Thursday, January 15, 2009

Some final thoughts

Some final thoughts on the chapter “Velcroed for Growth” from the book Contrarians Guide to Knowing God: Spirituality for the Rest of Us by Larry Osborne…

Osborne wraps up this chapter writing,

It’s imperative that we somehow find a place where our reality speaks louder than our image, where the upside of positive peer pressure spurs us on to greater heights, and where we’re positioned to receive the help we need the moment we need it. (p. 69)

It is in small groups that we have the best opportunity to develop and cultivate the close and transparent relationships necessary for this to happen. It’s not something that happens overnight; in fact, it may take a long time. But we are talking about eternity, are we not?

Speaking from the perspective of a man, I find these types of relationships very difficult to find. Friends like those that Osborne describes are the ones you can pick up the phone and call anytime. They are the friends you can talk to about anything; no matter how difficult the subject.

I remember a day when I was sitting with my wife talking (probably over a fine cigar and a cup of coffee) and I confessed to her that I don’t have many friends. I had even fewer that I would consider close. People who know me would find this hard to believe with my charming and winning personality; but Beth knows me well enough to know this was absolutely the case.

As we continued talking, I recalled the many friends I had in the Army. Unfortunately, relationships in the military are short-lived. Just as you get close to someone, one of you rotates to a new assignment. Even so, these relationships were strong because we depended on each other in order to accomplish our mission. Even after ten years, I still long for the camaraderie of the Army.

…On a side note, I was recently contacted by one of my army buddies. He called me out of the blue after more than 15 years. He now lives in another part of the country. It was great to hear from him, and we continue to talk every now and again. Anyway, back to what I was saying. What was I saying? Oh yeah, I don’t have many friends…

A few years ago I had a few friends like the type of relationship we are discussing; but, as you may have read in a previous blog, I lost contact with most of them. I am currently working to reestablish connection with them.

My point is it takes time to develop the kind of relationships we need to grow spiritually. With all of the commitments we have, we simply don’t have the time. Or is it that we don’t prioritize our time in order to make time? That’s what I think it is. We only have so many hours a day and we have lots to do. We have to make choices.

Drawing from my time in the army, perhaps we need to look at our spiritual growth as a mission. Do I dare say, “A mission from God”? We need the camaraderie of other Christians in order to accomplish the mission He has given us. Perhaps if we depended on each other as I used to depend on my teammates in the army, we would develop the life depending relationships we need.

I shared this with my wife, and she brought up a good thought. We talk a lot about missions overseas, and other things of that magnitude, but we don’t talk much about our mission right here in our homes and neighborhood. We have a mission to raise our families in a Godly manner. We have a mission to love our neighbors as we do ourselves. We have a mission to continue to grow spiritually. Small groups are the best way to accomplish these missions. Perhaps we need to be a bit more diligent in accomplishing the mission close to home.

And those are my words… Or in this case, those are our words…

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Continuing with our series on the chapter “Velcroed for Growth” from the book Contrarians Guide to Knowing God: Spirituality for the Rest of Us by Larry Osborne…

The third accelerator Osborne refers to when discussing the purpose of small groups is honesty. Osborne writes,

If I want to grow spiritually, I must be honest enough to let people in on the issues I’m facing and the reality behind the image I portray. I also need friends who are honest enough to tell me the truth—even when I don’t want to know it, or it hurts to hear. (p. 67)

He goes on to say this type of honesty is hard to come by. Of the three accelerators, it’s my opinion that this is by far the hardest to accomplish.

The kind of honesty we need is the kind we can only get from close and transparent relationships. We need brothers and sisters in Christ who know us well enough ask those difficult questions; the things other people may find offensive. We need brothers and sisters that love us enough to be honest.

Typically, we don’t find these kind of relationships in a once a week visit to church. When we see people in church, the common greeting is “How are you?” Our typical response is “I’m good!” Is that the honest truth? Perhaps. When we ask others how they are doing, do we really want to know or are we just being sociable? I would venture to say most of the time we are just being sociable. In a public setting where we see people only occasionally, this is appropriate. But if we are serious about our spiritual growth, we need more than just casual relationships. We need relationships with people we can be honest with.

We find this kind of relationship in small groups. Over time, people in a small group come to know each other intimately. They develop close and transparent relationships; one in which people have trust and love for each other. In these relationships, people really do want to know how the people in their group are doing. In order for us to have this type of relationship, we must be vulnerable and transparent; and in this world, that goes against the norm. Paul teaches, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” Romans 12:2 (English Standard Version). There comes a time when we need to ignore what the world thinks and focus on what God thinks.

