our history is the use of ritual and symbol.

Create Rituals for your family

I was tempted to write that heading as “Create meaningful rituals for your family,” but rituals are, by their very nature, meaningful and symbolic. Perhaps the most common ritual in Advent is the Advent wreath. It can be a beautiful ritual for your family, or for your own devotion. Simply light the designated number of candles, read some Scripture out loud and spend time thinking about it or talking about it as you watch the flames dance. It is amazing how Holy Spirit brings things to our attention when we let our minds wander during devotions. You might be reminded of a broken relationship and feel prompted to fix it, you might think of someone you haven’t talked to for awhile and feel prompted to reach out… or you might remember that the laundry is in the wash and you’d better flip it or else it will start stinking.

Don’t be afraid to start rituals by yourself. Remember my toddler who I sent away to watch Daniel Tiger? What if he came out to the dining room while I had my candles lit and my Bible out? Well, I’m sure he’d ask me what I was doing and then I’d have the opportunity to tell him about Jesus and what the Advent season is really about. I’m sure he wouldn’t get it and that I’d have to let him blow out the candles, but I think it is powerfully formative for our kids to “catch us” doing our own private devotions. The more meaningful, enjoyable and symbolic we can make our rituals the better.

Your attention is precious

While I firmly believe that our time is our most precious resource, having time without attention is pretty worthless. Ever been at work and know you have projects to do, but you just can’t get your brain to click into gear? I have! And the thing that gets my brain back into gear? Cleaning my office. When I have crap all over my desk, piles of papers and receipts and all manner of coffee cups, I can’t focus – but as soon as everything is cleared off my brain unlocks and I can move on with my day.

The same is true in our homes – there are so many things we want to do, but we get so distracted that we can’t really focus. I’m definitely an advocate for a minimalist lifestyle, but I know that isn’t for anyone. Just know that the more stuff you have around you, the more potential for distractions. So if your true intent is to get closer to God this Advent season, it may be worthwhile to put some of the “stuff” in the garage. Who knows, you may even find that you function just as well without it.

The whole point of this section on attention is to highlight the fact that we have a limited ability to focus. This means that we need to prioritize what gets our attention. A dinging phone is expertly designed to grab your attention, which is probably why it needs to be put on silent and in another room if you want to really read, focus and think.

Revamping your lifestyle

Prioritizing friendship with God has caused me to redesign my lifestyle. For instance, my wife and I don’t have the internet in our home, we also don’t have cable or satellite television. We try to limit our son’s screen time as well as our own. We have one day a week where we try to take a tech sabbath, turning off our phones and even leaving them at home. We build into our weekly and monthly schedules time to be with God.

I need those kinds of disciplines, I also want them. Because I only have one kid, I don’t really know the pressure that comes with having more, so please take that into consideration, but please don’t make it an excuse.

Well, there you have it. If you really want to slow down, you have to acknowledge that life isn’t going to slow down for you, you have to make it happen by cutting out other things. And, once you’ve made the time, the strategic use of silence, meditation, ritual and decluttering will go a long way towards slowing down your life. Prioritizing a friendship with Jesus has a pretty big spillover effect, so don’t be surprised if you want to stay in this lower gear even after the Holidays have ended. And that brings me to my last point…

Our tendency as human beings is to complicate and over commit. It takes work to keep things simple and provide ample margins in our day for the things we deem most important. But as much work as it is to declutter and have firm boundaries, it is even more work to go without that kind of structure. You are going to have stress, you are going to have to exert effort, so do you want to do it in a proactive way that puts you in control of your schedule and relationships or do you want to experience life in a reactive way where it seems like you are never in control and always at the mercy of other people’s schedules? What I have found is that when I own the responsibility to manage my time and I schedule in my Important But Not Urgent activities I have more time and compassion to help other people.

I hope this helps you slow down this Holiday season. Let me know if you put anything into practice and how it helps. I’d also love to hear what you do to slow down for the Holidays.

As always, thanks for reading!

Ben