Focus

About 20 years ago we visited a farm near Baton Rouge with its water needs supplied by an artesian well. An artesian well taps into an aquifer that is under geological pressure. Once tapped, the water comes to the earth’s surface without the need for a pump. The artesian well on this farm supplied all the farm’s needs – house, barn, cattle, and orchard irrigation. No pump, no pressure tanks, all free-flowing.

I asked the owner about the depth of the well. 2500 feet – deeper than they had anticipated. I asked him how long it took to drill. A couple months. I asked him the process of deciding where to drill. He said they were pretty sure there was water down there so they picked a spot and started drilling. And drilled, and drilled. They hit water a couple times, but not quality water, so they kept drilling. I asked him if he was ever tempted to give up and start a new hole. His response? “If we started a new hole, we would probably have gotten the same results and maybe even settled for water of less quality and might have missed out on this amazing, free-flowing water.”

We live in a culture in which we find it difficult to drill deep – relationally, spiritually, or in our careers. We are all in until things don’t quite go our way, then we pull up stakes looking for a better place to start drilling, hoping for better (different?) outcomes. I think we were designed to drill deep, to live with focus and intent.

We serve a God of focus and intent. Read through scripture and you can see this. He initiated the redemption process with Abraham and his descendants and has stayed that course throughout history. Note how often he reminded his people of their rescue from Egypt and their job to be a blessing to the world around them. Note how he consistently told humanity, “I want to be your God, I want you to be my people.” Note his focus on the outsiders, the poor, the widows and orphans. Note how this came through loud and clear through Jesus, “the visible expression of the invisible God” when he rolled out his ‘mission statement.’ Note how Jesus prepared his followers to carry out his mission by focusing on a few – Peter, James, and John, as well as Mary and Martha.

As Jesus charged his followers with the mission of carrying the good news to the world around them, he suggested they do so by emulating what he did. He told them, “as the father sent me, so I am sending you.” It seems to me that if our God is a God of focus, who modeled focus through Jesus, then maybe, just maybe, we might want to learn focus as well. It would serve us well in relationships, spiritually, and in our jobs. It’s how we were designed. God doesn’t intend for us to go wide and try to be everything to everyone. He intends for us to drill down with him and with the people he places in our lives. Focus. It’s transformative. And its one of the most practical things we can do.

Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4)

Practical Theology…

So, what makes theology practical? What makes anything practical? By definition, something practical is focused on the actual doing or use of something rather than theory and ideas. I like theories and ideas. I love theories and ideas. But I am aware that theories and ideas that don’t translate into action can lead to omphaloskepsis (navel contemplation). I remember my dad once saying about a pastor, “He’s so heavenly minded that he’s no earthly good.” My dad was suggesting practicality might have been missing in the pastor’s approach to ministry and life.

Boston University’s Center for Practical Theology suggests that “practical theology” describes the mutually strengthening relationship between the theological learning and the actual experience and needs of Christian communities. There we have it – theology that is practical translates into actual experiences needed to live the Christian life. As mentioned in the first post, a ‘practical’ definition of theology is the attempt to understand God, what he is up to, and then joining him in his work. Practical theology translates into individual and corporate participation in God’s kingdom work – all easier said than done.

So, how do we get a handle on who God is, what he is up to and then, how we participate in his kingdom work? The intent of this blog is the exploration of some answers to these practical questions. We will approach this in bite-sized chunks in a manner that might transform the way we do life – with God and with those around us. The exploration will focus on Jesus. He is, after all, “the visible expression of the invisible God” (JB Phillips Translation). In my thinking, a practical way to begin to understand God and what he is up to comes through paying attention to Jesus’ words and deeds when he took on human form and walked among humanity.

In my thinking, a practical way to accomplish this is relatively simple and easy – by READING THE GOSPELS. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the New Testament. Not once, not twice, but ongoing. I try to read through them several times a year. I know a pastor that reads one of the Gospels each week prior to beginning his sermon prep. Frequency isn’t as important as consistency. Sustained and consistent time in the Gospels is a transformative experience – ask anyone that has adopted the practice.

Enjoy the Journey

Practical Lent…

Lent starts this week on Ash Wednesday. Lent (literally springtime) was popularized in the fourth century and had a different and more practical purpose than we might think seventeen centuries later. If we were to poll people this week as to the purpose of Lent, we would likely hear something about what we should give up during the 6+ weeks leading up to Easter. We might likely have a similar view. If so, we find ourselves entering into this springtime with a negative perspective. I live in Minnesota. With another 8-9″ of snow predicted for this weekend, I am not hearing many people dread the coming of spring. Who would want to approach spring sullenly? What about Lent?

The editors of Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter suggest that “Lent should never be morose – an annual ordeal during which we begrudgingly forgo a handful of pleasures. Instead, we ought to approach Lent as an opportunity, not a requirement.” After all, the main purpose of fasting (the forging of a pleasure) is to provide more opportunity to discover and enjoy God. There is an old liturgy that refers to the Lent and Easter season as “this joyful season.” How might we approach Lent this year in a manner that brings joy? I will toss out a few suggestions, trusting readers to weigh in with other suggestions…

  • Read one of the Gospels. This is always my go-to. You plan your reading so that you finish at Easter, providing you with the backstory leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection.
  • Read Walter Wangerin’s classic Reliving the Passion (based on the Gospel of Mark). It has been transformative for me over the years. (It’s available for Kindle… or Amazon can get it to you in a couple days.)
  • Read Bread and Wine.
  • Find a weekly Lenten service with the express purpose of discovering and enjoying God in new ways.
  • Since we are talking about the hope of springtime, N.T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope would be a good read (though it might take you past Easter to finish).

Whatever you choose to do during this season, God will meet you, further revealing himself to you (I speak from experience!). Blessings!

Click here if you would like to receive notifications of future postings.

I’m Back…

After a hiatus of several years, I’ve decided to re-enter the world of blogging. Fifteen years ago I created a blog with the original intent of staying connected with young people I knew through church youth ministry or Young Life. In time the audience grew to a diverse mix of people with whom I had a relationship – young and older. Looking back, blogging was a healthy way for me to process what I was discovering as a Christ-follower. However, that blog came to a grinding halt four years ago as coursework ramped up in the Doctorate in Educational Leadership (Higher Ed.) program which I participated. I’m finding that I miss the opportunity to write and ponder. So, reentering the blogging sphere is for my benefit more than anyone. Feel free to join me in this journey.

Practical theology. What do I mean by that? Actually, I am figuring it out as I wander into this process. I have always described myself as a practical theologian, using the term theologian loosely. In my thinking, a theology that doesn’t play out in one’s everyday life is impractical, or of no real use. A ‘practical’ definition of theology is the attempt to understand God, what he is up to, and then joining him in his work. This blog will focus on how we join God in his work – both globally and in that part of the world where he has landed us. So, join me as we work together to figure this out. I do not intend to make this about theological stances. If that is what you are looking for, you will be disappointed. I do intend to help us see God and the life to which he has called us from new perspectives. And different perspectives are always healthy as this old saying reminds us…

If I keep on choosing what I've always chosen,
then I'll keep on wanting what I've always wanted.

If I keep on wanting what I've always wanted,
then I'll keep on thinking what I've always thought.

If I keep on thinking what I've always thought,
then I'll keep on perceiving what I've always perceived.

If I keep on perceiving what I've always perceived,
then I'll keep on seeing what I've always seen.

If I keep on seeing what I've always seen,
then I'll keep on doing what I've always done.

If I keep on doing what I've always done,
then I'll keep on getting what I've always gotten.

Subscribe to Practical Theology Today Email List