Honesty is not easy; it means being vulnerable and transparent. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what we need to continue to grow spiritually.

Next time, I’ll wrap up this look at “Velcroed for Growth.” Until then…

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Upside of Peer Pressure

Continuing with our series on the chapter “Velcroed for Growth” from the book Contrarians Guide to Knowing God: Spirituality for the Rest of Us by Larry Osborne…

The second accelerator Osborne refers to when discussing the purpose of small groups is peer pressure. Osborne says close and transparent relationships allow peer pressure to be used as a positive force in developing spirituality (p. 65). He cites Hebrews as an example of positive peer pressure:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25 (English Standard Version)

By continually meeting together, we develop close and transparent relationships and encourage each other to grow spiritually.

Parents understand the concept of positive peer pressure. We constantly keep an eye on the friends our kids hang out with. We drive them back and forth to youth group so they will be with other Christian kids. We talk to their teachers and coaches to see what kind of people they are. We have their friends over for dinner so we can get to know them. We do all these things so we know the type of influence their friends have on their life. We want them to have positive peer pressure. If we do this for our kids, shouldn’t we do this for ourselves?

Have you ever hung out with someone from Georgia? It doesn’t take long before you begin speaking with a southern accent and drinking sweetened ice tea. I have friends and family in Texas, and if I spend any time with them I begin speaking in a Texas drawl and rooting for the Cowboys. Y’all know what I mean. It rubs off.

Peer pressure works the same way. When we hang around people who are strong in their faith and character, it rubs off on us. Osborne writes, “The best way to produce [a long-term, life changing] kind of spirituality is to hang around those who are already experiencing it” (p. 67). The more we hang around with spiritually strong Christians, the stronger we become.

In small groups we hang around people who encourage us to love one another and to do good works. In small groups we develop close and transparent relationships with other believers. In other words, small groups create the positive peer pressure we need to be spiritually strong.

Next I’ll reflect on the accelerator honesty. Until then… Y’all be good now, ya hear?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Velcroing Power of a Small Group

Continuing with our series on the chapter “Velcroed for Growth” from the book Contrarians Guide to Knowing God: Spirituality for the Rest of Us by Larry Osborne… The first accelerator Osborne refers to when discussing the purpose of small groups is connectedness. According to Osborne,

“The primary reason to be in a small group setting is not to learn more biblical information. It’s not to develop great friends. It’s not even accountability. It’s connectedness. Belonging to a small group, small church, or any other form of close and transparent relationships velcroes me to the people and information I’ll need when a need to grow or need to know crisis shows up.” (p. 64)

A friend of mine used to say, “Now don’t hear what I didn’t say.” In other words, Osborne is not saying Bible studies, friendships, and accountability are not important aspects of small groups. What he is saying is connectedness is the primary reason to be in a small group. The other things are secondary. I would go further in saying the other aspects are results of being connected. Bible studies are always more affective when we know the people we are studying with. We feel comfortable asking questions or sharing ideas. Real friendship only comes from being connected. True accountability only comes from real connections. How many of us can say that we have connections like this?

Keeping with the focus of Osborne’s book, the people in our small group are the ones we should turn to when in need. They should know us well enough to know when something is bothering us. “When we’re in a place where relationships are genuine and transparent, there’ll always be someone ready to give us what we need.” Whether it is a shoulder to cry on, or words of wisdom, people we are truly connected to will be there to help.

Over the past couple of years, I was so busy with my career that I lost the connections I had with a core group of men. I was trying to do too much, and it consumed me to the point that I no longer had time for friends. Last August something happened that made me reevaluate my life, and I made a decision to make some changes. Making these changes provided me the opportunity to renew connections with my friends. It will take time to reestablish these connections, and some may be lost forever; but I know God will bring people into my life that I need. I just have to be sure to develop and nurture my relationships so there will be true connectedness. And through these connections I will once again have the spiritual growth, friendships, and accountability that God desires us all to have.

Next I’ll reflect on the accelerator peer pressure.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Velcroed for Growth

Over the next few days I want to review a chapter from the book Contrarians Guide to Knowing God: Spirituality for the Rest of Us by Larry Osborne. He wrote a chapter titled “Velcroed for Growth” that is very appropriate for Real Life Connections.

As a way of introduction, Osborne writes how people who isolate themselves find it difficult to get help when they need it. The reason? Because no one knows about it. “But those who have close and transparent relationships experience a completely different reality. When a crisis hits, they usually find people quick, even eager, to help” (p. 61). Osborne continues on writing “Developing close and transparent relationships is an important part of preparing for life’s inevitable calamities.” How do we develop these kinds of relationships?

Most people assume church is the answer to close relationships. Osborne disagrees because churches have become too big. He asserts that churches are primarily for teaching and encouraging spiritual growth; small groups are the best answer to developing close relationships. He compares small groups to the “house churches” of the New Testament; a small group of people gathering on a regular basis, building transparent relationships with each other.

“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” Acts 2:46-47 (NIV).

In accordance with the title of his book, Osborne says it’s contrarian to be part of a small group. He says only a small percentage of people who regularly attend church are part of a small group. Sadly, most people only have one or two close friends who know them well enough to be transparent. Moreover, in most cases, our spouse is one of those two! Why is this the case? According to Osborne it’s because small groups are pushed and advertised by churches to provide a benefit we never fully realize. We attend small groups to study the Bible or for some other purpose, when all along we miss the main point of a small group.

Osborne says the greatest value small groups can provide is “accelerators of spiritual growth.” The accelerators are connectedness, peer pressure, and honesty. Over the next few days I want to spend some time reflecting on these three accelerators. They seem to go hand in hand with the purpose of Real Life Connections. Until then…

Friday, January 09, 2009

Where has the week gone?

Where has the week gone? I hear people ask that question all the time. I never seem to accomplish all I set out to do. For the most part, I get the important things done; but there are some things I wish I had more time for. For instance, I spent a good deal of time working with my online students, I spent a good deal of time working on my coursework (it never seems like enough!), and I spent some time writing (I wish I had more time for that!). But did I spend enough time with my family? Did I spend enough time with God in prayer?

When I was working in administration at CCU, I never had time enough time for family. In fact, there were days that I didn’t see my kids at all. I would leave before they were up, and get home after they were asleep. For several months, I traveled every other week and would be gone for days at a time. It was by my choice, but just the same, it was a lot of time away. Been there done that! That’s all changed now.

Now I eat breakfast with my family every day. My wife helps me with this. She wakes me up each morning asking, “Do you want to eat breakfast with us this morning?” (Men, if you haven’t figured it out yet, that’s a subtle hint.) I’m glad she does; otherwise, I would lie in bed until who knows when and miss the best part of the day! This morning I shared some Scripture with my boys and we talked about it for a few minutes. We discussed the passage, and then talked for a minute about how reading different translations can affect our understanding. In the case of this particular passage, it was a small difference, but nonetheless, it did make a difference. I feel good that I take the time to spend with them and help get their day started off on the right foot.

Did I spend enough time with God? No, I don’t think that’s possible. Lately I have had a strong desire to spend more time in Scripture and prayer. I find myself staying up late reading after everyone goes to bed. I can honestly say I spent more time with Him this week than I did last week, so I am making progress.

So, did I accomplish all I set out to do? No, but I feel it has been a productive week; and I have done my best to spend time on the important things: My God and my family. Next week I hope to spend more time with friends. My prayer is that you will spend time on the important things in life, too.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Most Resilient Person I Know

When I teach my Adult Studies Seminar I tell the story of a woman I have a great deal of respect for. She is someone who has shown herself to be more resilient than anyone I know. She is my wife, Beth. I will tell you one specific instance and perhaps you will agree.

Before I tell this story, let me give you some background. As you may recall from my bio, I am retired from the United States Army. Beth has been with me from the start; in fact she was with me prior to any conversation about joining the Army. You see, she and I met while we were both attending Iowa State University. For reasons I won’t go into here (it’s a story for another time), I dropped out of school after my freshman year. A short time later, I came home and told Beth that I had enlisted and was shipping out in seven days. I never thought of discussing it with her first. We were married after boot camp, and she dropped out of Iowa State to go with me to our first duty assignment. She only had one year to go to graduate.

Now to my story. In the fall of 1990, we were coming to the end of our three-year tour in Germany and looking forward to returning to the U.S. and our next assignment. About three months before we were to leave Europe, my father suddenly passed away. The way my mother describes it is he was sitting at home one Sunday afternoon talking about how anxious he was to see me and my family when he had a stroke and died. We hadn’t been home in almost three years, and now he was gone. Well, I got word of his death and we flew home as quickly as possible. We arrived in Iowa about two days later and buried my father.

In the military, they have something called “early return of dependents.” It is a program designed for just such an occasion. When a soldier is within 90 days of returning stateside, and they go home on emergency leave, they have the option of leaving their dependents in the states, and returning to their duty assignment to pack up their family’s belongings and ship it to their next assignment. Beth and I decided to take advantage of this program, so I proceeded to return to Europe and pack up our household goods and ship them off to our next assignment in Albany, New York.

Did you happen to note the date of this story? It was during the buildup of the first Gulf War. There were already troops in Saudi Arabia from the states, and we knew there was a good chance that units from Europe would be called up to deploy there too. Beth and I discussed this prior to my return to Europe, and decided if my unit is called up to deploy, she would go back to ISU and finish her degree. So, here I was, back in Europe living in the barracks because all of our household goods had been shipped off to Albany, and what should happen but my unit is called up to deploy to the Saudi Arabia. I knew it would happen since we were one of two Cavalry Units in Europe and the leading force of VII Corps. If any unit was going to be deployed, it would be us; the Second Armored Calvary Regiment.

I remember very vividly the night I called Beth and told her that she should go and register for classes that Spring at ISU. She immediately knew that meant I was being deployed.

Beth and my daughter, Jackie, who was four years old, immediately boarded a plane and headed back to Germany to be with me. We had no idea how long we would be separated, and Beth wanted to spend as much time with me as she could prior to my deployment.

While she was in Germany she checked into the status of our household goods. She found out they were shipped to Albany, and sitting in storage awaiting our arrival. She told the people responsible for shipping our goods what had happened and that she would be in Iowa for an unknown length of time. They said they were sorry, but there was nothing they could do. The household goods were in Albany, and they could not divert them to another location. You see, there is an Army regulation that states household goods can only be moved once within a year’s time. Well, as you can imagine, that put Beth in a bit of a bind. All she had was what was in the suitcase she brought back to Germany. To make a long story short Beth convinced the chain of command to make an exception and have our things shipped from Albany to Iowa. We found out later that the commander of the unit I was supposed to report to in Albany was the one that made it happen. I will always be grateful to him for making that decision.

We spent three weeks together before my unit had to go. On a Friday, I left for a destination unknown, and Beth and Jackie left the following day for Iowa to find a place to live and get started at ISU. I didn’t speak to her again for 45 days. During that time, I had no idea where she lived or if she was able to registered for classes. When I did finally talk to her she was all set up in a duplex, had Jackie enrolled in preschool, and was registered for classes at ISU.

So there she was. A single parent raising a four-year old and attending classes fulltime while her husband was deployed to Southwest Asia.

Oh, I forgot to mention one thing. While we lived in Europe, Beth was our Squadron Commander’s secretary. She had a good idea how our unit conducted battle and exactly what that meant for me. Even though I was a supply sergeant, we conducted resupply operations twice a day consisting of maintenance, supply, and rations. Twice a day we rolled forward to resupply food, ammo, parts, and fuel. Beth knew that I would be right there in the midst of the battle should it come to war.

The way Beth tells the story is once war was declared she immersed herself in her studies to keep her mind off the obvious. Once the ground war started, she says she doesn’t recall anything. She completely shut down. She says she has no idea how Jackie got along because she doesn’t recall anything. Thank God the ground offensive only lasted four days. Only when Beth’s mom called her and told her the war was over did she come back to her senses.

As it turned out, since we were the first unit from Europe deployed to Southwest Asia, we were the first unit to redeploy back to Europe. I was home on leave within six months of Beth and Jackie leaving for Iowa. On a side note, I left for my next assignment in Albany a month later and Beth and Jackie stayed in Iowa so she could finish her degree. She and my daughter moved to Albany that following December. All in all we were separated a year.

I look back on this time and realize how resilient Beth was during this time. She knew what I would be facing and yet still had the courage to go home and complete her degree. She could have stayed in Europe with the other soldier’s wives, but she chose to go to school instead. It was difficult because in Iowa she had no military spouses or support to lean on. Fortunately, my brother and his fiancé were both attending ISU during this time, and were there for Beth and my daughter.

As a soldier, my wife and I have a great deal of respect for today’s military. They face a tremendous amount of hardship with all of the deployments they endure. One thing we agree on is the fact that deployments are just as hard on the families left behind as it is for the soldiers who are deployed. The soldiers are well trained and know what they are facing. Their families are normally in the dark when it comes to what their soldier is doing; and it is my opinion that the families left behind are the ones who must show the most resiliency.